Paycheck Chronicles

Couples: 6 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Financial Success (and Harmony)

Stressed unhappy couple arguing about expenses with laptop and papers

The numbers don't lie. Marriage -- or should I say, staying married -- is a challenging endeavor.

According to the American Psychological Association, 40 percent to 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce. That's a scary statistic for anyone who is married or considering the prospects of such a partnership.

If you're looking for potential causes of marital conflict, the APA's 2017 Stress in America survey reported money as a top stressor for Americans. With all that stress surrounding money, it's easy to see why it's often called out as a marital battleground.

Having a lot of stress is not good and remaining happily married is, so how do we join the two ideals? These six simple ideas may help the process along:

1. Make Goals a Group Exercise.

When I first came to USAA, I attended a company-wide meeting in which the chief executive officer threw up an image of a rowboat. In the middle of the crew, there was an individual rowing in the wrong direction. I don't remember the exact message, but the image has stuck with me for years. In marriage, you've got a team of two, and you've got to be headed in the same direction. What direction? I don't know, but you should. Establish your goals … together.

2. Talk Money on a Consistent Basis.

Frequent, open and honest communication regarding your financials is the objective. Establish your own money chat routine. It could be a daily check-in or a monthly summit. The key: Create a cadence of discussions about money that ensure you and your spouse are aligned and aware. I'll let you run with "aligned and aware," but those two words are powerful and cover a lot of ground.

3. Create a Winning Account Structure.

Over my years of working with couples, I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly as it applies to what I would call day-to-day "operational setup." That may mean having joint accounts, separate accounts or a combination. While a number of studies have shown that joint accounts are indicative of a healthy relationship, we use a combo at our house. Figure out what winning means and execute.

4. Draw a Line in the Sand.

Marriage is the ultimate in juggling. Successful marriages are typically characterized by couples who maintain their individual identity, but in the context of the team they are as a couple. While it may seem like a minor thing, I suggest that, when it comes to purchases or big financial decisions (portfolio moves, insurance, etc.), you clearly delineate when individual autonomy is turned in for the need to work in tandem. The line in the sand may move, but it should be understood. The flexibility of the line hit me at a recent presentation when a more seasoned individual scoffed at the $200 limit on purchases without consulting their spouse. Different places mean different lines, but lines are still important.

5. Walk Through the What-Ifs.

Who will take care of the kids, if we aren't here? What happens if something happens to me? Are your parents moving in with us? I could go on and on, but proactive conversations with agreed-upon strategies and outlooks can head off real heartache and headache in the midst of a crisis.

6. Celebrate Wins.

Hey, it can't always be nose to the grindstone, save, save, save, cut, cut, cut! Take time to pat each other on the back and say, "You're a winner." They chose you, right?

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