I love you … now let’s talk money

Posted by on July 22, 2011 @ 8:46 am in personal finance

In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Financial mistakes newlyweds make,”* the author and several financial advisors urge couples to have the “money talk” before walking down the aisle.

The article provides several practical tips for opening the dialogue with your significant other. One financial advisor even recommends carving out time for a monthly “money date” over breakfast. While portfolio talk over poached eggs may not be your style, there are clear benefits to laying your financial cards on the table before you take the plunge. Honest discussion about your debts, general agreement on your saving and spending habits, and alignment of your long-term investing goals with those of your partner seem like reasonably critical components of happily-ever-after.

So why do so many couples flat-out avoid the discussion? A recent USA Today poll asked readers, “Have you addressed how you would manage collective finances before marriage?” A brave 51% said yes, they’ve had the dreaded money talk. But 42% admitted to skipping the discussion entirely and an apparently confused 7% of respondents weren’t sure whether or not they’d addressed the issue.

Maybe people avoid the topic so much because it hits upon too many emotions for most couples. None of us are perfect and money is often a very private issue. Our relationship with money often reflects some complex combination of personal experiences: how much of it we had or didn’t have growing up, money mistakes we might have made in the past, painful financial circumstances surrounding a divorce, or even money behaviors that are driven by our cultural backgrounds.

The Journal article evokes images of young newlyweds, eager to jointly tackle their combined financial goals. But many of us commit to a relationship a bit later in life and have become accustomed to managing our assets for years without any input from a significant other. Suddenly allowing another person—even one you love enough to marry—to peer into your spending habits, scrutinize the adequacy of your savings, and potentially pass judgment on your past investment decisions leaves you in a pretty vulnerable position. (I know I just made the money talk sound worse than a root canal. But it really doesn’t have to be that bad.) And I don’t think it requires anything as rigid as a “monthly money date,” either. What it does require is thinking like a team, which can be new (and perhaps hard) for some of us.

So tell me, what’s been the biggest influence on your views toward managing personal assets, and did you find it difficult to broach the subject with your partner? What tips can you offer others who may be struggling to address the issue with their soon-to-be spouse or significant other?

* Available at WSJ.com. This link will open a new browser window. Except where noted, Vanguard accepts no responsibility for content on third-party websites.

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