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    I Talked To Some Experts About How Couples Can Manage Their Money Together

    “Intimacy when it comes to money doesn't look like a lack of conflict."

    When you're romantically paired with someone, ideally you'd like to split tasks 50/50. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way, particularly when it comes to managing finances. Often, one partner dons the hat of "household CFO," and takes on the lion's share of paying bills, tracking expenses, saving, and what have you.

    However, such an arrangement can stir up problems, because when one half of a couple is pulling most of the financial weight, it’s common for resentment, frustration, and other issues to pop up. 

    I talked to Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and host of Death, Sex & Money's Financial Therapy on WNYC, and Andy Hill, a family finance expert and host of the Marriage Kids and Money podcast, to learn more about why and how couples can co-pilot their finances.

    For starters, when one partner handles money in a relationship, it might seem like a smoother system because the couple isn't openly arguing.

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    When there’s a total divide and conquer approach to finances, there tends to be no friction. “One person calls it, and it's that way,” says Clayman. “It's simple; there's less overt fighting but less communication overall. And if the person taking the lead in this has good money skills, it’s a wonderful way to express competence.” 

    But for the partner who's less involved with money (or outright excluded), they might feel unheard or not understand the reasoning that goes into financial decisions.

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    “They might feel that their partner is being emotionally withholding,” says Clayman, “and they're not working from the same set of facts.” Plus, it puts that person at risk. Let’s say something happens to their partner, who has been handling all the finances. The partner who has been left in the dark financially won’t have the slightest clue what to do.

    And for the person who is managing the money, let’s say they make a mistake or make a decision that isn’t the most beneficial for the pair. They end up getting all the blame.

    It can also mess with your power dynamic. The person playing household CFO holds the purse strings. In turn, they assume the role of the parent. And the “outsider” partner feels like they’re on the sidelines, or a kid waiting for their allowance. “It becomes very parental and can be a real romance killer,” says Clayman.

    What might happen if both partners are involved in tending to the household finances? The downside is that sometimes there’s not a lot of natural agreement — not at first, at least. In fact, it can stir up more conflict.

    Couple sitting with their backs to each other during an argument
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    Maybe both partners don’t see eye to eye, or tiffs might happen after getting into the nitty-gritty. “Whether or not the couple can engage in healthy conflict, there’s a lot of wear or tear,” says Clayman. “There's different work and different risk.”

    But the sweet reward of co-piloting your finances is that your communication can improve over time. And you start feeling like a team working toward a common goal. 

    Having a co-pilot with the household finances helps you to ensure both partners are happy with the decisions that are made, adds Hill. 

    "Long-term benefits of this approach include fewer money fights, lower stress, children being raised in a financially healthy home, and increased family wealth — however the partners define 'wealth,'" says Hill. 

    Talking about money on a regular basis, especially when things are calm, can help you both approach tense money issues from a less combative place.

    Couple going through receipts with a calculator
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    “Most people only talk about money when there’s a crisis happening, and it’s about making the best decision that we can,” says Clayman. “It’s sort of like going to war with the army you have versus the army you wish you had. That can be a dangerous pattern to get into.” 

    And no surprise, time and motivation are two factors that get in the way of partners discussing and co-piloting the financial plan together, says Hill. Oftentimes, couples are too busy to find time to discuss their shared goals, budget, and net worth.  

    "Outside of time, a lot of folks just lack the motivation to discuss money," says Hill. "'What's in it for me?' or 'Why should I care?' are thoughts that pop up. Without motivation or a reason to push on, conversations and plans around family finances can lose steam." 

    When you start to communicate regularly about money and share more neutral updates, there’s structure to the conversation, and both partners are making decisions. So schedule money dates on the regular. Ultimately, this gives you buy-in from both parties and puts you on a more level playing field. 

    When you tackle your finances as a team, figure out what arrangement works best for you. “There can be areas of leadership, where one person can be in charge of paying the bills, investing, and reporting, but everyone stays on the same page,” says Clayman.

    Couple looking at financial paperwork together
    Katleho Seisa / Getty Images

    This can be a fluid thing, depending on what’s going on in your lives. Clayman also mentions that maybe the person who has the least anxiety about money or your situation could potentially be handling more of the day-to-day stuff. For instance, when if one partner is temporarily freelancing and dealing with inconsistent income, they might find financial matters more stressful. So during that time, the other partner might step up and do more tending to their finances.

    Getting into the nitty-gritty, you’ll want to figure out which partner is responsible for the following things:

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    •Creating and sticking to a budget

    •Paying bills

    •Managing debt

    •Setting up and staying on top of savings goals

    •Tracking investments and setting up investment accounts 

    •Looking at insurance situation and policies

    •Tax prep and planning 

    •Your net worth

    Another important convo to have is figuring out what money management means to you and looks like to each partner.

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    Clayman points out that budgeting for one partner may mean tracking every dollar that you spend. For the other partner, it might mean that as long as we keep the spending under a certain amount, who cares what we spend it on? “We don’t know if another person has a different definition for this,” says Clayman.

    Again, it's best to figure this out when things are relatively stable and you’re not in 911 mode. “When there’s a greater time pressure and we're trying to figure out how to avoid a negative consequence or outcome, it tends to bring a certain level of stress and competition,” says Clayman.

    You’ll want to give it time and do some experimenting with how to go about teaming up to tackle your household money management. “This isn't a one-hour conversation and you're done,” says Clayman. “Let's tinker with this for three months, six months. How can we work with this? Who is doing what? What are our plans and goals with this? Sit with it, and experiment.”  

    "Reviewing your numbers and your goals for life doesn't have to be a stiff board meeting," adds Hill. "Bring some refreshments, crack open a bottle of wine, and keep the focus on talking about life more than money." 

    When couples co-pilot their finances, it leads to financial intimacy. And while we think of intimacy as something that is achieved in other ways (like in the bedroom), it’s rarely thought of when it comes to money.

    How often do you talk with your partner about money? Share what works (or doesn't work) for you in the comments!

    And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts