A few weeks back, The New York Times ran a fun little fluff piece on financial matters in relationships. The article offers a number of anecdotal how-tos and daily tips on topics like managing credit card debt, tracking expenses, etc…
While all of this is beneficial, there are two general points that I wanted to bring up on the larger subject of money and relationships. First, I don’t think the details matter that much. For example, traditionally you get a joint bank account when you marry, but some choose to do it the second they move in together. Others never take the plunge at all and live the rest of their lives filing separate tax returns. My cousin, who has been married for twelve years and has three children, only created a joint bank account with his wife last year.
What matters more than the mechanics is the honesty behind the actions. If you are going to have joint finances, you must be forthright in your financial situation and limitations. If you are going to have separate accounts, where each person has their own respective contribution to the collective pot, then be true to that commitment. Too frequently, money matters get in the way of relationship matters, and sometimes they overpower the relationship. The key to making sure that money doesn’t sully the bed is transparency.
Secondly, and equally as important, is something buried in the first line of the NYT article:
I read this line and I immediately thought to myself: they are blind to crucial aspects of their partner’s personality. A person’s relationship with money is an important and unavoidable characteristic. It is important that you recognize your prospective guy’s rapport with his wallet. Is he stingy? Is he generous? Is he extravagant? Is he frugal? There are countless adjectives that one can list, but more importantly, you need to figure out if you are okay with that characteristic. Maybe you don’t mind an extravagant guy, maybe you do. What matters is that you recognize the characteristic and the implications of that characteristic on his behavior.
Money and relationships don’t mix well to begin with, so in order to ease over rough patches it is important to remember two things. First, transparency. Secondly, know the habits of your partner so there are no surprises. The rest of it, like choosing which 401K plan works best for you, is easy.
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