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Marriages succeed when you're open and honest about finances

According to various sources, the average marriage in the United States lasts approximately 8 years. One area of stress that couples frequently report concerns finance, specifically the lack of financial compatibility. Here is some advice to help you and your spouse be on the same page financially so that your marriage can thrive.


Do go on a financial diet that you both can live with

According to Fidelity, the class of 2013 is facing $35,200 in college debt. Graduate school can add another $50,000 to $200,000 to that total depending on the type of degree. The average salary for a college graduate is $45,327. With job growth concentrated in urban areas where rent and other expenses tend to be higher it is difficult to imagine a young couple with a lot of extra income for either savings or to pay down the principal of their loans. The key becomes budgeting. Unfortunately, a good budget can feel like a tough diet. The constant feeling of hunger just doesn't seem to justify the little bit of improvement that you can see over the short term. And, like dieting, once you feel like you have made real progress there is the urge to binge. In terms of debt that can mean a big purchase that puts you right back where you started.

Couples need to discuss how they want to approach the problem and work together. You cannot expect your spouse to be on a constant diet while you go out and binge - a vice versa. There is the obvious reason, but the actual problem is that if one person feels like they are making all of the sacrifice then there is a feeling of inequality in the relationship. Feelings of inequality are actually another leading cause of diverse. Choose a diet that you can both live with or you are risking major problems in a relationship.

Do consider what’s going to happen if you have children

Most couples find it much easier to have a two-earner household. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 50% of households are "two earner." This number has changed over the years, but the big shift in the US has been the percentage of households where the mother is the primary source of family income. In 1960, 11% of households had the mother as the primary income earner. Today it is 40%. It is important to decide early in a relationship how children might change the dynamic. The stay at home dad is becoming more common. But it is important to discuss gender roles in terms of raising a child. There should be no unexpected surprises. Whether both parents are going to work or if one is going to take time off to raise the children, it is going to be a challenge if one spouse is expecting the other to take care of it. There is no right answer, but it is a discussion that needs to happen early in a relationship - particularly if it is going to affect the household balance sheet.

Do make a wish list

There should be a number of things that a couple can agree on when it comes to larger purchases. For example, the timing of a home purchase or a new car. Larger expenditures like these need to come with additional planning. Couples that plan to have children can think about higher education funding early on. If the wish list is something that you are both focused on then it is easier to budget the additional savings that will be necessary to buy big ticket items.

Do consider borrowing money from a financially successful parent

This is always controversial, but it is certainly a very good way to restructure debts that a bearing down on a young couple. There should be no shame in asking for a little - even a lot - of assistance if there are parents that can afford to help. Some parents will be more receptive to the idea than others. It is important to remember that borrowing from the in-laws can change a relationship.

Do always make the minimum payment

Even though it can be very expensive to keep open balances on a credit card, you are only required to make the minimum payment. Ideally you pay off the balance every month, but that is just not realistic for most couples. However, as long as you make the minimum payment you don't pay high late fees or step up interest rates. Don't feel bad about being on time. It is generally better for your credit to have a balance and pay on time than to miss payments and pay off in full.


Do not lie about purchases

Nothing destroys trust faster than big, unexpected balances on credit cards. As strange as it may sound, some couples have trouble admitting to high dollar spending behind their spouses back. But the day of reckoning will come and the credit card payment will be due. If your spouse is paying the bills and suddenly has to read a long list of purchases the breach of trust can be hard to come back from.

Do not send money to friends, family etc without letting the spouse know

We all have a brother, an uncle, a college buddy, that just cannot get out of his or her own way. Whether it is $100 for the weekend or $250,000 for the business deal, if your spouse doesn't know about it, you are sure to get into trouble. Men seem much more prone to this behavior than women for some reason. The other issue is that if you do it once then it is likely that you will be asked to do it again. Some people, even if they are very close to you, will just keep on you as long as they think you will get them out of bind. This isn’t judging, but it is much better to share this decision with your spouse than get caught trying to wire some money to Uncle Joe in the middle of the night. Just like unexpected credit card bills, slipping money to your friends or family is a great way to destroy trust.

Do not think that the breadwinner gets to make all of the decisions

In single earner households particularly, the breadwinner tries to make all of the decisions on how to spend money. It is not your absolute right to dictate how money gets spent even if you are the only one that is bringing income into the relationship. Part of a healthy relationship is making sure that there is a sense of equality. This becomes even more important when there are children. It takes a lot to raise a child and that includes some portion of the household finances. Babies need all sorts of things that are expensive from strollers to child seats. Diapers, clothes, shoes, all add up. If the breadwinner starts dictating how money can be spent it can make the person raising the child feel like a second class citizen. Children can be exhausting - getting yelled at the cost of car seat won't make things better.

Do not try to be hero

Rather like sending money to Uncle Joe, investing in high risk enterprises is something that both people need to agree on. The motive might be great and sometimes it even works out, but there is no easy way to tell the spouse that the savings are gone because the widget investment didn't work out. Losses happen even when you carefully consider every angle and do the a lot of due diligence - going into it with two sets of eyes can actually help avoid obvious pitfalls. Couples that work together will survive difficult outcomes better.

Do not tell your friends your troubles, and keep them secret from your spouse

Sharing your financial troubles with a close friend, but hiding them from your spouse will not create an environment of trust. Your partner in life, should be your partner in everything. Trust and equality in finances are key to a successful relationship.

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Newly married couples should ensure that their relationship is not affected because of financial discrepancies. This means that you both need to work together to achieve your financial goals, and never think that because one person makes more than another, that they have more say when making the financial decisions. It is important to be honest with your spouse so that you can have a healthy relationship for the rest of lives.

More expert advice about Finance for Couples

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Patrick MorrisCEO

Mr. Morris is the Chief Executive Officer of HAGIN Investment Management. He began his career at Pillette Investment Management and continued his career at Deutsche Bank, Pulse Trading, and Natexis before founding HAGIN Investment Management. He...

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