For the Love of Money … and Each Other

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“The Tête à Tête,” from “Marriage A-la-Mode,” c. 1743. William Hogarth. National Gallery, London.

Ah, love. Our partners can bring us some of the greatest happiness we’ve ever experienced, and the families we create can fill our lives with joy and meaning. But (and you knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?) when we throw complex financial situations into the mix, even the strongest of relationships can become strained.

In all matters of love and money, a term I frequently hear is “partnership.” In business, a partnership is defined as an arrangement in which both parties work together to advance a mutual interest. Easy enough. But in love, not only do we have to go out and find an emotionally compatible partner, we then must successfully blend finances into our union.

With today’s couples getting married later in life — the average age is headed to 30 in the U.S. and is already over 30 in the U.K. and much of Europe — couples have well-established careers and money philosophies by the time they walk down the aisle.

Years ago, the advice most commonly given to newlyweds was to combine their finances without question, but many couples value their independence and may feel that keeping separate accounts is the best option. Whatever you and your partner decide is right for you on that front is right for you. However, that decision is just one of many in your financial lives together.

The biggest hurdle most couples will face isn’t managing their day-to-day finances. Rather, it’s managing their finances in a way that ensures both parties can achieve their dreams.

In order to ensure my clients are set up to do just that, I walk them through an exercise, answering the following questions independently of one another:

  • If we met again three years from today, what goals do you hope to have accomplished?
  • What do you want to achieve in the coming years as it relates to your health, business, relationship, assets, family, charities and community?
  • What are your personal and professional goals, ranked by importance?

I then sit down with both partners and ask them to agree on their five most important combined goals. Yes, it’s a simple exercise, but it’s amazing how important it is to agree on what’s important.

One of the more interesting takeaways — which inevitably emerges — is a candid look at each person’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money. We all have them.

Growing up, I admired my parents’ distinct roles in our family. My mom had a talent for stretching out a paycheck while feeding four growing boys, still having money to go out on Saturday night. Meanwhile, my dad was great at negotiating large purchases and handling bigger-picture financial concerns.

Today, I see that my folks, perhaps instinctively, knew a universal truth: In the same way that smart businesses divide people into teams where everyone’s strengths can shine, good partnerships know how to divide and conquer in a way that creates less stress — and more joy —  for both parties. Alone we may be good, but together we are always better.

Author of “Take Back Your Money” and “The Ten Truths of Wealth Creation,” John E. Girouard is a registered principal of Cambridge Investment Research and an investment advisor representative of Capital Investment Advisors in Georgetown.

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