A couple's guide to effectively managing your finances
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By Daryl Coker
The subject of “finances” may seem as though it’s the antithesis of romance, as we all know that financial problems can act to the detriment of relationships. But working to manage your finances effectively together is often vital to building and maintaining a strong and healthy relationship with your significant other, and can even bring couples closer together.
So, by first looking to a simple set of four principles for managing your money together, you and your partner can build a sturdy framework for the rest of your lives together.
These four principles are:
It’s important to be honest with each other about your respective financial situations, whether you are in a new relationship or an existing relationship. This has a significant bearing on trust between the two of you when it comes to managing your finances throughout your lives together.
Finances don’t typically form part of discussions when you first begin dating and are busy courting. But as your relationship grows, communication around finances will become just as important as the hearts and roses, because ironically when some of the romance fades, being able to communicate and work together in dealing with everyday practicalities will stand you in good stead for the future.
One simple way to ensure that you are keeping the communication line open is to make a simple date with each other once a month to have a glass of wine and talk about your finances.
A budget is the foundation or starting point to any financial plan. But it’s one thing to have a budget, and another for both partners to stick to it. It’s therefore often useful for couples to work on building a budget together at the same time, so that one partner doesn’t feel that the budget is skewed or lopsided, and both parties feel that the budget is fair.
4. JOINT FINANCIAL GOALS
Whether you are saving for your retirement, a house, creating general savings or even an overseas holiday, it’s crucial to have joint financial goals in order to ensure that you both keep rowing in the same direction. Misaligned financial goals can act as a source of angst and tension in a relationship, but working in tandem to accomplish the same goals can often bring partners even closer together.
THREE ADDITIONAL FINANCIAL FOCUS AREAS
In addition to these basic financial principles, there are a further three key focus areas in terms of financial practicalities that you and your partner will need to discuss in order to manage your money more wisely together and avoid any conflict or misunderstandings.
These three additional focus areas are:
5. BANK ACCOUNTS
There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of how to best manage your bank account and everyday finances – what is more important is to understand and agree on a plan that works best for both of you. This may include keeping separate bank accounts, having a joint account, or a combination of the two. Each method has its pros and cons, which you and your partner should discuss.
For instance, having a joint account is often useful for budgeting purposes, so that all major debit orders go off one account and you are able to see how much money you may have left over to treat yourselves at the end of the month. However, a joint account can be problematic in instances where one partner is a saver and the other a spender, and communication is again critical.
Some couples prefer to keep their accounts entirely separate, splitting expenses and paying for these separately. This allows each individual a bit more freedom to spoil themselves or spend as they choose, but can become complex in terms of negotiating expenses fairly – especially as the relationship grows over time. For example, if a couple has children, the question of school fees, uniforms, textbooks and other household finances could become an issue if one partner is contributing more than the other. This can be compounded and complicated even further if one partner decides to stay at home and raise the children, and doesn’t contribute financially to paying the expenses.
If you are in a long-term, committed relationship, whether you have formalised it through marriage or not, it may be wise to consider examining your investment strategy together as a unit in order to optimise your investment strategy. By having an overall view of your collective investments and understanding what you are each invested in, you will be able to detect any areas in which you may not be as well-diversified as you believed, and can implement a far more effective investment strategy.
For example, you and your partner may both have extensive exposure to property within your portfolios, making your overall portfolio overweight in property. It is also useful to understand what savings vehicles you are each invested in, whether this be a pension fund, retirement annuity, tax-free savings account or other. This will help you to determine whether you may be overweight in retirement savings vehicles and do not have enough discretionary savings to buffer you both against unexpected events such as retrenchment.
7. ESTATE PLANNING
Ensuring that your partner will be cared for in the event of your death is one of the most important acts of love among couples. And one common mistake in this area is again a lack of communication, or making sure that your partner knows exactly what will happen should you pass in order to remove any unnecessary anxiety.
For example, when there is a second marriage, it is important that your spouse understands whether you may be leaving some assets to children from a previous marriage, as this is important from a risk planning and estate planning perspective. Equally, it is essential that your partner is able to find the details of any life policies and retirement funds, and also knows who the beneficiaries will be.
Daryl Coker is an Advisory Partner at Citadel