Are couples and money incompatible? Is financial planning a relationship killer? Here’s some advice on managing money together without destroying your relationship.
1. Break the money taboo
Did you know that money is one of the main sources of conflict in couples?
For love and money to coexist, you cannot bury your head in the sand and hope that your financial problems will resolve themselves on their own.
Bite the bullet and talk about your money, budget, finances, investments and the sharing of expenses.
Leave no stone unturned! Discuss differences in salary or how to share expenses if one of you loses part of their salary.
When the rules are clear from the get-go, you reduce the chances of bitterness, quarrels, misunderstandings and deceit.
2. Finances are made to be shared!
The old adage ignorance is bliss does not apply to financial management, especially when only one person in the relationship is responsible for it.
Be involved in paying bills and preparing a household budget. Discuss everything together to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations. Set your priorities together.
This is not a question of not trusting each other, but rather of making wise financial decisions.
3. Make a budget
With a budget, you know exactly how much is going into the bank and how much is coming out. This allows you to make adjustments and better decisions.
Calculating your combined income is easy. Calculating expenses is a little harder. Here’s a trick: Use your bank account and credit card statements.
You will also want to separate fixed expenses (mortgage, car loan, insurance, etc.) from variable ones (groceries, gas, clothes, etc.).
Preparing a budget also helps you agree on how you will pay for personal expenses. Is this a you, me or our expense? It’s up to you to discuss it!
Included in personal expenses are your personal debts, from before and during the relationship.
There’s an app for that
4. Income-based? 50/50? Grab bag?
There are 3 ways to manage a couple’s finances.
And there is no right or wrong way. Choosing the one you want is a matter of preference… and open communication.
This method is based on individual income and the priorities of both spouses, without considering lifestyle.
When one spouse is able to afford a car and the other can only afford to take the bus, this has to be taken into account when doing the financial planning.
Be wary of the time spent calculating income and expenses every month. This can be confusing… even with a joint account.
This method is very common with spouses who are in similar financial situations:
- Interests and hobbies
Those who like to keep things simple and who have a similar attitude towards money tend to go for the 50/50.
Inconveniences will arise when one of you experiences financial problems or has a change in financial situation.
As the musketeers would say, “All for one, one for all!” This is the grab-bag philosophy, where salary and lifestyle are not deciding factors.
Couples who choose this method will say they are first-and-foremost a team.
For this to work, they must have the same financial priorities and the same attitude towards money in order to avoid frustrations.
Unfortunately, in this situation, the spouse who earns less is at risk of financial ruin should they ever separate… unless they plan ahead, of course (see point 8).
5. Joint accounts
Managing household expenses can be done using a joint account or not.
It’s entirely up to you.
Please be aware that when one of the spouses dies, access to the joint account could be frozen while the estate is liquidated.
A personal bank account has the advantage of not putting all your eggs into the same basket.
6. Marriage and common-law spouses
Common-law spouses think they have the same rights as married couples after one year of living together.
Nothing could be further from the truth, whether you have children together or not!
In the event of a separation, the common-law spouse is not entitled to:
- their share of the family home when it’s in their spouse’s name
- the sharing of assets
- compensation for work done at home (for example, if you do invisible work)
- a portion of their spouse’s RRSPs and annuities
- inheritance if their spouse failed to make a will
Protect yourself by making a will and drawing up a cohabitation contract.
7. Don’t forget about retirement
A couple’s finances are not just there to pay for expenses, but also to generate savings.
When preparing your respective retirements, be sure to set your priorities and objectives according to the income you will have together.
Unfortunately, this can lead to disparity, especially when one has a pension fund to which their employer contributes and the other has trouble making RRSP contributions.
One strategy that is often implemented is contributing to the spouse’s RRSP. That way, the spouse who contributes to the other’s RRSP can deduct this amount from their income tax return.
In any case, it would be wise to prepare a joint retirement strategy with your advisor.
8. Plan for the unthinkable
No one wants to talk about separation or divorce, as though the mere mention of the idea is enough to cast a curse on the couple…
Since no one can predict the future, it’s best to plan for everything, including a separation. Who will keep the house? How will the property be split? What about the belongings acquired prior to and during the relationship?
This all has to be discussed. Have it attested by a notary or written up in a cohabitation contract. That way, you will be able to focus on other things if and when that day comes…
Note: This blog post is provided for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional legal, financial or fiscal advice. For advice specific to your personal situation, always speak with your advisor. SSQ cannot be held responsible for any decision made as a result of reading this blog post.
Original Post can be found on the SSQ Blog: https://blog.ssq.ca/en/finances/8-money-management-tips-couples