Jean Chatzky will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2009.
When it comes to life, knowing how to differentiate between the things you can control and the things that you can’t control can make everything a whole lot easier. Take, for example, your finances. For the most part, you have the ability to be in control of them. But when you’re married or in a committed relationship, the line between yours and theirs tends to get a bit blurry.
Although it might seem right to share everything, a bit of financial independence is imperative in any healthy relationship. When it comes to my marriage, I need to be able to buy a cup of coffee without checking with him. He needs to be able to do the same. If you don’t have this sort of financial independence, one spouse starts feeling like a parent and the other like a child.
But how can couples manage finances together and still achieve the right balance of control? For me, what’s key is remembering that just because you tie the knot, you don’t all of a sudden become the same person. What you have to do, therefore, is understand HOW you are different and how those differences are going to worry or stress your partner. Then you need to keep lines of communications open so that you both understand what is happening with the family pie.
Talk About Your Finances Once a Week
To make discussing your finances an ongoing dialogue, set aside time to talk about money once a week. It should be a time when neither of you is overly tired nor overly cranky -- perhaps after a television show you always watch together. During the week, keep a list of items you want to make sure not to forget to discuss. This meeting is like a doctor’s visit -- you want to be sure to put the time to good use.
How much should you put in the FSA? Should you switch healthcare plans? Are you paying too much for cable? Should you re-allocate your 401(k), or should you start budgeting for a new flat-screen? All of these items are fair game. If you are feeling nervous, worried or angry over money, try to understand what is behind your own feelings before you air them with your spouse. If you can understand why you feel a certain way, your spouse will have a greater chance of understanding too.
Create a Household Budget
While it’s more than necessary to talk about finances with your significant other, you’re going to have to take some action. There is a school of thought that says the more you merge your money, the more you trust each other and the marriage. I am not completely of that school — quite possibly because I’ve been divorced. I am a big fan of joint AND separate accounts. The way this works best is if you come up with a household budget that the joint account will cover. It must include the amount you want to save for your joint goals – like vacation, a house and retirement. Then figure out what equal percentage of both salaries will cover it, transfer that much in from the separate accounts, and leave the rest. NOTE: The bills covered by the joint accounts shouldn’t ALWAYS be paid by the same person. One will gravitate toward these tasks, but make sure you switch it up at least once a year.
I know that for most couples, money isn’t the most enjoyable thing to think about or discuss. However, if you start looking to the future and what it might hold for the both of you, it can be. One of the best parts about being a couple is dreaming together. Setting financial goals is a form of dreaming. Ask each other what do you want this year, next year, in 5 years, in 10. Then attach numbers to those dreams so you can figure out how you’ll get there.
Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for NBC’s Today, a contributing editor for Money, a columnist for The New York Daily News, a contributor to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and a featured money coach on Oprah's "Debt Diet" series. She is the author of four books, including best sellers such as Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 A Day and her latest book, The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper In Even the Toughest Times. Her website is JeanChatzky.com.