Tips for Working as a Couple to Achieve Your Financial Goals
Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: this is not my attempt at marriage advice.1 A large percentage of our clients have been happily together longer than I’ve been alive. These are the couples who should be offering advice, not me. What I can offer, however, are a few insights I’ve gleaned from conducting hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of meetings and interviews with couples speaking about money. From what I’ve learned, the majority of financial challenges can be boiled down to three common myths.
Myth #1 – Couples must share all of the same financial goals.
Reality: The importance of sharing all the same goals is overrated. While it is vital to share a general vision about big-ticket purchases, it is not necessary, let alone realistic, to expect a couple to agree on everything else.
In fact, walking into a financial planning meeting with the belief that all goals must be entirely in sync may actually do more harm than good. What I typically see in such a meeting is one spouse who dominates the discussion, thinking he or she is speaking for the household. 2 This leaves little wiggle room to explore other possibilities, while simultaneously drowning out the thoughts and opinions of the less vocal partner.
When both spouses have a chance to express their opinions, we often discover that their goals are not entirely in line. For example, Spouse A wants to retire as soon as possible, while Spouse B gains fulfillment from work and wants to continue. Spouse A wants to send the kids to Harvard, while Spouse B favors Stanford. Spouse A would like to make a lasting impact by bequeathing a portion of the estate to ABC charity, while Spouse B prefers XYZ charity. These differences in opinion are healthy, normal and typically lead to one of the most important resolutions pertaining to life and money – compromise.
Myth #2 – All assets and accounts should be held jointly.
Reality: I suppose it’s normal to assume that one of the first post-wedding tasks is to set up joint bank accounts. After all, if you’re joining your lives, you should join your finances, right? Not necessarily. Is it easier to do some things joint? Sure, sometimes it is. Is it necessary? Absolutely not. If the purpose is to ensure assets end up in the right place in the case of an emergency, this goal can be reached by adding a spouse or joint trust as the beneficiary of the account, which can be accomplished in minutes.
However, as I often tell my clients, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As long as all assets and accounts are coordinated to work together and synchronized into one financial plan, there’s no need to make a mad dash to combine and retitle all funds. Typically, as couples grow together over time, future assets are acquired through joint ownership. As time passes, solely held assets are spent or end up folded into everything else. 3
To be clear, I am not giving a green light to holding “secret” accounts. Financial honesty and transparency are absolutely vital. Having separate accounts due to convenience is one thing, but if a spouse is hiding money or accumulating hidden debts, we have a major financial problem.
Myth #3 – Couples should have the same risk appetite.
Reality: Can you guess which couples typically lose a lot of money speculating in assets they don’t understand? The risk-enthusiast married to another risk-enthusiast. On the flip side, the excessively conservative couple happily loses their purchasing power to inflation while humming “cash is king.” 4 The only thing more dangerous than one investor with bad behaviors is two.
Instead, different levels of risk tolerance tend to make for a well-balanced investment plan. Avoiding financial groupthink at home can help eliminate some of the blind spots that can set a family back financially. There’s an invaluable benefit to one spouse always asking “Why?” before pulling the trigger on investment decisions. Yes, having different views on risk may slow things down a bit but, in the end, it typically leads to better financial decisions.
At Creative Planning, our advisors have significant experience helping couples make smart financial decisions and leave a lasting legacy. We work to understand each spouse’s challenges, goals and risk tolerance as we develop a customized financial plan specifically designed to help you achieve your shared vision for the future and support the causes you care most about.
- Yes, I am married.
- Also good advice: don’t ask your kids for suggestions.
- If I had to guess, it’s a husband doing this between 83 percent to 86 percent of the time. Sorry men, but it’s true.
- “You spend the first 20 years…accumulating all of this stuff. And then you’ll spend the next 20 years trying to get out of one thing after another to simplify your life.” This quote from our firm’s president, Peter Mallouk, sums it up well.