In families, there’s often a division of labour between spouses when it comes to running the household. For example, one spouse might handle the household’s finances. However, there are many good reasons to consider working together on money matters.
1. Maintain marital bliss
It’s no secret that money is a leading cause of marital discord, but it doesn’t have to be. Being upfront about your finances and sharing responsibilities can help a couple get on the same page. As a first step, consider creating or updating a family financial plan.
“It’s important for couples to discuss financial matters openly,” says Grant Richmond, Vice-President & Director, RBC Dominion Securities. “The process of creating a financial plan together can help couples work through potential conflicts like different spending priorities and financial values.”
That doesn’t mean that you have to make every single financial decision together. Even in a marriage, people need some independence. It also doesn’t mean that both spouses have to be equally involved – everyone is different. But being open about money matters and conferring with each other about the big financial decisions can help avoid conflict.
2. Stay focused on common goals
Money often goes in hand in hand with the big goals in life. Earlier in your marriage, you may have shared the same big goals. But people change, and financial situations change, and it may be different now. “It’s important to keep the conversation going, and ensure you’re both agreed, where possible, on major financial priorities as you go through life’s changes,” says Richmond. “You need to answer important questions like how much you should save for retirement. Or simply what you want to do in retirement. Your personal dream may be to sail around the world, but does your spouse share that dream?”
Often, people are so busy, they don’t have time to think about these sort of questions. Creating a financial plan can give couples the structure they need.
3. Prepare for one of you to live longer
It is very common for women, especially, to outlive their spouses. According to Statistics Canada, there are nearly two women for every man aged 85+.
Regardless of which spouse outlives the other, it’s very likely that one spouse will be solely responsible for the household finances at some point.
“If the surviving spouse was not involved with financial matters, it can be overwhelming for them to suddenly be responsible for making all of these decisions, especially when they’re dealing with the death of their spouse,” says Richmond.
“That’s why it’s important for both spouses to be involved in financial matters, and to know where they can get the support they need from professional tax, legal and financial advisors.” And it’s never too late to start, Richmond adds. “We often talk about financial education being important for children – but it can really start at age."
4. Take care of each other
With better health care, people today are generally living longer, but often living with health issues. Who makes decisions about the household finances if one spouse is incapacitated? Or how do you fund their health-care needs beyond what’s covered by government plans?
“It’s important to plan ahead for incapacity with your spouse,” says Richmond. “Two important things to consider are your Power of Attorney and health-care arrangements.” Consider who you name as your Power of Attorney (“mandatary” in Quebec) – the person responsible for making decisions about your finances if you are unable. Sometimes, your Power of Attorney document will also include instructions regarding your personal care or medical treatment. Depending on your province, you may need an additional document for this, called a Power of Attorney for personal care, or a “living Will.”
“Spouses will often name each other,” Richmond says. “That’s another reason why both spouses should have a good understanding of the household’s wealth management concerns.” Couples should also think about the financial implications of their future health-care needs. “What if one spouse is the primary income earner, but can no longer earn an income for health reasons? Or one spouse needs specialized health-care that you have to pay for out of pocket?”
You may need additional insurance to cover situations like these and it’s important that both spouses are aware of what to do when the time comes to use it.
The message here is marriage can be complicated – and even more so when you add money to the mix. So be open and honest with your partner and it will help you build the life you have dreamed of together.