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WASHINGTON — Valentine’s Day spending is hyped as a way to show your love.
But one way to truly have a successful, loving relationship is to have frank, regular discussions about your finances. Bare your financial soul to your soul mate.
Yet many individuals aren’t honest with their significant others. Roughly 1 in 5 couples have a credit card or bank account that their partner doesn’t know about, for whatever reason, according to a recent CreditCards.com survey.
Millennials are almost twice as likely as older adults (28 percent versus 15 percent) to not disclose a checking or credit card account.
Financial infidelity can damage a relationship. In my experience working with couples, many say that financial unfaithfulness is just as bad as physical infidelity.
Here’s one way to help the love last in a committed relationship: Talk about money.
And to help get the conversation started, I’m recommending for this month’s Color of Money Book Club the “Official Money Guide For Couples,” by Susan and Michael Beacham.
The Beachams have been married for 30 years. They both worked in financial services, and they took their experience and founded Money Savvy Generation, a financial-education company.
“Truth is, it’s much easier for most couples not to talk about money, at least early in their life together,” the Beachams write. “For one thing, it’s about as far from being romantic as any conversation can be. And as compatible as two people are in most ways, there’s no guarantee their ideas about how to spend and what to save will align.”
But how’s not having candid conservations working for you?
It’s crazy to me that couples will spend hours picking a reception venue or even the wedding cake yet neglect to spend much time at all discussing how they will merge their money styles.
Here are some conversation starters, which hopefully you can work through in a premarital course.
• How much money do you make? (I’m always surprised when couples don’t know how much each earns.)
• Should we have joint or separate accounts? Or both?
“We did a complete financial merger at the outset, taking the ‘what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine’ approach to all assets, liabilities and expenses from day one,” the Beachams write.
(I vote joint, too. But even if you decide to keep things separate, there still should be complete transparency.)
• Will it make a difference if one of us makes more money? (It shouldn’t. But if it does, talk it out. Are there any feelings of financial insecurity if one of you makes considerably less money?)
• What’s the plan to attack any debt we are bringing into the relationship? (Share credit reports and credit scores before you get married. This is the ultimate truth teller. You can get free credit reports at annualcreditreport.com. Also check with your banking institution or credit union to see if you’re entitled to a free credit score. Or go to creditscorecard.com to view a free FICO score from Discover based on your Experian credit bureau file.)
• Who is going to be the family treasurer responsible for paying the household bills?
• What strategies could we use to de-escalate financial disagreements? (Come up with a code word or phrase that will make you laugh when things get intense.)
“Creating rock-solid finances doesn’t happen overnight,” the Beachams write. “It’s a journey down a winding path lined with financial transactions and accounts. A path on which you walk, talk, set goals, plan, save, spend, invest, track, have successes, make mistakes and try again.
The Beachams cover a lot of money-talk material — budgeting, managing credit, buying a home and investing — in their almost pocket-sized guide. It’s perfect for a millennial couple used to 280-character tweets.
A particularly helpful section asks couples to list the good, bad and ugly as these relate to their individual financial history. Some examples:
• Good: I have no credit card debt.
• Bad: I’m an impulse shopper.
• Ugly: My credit score is horrible because I didn’t pay bills on time.
Saying “I do” won’t magically make you a financially compatible couple. You’ve got to spend as much time as you did planning the wedding figuring out how to manage your money in your partnership.
I’m hosting an online discussion about the “Official Money Guide for Couples” at noon Eastern time on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. The Beachams will join me to help you get your own money conversation going.
Michelle Singletary writes a personal finance column for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.