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Your Money and Your Honey: 5 Ways to Upgrade Your Marriage's Fiscal Finances

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Feb 21, 2018 at 10:18AM

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It's always wise to have a financial strategy, especially when it comes to financial planning within your marriage.

On the list of things that cause trouble between spouses, money is thought to be right up there at the top. So, in honor of Valentine's Day, to help keep the love alive, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are dedicating this episode of Motley Fool Answers to questions at the intersection of marriage and finance.

In this segment, they get down to business with advice you can act on: five research-supported suggestions and strategies that will help you avoid being a couple with constant cash conflicts.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Feb. 13, 2018.

Robert Brokamp: Five takeaways with more action-oriented types of things. No. 1 is the boring stuff can lead to marital bliss. There was a study that looked at 64 couples who identified themselves as having great marriages and looked at their financial habits.

It basically came down to [1] one partner tended to handle the financial day-to-day stuff, but with a lot of communication and trust from the other partner, [2] they did not have much debt, and they made that a priority to stay out of debt, and [3] and very related is they lived below their means and they were frugal. So, just taking care of those basic financial tasks can increase the chances that you'll be happily married.

No. 2 is to share the power and the decisions. One of the issues with money is when you look at where the problems come from, they come from power, and the imbalance of power can come from several things. It can be a difference in income. Difference in age. Difference in education or financial literacy.

But basically, it's often where one person feels like the other person is not treating them fairly. In fact, some of the studies have indicated that couples that fight the least are the ones that are more equal in terms of their incomes, and that having a big disparity in income can cause problems. Not all the time, but it's just an imbalance of power, so to be aware of those things so that each person feels like they have input, control, and they're treated fairly.

And No. 3 is communication is the key. Some studies have found -- at least one in particular -- that all the fights about money are not really about money. These people do not communicate well and working on communication is a big part of it.

Some of the things that I came across as particular pieces of advice is when you look at marriage and the studies of marriage, one of the big names out there is a guy named John Gottman. He has found that the happiest couples have a five to one ratio of saying nice things to each other vs. negative things.

And he also has a basic framework called the "harsh start-up." Are you going into a conversation with something negative or a criticism? A study followed up on that and found that couples that begin conversations with these harsh start-ups are more likely to argue about money, not resolve the issues, and then have problems down the road.

No. 4 is to get financial help. When you have a couple that can't agree on money, it's often helpful to get a good financial advisor or, as now I'm studying it, it could be a financial therapist.

Alison Southwick: They could just call you up on the phone.

Brokamp: I'm not quite a financial advisor yet. One interesting thing that I learned reading about these studies is that you've got to find a good financial advisor. There's evidence that when a couple comes in to see a financial advisor, the financial advisor more often talks to the man than the woman. You want to have someone who is obviously treating both members of the couple as equals -- not giving more deference to one than the other -- because maybe one person is the main breadwinner or something like that.

And if part of it is a relationship issue, having a financial advisor is good because you get that objective advice, the objective opinion. If you and your spouse cannot agree on how to handle a financial issue, getting a good financial advisor can help that. But if you're having problems with your marriage, that's not going to solve that and that's where you need to get some sort of marriage counseling, as well.

And the last piece of advice, at least that occurred to me, is to teach your children well. As I was reading through all these studies, I was thinking that my wife and I have tried to do some things where we teach our kids about investing. About staying out of debt. We've told them about the studies about people who have high credit scores and married people with high credit scores are more likely to be happy.

I never really thought about handling your money well as being good for your marriage. It's going to increase the chances that you'll live happily ever after as much as possible. But a whole, new emphasis on the importance of teaching kids about how to handle money.

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