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Couples and Money: Building Life and Wealth Together

Dec 08, 2020 4 min read

Key takeaways

  • Forge a path of openness and honesty from the very first date.
  • The 50/30/20 budget rule covers essentials—and some fun—without sacrificing long-term savings.
  • To plan for kids (and college), deposit even small sums into a “family planning” account.

 

Along with all the good that can come with relationships, family life and the American dream of homeownership, there are also potential financial stresses. If couples have a handle on common concerns from the very start of a relationship, managing some of their biggest financial moves can be easier. Here are some tips.

 

 

  1. 1. Keep financial communication lines open

    Money problems can have a rough effect on relationships; research has found that arguments about finances can be a prime predictor for divorce.

    One of the best ways to avoid monetary distress in a marriage or relationship is to forge a path of openness and honesty from the very first date on. This could help avoid a pattern of “financial infidelity,” in which one or both partners keeps money secrets from the other.

    Financial infidelity may be more common and damaging than you think; a recent survey found that fully 44% of Americans with partners keep a credit card or bank account secret from their, uh, better half.1

    If one partner is hiding a large credit card balance or low credit score from the other, it can have an enormous negative impact on the couple’s financial future, including their ability to secure a loan or mortgage. This would likely have a negative impact on the relationship as well.

    It’s better to be aware of any financial issues from the get-go, then figure out a way to best tackle them—together. Some people even talk credit scores on their first date. While that may seem extreme, a difficult conversation now could save a lot of pain later, and may even save your relationship.2

     

  2. 2. Protect your home

    Buying a home is a big move for a couple, one that can be seen as a major milestone—but it can bring unexpected financial pain as well.

    Research shows the average cost of owning a home is over $1,000 a month—not including a mortgage.3 And the cost of upkeep can really keep you up at night. One rule is that you can expect to spend at least 1% of a home’s value on maintenance and repairs each year.4 For a house worth $300,000, that’s $3,000 (or more).

    New homebuyers should consider purchasing a home warranty, which can cover a range of repairs over the first year, especially for older homes that tend to need more frequent and pricier work.

    You should also be sure to earmark funds as part of your budgeting process for unexpected home repairs, because they will often happen at the most inopportune times.

    One guideline to consider for budgeting is the “50/30/20” rule: Spend no more than 50% of your take-home pay on essentials such as mortgage payments, utilities and food; no more than 30% on lifestyle expenses including cable costs and gym memberships; and at least 20% on long-term savings goals, from retirement to emergency funds. “Home repairs” can be made a key part of that savings bucket.

    Being a new homeowner can be exciting; you just want to be sure your new abode doesn’t turn into a money pit. Ensuring you can cover repairs both big and small could help save a whole bundle of worry.

     

  3. 3. Brace yourself for baby

    Having children can be a joyful—and expensive—experience. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost of raising a child born in 2015 until age 18 tops $233,000 ($284,000 after expected inflation)—though other surveys say the price tag is even higher.5 That’s before college costs. New parents can easily spend about $10,000 in their baby’s first year.

    Expecting or brand-new parents may already be thinking ahead to the college years. If possible, it’s best to begin contributing right away to their education fund. You can start a 529 plan, which allows for tax-free growth and withdrawal, for as little as $25 per month.

    But while education planning is crucial, new and expecting parents will be overwhelmed with day-to-day, immediate spending needs. These may include prenatal care, hospital costs, nursery gear, diapers, child care and formula, just to name a few.

    If you know you want a family, it pays to start working it into your household budget well ahead of time. Even small amounts you take directly from your paycheck and put into a special “family planning” account can add up over time. That can help lessen the sticker shock of that brand-new bundle of joy.

     

What you can do next

Simple: Talk to your partner. Being open about money issues and working through to ensure even a small cushion to manage some of life’s major milestones should help you focus more on the joys and less on the financial stresses of your home life.

 

Footnotes

  1. 1 Barri Segal, “Financial infidelity poll: Extracurricular activity is on the rise Opens in new window,” CreditCards.com, Feb.5,2020
  2. 2 Holly Johnson, “Should You Share Your Credit Score on the First Date? Opens in new window,” The Simple Dollar, Oct. 28, 2019
  3. 3 Maurie Backman, “Owning a Home Costs the Average American $13,153 a Year— and That’s Not Including a Mortgage Opens in new window,” The Motley Fool, May 4, 2019
  4. 4 “How Much Should You Budget for Home Repairs?,” Discover.com, accessed Dec. 7, 2020
  5. 5 Maryalene LaPonsie, “How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Child? Opens in new window,” U.S. News, Sept. 28, 2020

 

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