Ways Couples Improve Finances
Don’t see eye-to-eye with your spouse when it comes to finances? If so, you’re not alone. Financial problems are the second most common reason why marriages fail, ahead of infidelity, abuse, and even unfulfilling sex, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. “Money no longer has to be the culprit for emotional and financial discord,” says Jacquette Timmons, a financial coach who is the author of Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate (Chicago Review Press: 2010). “It can now be the unlikely tool that facilitates what couples learn about each other and how they grow together.”
In fact, establishing good money habits together can bolster not only your credit score but also enhance the quality of your relationship. Timmons and other financial experts share their top six tips to help couples improve their financial harmony.
1 – Communicate With One Another
Understand the difference between transactional conversations about money – “Did you remember to take out $100 from the ATM for me?”– and financially intimate conversations, says Timmons. The latter includes discussions focused on you and your spouse’s emotional connection to money, your parents’ attitude toward money, and your individual and collective money goals. “Financial intimacy isn’t a one-time event,” she says. “It is an ongoing process that is nurtured every day in ways big and small, in ways that often have…absolutely nothing to do with money, yet everything to do with what will open the door for each of you being able to be transparent, open, and honest about things concerning money.”
2 – Schedule Monthly “Money Dates” to Get a Better Handle on Each Other’s Finances
“It is important for couples to refer to their finances as ‘our’ instead of ‘mine’ or ‘yours,'” says Ryan Himmel, a CPA and registered securities analyst who founded BIDaWIZ.com, an online marketplace for professional finance and tax advice. Many couples wait until March or April when they have to file their taxes to evaluate their finances, but that isn’t frequent enough, Himmel says. Instead, schedule a monthly “money date,” advises Danielle Marquis, an adjunct professor of personal finance at the State University of New York at Albany. Each meeting should have a different focus, she says, such as budgeting in January, tax preparation in March, pulling and reviewing a different credit report in April, July and September, and rebalancing portfolios in May. Reward yourselves with a (budget-friendly) night on the town.
3 – Review Your Credit Reports Together
At least once a year, you and your spouse should get a free credit report from each of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Trade credit reports and review your spouse’s report for errors. Also look for red flags such as debt you weren’t aware of or a history of late credit card payments.
4 – Pay Your Bills on Time
“Join forces and agree on a simple system to ensure you pay every bill on time – no exceptions,” says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Debt Relief, LLC. Whether you set up automatic bill pay or set up a folder on the kitchen counter for bills that need to be paid, ensuring that bills are paid on time will prevent many a money meltdown. Plus, scrupulously paying bills on time is one of the most important factors in developing good credit. “Paying bills on time for as little as one month can raise a modest credit score by 20 points,” says Gallegos. Whatever system you choose, “make an agreement to use it, know which spouse will be responsible for paying which bills, and then use the system religiously,” he advises.
5 – Track Your Finances – the Easy Way
Set up a budget using free financial tracking software such as Mint.com or Quicken. Input your credit cards, checking/savings accounts, and mortgage accounts, then set up text or email alerts to let you know when you risk spending above your budget. This “keeps both sides of the relationship honest and helps both parties to focus on the bigger picture,” says Marquis.
By developing better money habits as a couple, you’ll likely have fewer money spats. And who knows? Greater financial harmony may, in fact, lead to more intimacy overall.