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Three Steps to a Financially Happy Marriage

Does the cobbler’s children have no shoes? Is that how the phrase goes? Sometimes, when you are laser-focused on helping others manage their personal finances and build their net worth, you can let your own take second fiddle.

Before I launched my wealth management firm Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors, my wife and I managed our personal finances through a variety of buggy but well-intentioned spreadsheets. It became plug-and-play, and we slowly stopped keeping up with them as often as we should. The monthly conversations turned quarterly, then to annually.

Then, one early January day after we begrudgingly filled in a year’s worth of income and expenses, we were shocked when the all-important saving cell flashed red instead of green (yes, I did conditional format it). We didn’t save as much as we thought we did that year. We had stopped making money conversations a priority, and we paid the price.

We’ve since implemented strategies to help not only understand our finances, but what our numbers mean to each of us and how this affects our future as a family. I’d love to share what we’ve introduced into our family — here are three steps you can take to build a financially happy marriage.

1. Speak Honestly and Listen Empathetically

Money is one of the biggest causes of divorce in the country, with almost a quarter of marriages ending because of money issues. So much is left unspoken or incorrectly assumed; these problems can be avoided with open, honest, and empathetic conversation.

As couples, we share many interests and memories, but one thing we can never fully share is our history and experience with money, particularly in childhood. This time period fundamentally shapes our money scripts, or our attitudes toward money.

It’s critically important to understand this when you sit down to speak with your partner about your financial lives. Make the conversation a judgment-free zone, where you can share willingly and honestly.

Be sure to give the same in return to your significant other. Opening up in this way is difficult, even for those married for years (or decades). Allow them to be heard, make sure that you understand, and communicate that you understand.

And that meeting? Timing is more important than you might think. Don’t save it for a Wednesday when both of you get home late from work and the dishes are piled up. Schedule a block of time where your focus, attention, and mental resources are maximized. Getting outside helps, too!

2. Know Your Numbers but Understand Your Values

You wouldn’t pack for a week-long trip without knowing just how many clothes you need to bring. Or how many options for daily outfits, if you at all pack like Mrs. Harbor Crest.

The same principle applies to conversations about your finances — you need to know what is coming in the door and what is going out. Thankfully, there are many online tools that can help you understand your assets and cash flow. 

Knowing your assets and cash flow is only half of the (numbers) battle, though. What will your savings and income be used for? This is a vast question, and it’s one that Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors love collaborating with clients on because oftentimes it’s tough to really understand what you can do with your money and your life. 

This line of questioning tends to open up the next part of the discussion — what is important to you, your partner, and your family? Defining your family values is the North Star you need to help sort out your goals and build your plan.

3. Dream Your Future, Together

Now that you’ve set aside the right time for financial discussions, printed out your financial reports, and defined what’s important to you individually, as a couple, and as a family, what’s next? 

You now have the groundwork to put actionable items in place for your money in your marriage.

You have a better understanding of both you and your spouse’s money personalities and histories. You know your cash flow and assets. And you’ve identified what is important to everyone in your family.

Now, let’s plan! Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard is to be audacious with your plan. There should be more to life than 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for fifty years.

Do you want to take a few years off while the children are young? Let’s try to make those numbers work! Would you like to scale back the hours and still preserve your retirement savings? Plan it out and give it a try!

Learn Your Financial Habits with Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors

I give all the credit in the world to Mrs. Harbor Crest. When we didn’t hit our savings goal, we could have easily devolved into a blame game of “You spent X on Y” or “I thought you were watching.” We didn’t.

She decided to approach it as a puzzle that we could solve, together. We now are back to monthly money meetings. With food. And occasionally wine.

We will talk about the numbers, sure, but we will also talk about the fun new opportunities and interesting challenges ahead of us. What do we want to do with them?

If you would like to learn more about your (or your partner’s) financial habits, what’s working well, and what can be improved, give our quick Financial Habits quiz a try.