Memorial Day weekend often feels a little … jarring, at times.
Burgers, pools, picnics — set against the solemn backdrop of remembrance for the sacrifice of so many thousands who have laid down their lives so we can have those freedoms.
However, when you talk to veterans (as I get the chance to do in the course of our tax preparation work), they do often tell you that these very freedoms (the ones much bigger than backyard barbecues, of course) are exactly why those sacrifices are worthwhile.
So in a sense, parades and picnics are exactly the right sort of thing to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
But let’s do remember that Memorial Day is much more than simply the “start of summer”.
Moving forward … it’s probably accurate to say that with the official start of summer, we are moving into the wedding season.
So I thought I’d give some short advice for the happy couple, whether before they are married or for those with a few years under their belt.
Before You Say “I Do”: Dennis Fritz’s Marriage and Money Checklist
“The only way around is through.” – Robert Frost
Many young couples start out married life without a clear idea of how to handle their finances — leading to stress, arguments, and long-term marital problems.
And correspondingly, there are some couples for whom finances have become a painful wedge. So, though I don’t fashion myself to be a “marriage expert”, I have seen many financial partnerships work well … and more than I’d like, of those that didn’t.
Here are some ideas for you, a marriage and money checklist of sorts.
1. Confront issues directly.
Whether you are in a pre-marriage stage, or are already working through your partnership, it’s crucially important to learn the skill of conversation about finances. There can be so much mental anguish over shame, fear and past pain that unhealthy communication patterns begin to emerge.
So give yourselves the gift of honesty, and make a list of hard topics that you can tackle over time.
As an example, many couples are afraid to talk about the three D’s: debt, death, and disability. Take time to discuss these fears instead of avoiding them. Planning will help you both feel better.
2. Explore your attitudes.
How we were raised has an enormous effect on how we deal with money. Depending on what your home was like as a child, you likely heard many different attitudes expressed around the dinner table, and they have undoubtedly shaped your understanding as an adult. Whether from poverty, or from abundance, your background is extremely powerful.
So, if you and your spouse’s money attitudes differ, talk about how you were raised and work towards a compromise where you can strengthen each other’s weaknesses.
3. As an exercise, trade financial tasks.
If one of you usually pays all the bills, switch for a couple of months. You or your partner may get a crash course on how much running the household actually costs. Keep track of all spending for at least one billing cycle (usually one month) to actually see where your money is going, and decide which expenditures can be decreased or eliminated. You might even find opportunities to give.
4. Keep some (small) finances separate.
A joint checking account is useful, but maintain some kind of separate amount of money as a “slush fund” or sorts, whereby you can each make purchases without mutual consent. Keep these amounts small (you always want partnership in the big amounts), but a sense of independence (however symbolic) will help both of you feel you have equal footing in the relationship, even if you have a big difference in salaries.
5. Collaborate on some kind of financial planning.
Find a way to work together on a small, money-related project, whether playing the stock market or saving towards some small goal. Pick something that doesn’t carry emotional weight, and see it as an exercise. You’ll find that working together in a small way will help you in a BIG way, as your decisions become more significant.
6. Agree together that you won’t pay excess taxes.
Obviously, this is what we are here for, and perhaps one of the best gifts you can give yourselves is a workable plan as it relates to a tax strategy.
I am, warmly, yours,
Dennis Fritz CPA