Creating a financial plan with your spouse is a fundamental aspect of a stable relationship. Many American marriages end within the first five years and “money problems” are often cited as the reason for divorce. Creating an open dialogue with your significant other regarding your goals, dreams and also, issues is essential to creating a long-lasting marriage.
The fabulous financial experts and husband and wife team, Scott and Robbye Schroeder recently wrote Managing the Marriage Purse: The newlyweds Guide to Financial Mastery. It is a wonderful book that takes a newly married couple through some of the issues plaguing marriages today. With the help of personalized workbooks for both husband and wife, the book introduces the concept of a Marriage Mission, ways to identify and eliminate out of control spending, how to get out of debt sooner, the importance of resolving money issues quickly and how to become a philanthropist on your current income.
I recently spoke with Robbye about all of the issues facing young couples today and I have the exclusive interview to share with all of you!
Melissa Lauren Marghella: You recently wrote Managing the Marriage
Purse: The Newlyweds’ Guide to Financial Mastery, where you introduce
the concept of a Marriage Mission. Why is this so important to young
Robbye Schroeder: A marriage mission is a unifying life purpose. Like a corporate mission statement it can be summarized in one sentence. Like a spiritual mission, it is a shared calling to some cause larger than one couple. Like a military mission, it is pursued strategically and tactically. We believe that every person and couple is going to make some kind of impact on the world, and that the impact—positive or negative, will ripple on into future generations. If this assumption is true, then we believe that the conscious development of a clearly defined life mission is important. We also believe that this marriage mission, especially when clearly defined, can become the intrinsic motivator to get out of debt, stay out of debt, and live as if we are all stewards of the money that comes our way rather than owners of it.
MLM: How should a couple merge their finances? One account, Multiple?
And when should the merge occur- before or after marriage?
RS: We do not recommend merging anything before the wedding. We do recommend full-disclosure of each partners’ financial situation during the engagement period, but accounts should not actually be merged until the couple is legally married. For couples getting married for the first time, it is best to share all accounts in common and link these accounts to a budgeting software, such as mint.com, so that everyone can see and be responsible for the management of the money. The exception is your 401(k) and IRA accounts because these cannot be “shared” or joint accounts; however, as soon as you are married, you need to make your spouse the beneficiary of these accounts. If you are getting re-married and you have kids from a previous marriage, things start to get complicated, and I could only make recommendations on a case-by-case basis.
MLM: What are the fundamental’s of planning a household budget?
RS: This is such a good question. Our grandmothers took classes in school called home economics. With good intentions, these classes were largely done away with in the wake of the feminist movement. I don’t think doing away with Home Economics has empowered us as women or as couples as evidenced by our mound of consumer debt and record foreclosure rates. Everyone needs basic home economics skills. Budgeting is one aspect of it. Before budgeting can begin, couples need a clearly defined marriage mission because you want spending, saving, investing, and giving to be aligned with the mission. The mission drives the budget, not vice-versa. The key is to make it easy by connecting all of you accounts electronically to your budget, and there are many software providers that make this available. Again, we use and recommend mint.com because it takes about 10 minutes to set up. Setting up the budget is only the first step. It must be monitored regularly, and we recommend that couples meet for a budget date once a month to talk money. Couples that have a budget save thousands of dollars per year over those that do not.
MLM: What is the best way to pay off personal debt? Are there debts
that should be paid off first (credit cards vs. student loans, etc)?
RS: I am a person who has paid off over $100,000 in student loan, automobile, and credit card debt very quickly. How fast you can pay off debt is driven by your income, but the best way to go about it is to make a list of the people or institutions that you owe and how much you owe them. Put the list in order from least to greatest, and pay them off in that order. Pay the minimum amount on every debt, except the smallest one; pay as much as possible on the smallest one until it is gone. Then, apply that payment to the next one on the list. For example, if you owe grandma $500 and you owe Visa $1500, make the minimum payment on the Visa until grandma is paid off, then add whatever amount you were paying grandma monthly to the Visa minimum until all debts are paid off. Some people will disagree with this because of interest rates, but the goal is to shrink your list. There is something mentally freeing if you do it this way. The exception: If you are in the terrible position of not having enough to pay a monthly payment for some reason, make sure you pay your student loans first. Student loans may be the worst form of debt on your list, even though the rates are low and it was an investment in yourself. If you file for bankruptcy, the student loans do not go away. Unlike other creditors, the government can garnish wages. Also, in this terrible scenario I would also pay Visa before grandma.
MLM: If a couple can only invest a small amount each month what should
they focus on? Is there a plan couples should follow for investing?
RS: Yes. It is hard to answer this question because what is suitable for one couple might not be suitable for another. Investing is driven by marriage mission, objectives, time frames for meeting objectives, risk tolerances, and investment styles. I’ve never met two people with the same answers to all of these questions. If anyone ever answers this question with a specific product you should invest in without understanding this issues is giving you terrible advice. We devote several chapters to investing in our book to educate young couples to the world of investing. I highly recommend that young couples take a course in personal finance and investing once a year, as continuing education for life.
MLM: Are there any financial benefits to marriage?
RS: Sure. There are income and tax benefits in some cases, but I would not advise people to marry for financial reasons. Marriage is hard work, and anyone who tells you otherwise has probably not been married very long. You always hear these stories of someone marrying someone else for money; I think this is very sad because it is the recipe for a very lonely marriage. Marry only for love, and pursue a life mission together. Be good stewards of whatever amount of money you have, and your marriage will likely be very fulfilling and rewarding.
MLM: How does a couple sign up for life insurance? Are there any other
types of insurance that are important to newlyweds?
RS: Within the first year of marriage, couples should set up some basic legal documents—a “last will and testament,” a “power of attorney,” and a “healthcare directive to physicians.” The will explains how you want your estate to be divided if one or both of you dies. The power-of-attorney gives your spouse, or someone else, the ability to sell your property or handle other things in your name in the even that you are incapacitated for some terrible reason. The healthcare directive outlines the types of medical treatments that you do and do not want at the end of your life. If you do not have children, you do not need to buy life insurance. When you have children, you want to purchase term-life insurance based that covers the child and stay-at-home parent in the event that you die until that child is a certain age; we recommend age 23, so they can get through college. Every time you have a new child, you add a new term life policy. Term life is cheaper and more suitable than regular life insurance, and there are better investments for your money than life insurance.
MLM: Is purchasing a home still a good investment for young couples?
How much money would be a realistic goal for a down payment? What
steps does a couple need to take before/ during the home purchasing
RS: Like every other major and minor purchase, this is a decision that should be driven by the marriage mission. In general terms, do not buy a home unless you plan to live there for seven years or more. Do not pay less than 20% down, so you can avoid paying primary mortgage insurance. Do not buy a house with monthly payments that exceed 1/3 of your monthly budget. Don’t forget to budget taxes, insurance, and homeowners’ fees if applicable. Do not buy a house without a six to eight month emergency savings in place in case one of you loses your job. Get out of debt before making the purchase. Once all of these factors are met, if you decide you want to own a house, there are other considerations. Right now (2012) and over the next few years, the housing market is very favorable for buyers for a number of reasons, but primarily because this housing crisis that contributed to the 2008 Wall Street crisis is not over. There is a significant inventory of homes that are part of a shadow bubble that hasn’t yet popped. When it comes to buying a specific house, look for value per square foot, and base everything on comps, not on emotions. Homes are emotional, especially for women, but make sure it makes sense financially.
MLM: Can you offer advice on how to keep resentment from building up
between partners over financial issues?
RS: Yes. The answer again is to establish a marriage mission as a guidepost to follow during times of tough decisions. Treat your spouse with love and respect, almost as if he/she is a boss whom you love working for/with. Try to make up before going to bed. Schedule a monthly date to talk about money issues, and this will help you stay on the same page throughout the month.
After speaking with Robbye and reading through her book, I know how important financial goals are to making a realationship really work. Visit The Marriage Purse for budget calculators and spread sheets, plus amazing advice on how to navigate investments, philanthropy and everyday issues for normal couples.