Blog | Personal Finance

Money Secrets of Happy Couples

When it comes to marriage, the power of financial alignment is key

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Think back to the last time you were really serious about someone as a potential spouse or partner. What were the qualities you were looking for in that person? What was really important to you as you considered a long-term commitment?

While many women would like to think that a kind man with good looks and a great sense of humor top that list, the reality is that while those types of qualities are important, what’s really topping ladies’ lists are money and social status.

The hard numbers of marriage and money

According to a recent survey by Merrill Edge, 56% of Americans say they want a partner who provides financial security more than “head-over-heels” love. What’s more, this desire is nearly equal among men (54%) and women (57%).

It’s clear that when it comes to long-term relationships and marriage, money matters. Yet, as you think back on your last serious relationship, how often did you actually talk about money? If you didn’t, you were missing out on one of the main money secrets of happy couples.

Also, you aren’t alone. The reality is that only a small percentage of couples talk about money before they get married, and even after they are married, only 38% of couples say they plan together for retirement. Yet, as we all know, money is the biggest stress point in a relationship, and not surprisingly, the number one cause of divorce.

So, I’d say it’s a pretty important to discuss before you make one of the biggest commitments of your life.

Having an aligned mindset around money

When money talks do happen, they usually revolve around things like income and hard work. These are qualities that women often view as important. Unfortunately, these are still superficial concepts. After all, a good job can go away, and so can the big salary that comes with it. And hard work, while admirable, is not a promise for financial success.

So, what should women looking to land the right partner be searching for when it comes to money? The answer is in mindset.

When Robert and I were dating, we did a fun exercise together that helped us discover whether we were a good match for each other. One night, we each had a 3x5 index card on which we wrote the top 10 values we thought the other had as a person.

56% of Americans say they want a partner who provides financial security more than “head-over-heels” love.

When we were done, we compared our lists. We had some that were in common and a few that were not in common. But importantly for both of us, the things in common were big ones: money, business, and investing. (This is a good thing since the first birthday gift Robert ever gave me was an accounting class!)

Discovering that we were both in alignment in our values, especially regarding money, business, and investing was a big point in our relationship, and it sparked an important conversation. I can guarantee that if we had not been in alignment, the relationship wouldn’t have lasted.

The things that attracted me to Robert weren’t his social status and how much money he had (because he didn’t have any at the time!). Instead, it was the way he thought about money. I knew that he was eager to learn, and someone I could spend my life with because of the way he approached these important topics. And together, with our shared passions, we’ve built a wonderful life.

5 money habits of happy couples

Once you find the right partner, your finances (both joint and separate) should remain a frequent topic of conversation throughout the course of your entire relationship — never stop talking about money.

According to a study by Ameriprise a few years ago, 77% of American couples report they are on the same page with their finances. Surprising? In these times of economic distress, it may seem too good to be true. How do these couples build happy relationships, with each other and with money? What’s their secret?

The study outlines five money habits of happy couples, exploring how these couples achieve financial harmony.

  1. They make money a priority

    Many people don’t think that money should be the most important thing in their life. Some people think it’s offensive or superficial to focus on how much money they make or how they are using their money.

    But the majority of happy couples agree that money is a priority. They make a point to talk about it and plan their lives around their financial goals and needs.

    It’s like Robert’s rich dad said: “Money may not be the most important thing in your life, but it affects everything that is important.”

  2. They talk about and agree on financial goals

    Whether it’s retirement, saving up to buy a house, or becoming financially independent, most couples have very clear, shared financial goals. Sharing financial goals, and working toward them together is not only a great way to increase your likelihood of achieving them, but it’s also fun!

    Very early in our relationship, Robert and I talked about our financial goals. We both shared the goal to become financially free, as well as a vision of owning our own business. Though we faced a long bumpy road, those shared goals kept us going. When we started The Rich Dad Company, we did so together, as partners, and it made all the difference to our success in business and our relationship.

  3. They set spending limits

    The report found that money secrets of happy couples include setting a spending limit. “Any purchases over $400 (on average) need to be discussed.”

    A spending limit can be a great way to ensure you and your partner have open communication about finances. Spending large amounts of money without discussing with your partner can lead to trust issues and resentment. But being open and up front about big financial decisions can help solidify your relationship.

  4. They have joint banking accounts

    To be honest, I have mixed feelings on joint banking accounts. On the one hand, I think they can be a great way to support constant communication as a couple. When your finances are tied together, you have more reason to talk about how you’re spending or saving your money as a team.

    On the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a separate bank account, as long as your partner is aware of it. Many couples have both: A joint bank account for shared household expenses (mortgage, utilities, groceries, pets, children, etc.), and separate accounts for personal items.

    Either way, the key is communication. Having secret accounts or stashes of money your partner doesn’t know about, is not indicative of a healthy relationship. But, I do think there’s merit to keeping some of the money you earn in a separate account — that way if things don’t work out with your partner, you are freed from some of the frustrating legal entanglements that come with splitting a joint account.

  5. They share responsibility for retirement planning and investment decisions

    The study found that an astonishing 92% agree on their target retirement savings goals.

    Retirement is a wonderful time to relax and pursue the things you love with the person you love. A lot of people look forward to the extra time they have to spend with their partner in retirement.

    Unfortunately, retirement is too often one of the most stressful times in a couple’s life. If they haven’t planned properly, or communicated what their goals and expectations are for retirement, then what should be a happy, relaxing time can quickly dissolve into stress and anxiety.

    That’s why happy couples should talk about retirement right away, and work toward their retirement goals together.

How do happy couples talk about money?

So, the question is, does money make a happy marriage? The answer is yes and no. Certainly having money can make things a lot less stressful. But ultimately, what makes a happy marriage is alignment.

Communication is another important tool when it comes to a couple’s financial happiness. In the Ameriprise study, 68% describe communication over finances with their spouses/partners as “perfect” or “very good.”

This communication should start right at the beginning of a relationship — no joke, Robert asked me questions on my financial goals and habits on one of our very first dates!

If you’re unsure how to begin these financial conversations, start with these questions:

  • What did your parents tell you about the subject of money?

  • Did your own thoughts differ from those of your parents?

  • What does money represent to you?

  • What’s your general thought about very rich people?

  • How rich is “very rich?”

If you’ve been in a relationship, or if you’ve been married for a while, and haven’t had these conversations yet, it’s not too late to emulate how happy couples deal with money. Many people get uncomfortable talking about money, so take it gentle and slow. Work at it from different angles until you find the one that gets the response — and eventually leads to deeper conversations.

Original publish date: July 16, 2015

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