by Kathryn Hauer, CFP®, EA
Couples in happy marriages do lots of things together. Sometimes one of those things is to visit a financial planner. I’ve noticed in my career as a financial planner that couples who hire me seem to fit in the top percent of happy marriages. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are well prepared or ill prepared for retirement, if they are savers or spenders, if they’ve been together two years or twenty, or what socio-economic class they are in. When two married people sit in front of me hearing my ideas for their financial future, almost without exception, they are a pair who are happy with each other.
Sarah Chandler, in her Investopedia article, “Top Tips for Handling Married Couple’s Finances,” says that she’s “seen so many different couples handle their money management in so many different ways [and] here is no one “right” answer.” Her sentiments are very true, and the pairs of people I see handle their finances in different ways, but they are similar in several common ways.
A major reason for meeting with a financial planner is for reassurance that the couple can have a good retirement together. Usually they want me to run the numbers to see if they are going to be able to travel the world or offer comprehensive pet therapy to the elderly or send the grandkids to Catholic school or start a German pretzel business or do some other thing together that they’ve been dreaming of for years. They are very defined in what they want to do together, and they’re visiting me to see if that activity will fit in their financial frame.
Usually within a couple, one member tends to be the dominant talker. You can spot which one it is pretty early. However, with happily-marrieds, the talker is careful to listen to the quieter person when they decide to offer an opinion, The less voluble person also listens to the other in a comfortable way, not with the muffled disapproval you often see with couples who are not in sync and in which the dominant person has little respect for the other person. When they begin to see that their joint goal is possible, they might get excited and talk over each other, but that core reverence for the other person is always there.
Both spouses tell stories about each other that reveal strengths and positive qualities. One will talk about how marvelous the other is at cooking or art or running, and later in the meeting the other will tell a story about how clever or talented the spouse is. These couples honestly think they are married to the greatest spouse on earth! Occasionally, I privately marvel at what seems like misplaced admiration to me, but the spousal emotion is genuine and is yet another confirmation about how much these two like each other.
These happy couples engage in subtle but consistent physical connection; they pat each other, move in sync, sit close, hold hands, bend their heads toward each other, and touch each other repeatedly during a meeting. It’s charming and reassuring.
How That Behavior Translates to Financial Safety
Even for couples whose money habits have landed them in hot water, once they make the decision together to get out, they create a plan and stick to it. And for the pair who has made financial success a life-long habit, they’re going to be even more successful. The “basics” of a financial plan help you get your arms around these concepts, the first eleven of which apply to everyone and the next four which apply to some of us:
1. Understand where your money goes 2. Know your net worth 3. Get debt issues under control 4. Start an emergency fund 5. Reduce risk through insurance coverage 6. Minimize taxes 7. Save and invest 8. Understand Social Security benefits 9. Plan for retirement 10. Write a will 11. Organize your documents
12. Plan to buy a house 13. Plan to pay for college or tech school 14. Manage student loan debt 15. Advance your career
Financial planners like me work to help their clients address each of the very crucial aspects of financial planning listed above while taking into account the individual needs and beliefs that each of us holds. As Investopedia advisor Michael Evans points out, each member of a marriage brings his or her own thinking about money to the partnership with “ingrained scripts that took years to develop, based on individual triggers, habits and lessons learned.” In the case of my clients, they are fully on the same page and the same line of the script they’re reading. In a place where the divorce rate is between 40 and 50 percent, my financial planning clients give me a lot of joy and hope.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner™, IRS Enrolled Agent, and financial literacy educator wrote “The 11-Step DIY Comprehensive Financial Plan.” This short workbook gives you the steps to create your own comprehensive financial plan. Financial planning is not mysterious or complicated, and it doesn’t have to take dozens of hours. This online DIY financial plan guides you through and doesn’t take weeks to complete. Learn more about ways to improve your financial health and safety at her website.