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One of my favorite aspects of working with a new financial planning client is seeing how the person handles their money, and that goes doubly so for a married (or long-partnered) couple. It’s always interesting to see what relationship skills related to money evolve over time, and conversely what doesn’t evolve or get better.

 

Differing Skill Sets for Money

 

There’s no one right way for a married couple to handle money. Some researchers say you should play to your strengths—if you’re the budgeting and money management type, do that, while your partner focuses on some other aspect (like investing). I’m partial to this thinking because:

  1. We all have different skills and experience levels and that applies to the money realm, too.
  2. You probably didn’t marry your spouse with an eye to their money management skills (hopefully it was based on love and more general compatibility/friendship), so chances are you have different abilities in this area and you may not even know much about their money personality coming into the marriage.

 

Both of you are bringing money skills to the table, and I think successful couples find ways to complement each other, just like you would with parenting or other big tasks.

 

Gender Differences in Money Skills

 

The one way I don’t see consistency, or a correct approach, is to fall back on any gender-specific ways to handle money. You know some of the beliefs: women handle the day-to-day shopping and budgeting, and men are better with investments and ‘big picture’ plans. There are certainly heterosexual couples who function this way, and who make it work successfully, but I don’t believe there’s any inherent, gender-based way we should split up money duties in the relationship.

Further, when a new couple comes in as a client, I’ve found that I can’t predict how they’ll handle money in their relationship based on their gender roles or any other clues as I get to know them. People are unique, and relationships are unique, and we should treat them that way as we go through the financial planning process.

 

No Fights: One Couple’s Approach to Money

 

Where does that leave us if we’re trying to navigate a marriage (or long-term relationship) and grow together in money management skills? I think we need to study some examples—couples who are working successfully in this part of their relationship—and see if there are lessons we can draw for our own lives. I’m hoping to use this blog as a continuing conversation about successful couples and we’ll start with one story today.

I recently spoke with one of my ongoing clients, Winston and Jane (not their real names) and asked them questions about their money relationship. I’ve paraphrased their answers and drawn a few conclusions (which they may or may not recognize in their relationship, but that I see as I get to know them better). The crux of my questions to Winston and Jane is this—warts and all, what does a couple’s money relationship look like? And I was pleasantly surprised to see how they’ve made it work.

Some background: Winston and Jane are in their early 30’s. They both work professional jobs and have one young child. They’ve been married for several years, and this is clearly a time of stress in most young couple’s lives. Winston and Jane seem to be handling day-to-day living together well, though they would likely acknowledge it’s not all smiles and sunshine!

The key points we discussed and that I think are relevant for other couples:

 

There isn’t one set way that a couple should work together on their money. If there isn’t one model, it’s up to us to look to couples who are navigating this part of their relationship well and see what we can learn from them. I want to thank Winston and Jane for enduring my (amateurish) questions and sharing this part of their lives with us.

 

What do you think are the keys to good money relationships? Do you need an impartial third-party, a financial planner, to help you with these tricky issues? Setup a call today!