The Last Taboo
How talking about money can save your marriage
A bigger taboo than sex?
“We’ll talk about sex, religion and many other dicey things, but when it comes to money, we’re almost completely silent,” says Barbara Bachelder, a Marin County-based certified financial planner (CFP). “The typical agreement among engaged or married couples seems to be, ‘You’ll handle it or I’ll handle it, but let’s never discuss it.’” The reason why, she says, is that in our culture most of us have been raised not to reveal our salaries or net worth. How much we make or owe is one of our deepest secrets.
Even being in love can be an obstacle to discussing money. “Most couples are in a ‘love conquers all’ frame of mind right before they get married, so they’re not inclined to talk about money,” says Jovita Honor, a San Jose CFP. Caught up in matrimonial giddiness, they put the wedding gown, those adorable but pricey favors and their gotta-have-it South Sea honeymoon on their credit cards, and float to the altar in a state of blissful denial. That euphoric bubble usually bursts, though, once the wedding bills come due. “Couples quickly realize that because they overspent on their wedding, the money for important things like having children or buying a house just isn’t there,” Honor adds. “Suddenly, money has become a major issue, and the relationship is off to a shakey start.”
You don’t need something as dramatic as wedding day splurges or a fiancé‘s past bankruptcy to put yourselves in a precarious financial position. Often it’s the little things that can do you in. Long Beach CFP Aaron Newland frequently deals with a money leakage phenomenon he calls “the trickles.” There are trickles everywhere for the unwary: Target, Best Buy, movies, eating out, ATMs-they all add up. “When couples learn just how much they’re ‘trickling away,’ it often inspires a serious we’d-better-sit-down-and-talk reaction.”
If you think you’re too young to need to discuss money with your partner, remember, the future is just around the corner. In order to make it through kids, houses, retirement and into your golden years together with a minimum of financial worry, you ought to have a plan. Trent Bryson, a CFP in Long Beach often works with younger couples. He says professionals who come to him want to know what they should be doing with their incomes early in their careers. Aside from touting the miracle of compound interest (you invest a small amount monthly over 40 years and retire with substantial wealth), Bryson works at getting young clients to overcome a belief in their own invincibility. “Twenty- and thirty-somethings seldom view themselves as candidates for accidents, long-term disease or death,” he explains. “But if you want to safeguard your spouse and your children financially, you become a lot more receptive to the idea of making wills and buying insurance.”