How to Talk to Your Partner About Money

Good communication -- no surprise -- is the key to financial compatibility.

Maybe drawing up a household budget isn't exactly as romantic as a moonlit stroll on the beach. Maybe you never promised to love, honor, and pay off the credit card bill every month.

But partners who ignore these matters may not only turn their financial life into a confusing shambles -- who was supposed to pay that electric bill? How did we manage to bounce this check? -- but risk letting their relationship teeter toward bankruptcy.

According to financial experts, talking about money may be just about as important for couples as saving it, whether the discussions are chats on the way to the grocery store or formal family meetings.

In many marriages, money is not only the biggest area of disagreement, it's often the undercurrent of ongoing arguments that seem to be about something else entirely, such as housework or children or the color of the new sofa. Some of these spats could be avoided through frequent, honest discussions.

"The key is to communicate -- the more the better and the earlier the better," says Kathy Stepp, a financial planner. "You have to realize it's a process you're just starting together now, but one you'll continue for the rest of your life."

Keep Your Partner Involved

If there's one big rule on which experts agree, it's that both partners must be full participants in the family's financial life. Even if one spouse earns all the money or handles all the paperwork, the other needs to know what's going on and should have an equal say in major decisions.

Keeping one partner out of the financial loop creates an imbalance of power in the relationship that can cause trouble. And if anything should happen to the person "in charge," the other could be left helpless.

"I see untold numbers of older widows who are petrified; they have no clue whether they have enough money to live on," says Elissa Buie, a financial adviser in Falls Church, Va. "They have no idea where their husband put things. That's a horrible burden (for) someone in the grieving process."

Financial compatibility, then, calls for a balance of sharing and individuality. If one of you is an audiophile and the other a wine lover, you may spend a lot on stereo equipment and chardonnay. But when Friday night rolls around, you can put on a CD you both like and clink glasses in a toast to your future together.


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