Financial harmony is a journey, not a destination.
Linda Descano, CFA®, President and CEO,
Is financial harmony fact or fiction? To help answer the question, I interviewed a series of women; 17 of whom had a partner (or spouse), some had been married for 25+ years, and others, like me, were still celebrating anniversaries in the single digits. Some, also like me, had walked down the aisle twice. Most had semi-consolidated their finances, having joint household accounts as well as separate “personal” money, and all believed they were living a financially harmonious life with their partner, so they were willing to talk to me about how to stay in “tune,” financially speaking. Based on my conversations, I’ve uncovered six keys to financial harmony:
When it comes to a financially harmonious relationship, the women I spoke with universally agreed that transparency is key. Stephanie Berenbaum, co-founder of e-zine Fabulous & Frugal, summed it up like this, “You have to put all your financial facts on the table—how much credit card debt you have, what you have saved, and so forth.” Judy Saryan, CFA®, of Eaton Vance Investments, added, “It comes down to financial honesty. You can’t have secrets about what each of you is spending. You have to work from one set of books. “
2. Ongoing Communication
Money needs to be part of the daily conversation and not just discussed when an issue arises. As Judy Homer, of search firm, JB Homer Associates, shared, “We talk about money and we listen to each other’s perspective. It’s a bit of a dance, because we don’t always agree, but we don’t let our emotions get the better of us. It’s important to know when to back off and re-visit the topic. And we really try to find common ground, both for our longer-term investments and for money to live on today.” Syndi Seid of Advanced Etiquette® and Jennifer Ware of YW Dallas also agreed that ongoing communication was a key to financial harmony.
3. Shared Values and Goals
Virtually everyone I spoke with acknowledged that they and their partners weren’t in 100% harmony on everything, but strongly believed that financial harmony hinges on being on the same page when it comes to the big things—one’s house, the kids’ education, major purchases, and retirement. Vatana Watters, CEO of Dallas-based Watters Design, added, “Long term, you have to share the same values and goals. For us, now that we are in the proverbial ‘middle age,’ we are focused on saving for retirement and our daughter’s college education.” Stephanie Berenbaum also believes it’s important to “translate” that shared financial vision into a budget, regardless of whether you have merged all your money or not. She added, “Without a budget, we wouldn’t be able to keep track of where we are relative to where we want to be.”
Financial harmony is a journey, not a destination.
4. Clear Roles and Responsibilities
Pamela Mitchell of The Reinvention Institute was adamant on this, emphasizing, “There needs to be absolute clarity on what each of you will contribute financially to the household and who will be responsible for what ‘chores.’” She recommends that you play into each other’s strengths. Pamela elaborated, “My husband is super organized and that makes him a great bill payer. He knows where we are with every bill and when they are due. Me, on the other hand, I’m really good at earning money. So, he deals with the bills and that frees me up to focus on what I do best.”
Giving each partner some flexibility to spend on personal passions was highlighted by many of the women I spoke with. Kathy Buck, CFA®, of Fidelity Investments, explained, “We do give each other financial flexibility. Each of us is free to purchase ‘allowable luxuries,’ such as two pairs of shoes, without consulting the other, but we jointly decide on ‘indulgent luxuries,’ such as a new car, which we may not need but want any way.”
6. Follow-Through on Commitments
“At the end of the day,” said Rosa Whitaker, President and CEO of The Whitaker Group, “financial harmony takes commitment—you can’t just say it, it comes down to your actions.” Pamela Mitchell couldn’t agree more, “You can’t just agree on goals, but each of you needs to follow through.” Jodi Genovese, President of Consolidated Bus Transit, added that while she and her husband don’t always agree, they made a pact when they became parents that they continue to honor: once they come to a decision about money or anything else, they present a united front to their children. “It’s critical to stay on the same page, to speak with one voice,” Jodi said.
The most important thing to keep in mind, stressed Cary Broussard, author of From Cinderella to CEO is that financial harmony is a journey, not a destination. Can I guarantee that putting these six keys into practice will make for a journey free of pitfalls? I’m the first to admit that I can’t, but—with that said—I do believe these keys will help reduce financial friction and let you focus on other “important” issues, such as how to get your partner to “properly” roll up a tube of toothpaste!