Money Talks Every Couple Should Have

Money affects everything—your career, lifestyle, even your children. It also tends to be at the root of many divorces. We asked Catey Hill, a columnist for Smart Money online and the author of Shoo, Jimmy Choo! The Modern Girl’s Guide to Spending Less and Saving More, for advice on keeping hearts and wallets in blissful alignment.

Set Financial Priorities Together

Hill recommends that couples write two sets of goals and then see where they overlap. “What are your concerns: Saving for retirement? Travel? Paying for college? Write it all down, then compare notes to create a shared plan.” But you don’t have to share everything. “Some people are spenders, some are savers,” Hill points out. “Share a bank account, but consider having your own as well.” This isn’t license to keep secrets—financial infidelity is as damaging as any other kind—but it offers some independence.

Expect the Unexpected When it Comes to Career Paths

“Shifts happen,” Hill says. Say you married a tax attorney who now wants to teach kindergarten. Or what if one of you is laid off? “Couples need to ask, what if? If you build up your savings, you’ll have some time to answer that question.”

Many career changes are actually lifestyle changes; the choice may not be to make more money, but to shrink your budget down to match your salary. “There are tradeoffs. If your wife wants to go from being a lawyer to a teacher, it may not be easy to accept, but happiness is as important as a paycheck.”

Discuss Kids—and the Financial Issues They Create

Children complicate life in ways that are hard to predict. Expectations differ: How many kids? Public or private schools? “A lot of people want to give their kids the very best, but if you’re spending every last dime on them, you can’t prepare for retirement or build an emergency fund,” says Hill. And that wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors.

The bottom line? Pick your battles—or better yet, don’t battle. “Couples tend to run over the same ground, and they don’t get anywhere,” Hill says. “Go back to your shared goals list once a month or so. It’s a safe way of broaching hot topics that you can then negotiate.” And that shared approach is what marriage is all about.