Voices: Mary Alpers, On Getting Spouses to Agree
Mary Alpers is president of Monument, Colo.-based financial Alpers and Associates.
Too often one of the spouses is responsible for the household finances — such as investing , saving, budgeting or paying bills — and the other is left completely in the dark. A bad dynamic can develop, where one spouse feels overburdened and the other feels anxious because he or she never has an
idea of the family’s actual wealth. This is especially concerning with older couples, because if something happens to the financially responsible party, it can be disastrous to the surviving spouse.
I encourage all my client couples to tackle their finances as a team. At a minimum I urge them to share the following 10 pieces of vital financial information with each other: names of every account, account numbers and PINs; information on all insurance policies; credit card balances; contact information for all attorneys; bills and when they are due; location of any safety deposit boxes; contact information for advisers or brokers; information about retirement plans (including 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans); and finally, access to Social Security entitlements.
Another really helpful way for couples to approach their finances is to share a single checking account. When you’re married, most expenses, such as vacations, new cars and rent or mortgage payments, are family expenses. And if each spouse has his or her own account, neither has a clear picture of their total assets. It then becomes very difficult to create an accurate cash flow plan.
To help get couples on the same page, I have them create individual lists of their values and financial goals. I’m always surprised at how many couples have never discussed these issues with each other. Once they have identified their individual goals, I work with them to create a plan to help them reach those goals.
It’s good to start clients out by identifying their hopes and dreams, but sometimes this process can be a reality check. A couple may realize that at their current income, spending or debt levels, they simply can’t afford to meet any of their goals. It’s in these instances that couples really need to work together as a team.
From VOICES in the Wall Street Journal on February 23 2011.
For instance, it’s usually very important that couples pay down debt together — even if it’s been acquired by only one of them. First of all, married couples share a single credit score. More importantly, out-of-control credit card debt can ruin the finances of the entire household. If couples work together to pay it down, it’s twice as easy to eliminate, and in the end, both parties come out ahead.
Often it takes baby steps to get couples on the same page, financially speaking — but the more they work together, the easier their financial lives become. The bottom line is that financial choices made by either spouse tend to affect the whole family. It’s important that information and values are shared from the get-go. In the long run, I’ve found it makes relationships stronger. ~end
I would add that some couples strongly prefer having separate checking accounts. Ideally all income should flow into a joint account and then an agreed upon amount swept to individual checking accounts. That way both individuals will know what is coming in and going out of the household.