The more things change; the more things stay the same. This is a common enough saying, yet it’s never been truer than when you relate it to marital money issues.
In my parents’ generation, most couples got married young and although they usually had very little in the way of money or material wealth, they had the burning desire to conquer the world together. All their money and assets were lumped together and off they went.
I’ve never yet met a couple that didn’t have financial disagreements. It doesn’t really matter how much money you have or don’t have, it’s actually very easy to argue or disagree with the use of it.
Most people might think that the more money you have, the easier it would be to agree on what to do with it. This isn’t what I’ve observed over my career as a financial planner. Your ability to be happy in a marriage has more to do with the size of your commitment than the size of your bank account. That being said, why is it that most surveys rank financial disagreements as a top reason for divorce?
The reason is simple; nothing cuts to the heart of who you are faster than looking at how you spend your money. When you look at the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter, all of these are related to money.
Of course, in America today, it’s not enough to just have the basics covered. If that were true, almost nobody would be getting divorced based on not being able to cover those things. Today, a lot of people think that food means eating out often or buying a $5 cup of coffee every morning. Clothing has been replaced with something called fashion; which even sounds more expensive.
And, of course, let’s not forget about shelter. The word shelter has evolved from keeping you safe from the elements; to making sure you impress your friends and neighbors. All of this can lead to a nation of overweight, image-conscious debtors. Are we there yet?
However, as you might guess, today’s young lovers are not all that deterred by having a partner that is financially disabled. It seems that when it comes to getting hitched at the altar, a sex drive will trump a bad financial statement.
Investment News (June 4, 2012) ran a story that highlighted a TD Ameritrade survey. They surveyed 1,014 people online and found the following results: 32 percent said a deal breaker to getting married would be a bankruptcy; 26 percent listed high credit card debt; and 36 percent said unemployment would be enough to not get married.
So, if couples are willing to forgo a credit check and personal balance sheet as part of the selection process in finding a soul mate, what do you need to know about your partner to have a financially successful marriage? Well to start with; find your money system. It might be the all-for-one-and-one-for-all-system, or it might be the; what’s-mine-is-mine-and-what’s-yours-is-yours system.
Most couples who are young or don’t have much money, will opt for the 3-musketeer, all-for-one system. Other couples who get married later, have previous kids, or great differences in their finances will choose the what’s-mine-is-mine system. What really makes the most difference is your ability to be flexible and always put your love for each other above the love of things.
Remember, nobody takes it with them in the end, and your most important legacy will never be your bank account. I’ve often thought that a good financial planner is also a good marriage financial counselor.
And if you get stuck and can’t decide on a good working system for your marriage, you could always resort to the system my parents used. With over 50 years of marriage behind them, it obviously served them well. Basically, it went something like this; the first one to leave has to take the four kids with them.
This proved to be a powerful deterrent.