The Newlywed Game—that hugely popular TV phenomenon from the ‘60s—didn’t need a laugh track. It tested couples’ knowledge of each other in every realm from making dinner to making whoopee, and the hilarity stemmed from what couples didn’t know about each other. Few partners knew what the other earned. And that’s no laughing matter because apparently, not much has changed in five decades. According to a 2015 Couples Retirement Study by Fidelity Investments, couples could benefit from delving a little more deeply into each other’s secret financial lives before turning to financial marriage counseling.
The study, which surveyed 1,051 couples, found that while a growing number may be comfortable talking about money in general, they aren’t talking about what they actually make. Almost half (43%) were not able to say what their partner earned. One in 10 misjudged their partner’s income by more than $25,000. And 60% of couples don’t have a clue about their Social Security benefits, including a staggering 49% of those in or on the cusp of retirement.
“For some couples, income inequality can be a prohibiting factor when it comes to discussing finances in marriage. One person might think that if they don’t make as much as their spouse, their opinion doesn’t hold the same weight when it comes to financial decision making,” says Kristen Robinson, a senior vice president at Fidelity. But couples need to be equally comfortable behind the financial wheel, because life can be unexpected—emergency expenses, change in job situation, illness or even loss, leaving one spouse alone. It’s crucial that couples communicate, collaborate, and are equally comfortable managing the marriage finances—no matter how much they earn—in order to protect their future.” Robinson advocates getting those furtive figures out of the shadows so you both have a handle on what you have. She suggests setting up a money date and popping these questions:
Where are we going? You should both be able to articulate what you want to achieve in the next 3-5 years. What’s it going to cost? Can you realistically afford it? Are you disciplined enough to save for it? What needs to change now in order to make it happen?
Are we one paycheck away from disaster? How healthy is your emergency fund? Chances are good that at some point you’ll bump into a unanticipated expense like a medical emergency or a failing vehicle. Commit to putting aside 3-6 months of living expenses.
Are we on the same page? What will retirement look like for you? Don’t assume you both want the same things unless you’ve talked it through in advance. If one of you wants to become a globetrotter and the other wants to stay put and perfect that golf swing, you’ve got trouble ahead. Agree on a vision for retirement and make a plan for how to afford it.
Are our papers in order and our wishes known to each other? Anything can happen; are you both clear on each others’ directives as they relate to inheritance, estate planning and eldercare arrangements?
Talking and planning doesn’t just make good money sense, it can bring a welcome sense of calm. Of those surveyed, the 42% who had a financial plan in place were more likely to expect to live a “very comfortable” retirement, and less likely to be concerned about outliving their retirement savings. The results suggest that planning for the future can bring greater peace of mind and alignment as a couple.
See also: When Your Spouse Spends and Spends
“For many, the lack of communication could be as simple as not making time,” says Robinson. “We’re all juggling so many responsibilities and tasks that sitting down and having important financial discussions often gets pushed to the back burner. But it’s critical that couples make the time, and make these discussions a priority.
Open communication is an important part of building and maintaining any relationship, and that extends to marriage and finances.”
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