Love and Money

Couples Need To Be Financially Compatible If They Want to Avoid Strife

Love and Money
The person you marry, and your compatibility on issues of money, will profoundly influence your happiness in life. Gregory Baldwin / Imagezoo / Getty Images

Rule #1 in the article I penned years ago titled 7 Rules of Wealth Building and Amassing Money  states that finding a compatible spouse is paramount to achieving financial independence and freedom. But as you probably know, relationships and investing are extremely complex subjects and mixing the two could be a recipe for disaster. Here's what you should and shouldn't do with your money when you are seriously involved with someone.

Love and Money Point 1: Single vs. Joint Accounts

Couples and experts alike have debated over single and joint accounts for as long as most people can remember. The two sides are both striving for the same goal - creating a stronger marriage while maintaining financial responsibility. The arguments go something like this: 1.) joint accounts create a sense of unity that is vital to a relationship. If you separate the money, you take away a degree of integration that should be present in any long-term relationship, or 2.) separate accounts allow each the ability to retain their independence, actually strengthening the relationship.

Which side is right? That depends.

Before you can even consider planning a financial future with someone, you have to look at what type of personality you each have. If you managed your finances, made your own investment decisions, and had qualified retirement accounts before you got involved, you will probably be very hesitant to give up that control to anyone - including the person with whom you may spend the rest of your life.

On the other hand, if you were prone to spur-of-the-moment spending and liberal use of credit, odds are you would more readily opt to open joint accounts. In the end, the accounts should only be merged if (and this is absolutely vital) both parties have the same type of financial personality.

Love and Money Point 2: Both Parties Should Be Accountable for the Money

Please realize this doesn't mean that one of you has the right to ask for money whenever you feel like it.

Often, I'll receive letters from couples who complain that the husband or wife feels like a child receiving an allowance. In some cases, this is a valid argument. More often than not, when the entire story is told, it turns out that the party in question simply cannot handle money.

Love and Money Example: The Story of Kent and Elizabeth

We can all take a lesson from Kent and Elizabeth Washington, a real couple whose names I've changed. Before they met, Kent owned a restaurant and made around $40,000 a year. His wife was an elementary school teacher who brought home about $23,000. Elizabeth was given $200 every week to buy groceries and take care of small household expenses. She became so frustrated at receiving her 'allowance' that she actually gave Kent separation papers because he refused to change the way he managed their family's finances. She felt that, as an educated woman earning her own salary, the money was rightfully hers.

The truth of the matter was, prior to their current situation, both had separate checking accounts. Elizabeth took her weekly paycheck of $442.31 and deposited it into her account, just as if she were single. The total household expenses were just over $35,800 annually including rent, food, etc.

Because she brought in 36.5% of the income, Kent decided that she should pay the same percentage of the bills. This worked out to around $13,067 annually. Two weeks into the new arrangement, Elizabeth had spent her entire paycheck and not paid any of the bills. She went to her husband and told him he needed to pay the them. Kent refused, and in the end, the bills were not paid, Elizabeth had no money left. Fast forward to the present and Elizabeth now receives an "allowance" while Kent effectively manages his family's funds, making sure that their power isn't shut off in the middle of the night.

The moral? As cruel as this sounds, Kent was absolutely right. If you or your spouse cannot be responsible with the finances, you do not deserve to have control over them if you have any hope of building wealth as a family, securing a comfortable retirement.

This is especially true if you have children. The fact of the matter is, if Elizabeth had been on her own, her monthly expenses would have been higher because the cost-savings of living with someone else would have been eliminated. In only a few months she would likely be facing the possibility of bankruptcy.

This isn't a game; it's your life. There are no do-overs or try-agains. Elizabeth's argument was that she felt like a child. Although this is sometimes a very real problem, in cases such as hers, that excuse is bull. As soon as Elizabeth begins acting like an adult and handles the money responsibly, she should be entitled to equality in the couple's finances. Until then, absolutely not. For the men out there who are smirking - this includes you. If your wife is the one who is saving, investing, and being financially responsible, and you are irresponsibly spending money, you have no business making financial decisions. It is not your right as "man" of the house to be in charge of the money. That job should go to the most qualified. Be responsible and honest enough with yourself to recognize who that is even if it means ceding autonomy over the checkbook.

Love and Money: The Built-In Solution

If you still want to have a joint account, but you're worried about one partner being able to control or spend part of the investments, don't fear. Most brokerage houses offer a "double sign" feature on their accounts ensuring that money can’t be spent, withdrawn or moved without the written consent of both parties. This is a great feature that not only curtails potential conflicts, but will save money. After all, if you have to get your significant other to agree to every purchase, you will probably end spending less, which is good for everyone involved!

Battle of the Love and Money Strategies

Another thing to watch out for is fights arising from different investment styles. If your wife or husband is a value investor and you are more interested in high-flying, high-risk stocks, no matter how responsible you each are, it would be wiser to have separate accounts. Otherwise, one or both of you is going to end up frustrated and angry.

In Conclusion...

  1. If you and your partner have similar views on money, investing, and saving, open joint accounts.
  2. If one or both of you is a shopaholic, opt for the double sign feature on your brokerage and checking accounts.
  3. If you have different strategies, get separate accounts! Why create a source of conflict?
  4. Have common goals in your relationship. These should not be limited to finances.
  5. Keep only one credit card between the two of you for emergencies or to build up credit.
  6. Keep track of your finances (both joint and individual) in a good software package like Quicken.

For more information about why financial compatibility is so important, read 8 Financial Benefits of Marriage Every Investor Needs to Know.