They say money can’t buy love, but it can buy heartbreak. Love and finances are exceedingly complex subjects, so it makes sense that it only gets more complicated when you combine them. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the AICPA® Financial Literacy Commission encourages Americans to give their loved ones the gift of an honest talk about money.
Nearly three in four (73%) married or cohabitating Americans say financial decisions have caused tension in their relationships. Of these, nearly half (47%) admit that this tension has negatively affected intimacy with their partner. This is all according to a recent AICPA survey The Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs® (AICPA).
It is important for couples to address financial values. To help, Neal Stern, CPA, a member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, spoke with AICPA Insights about the recent “Love & Money” survey results and how couples can work on financial compatibility together.
Did anything from the survey concern you?
Neal Stern: It’s concerning that nearly three-quarters of all married or cohabitating couples are seeing potential cracks in the foundation of their commitment to each other from financial tensions — especially when you consider the risk that money conflicts can erode or destroy something as priceless as your closest relationship. Seeing that only 56% of partners in these relationships feel very comfortable talking to their significant other about finances means that many couples are denying themselves the opportunity to strengthen their relationships by working together to manage financial stress.
With dishonesty about finances possibly as harmful to a marriage as other forms of infidelity, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of candid up-front discussions of financial values, goals and brewing money issues before facing irreparable damage that can lead to a breakup.
Married or cohabitating Americans often cited disagreements about “needs vs. wants.” How can couples address this conflict?
NS: Couples must take time to map out how they will meet obligations such as rent or mortgage payments and utilities, what their long-term financial goals are and how they will use what’s leftover each month. This will help provide a clear picture of how much is available for enjoying life as a couple and rewarding yourselves while making progress toward long-term financial goals.
With a realistic budget and investing plan based on shared values as a couple, you can avoid tense discussions about paying for that new bike, designer shoes or an upcoming vacation and stressful “where did our money go” conversations that can erode trust and respect.
How can Americans strengthen their financial compatibility?
NS: Financial decisions will be a couple’s constant companion throughout their life together, and solid financial compatibility is a key to a strong relationship built on trust. A candid discussion about money matters — such as the balance between spending and saving, financial risk tolerance and long-term goals — is a good place to start finding the common ground that will guide you. Setting joint goals and being open about your financial values can help build a stronger bond with your partner as you learn new ways to work together as a team.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing finances as a couple but discussing your attitudes toward money is a key. For some couples, combining checking and savings accounts and credit cards with one partner taking on the role of manager works best. Others may find it better to keep some independent resources for each partner while agreeing on how to cover joint expenses such as housing costs and entertainment and obligations such as student loans and car payments. If finances are combined, it’s important to work out ground rules for what purchases should be discussed in advance to avoid tense conversations about items that may seem like “splurges” to one partner or the other when they turn up.
A periodic check-in on where you stand financially, say once per month, will go a long way toward building trust between partners and confidence that you’re on the right track — and an opportunity for a timely course correction if needed.
There’s plenty of ground to cover in working as a couple to strengthen financial compatibility as you build your future together. The AICPA has more tips to help strengthen financial compatibility and other resources at 360FinancialLiteracy.org/LOVE.