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Money Talks

Communicating With Your Spouse About Finances

 Angele  McQuade You’ve probably heard experts cite money troubles as the single greatest cause of divorce. Financial journalist Jeff D. Opdyke, former writer of The Wall Street Journal’s syndicated “Love & Money” column, has a slightly different theory: “It’s not the money that’s at the root of money fights; it’s the inability to communicate effectively about money.”

Opdyke’s belief that successful communication about money is critical to a marriage led him to write a book describing the financial skills and habits couples need most. Financially Ever After: The Couples’ Guide to Managing Money is divided into sections about money matters before and after the wedding.
The author starts with the hard stuff: 10 questions future spouses should ask each other before making their commitment legal (but, he notes, it isn’t too late if you’ve already exchanged vows). Questions range from the broad “Do you have a basic understanding of money?” and “What is your money history?” to a more specific “How should we divide financial duties?” Other questions include “Do we need a prenuptial agreement?” and “Who buys the rock?” Although many of Opdyke’s questions seem emotionally loaded, if you and your intended can’t talk about such subjects before tying the knot, you might have trouble when facing even larger roadblocks later on.
No matter the question, financial communication styles differ. “One of you argues with your heart, the other the wallet,” says the author, “and you end up talking right past one another because you’re each speaking a different language.” By developing what he calls a family financial fluency, you’ll lessen the chances that money issues will fracture your marriage.
Opdyke doesn’t offer an ideal way to talk things through because, he says, each couple should find a technique that works for them. If face-to-face conversations are hard, try e-mail, a phone call or maybe even a good old-fashioned letter. When discussions get heated — as they almost certainly will — use Opdyke’s ideas for keeping them productive, such as striving to avoid blame, hurtful words and explosive anger.
And above all, don’t let financial misfortune damage your marriage. “As your financial life slides off the cliff,” the author warns, “it invariably pulls your relationship with it because of the magnitude of the emotions involved.”
Opdyke is all about practical, hands-on strategies to fix or prevent financial mishaps. Take his “practice mortgage,” designed for couples tempted to buy a house beyond their means. He challenges them to test their assumptions by adjusting their actual spending as if they had already purchased the more expensive house.
“You need to see exactly how life will feel with the bigger mortgage,” he says. “A dose of fiscal reality may be just enough to convince dreamers that the dream house can instead feel like a nightmare.”
The author also debates the recent emphasis on women opening accounts in their own names as security against possible divorce. He believes this introduces a woman to the idea that she might one day be on her own again, an attitude that hardly promotes candor. “In return for your personal financial freedom,” he cautions, “you forsake the financial honesty, openness and intimacy that work to strengthen a marriage.” Separate accounts are fine if you begin to sense marital trouble, he adds, but don’t open them as a precaution if you don’t need to.
For Opdyke, financial partnership isn’t just a part of the greater marital partnership; it forms the very core.
I love when an author’s enthusiasm for a subject shines right through the prose. Opdyke’s sincerity, his desire for all couples to find financial happiness, is so strong it practically oozes off the page. He’s like a trusted older brother, always ready with the perfect advice at precisely the right time.
And though Opdyke wrote Financially Ever After primarily for newly married couples, most of his recommendations would certainly apply to any two people in a long-term, committed relationship, regardless of legal status. Even those of us more than a few years past our vows can find much of value here, especially the author’s rules for fighting fair and sharing financial responsibilities.
I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book to celebrate a couple’s engagement, wedding, commitment ceremony or anniversary. In fact, Opdyke’s message is so important and his delivery so genuine, I’d jump at just about any gift-giving opportunity — birthday, graduation, maybe even St. Patrick’s Day — to present this book to the right couple, whether young or young in love.

Have a question about this month’s book? Want to share your own recent financial favorites? Write to Angele at angemcquade@betterinvesting.net.

Angele McQuade is the author of two books, including Investment Clubs for Dummies. You can find her online at angelemcquade.com.

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