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Money talk now can help avert money trouble later

Bruce Ellwein

How well do you know your spouse or significant other? Most people probably answer “very well,” but if you haven’t talked to each other about money you may not know the other person completely.

Many couples avoid the subject of money, a topic where strong feelings and different philosophies can run deep. Add a lack of communication, and it’s not surprising money issues often are a major cause of divorce.

Here are some tips for a financially healthy relationship.

Communication: We all have our own ideas about money, so forget trying to win the debate. The goal of talking about money isn’t to convert your partner; it’s to find common ground that can serve as a foundation for positive action. Communication is a process that will help mold money habits and behaviors over a lifetime.

Starting out: Address the issue early. Engaged couples should have a serious conversation about money long before saying “I do.” It may not be very romantic, but it avoids a post-honeymoon surprise that your new spouse has a mountain of debt and that “for better or worse” is now.

Devil in the details: What are your goals together? Whether you want to buy a house, save for your kids’ college or retire early, prioritizing your goals and estimating how much you’ll need to reach them can help you identify the actions you’ll need to take to achieve those goals.

As you merge your financial resources, who will be responsible for paying bills? Will bills be paid from a joint account or separate accounts? How and when will you use credit and at what amount will both of you need prior agreement before using credit? There is no right or wrong answer, only what works for your situation.

There is one thing you need to do: Write a budget you both agree on and follow it.

Don’t stop talking: You’ve done all of the above; now what? Keep talking. Every month or so, review how well you’re following your budget. And once or twice a year, take the time to measure your progress toward your goals. If you’re not on budget or on track, determine the reasons and decide what you need to change to get back on track together.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Talk about them and learn from them. Open communication will help you identify minor issues you can address before they become major problems in your relationship.

Bruce Ellwein is a certified financial planner and member of the local Financial Planning Association chapter. Readers are invited to submit questions on financial planning to be answered in this space each Tuesday. Send questions to askaplanner@
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