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Do you and your Prince Charming suffer from monetary problems? Don't let disagreements about finances and your budget spoil your relationship. In "The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take to Make the Most of Their Money—And Live Richly Ever After," CNBC correspondent Sharon Epperson shares smart advice for couples, including establishing better communication and drafting an estate plan, to fulfill their financial dreams. Here's an excerpt:
Energizer Bunny Money: Stretch Your Budget and Make Your Money Last and Last and Last
It's a conversation that most couples put off as long as they can. Most of them never get up the nerve to have it. Each person may have an imaginary version of the discussion-at many different times, in many different versions-in their head over the course of the years and the relationship. But it's devilishly difficult to find the right time, if there ever is a right time, to have the talk.
It's the love handles talk.
Most women have asked their mates, at one time or another, "Do I look fat in this?" The correct answer, of course, is always "No-you look great!" no matter what the truth actually is. The fact of the matter is that almost everyone gains weight over the years. And many people notice their partner packing on the pounds as time goes by. One or both of you may have a health club membership. More than likely neither of you is religiously using it. Perhaps you were devout about working out at first. But now, with kids, work and more, when it comes to working out, you're an agnostic at best. And neither you nor your significant other ever talks about it. You just keep on keeping on, leaving the top button of your pants undone and hanging your blouse over your waistline, or buying new outfits when you can spare a moment, which is never.
Personal finance is like personal fitness. We let ourselves go because we seem never to have the time, and it's too difficult to bring up the subject anyway. Getting in financial shape is tough. It requires focus, planning, and lots of sweat. But the end result will be a happier, more fulfilling life. Starting today, you need to make a commitment to manage your money and not let it manage you-the earlier you start, the better, although it's never too late to begin. You need to have a talk with your spouse about the love handles that your finances have been developing.
If you haven't exercised in a while, your muscles can be tight and later you may notice the muscles you haven't used in so long are a little sore. As you begin "stretching your budget," you may find this exercise is also a little painful at first as you come to terms with what you can and cannot afford. But in the long run, some discomfort in the beginning can lead to a significant financial gain down the road. Like any serious workout, constructing and maintaining a budget requires a high degree of discipline. A budget is perceived as a limiting factor rather than a plan that leads to financial success. Since many couples are not good at managing their money, they simply want to avoid the issue. Most people will say they don't have time to create and follow a budget. Some just aren't sure how to go about it.
This chapter will show you that creating a budget is actually pretty simple. You just need to figure out how much money is coming in every month (your income) and how much is going out (your expenses). That's a basic budget. But the key for couples is to keep that budget somewhat flexible, based on your wants and needs and your spouse's (and kids', too!). You need to talk about your budget-not just put it on paper. That may be the hardest part. Even couples that communicate well about other topics are not great at talking (calmly) about money. This chapter has some strategies that should help.
When it comes to working out your finances as a couple, you have to keep those financial muscles flexible. You may have your own dreams and goals, but the more rigid you are, the tougher it will be to work together to realize those financial objectives. The key to staying limber is to communicate. Talk it out with one another. Identify your dreams and goals. Share them with your partner. Discuss why they are important to you.
The desire to start a family is what got my husband and me to start working on our finances. I'm a planner by nature. I wanted to feel financially secure before I had a baby. I wanted us to have wills, set up separate retirement accounts outside of our jobs, and also create a "rainy day, one day we'll get a house, then eventually we'll send our kids to college" fund. We didn't have a lot of money, but we put a plan in place so that, we hoped some day, some way, we might. We didn't get these ideas from our parents. Neither of us grew up in households where personal finances were discussed very often. But both sets of parents-all educators-taught us the importance of caring for your family, because that's what they did for us growing up.
As in my own experience, issues that get couples to start discussing money matters and deciding that they need a plan of action are often life-changing events: the birth of a child, death of a parent, divorce of a friend, approach of retirement, beginning a new job or loss of employment. It can also be a relatively small thing. A husband buys a high-end remote-controlled car (price: about $350) and his wife is offended. She thinks his spending is getting out of hand and starts a discussion about their finances. Or a wife may buy a new Dolce & Gabbana dress and silver necklace and the husband decides she's spending too much money. So he suggests they need to start adhering to a budget. Another couple finally agrees they need a new SUV (they want a $42,000 Acura MDX, not another $28,000 Ford Explorer), so they decide to write down all of their expenses to figure out how long it will take before . . .
Excerpted from The Big Payoff by Sharon Epperson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.