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Outside the Box: Love and money: How your relationship with your spouse and your finances are connected

Weddings and marriage are top of mind for me these days.

A few weeks ago, my niece was married, and in another two months, my nephew will also marry. Both weddings had been postponed from last year due to the pandemic. Another nephew just sent me a save the date for next spring.

Celebrating love and family just feels so right now. I bet you feel the same way.

Wedding celebrations makes me smile. They make me hopeful, and, well, grateful, too.

I’m a believer in the combined strengths of two tackling this world together. At my niece’s wedding on a beautiful beach in New Jersey, my husband and I were asked to give a reading, and we chose the lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song. “If I should Fall Behind.”

On the Fourth of July, my husband and I celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary. And my sister and her husband, clocked in 40 years at the end of June.

Read: Is the bucket strategy superior to the 4% rule?

Couples and money

These joyful occasions, magical as they are, however, remind me of the critical role that money and financial communication play in the enduring strength of a marriage across the decades–which at its core is a business relationship.

I know that’s unromantic, but it’s true. And as a personal finance writer, I can’t help myself.

This week, Fidelity Investments released the results of its latest Couples & Money survey of 1,713 couples (3,426 individuals) conducted between March 25 and April 22, 2021. Respondents were required to be at least 25 years old, married or in a long-term committed relationship and living with their respective partner, and have a minimum household income of $75,000 or at least $100,000 in investible assets.

Read: Planning for retirement? You should also plan for inflation

Here’s the scuttlebutt. Many couples, 1 in 5, say money is their greatest relationship challenge. That sounds about right.

The average age of retirement among those who have already retired is 60.5 years, while the average expected age for those who had not yet retired is 62.5 years. Nearly half (48%) of all couples, interviewed, however, are not on the same page about the actual age they expect to retire.

More than half differ about how much money they need to reach their retirement goals, but nearly 77% picture a comfortable retirement.

And even though 7 in 10 (71%) of partners say they communicate at least very well with their other half—almost 4 in 10 (39%) of respondents couldn’t correctly identify how much their partner makes for a salary. About 6 in 10 (61%) couples say they discuss their finances at least monthly, a number that has astonishingly declined from 2018 (65%).

As for their ideal retirement, the majority, 6 in 10 of all couples, plan to stay in their own state when they retire, a trend that has climbed progressively since 2015. Hmm…so much for my column on considering a move for retirement?

See: Not sure where to live in retirement? Here are some ideas

During retirement, the top goals are to spend time with family and friends, followed by relaxing at home and taking it easy. That’s in line with some of the findings I wrote about in this column that explored a new study “The Four Pillars of the New Retirement: What a Difference a Year Makes” conducted by Edward Jones, the large investment and financial services advisory firm, in partnership with Age Wave, a think tank and consulting firm.

As I read through the survey, I was reminded of some of the advice I often share with newly married couples, and of course, my niece and nephews.

Read: Retired but eager to resume part-time work? How to find the right gig

First, spend your money, when possible, on doing things together whether it’s traveling or going to a concert or a play or a wonderful restaurant. Creating and gathering memories you share together lasts a lifetime. The intangible value multiplies as the years go by.

Now for one of my favorite pieces of advice and perhaps the hardest for couples to do. Have routine money talks about your overall financial picture, your current snapshot, upcoming expenses, dreams that you have that may entail a cash outlay.

And take the time at least annually to meet with a financial planner, who can holistically look at your accounts and help with rebalancing and considering possible new investments.

It’s hard to make yourself do this without this third party, trust me. It takes discipline. You and your spouse might be on target here, but I have found sitting down together with our planner/adviser to be thought-provoking and assuring that we’re doing OK.

Teamwork is dream work

Finally, a successful marriage depends on teamwork.

Money is power. When one person is carrying the financial weight of covering the mortgage and other fixed bills, for instance, there can be unstated resentment by the one paying the bills and a lurking feeling of guilt by the other. Try to talk about those feelings if they crop up.

“This study clearly shows couples who work together as a team to build a strong financial future are better equipped to handle whatever life hands them,” said Stacey Watson, senior vice president of Life Event Planning at Fidelity. “That’s why it is so important for newly-married couples to make it a habit from the start to engage openly in money discussions,”

“Set aside some time to work together to ensure you’ve discussed important financial issues as a couple, and make sure you both have a strong grasp on where you stand financially and what more needs to be accomplished,” Watson added. “Those who learn to communicate well about finances early on are likely to be rewarded for the effort in the years to come.”

As Springsteen wrote: Now everyone dreams of love lasting and true

Oh but you and I know what this world can do

So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see

And I’ll wait for you, and if I should fall behind wait for me.”

Kerry Hannon is an expert and strategist on work and jobs, entrepreneurship, personal finance and retirement. Kerry is the author of more than a dozen books, including Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home

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