Whether you are in a serious relationship, are formally engaged, or married, money is an essential part of our everyday lives and is a topic that should be discussed regularly. It is also a major cause of stress in relationships -particularly marriage – where it takes on an even greater significance, not just for the couple, but for the State. Indeed, the State views married people as a financial unit. When you get married, you don’t just merge your family history, furniture and live under the same roof; you also merge your financial future.
Here are a few practical issues to consider:
What’s in a name?
Many women in the world are opting to retain their maiden names; indeed in some societies, a citizen is required by law to retain their maiden names while they may opt to use their husband’s name socially. In Nigeria, it is still more common for a newly married woman to change her name on all her important documents, although increasingly, professionals, celebrities and members of prominent families are opting to hyphenate their last names, with the bride deciding to use both her maiden name and her new partner’s last name.
Should you decide to adopt your spouse’s name or a hyphenated name, update your records. There are so many documents to work through; your international passport when due for renewal, drivers’ license, investments, your will and other legal documents. Notify your employer, creditors, insurance agents, and bankers who will need to see your certified marriage certificate as legal proof of your new status before any changes can be effected.
When you are committed to a long-term relationship, you and your partner owe it to one another to have an honest conversation about each other’s finances, goals, and fears. You both come from different backgrounds and histories, so naturally, you may view money differently depending on your experience with money in your formative years. The way your parents treated money would have had an impact on you, either negatively or positively.
A frugal person married to a spendthrift could be a recipe for disaster if the issue is swept under the carpet and spending styles are not addressed with sensitivity. Make an effort to understand your partner’s money personality. If you are very different, don’t judge them on how they regard money. Learn to accommodate them and work together to make money work for you as a team.
Work as a team
In our very patriarchal society, there has been the age-old expectation that the male members of the family are the natural breadwinners. Today, in many families, roles are shared or there is a female breadwinner. This can cause friction if the financial relationship is not handled with wisdom as issues of ego, anxiety, and control come into play. Where one partner dominates all financial matters – whether male or female – this can leave the other feeling insecure or inadequate. That dominance can dis-empower the person that is left with little or no influence regarding how money is spent.
Even if you do not earn at all or earn much less than your spouse, responsibilities should be shared. If you are efficient at paying the utility bills or managing a bank account, then that can be your role. Ideally, all decision-making shouldn’t be in one spouse’s hands. Major financial decisions should be discussed with input from both parties even if one makes the final decision. Even if you paid for everything, you both own everything.
Do you have a family financial vision?
At least once a year, try to come together without distractions to discuss your vision, plans and priorities for your family. Built into family goals should be individual goals that you both respect and will work towards. Will one of you go back to school? Will one be setting up a business that will not generate any income for some time? As a couple, you should communicate your expectations and ideas about raising and educating your children even before they are born.
Update your insurance
If you and your spouse have separate health plans, compare the two plans and see whether it makes sense to continue both or maintain a more comprehensive policy from one company. This is a good time to discuss life insurance. In marriage, and certainly where one party is the primary breadwinner, a life insurance policy is appropriate as a sudden loss of income can be devastating to a young family.
Bring your debt under control
Many people don’t discover the extent of their spouse’s financial obligations until they are married. Debt brought into marriage can be a major source of friction if not handled openly and honestly. It is best to deal with it together and seek to bring it under control along with other family financial goals.
Joint, separate accounts or a combination?
If you like to maintain a certain level of independence without your partner scrutinizing the minutest detail of personal spending, separate accounts may be more appropriate.
Having a joint account, combined with individual accounts for personal expenses, is a common compromise as each partner takes some responsibility for the household budget, yet is still able to retain some autonomy. Partners contribute a certain amount of their monthly salary into the joint account to cover routine household expenses such as food, utility bills, and larger expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, school fees, and family vacations.
If you earn significantly more or less than your spouse, it’s only fair to contribute amounts in proportion to your respective incomes to reflect this imbalance.
There is, sometimes, confusion about the difference between a joint account holder and an authorized signatory. It is important to note that whilst an authorized signatory is able to operate the account, the main account holder can choose to remove or change their access at any stage. If the main account holder dies, the other signatory to the account would cease to have access to any money because the account would form part of the deceased’s estate.
Estate Planning and Marriage
Estate planning is never a nice subject to discuss but it is a necessary one. You may have completed a next of kin form when you first started work and put down your father, mother, brother or sister as your next of kin. Quite often, we forget who was designated, unless your company’s HR department is meticulous about circulating the forms each year for staff to reflect changes in their lives and beneficiaries. Update the beneficiary designations on your employer’s “next of kin” form, bank accounts, retirement savings account, insurance policies, and your will.
This is doubly important if this is not your first marriage. One advantage of a joint account with the “right of survivorship” is that if one of two joint account holders dies, the surviving account holder is entitled to the account. Assets such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and property titled in both your names will usually pass to your spouse without going through the probate process. Seek legal advice as to the best way to title your accounts and other property.
Every relationship is different. What suits one couple may not be the ideal solution for another. A system that has worked for a time, may no longer be appropriate as your relationship and obligations evolve. So be prepared to modify it as appropriate; if a system isn’t working, just change it.
Remember that money matters need not be all serious and tense. Build in some fun, that joy of giving, the lovely experiences that memories are made of and that make working hard worthwhile.
When a couple is committed to a joint financial future whilst still maintaining their own individual perspectives and goals, their relationship and potential for success are strengthened.
Happy Valentine’s Day