people merely adopt the financial patterns of their parents. So if your father was the primary breadwinner, and your mother managed the money at home, you might be inclined to repeat those behaviors in your marriage–even if they’re not practical for your relationship.
There’s another reason to talk about finances early: While dating, both partners tend to put their best foot forward. A gentleman may shower his “amour” with nice jewelry, or she may surprise him with concert tickets and fancy ties.
Unfortunately, many of us find that we can’t be this generous forever. There’s no way your significant other will know this, however, if you don’t talk. “You have no idea if that kind of lifestyle can be sustained,” says Stepp, who is also the spokesperson for a consumer financial education program, “Money Matters for Newlyweds,” run by Citibank throughout the country.
Angelique and Kent Jones of Audobon, Pennsylvania, aren’t exactly newlyweds, but in their four years of marriage, they’ve learned how critical it is to hash out financial issues. Early on in their relationship, Angelique; 31, and Kent, 34, used to have serious money battles. “It was like the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ around here,” Kent says with a laugh, comparing the couple’s discussions of financial matters to the famous 1975 Muhammad AliJoe Frazier fight.
By keeping the lines of communication open, however, the have developed a system that works for them. The couple uses joint accounts for sav
ings and for paying the bills. Then they maintain separate accounts in which they have their discretionary spending money. Additionally, Kent, a manager at a mutual fund company, takes responsibility for making sure that the bills get paid on time. “This way neither one of us can criticize the other person for whatever we want to spend money on,” says Angelique, a registered clinical dietician.
Recently, the Joneses–whose combined income is $105,000-purchased their first They have $10,000 left in savings, and are working on reducing their liabilities-about $18,000 in student loans and credit card debt.
Though their conversations about money don’t wind up in arguments anymore, Kent says he and Angelique still have vastly different money management styles. He likes to spend more, saying, “You can’t take it with you.” Meanwhile, she acknowledges being a bit of a money hoarder.
“She thinks I don’t know that she stashes money away in this little envelope,” says Kent. Angelique admits to doing so, but explains, “I’m a firm believer in having emergency money. I like knowing there’s a buffer, so if you fall, at least you have a little shock absorber.”
MAKING MONEY DECISIONS
Actually, creating a “shock absorber” is a good idea, according to experts. The pros we talked to all said married couples should build up an emergency cash reserve–enough to cover their expenses for roughly six months. How much do you need? Well, you can start by calculating your outlays over a six-month period or by slowly salting away an amount equivalent to half a year’s salary. Experts say the best place to build that kind of stash