By Bob Quinn
As a financial planner, I encourage my clients to involve their spouses or civil partners in our initial consultations. There is rarely any resistance from them to having their significant other in the room, but when we get into it, I am often struck by how little they know about each other’s financial affairs.
These couples have been together for 40 years and more. They are coming out the other end of that frenetic period of child rearing, and typically one of them will have become, by default, the money decision maker. I don’t blame them for that. Listen, I’ve been married almost seven years and we have two small kids. My wife and I had our first major money conversation since our wedding a few weeks ago as we made the 10-hour road trip from San Francisco to Portland Oregon. It was a rare window of opportunity. I should also add that there was no escape. It was revealing!
As long as there’s enough money to have a comfortable life, there is no reason to discuss it. At least that’s what the couples who come to see me seem to have concluded.
And yet there is, and especially for the women, who will typically outlive their husbands. In the case of the age group I deal with, namely people in their 60s, they will typically have smaller pensions than their husbands – if they have any at all – due to child rearing and the gender pay gap.
So, it’s especially important for women to broach the most unromantic of topics.
Warning: It Can Get Emotional
Our attitude toward money is formed and reinforced from an early age. The children of parents who were constantly worried about making ends meet may well grow up to be compulsive savers; persuading them that they can afford to spend or take on risk in an effort to grow their wealth is an uphill struggle. These beliefs can turn conversations charged.
The key is finding the common ground. That’s where an expert third party like a financial planner can help. He or she can help a client work out the differences, and it’s never too late.
The How Can Be As Important As The Why
A couple may discover that while they have the same objectives, they have very different ideas about how to achieve them. Without wanting to make a sweeping generalisation, my experience is that my male clients are more likely to have made a unilateral decision to have invested in one or more risky or complex propositions. I believe that had they discussed those propositions with their other halves, they wouldn’t have signed up; and today they wouldn’t have incurred those losses or be engaged in that draining and messy lawsuit.
Of course, this happens the other way round too, where the woman is the risk-taker, but the point is that having the open discussion with your partner in life causes you to ask questions and think twice – will this help us meet our objectives or not?
A Storybook Ending
To go back to the couples I see, I can honestly say there has never been an occasion when either party regretted having the money conversation. While there may have been an occasional awkward moment as one party fully disclosed his or her financial history, in every case the frank discussion brought the couple closer together.
This Valentine’s Day, in addition to a dinner for two, why not also book consultation for two with a financial planner? It could do more for your relationship.
Bob Quinn is a CFP and principal of ‘The Money Advisers’, a bespoke financial planning firm based in Ireland. The majority of clients are those transitioning to retirement and focused on succession and estate planning. Bob set up the business in late 2010 when there was an evident need for some straight talking in the financial services industry. As a single adviser firm, clients are advised by him and him alone on an ongoing basis. For more, see www.themoneyadvisers.ie.