Don't rack up debt, do splurge and other tips to help couples maintain financial harmony

  • Money can cause a lot of problems in a marriage.
  • When bank accounts run low, couples stress, argue and often break up.
  • The key is for couples to get on the same page about money
Couple with financial stress
Image Source | Getty Images

Plenty of things can kill the romance in a relationship.

But traditionally, money and all the complications that come with it sit near the top of the list.

Investment advisers who work with hundreds of married clients have seen a lot of spending habits over the years, and there's no doubt that when the numbers in the bank account start dropping, the tempers can start flaring.

Money can cause a lot of problems in a marriage. When the wolves are at the door, couples stress, argue and often break up.

In fact, 20 percent of couples say that financial decisions cause tension in their relationships every day, and 31 percent say money issues lead to stress weekly, according to a survey by the American Institute of CPAs and the Ad Council.

The key is for couples to get on the same page about money. Tensions can't help but grow if one spouse is extraordinarily frugal while the other is a spendthrift.

Here are 5 tips to help couple maintain financial (and matrimonial) harmony:

  • Sit down and talk about what is important: If a husband's financial goals and a wife's financial goals are at odds, trouble is inevitable. He might want to stash more away for retirement. Her chief concern might be saving enough to help the kids through college. The important thing is that each understands the other's priorities and concerns, and then they can work from there.
  • Understand that there must be a balance: Some couples spend recklessly, racking up massive credit-card debt, while others go to the opposite extreme, fearful of parting with money for anything other than basic necessities. Be disciplined, but treat yourselves once in a while. An occasional splurge isn't a bad thing. Couples can benefit from a dinner at a nice restaurant or a weekend trip to the beach. The problem is when splurging becomes the norm. But life shouldn't just be one dreary chore after another. You do need to live a little.
  • Both should know your financial advisor: Sometimes one spouse, usually the husband, handles investments and meets with a financial professional alone. That's not a great idea. It's best for both spouses to be a part of the conversation when meeting with a financial advisor. It's important to build a relationship of trust, and that can be difficult if one spouse is left out of meetings and annual reviews.
  • Have your own credit history: Consider having each spouse establish their own credit history, even if they share a credit card account because it's likely one spouse will pass before the other. When that happens, the deceased spouse should be removed from any jointly owned credit cards. This is one reason it can be a good idea to have individual credit histories, so the surviving spouse isn't impacted by the loss of the deceased spouse's credit history. Another advantage is the surviving spouse generally won't be liable for the debt of a deceased spouse's separate accounts.
  • Ignore the Joneses: Let your neighbors, relatives and co-workers do what they do, buying unnecessarily expensive cars, living in houses they can't afford and traveling to exotic destinations that are really outside their budgets. Enjoy life, but live within your means.

There are plenty of sayings about money, like "money can't buy you love" and "the love of money is the root of all evil." Those sayings may contain a little truth, but money also can be a useful tool, a very positive thing. If you use it wisely, it can enhance your life and your loved ones' lives, too.

Commentary by Dan Carter, an investment advisor for Safeguard Investment Advisory Group. Carter also is the host for financial radio program, "The Big Picture Radio Show," on KVTA 1590.

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