In a relationship, matters of the wallet can be just as important as matters of the heart. After all, money decisions impact a couple at every stage -- from the newlywed days of getting a joint bank account and shared home to the retirement phase of planning new adventures and discovering hobbies to fill your days.
Having a spouse or partner by your side can be a great help in achieving financial stability and retirement readiness, but first you both must have the often-daunting "money talk." Here are four tips to help make that talk with your partner as productive as possible.
#1: Get (and stay) on the same page. Whether you're just starting out as a couple, newly married or have been married for many years, communication about money can be a real sticking point in relationships. To help alleviate any tension, try to make the conversation less about flowcharts and spreadsheets, and more about goals and values. Discuss what you hope to achieve and what your financial priorities are for your future together. A heart-to-heart conversation about what's important in life can pave the way to talk about the nuances of your budget: debts, cash management, emergency funds, insurance protection, retirement savings and more.
Especially if you are both approaching retirement, you'll want to discuss what you envision for your golden years. A recent Voya Financialￂﾮ study found that many people avoid this conversation, with four-in-ten workers spending little or no time discussing the lifestyle they want in retirement with their spouses or partners. If you're avoiding the conversation now, when retirement finally does arrive, your lack of a plan could serve as a potential sore spot in the relationship.
To course correct, ask each other specific questions to determine your ideal retirement lifestyle. How will you spend your days? What do you want to accomplish? Where do you want to live? You may have different answers to these questions, so talk about where you agree and disagree. Couples may want to write down what is important to them on individual slips of paper -- such as travel, volunteering, grandchildren, relocation -- and prioritize these items as a couple to help inform the larger financial plan.
#2: Have shared ownership for financial matters. By having a shared approach to financial matters and retirement planning, you'll both feel more secure and satisfied with your finances. Start by figuring out a logical way to share financial responsibilities. For example, perhaps you handle the bills, while your partner manages the savings and investments. Whatever way you slice up the chores, it is equally as important to make sure you both have a full understanding and say in what the other person is managing.
A simple way to establish shared ownership is to set a certain expense amount -- $50, $100, $500 -- over which the two of you agree to talk about purchases before making them. In addition, there are many online budgeting and savings tools you two can complete or review together to establish shared ownership. For instance, Voya's myOrange Money tool is an easy and quick way to determine if you are on track for retirement.
#3: Have a household safety net. Unexpected challenges are always just that -- unexpected. Things like illness, home repair or employment changes aren't fun to think about, but can happen to all of us. Therefore, it is essential to protect yourself and your partner financially for worst-case scenarios.
Make sure you have three to six months of income in an emergency account. In addition, get enough life and disability insurance to protect your paycheck and help you avoid borrowing against your future by using your retirement savings to get out of a hole (before you've retired). The same Voya study found that 37 percent of workers have less than $100,000 in life insurance coverage. This amount may sound like a lot, but can disappear surprisingly quickly if the primary breadwinner in the family should pass away, especially if there are dependent children.
#4: Commit to a long-term savings approach. What are your long-terms goals as a couple? Start talking, planning and saving now for your future. Long-term goals such as a home purchase, college education for children or retirement security can take years of planning and disciplined saving. Make sure you are both making progress toward those long-term goals so that you can celebrate reaching milestones together.
When you are both making compromises to achieve your goals, you are less likely to have to worry that one person in the relationship feels more financially burdened than the other. For instance, you may be contributing different amounts based on your salaries or work status, but by both committing to regular contributions to your retirement plans and participating in employer match programs, you're more likely to feel equally comfortable about your future finances.
Money can be a source of friction in many relationships. Through open communication and shared ownership, a safety net and a strong plan for long-term savings, couples can come out of the money talk more financially savvy and connected than ever.