By Jason Alderman
As you and your spouse celebrate Valentine’s Day over a candle-lit dinner, advice you may want to avoid romance-killing topics like, see “Honey, let’s talk about our financial future.” But you really should have that conversation sooner rather than later to keep your relationship on a healthy footing.
Major life changes may require you to reassess how you manage the family finances. Unfortunately, many couples don’t make time to plan ahead and are later caught off guard around issues like having children, aging parents, planning for emergencies and changing career and retirement goals.
If you haven’t had a financial heart-to-heart lately and aren’t sure what to do next, here are a few suggestions:
Make a financial “date.” Even if you’re in complete agreement on money matters, the family “accountant” should keep his or her spouse in the loop – if nothing else, so they can easily take over in an emergency. Set up regular meetings to discuss bill payments, progress or setbacks regarding savings goals, budgeting for upcoming expenses, and strategies for coping with unforeseen expenses.
Don’t postpone uncomfortable discussions. Should one of you accidentally bounce a check or miss a payment, don’t wait until your next powwow to address it or try to hide the problem. You’ll only make matters worse and create an atmosphere of mistrust. Fess up and deal with the issue right away – you might even save yourself additional late fees or penalties.
Be united. When the news isn’t good – say your 401(k) balances tanked last quarter or one of you got laid off – communication is all the more important. Whether you need to temporarily tighten the budget or make a major life-altering decision like postponing retirement, talk it through and be prepared to compromise so neither party becomes the bad guy.
Reaffirm your goals. Couples often start out with one game plan but then life deals an unexpected hand and goals change. Touch base periodically on how you both feel about such major issues as family size, home ownership, career changes, financing college for your kids (or yourselves), financial risk appetite, when and where you’ll retire, and taking care of elderly parents.
Update legal documents. Make sure your legal and financial documents are up to date and reflect your current wishes, including wills, financial and medical powers of attorney, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment funds and any other accounts where beneficiaries or people who control your health or finances are named.
Follow your budget. Some of the worst marital disagreements occur when one or both parties sabotage the family budget. If you don’t already have a budget, many free tools are available. Check out the U.S. Treasury Department’s www.mymoney,gov, www.mint.com and Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management site run by Visa Inc. (www.practicalmoneyskills.com).
Seek help. If you discover that you’ve gotten off track or need help realigning your financial goals, a number of outside resources are available:
• The NFCC (National Foundation for Credit Counseling) can help you locate a free or low-cost credit counselor.
• You can find a financial planner or advisor through the Financial Planning Association (www.fpnet.org), the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (www.cfp.net), or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (www.napfa.org).
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney