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The following is a guest post from CollegeMom at ConsumerFu.com. If you are interested in guest posting at Club Thrifty, please see our guest posting guidelines.
One of the biggest mistakes couples make is allowing love to render them financially stupid. We’re so afraid of hurt feelings, we fail to sit down and talk about money. We talk about how many children we want, at what age we want to retire, where we want to travel and all sorts of other hopes and dreams. What we don’t do is use common sense to guide discussions about money.
Will you continue to have separate finances after marriage? How much insurance will you buy? Who pays which bill? Will you have joint savings accounts? Will you contribute equally to your IRAs even if one spouse earns twice as much? How will you handle inheritance – expected or otherwise?
My husband and I didn’t talk about all of these things, but we talked about enough of them to know that when it came to money, we were kindred spirits. After almost 21 years of marriage we’ve learned a lot from our own experiences and those of friends and acquaintances.
The following are a few other big mistakes couples make with their finances. The stories that accompany them are true, but the names and some of the details have been changed to avoid needlessly embarrassing anyone who might recognize themselves in these scenarios.
Mistake #1 – Failing to protect premarital assets
If you have assets to protect, get a prenuptial agreement. Don’t cave to the guilt. Your future spouse isn’t marrying your assets. He is marrying you. Good, take the assets out of the equation. Have him sign a prenup.
In this example, the prenup wasn’t required for their first attempt at marriage since neither party had any wealth. Greg and Claudia represented everything that is bad about couples and money. They never communicated about money. He defined the word cheap and she enjoyed spending every cent they both made.
They’d been married about 12 years when Greg received a $300,000 inheritance check after his grandfather died. Claudia got angry after he put it in an account that bore only his name. Within a week, Claudia had packed up the kids and was headed back home to mother. She was determined to get her hands on half of that inheritance, but the law in our state was on his side. She did manage to get a 50/50 split of marital assets and the kids.
Greg pined away and begged for Claudia to come home. About 11 months later, after she’d blown through the $60,000 she took from the marriage, Claudia decided she did love Greg and returned home to him. This is where Greg made his biggest mistakes. Not only did he fail to get a prenup (technically it would have been a postnup) to protect his assets, Greg put both the inheritance and his portion of the marital cash into a joint account. Four years later, she once again walked out and this time she and her attorney got half of everything.
Prenuptials get a bad rap from people who seem to confuse asset protection with selfishness. In some cases selfishness might be the motivator behind the request for a prenup, but in most cases it is no more true than the assumption that all people marrying wealth are greedy gold diggers.
Mistake #2 – Hiding debt from your spouse
Don’t take debt into a relationship without letting your future spouse know and don’t secretly incur debt in a marriage. Eventually, you will be found out.
Max and Leila were friends of ours who seemed to be perfect for one another. He earned a solid six figure income while she stayed home with their two children. Our families did a lot together and outwardly they were the golden couple.
About eight years into the marriage things started to fall apart. It turned out that she had received unsolicited credit card applications in the mail and on the strength of household income(his) she had been approved for two different $25,000 accounts. She then proceeded to max them out. We had a hard time understanding how he didn’t notice her spending habits but apparently she foot the bill for some weekends away with girlfriends and spent on things that didn’t catch his eye like spa services.
Credit has been so easy to obtain over the past 20 years that it is hard to imagine people getting married without bringing some debt along with them. The time for full disclosure is before you walk down the aisle or combine your finances.
Mistake #3 – Making stupid decisions with free money
If you live long enough, you will eventually have money drop in your lap. Don’t be stupid with it. It may not be huge sums, but any money that drops in unannounced deserves to be treated with respect.
My final example involves lottery winnings. Cameron and Shannon won $100,000 in our state’s lottery. They aren’t from this area and often say they want to move back to their home state after their son graduates from high school in four years.
I was stunned when Shannon told me how they would spend their winnings. They are putting about $65,000 into a six year old house they plan to sell in four years. They might as well light a match to the money. Along with a screened-in porch and extensive tiered decking, they are putting in a pool that alone costs $35,000.
If they were planning on staying in their home, some of these decisions would make sense. For this couple, moving home in a few years takes them back to an area with a much higher cost of living. Imagine the down payment that money would have provided for the next home – the one that will probably carry them into retirement.
If money magically appears in your life, take some time to think before you spend. Put it somewhere safe and allow yourself to dream on paper. Do some math. Pay any taxes due before you spend a penny on things you want. That alone might encourage you to save the rest. If not, imagine how you’re going to feel when that money is gone and you are once again living paycheck-to-paycheck or bonus to bonus.
There are plenty of other mistakes couples make with money, but outlining them all would be a truly depressing exercise. Marriage is hard work. Don’t make it harder by making stupid decisions about money.
CollegeMom is a staff writer for ConsumerFu.com and is the mother of two college-age daughters. She and her husband live on four acres of old farmland with two dogs, one cat and a large number of gardens.