I’ve been married for about a million years so Valentine’s Day isn’t really about roses spread all over the house, chocolates, and bended-knee proposals any more.
It’s not that we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. In fact, he reserved spa dates for us. But when the folks at 360financialliteracy.com sent me a note saying that perhaps the best gift you can give a partner on Valentine’s Day is an honest conversation about money, I paid more attention than I did to the pitches on the year’s best mistresses or dating sites.
More than once in the last marriage millennium, it has seemed as if money would be the thing to wreck our marriage. And, Mackey McNeill, CPA, PFS, RIA CEO and President of Mackey Partners, a firm that specializes in helping couples and businesses get along around money told me that many marriages that end in divorce do so because of money. “We all have money DNA,” she says. “Like our personality, our money DNA is formed early in life.Â Once formed, it becomes how we see, feel, and behave around money. If we have the same DNA as our spouse or partner, life around money is pretty smooth and easy. But when our money DNA differs from our spouse or partner, discord and dysfunction in money matters can be expected.”
I asked McNeill to do a blood test on my money DNA and my husband’s so we could find out if we are compatible. But, apparently it isn’t as simple as a lab test. Still, she managed to diagnose us both pretty accurately. Nope. We really don’t have compatible styles. (I’ve been using strongerÂ terminologyÂ for it than that.) No surprise. Does that mean we are doomed? A lot of people really can’t get along on the subject, she says. But many of us are simply not going about it the right way. “First, stop making each other wrong,” she suggested. “The best place to be with money is in balance.Â Some spending, some saving, some management, some avoidance or indifference, and some rules that fit just for us based on our goals and desires.Â So if we start with ‘no one is wrong’, what next?”
Wow. That felt pretty good. If you start with the premise that we can’t help these money personalities any more than we can help our DNA, it’s harder to get mad about it or even to feel like we are making terrible mistakes. We simply are who we are.
So that’s how I have been spending my spare minutes this Valentine’s Day, so far. Updating Mint.com (awesome money management and planning), checking out Feedthepig.com (advice on savings), touring GoSimplify.com (simplified financial planning), and Mackey’s own product, The Prosperity Kit. And thinking about how my husband and I could better talk about money if neither of us is wrong.
I’m wondering if the best gift I could get him would be a real live financial planner who understands – as McNeil does – that you can’t solve the money issue without also solving the emotional issues of money and coming to terms with each other’s money DNA In short, someone who is part CPA, part marriage counselor. Mackey’s own money counseling service for couples is a year-long process that costs $3250.
Meanwhile here are some tips from 360financialliteracy.com on getting along when it comes to money:
- Assess your ‘Money DNA.’ Everyone has Money DNA, a fundamental perspective on money and finances. Some people are prodigious savers. Others are big spenders. Put two people with different Money DNA together, and things can get explosive. The trick is understanding the Money DNA of you and your partner, setting goals and mapping a strategy that can satisfy the perspectives of both.
- Get full disclosure. Marriages really are mergers. Two businesses wouldn’t merge without first having a full look at the books. Neither should couples. Before saying ‘I do,’ both people should offer full disclosure of their finances as part of a joint financial planning process. And the disclosure shouldn’t end there. Each spouse should agree to routinely review credit card accounts, bank statements and credit reports – and have their own logins for accounts – to ensure all information stays out in the open.
- Have a money date. At least once a month, set aside an hour without the kids to meet about family finances. This ensures an ongoing, open dialogue about money at a time when both people can free themselves from outside distractions.
- Divide and conquer. It’s typical in a relationship for one person to take on the role of chief financial officer, managing accounts and paying bills. This arrangement can lead to unnecessary stress, tension and, at times, confusion. Split the duties. One person can act as bill payer, the other as money tracker. This removes the burden from one person and provides a check-and-balance on the family finances.
- Hire an advisor. A neutral third-party is sometimes the best option to diffuse or avoid tensions over money. A financial advisor can work with couples to establish financial goals, pay bills, monitor accounts and help notice any unusual spending patterns, should they arise.