4 Ways for Couples to Reach Financial Harmony

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Romantic partners rarely relish talking about money, but if you want a lasting relationship, you need to explore your financial compatibility, says Paul Nourigat, a senior wealth strategist, relationship coach and author of "No Time to Wander: The Financial Compass for Young Americans."

We talked to Nourigat about creating harmony in your relationship and tips for keeping money fights to a minimum, even if you have different ideas about finances to begin with. "The need for financial harmony applies not only across all age groups, but also across the wealth spectrum," he says. "When it comes to creating a long-lasting relationship, you need to make sure you've got financial harmony."

An important element is to keep expectations in check. Expecting perfection from your partner is not the goal, Nourigat tells couples that he advises. Instead, understand that behavior such as overspending can take some time to change. However, anything one partner sees as nonnegotiable -- such as the desire to buy a home or have college funds in place for kids within a particular time -- should be discussed in advance of getting married. Nourigat's approach requires a four-step process.

4 Steps Toward Financial Harmony

1. Honesty. "It's hard to move forward in a relationship without honesty," says Nourigat. "I've advised young couples and elderly couples who range from complete transparency to those who hide their financial affairs from their partners. I've found that's it's ineffective and unhealthy to hide anything."

For example, Nourigat says one husband was anxious about the money his wife was spending on clothing, but she had a bad impression of the money he spent on cars. "Neither one was wrong. They just had to have an open conversation and come to an agreement on how they would handle spending," he says. "Many couples segregate their financial affairs, and as long as they're honest about that, that's fine, too."

2. Dialogue. Nourigat acknowledges that most people are insecure about money and uncomfortable talking about it, so it's important to build and maintain an ongoing dialogue with your partner and not be intimidated by the subject or by your partner's attitude toward money.

"The healthiest financial relationships I've seen involved couples who had an open two-way discussion, and, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%as a result, they could work through uncomfortable and difficult times," he says. "If one partner isn't interested in a dialogue about money, the early engagement of a professional adviser, financial planner, or accountant can help."

3. Alignment. The result of a healthy dialogue should be defining and agreeing on big-picture objectives and priorities, says Nourigat.

"I recommend creating a one-page life plan with the top three things you want to accomplish," he says. "It's too easy to get caught up in other people's problems and to avoid trying to understand your partner and to reach an agreement on shared plans." A plan on paper gives you both something to refer to that shows where you, as a couple, have common goals and aspirations.

4. Planning. Often one partner is stronger than the other when it comes to financial matters, but both partners need to have a role and discuss the plans that will lead to accomplishing the couple's objectives, says Nourigat.

The planning stage should be practical and focused on a savings plan and how to spend money. "If you want to retire by a certain age that's a mathematical issue that will drive every other decision," he says. "If it's a priority to go to Europe every year or to drive a particular type of car, then you need to figure out where you won't spend money in order to achieve your goals."

Review and Revise

Nourigat says every couple needs to have a periodic assessment of their plans and go through the steps again of honesty, dialogue, alignment and planning to continue their financial harmony.

"Young couples have time to make modifications in their financial behavior. But even for older couples, it's important to communicate about money to reduce angst," says Nourigat. "You need to be proactive because the trickle-down effect of financial angst can be significant. Becoming more financially compatible up front reduces discord in the future."

Michele Lerner is a Motley Fool contributing writer.

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4 Ways for Couples to Reach Financial Harmony

Nearly one in four people say they don't have money to contribute to retirement after all the bills are paid. It might feel that way sometimes, but if we can find the $50 to go out to dinner every Tuesday night, we can find $200 a month to put in a retirement account. Make this happen, even if you have to do it one dollar at a time over the course of the month.

And if you think putting away $50 a week won't make a difference, consider this: Contribute just $200 a month for thirty years, and if your money grows on average 8% a year, your total contributions of $72,000 will grow to almost $300,000 if put away for 30 years. When you think about it that way, skipping that regular Tuesday dinner doesn't seem so bad, does it?

This is one of the most seductive retirement lies. For a good long while, it is true that retirement is a ways off. (Even if you're 55, it's still at least ten years away.) But the longer you put off saving for retirement, the less interest you'll earn and the more difficult it will be for you to save.

An example: Alex and Jordan both put just over $90,000 in their retirement accounts over the years, but Alex began saving ($2,000 per year) at age 22, while Jordan began saving (about $3,500 per year) 20 years later at age 42. Even though they both put in the same total amount, Alex will have over twice as much money at retirement as Jordan will when they reach age sixty-seven (assumes a 6% annual rate of return). That's because her money had more time to grow, so it was able to make more off of itself than Jordan's.*

Seriously, you have two people who put the same dollar amount into their retirement funds. The one who started twenty years later contributed the same amount, but ended up with less than half as much.

As someone who cares about making my money work for me, this speaks volumes. It turns out that one of the smartest things you can do is simply to get time on your side. This is how you shortcut the hard work-by taking advantage of the power of compounding interest and the fact that you will only have an increasing number of financial obligations pulling at your purse strings as the years go by. So, this is not something you can keep putting off. This is something to tackle today. The time is now.

* Note: This is illustrative and is not reflective of guaranteed profits over time. Actual results may fluctuate based on market conditions.

I bet all the married people reading this are having a good laugh right now. Marriage does not automatically make your financial life easier. The effect of marriage on your finances depends on a host of factors: Do you both work? Do you both make enough to support yourselves? If one or both of you got laid off, could you still afford your rent or mortgage? Are you honest with each other about your spending? Do you agree on your financial goals? Will you have children? If so, do you make enough that one of you can stay home with them? Bottom line: This is an outrageous excuse, and now I am drinking wine.
I hear you. But saving for retirement versus enjoying life now is not an either/or proposition. You can do both. Also, let me put it this way: Yes, you deserve to enjoy

your money now, but you also deserve not to count pennies when you're old.

This is a case of counting chickens before they hatch. You never know what could happen to the inheritance (it could be devoured by medical bills, it could dwindle away in a financial crisis, or you may need it to pay off debts or taxes of the estate). Sure, it would be nice to inherit a windfall and be able to put it toward your retirement, but counting on doing so is not a plan-it's a gamble at best. It's far safer to plan to fund your own retirement and then enjoy your inheritance as a bonus if you do indeed receive one.
Yes, the market is unreliable from year to year, and yes, the value of your investments will dip in a down market. But downswings don't last forever, and historically, over long periods of time, the market has shown solid returns. While past performance doesn't reveal future returns, the S&P 500, for example, has averaged 9.28% annual returns over the last 25 years.

Alternatively, let's say you leave your money under your mattress or even in a savings account bearing 1% interest: You're going to lose the purchasing power of those dollars due to inflation (which is estimated at 3%). Yes, with the market, you're opening yourself up to some risk -- but with risk comes reward.

No one can predict the market. No one. So while it's true that you cannot time your investments perfectly so that they only ever go up, history has shown that if you invest regularly over decades, your investments should experience more ups than downs. So invest for the long haul, and don't fret over minor dips now. If you do, you'll be missing out on an opportunity to amass money later.
Sure, selling your home will free up lots of cash ... but then where will you live? And what if the market is down when you want to sell that home? Remember the housing crisis a few years ago? The one where tens of thousands of near retirees were left without nest eggs after the values of their homes plummeted? This is not your smartest game plan.
Yes, college is a big expense, and you should definitely save for it-that is, once your own retirement needs are taken care of. If you're a parent, it's a natural instinct to put your children's futures before your own. But think about it this way: If you don't save the full amount for your children's college education, you can always fall back on financial aid, grants, scholarships and student loans to help pay your children's way. When it comes to your retirement, however, there are no loans. Let me repeat: There are no loans. All you'll have to live on is what you've saved. For that reason, saving for retirement should be your top financial priority-always. I get that you don't want to saddle your kids or future kids with loans- what parent would?

But remember that if you pay for your children's college and then cannot afford your retirement, you will end up burdening your children all the same. They will feel obligated to help you out-at a time when their own families need them financially.

You may love your work, and it may be the kind of work you can even imagine yourself doing well into your seventies or eighties. But while that's easy to say now, what if you can't find work at that point in your life, or what if you have health problems or family obligations that prevent you from working? While there is nothing wrong with hoping for a best-case scenario, it isn't wise to plan around one. Sock away some money now so you're ready for whatever may come your way. The last thing I ever want you to deal with is a health issue and money concerns at the same time.

Reprinted from the book "Financially Fearless: The LearnVest Program for Taking Control of Your Money" by Alexa von Tobel, CFP®. Copyright 2013 by Alexa von Tobel. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.

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