Money Talks, So Should You

Study pins down how much spouses fight over money

For the average couple, there are 24 money conversations a year and five money-based fights. Is it enough?

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

The road to retirement is tough enough without having to pull over to fight about money and budgets.

But that’s exactly what U.S. couples do regularly, fighting about money five times every year, according to investment firm TD Ameritrade.

That comes out of the 24 times a year, or only twice per month, couples discuss money, said the Omaha, Neb., financial services giant in a survey released Thursday.

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“With the median age for first-time marriages approaching 30, combining finances is not as simple as it once was,” said Carrie Braxdale, a managing director of investor services at TD Ameritrade. “Couples are bringing more financial baggage into the relationship than ever before. They have 401(k)s, student loan debt, investments and even mortgages. So it’s more important than ever for couples to talk about their finances and work together to develop a plan.”

It turns out couples may not focus on money once they’re married — at least until there’s a problem — but they sure do before they get married.

While looks and personality trump money and potential earnings, according to the study, TD Ameritrade says “poor financial habits” are “undesirable” for men and women alike.

Big red flags for men and women looking for a life partner: Things such as high credit card debt (65 percent of respondents); relying on parents for financial support (also 65 percent); and lack of motivation to get ahead (66 percent).

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Attitudes about money and debt can also take a negative turn once the knot is tied, according to the survey:

  • 40 percent of respondents said they don’t trust their partner to manage their combined finances.
  • 38 percent said they were barely aware of their significant other’s debts.
  • 21 percent said they sometimes hide their spending from their significant other.
  • 43 percent of newlyweds don’t follow a family budget.

Then there’s the absence of frank discussions on money and savings, which could put a couple’s retirement planning in jeopardy. While regular discussions about family finances doesn’t qualify as romantic under any definition, those conversations still have to happen, and the earlier the better, since savings for retirement have to start earlier than ever to ensure your later years are comfortable.

“While discussing money may not be the most romantic of gestures, it is important to not only have those financial discussions early in a relationship, but to continue having them throughout your marriage to help avoid financial surprises and minimize financial arguments,” Braxdale says.

She urges couples to discuss finances before marriage; build a budget as soon as possible once wed; agree on a long-term savings and investment plan and contribute to it regularly; and not to keep financial secrets.

Love and marriage may go together like a horse and carriage, but when it comes to a healthy financial outlook, don’t put the carriage before the horse, or risk having your combined financial future put out to pasture.

 

Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The Street.com. He is a former Wall Street bond trader.