Finding Common Money Values
In this process you and your partner will discover what matters most to you, alone and together, now and into the future. Your choices reflect who you are and what you choose to make important in your lives. There are no right or wrong choices.
Perhaps for the first time in your life, you must reach consensus with another person on where you'll focus your intent, time, and financial resources. In a marriage, your individual choice must complement and support your partner's if the partnership is going to be harmonious. Think of this process as a unique opportunity through which you can gain the total support of another person for your calling, and then do the same for the person you love.
To be of most use, your common money values should look ahead five, 10, and even 20 years. Many couples elect to make children and family their priority while others opt out of parenthood. Even within the choice to be a parent there is the opportunity to reflect your particular values if you are called to adopt or be a foster parent. Then there's the all-important issue of timing.
For example, if one partner chooses to be the only breadwinner so the other can attend or return to college full time, there are short-and long-term consequences. In the short term you both give up time and money, and perhaps delay having children. In the long term this choice provides financial and other benefits for all concerned.
There is probably no more important single “brick” in building the foundation for your marriage than making clear and careful decisions on your common money priorities. Like any other legal instrument, this agreement should be considered irrevocable until both parties reassess, discuss, and change it.
Smart couples draw up a “financial priority statement” representing their short-and long-term goals for the money they accumulate and spend in the course of the marriage. To compose your statement, you'll need to devote several discussions to the process and arrive at your goals jointly, then treat it as a binding marital contract. This agreement should then be the starting place for all of your money decisions in the marriage.
What Goes into a Financial Priority Statement?
A priority statement is all about creating a hierarchy of importance for the limited amount of time, money, and other resources available to the two of you as a married couple. For each priority you arrive at, there are attendant money and time implications that must also be factored together.
Among the priorities and related issues to be considered are:
Money matters far more than most newlyweds think it does or should in a marriage. Never underestimate the potential of shared money values to bring harmony to your relationship, and never ignore the potential of financial disarray to undermine it.
Will you have children? How many?
If yes, how will childcare be arranged and paid for?
Does higher education help you advance a financial goal? Will you take turns attending college or job training?
If one partner is unhappy in his current profession, but a change would require further schooling and/or less salary, is the other partner willing to make the “sacrifice” required?
If yes, will you pay cash for the schooling or take out student loans and both commit to paying them off over the next five, 10, or 20 years?
Will you buy a home or rent? How much of your income(s) are you willing to devote to rental or mortgage payments? (Experts suggest no more than 38 percent of family income should go to housing costs.)
Does an employer provide health care insurance coverage? If not, how will you deal with medical and dental costs? Is a lower cost, higher deductible plan a reasonable alternative in order to cover you against “catastrophic” illness but not present an impossible financial burden?
What about saving and emergency planning? Financial experts recommend saving 10 percent on a monthly basis and having four to six months of living expenses in reserve. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and consider such a plan “pie in the sky.” In the event of a lost job or medical emergency, where will you go for help?
When is less (money) more in a marriage?
When a couple decides to reduce the stress associated with overworking, commuting, or other money worries related to having a bigger house in favor of having more togetherness or family time. There is no right or wrong in this debate. It is a highly personal set of decisions, which should be part of any couple's financial value statement.
Plan Ahead to Save Money and Marital Stress
You may be able to “have it all” in life — children, career, community or national service, spiritual practice, sport, travel, and/ or intellectual pursuit — but you cannot have it all at the same time. Choices must be made, priorities assigned, and dreams deferred.
Just reading the list of priorities and choices can be exhausting, but that's not a reason to avoid dealing with each and every question. To get through the process, it's a good idea to schedule several discussion times with your partner.
The idea is to think ahead, not wait for a crisis (or unplanned event) to arrive in order to address whether, for example, having a child is more important to you than owning a house. Contrary to popular thinking, no one makes a better decision when her back is against the wall compared to when she has the time to reason, assess her feelings, and carefully consider all variables with her partner. In most cases, two heads really are better than one.