Wed, 05 Feb 2014 14:45:00 GMT | By Alison Griffiths, MSN Money

Couple's guide to a healthy financial life

Take time in the season of love to strengthen your relationship through communicating about money.


Alison Griffiths

Deanne is a physically active, community involved friend who loves a couch potato. Husband Rory has a home-based business and spends most of his spare time puttering around the house, or watching sports on TV. I marvel at their differences and 23 years of life together.

“We agree on the big things,” she confided to me recently. The big things include time together, a healthy diet, regular exercise (her out mountain biking, him pedalling slowly in the basement while watching CNN) and money. I think sex is in there somewhere too.

Opposites like Deanna and Rory do attract. But I don’t think their relationship would have lasted if they weren’t together financially. On the surface, they appear to be very different with dollars and cents. He has an ancient stationary bike; she has a state-of-the-art wheeled steed. He has three pairs of shoes; she has 33 (at least).

However, they agree on where they spend and how much they save. Plus, they have a long-term plan in place.

With Valentine’s Day drawing nigh, couples can fall back on chocolates, flowers and a romantic dinner to celebrate their relationship. But why not try something different and work on improving financial compatibility? Okay, maybe throw in some chocolates too.

It isn’t necessary for two people to have exactly the same attitudes towards money, notes Wade Stayzer, vice-president of retail and investment services at Meridian, Ontario’s largest credit union. Their financial behaviours may actually end up being the same, but how they get there is different. “Many couples include a ‘spender’ and a ‘saver.’ The spender is the one who sees a sale and thinks they can buy more; whereas the saver thinks they will save more.”

A spender and a saver can get along very well, just as my couch potato and busy bee friend do. “While there appears to be a big divide between the spender and the saver mindsets, these couples can still be successful with their family finances if they find and agree to ways that will align their approaches to money.”

On Valentine’s Day, woo your beloved by getting cozy and conversing about the following four areas that are the basis of a healthy financial life together:

1. Goals: A couple’s goals may be different than the individuals’. Dream for yourself as well as for the family unit. One person may want to return to school while the other yearns to start their own business. Perhaps both would love a condo at a ski resort!

Don’t worry about putting a price tag or even timeline on the goals, especially for those who are young. The point is to talk about what you want to achieve and start discussing how to get there.

2. Involvement: Financial relationships are often lopsided. One person is usually more involved than the other because of interest, experience or simply because he or she drew the short straw. It doesn’t really matter who does the financial legwork but it is critical that both know what is going on and are updated about changes and events.

Switch the roles periodically so the other person becomes completely familiar with the financial state of affairs, including the mechanics of log-in protocols, passwords, bill payment history and contract terms. This is a godsend if the more financially involved person is away or sick for an extended period.

3. Differences: Even couples that are carbon copies financially may harbour irritations about their best beloved’s money habits. Get them on the table.

One reader told me it drove her crazy that her husband paid all bills on the due date, not a moment before. But he enjoyed the task and didn’t want to hand it over. After a power outage and two Internet failures caused them to be late on bills and credit card payments he agreed to set up an automatic payment plan where appropriate and to pay a few days in advance on the rest. Happiness all round.

4. The plan: We all need a blueprint for our financial lives. Creating one is an organic process that changes over time. The basis of any financial plan is a budget. But the plan also includes insurance, short- and long-term saving, investing, power of attorney and wills.

One of the best investments a couple can make is on a professional financial plan created by an advisor who isn’t paid through product commissions.

Perhaps this Valentine’s gift to each other isn’t quite as romantic as jewelry and lacy underwear, but getting together financially has a much bigger and longer-term impact.

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