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Unlocking the secrets to a financially happy relationship

© iStockphoto.com / Tatiana Popova © iStockphoto.com / Tatiana Popova

By Andrew Housser

Fall is now second only to summer as the most popular time to tie the knot. However, before a couple says, “I do,” it is important to first have a truthful heart-to-heart talk about finances. A survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education found that a third of U.S. adults who have combined finances have lied to their partner about money. A little more than half of these individuals confess to hiding cash or purchases from their partners. Up to 15 percent are guilty of keeping their partners in the dark about bank accounts, debt and earnings.

Not surprisingly, financial infidelity can throw relationships into a serious tailspin -- one from which some couples never recover. To ensure your “happily ever after” truly lasts for a lifetime, heed these secrets culled from financially savvy couples.

1.      Have the money talk. Baring all -- in terms of debt load, income, assets and credit history -- is an important first step to creating a solid financial future together. Equally important is sharing how each of you was raised to view money, and what spending and savings habits you have developed over the years. Problems can arise when one person was raised by spendthrift parents and the other by credit card lovers. Now is the time to discuss what you expect of each other in terms of saving, spending and paying down debt.

2.      Be open to compromise. It is OK if you do not see eye-to-eye on everything. Compromise is a big part of a successful relationship. Work to develop a savings and spending plan that makes both of you comfortable. For some couples, setting a monthly allowance is effective. This is a specific dollar amount that each of you can spend on affordable discretionary items without criticism from the other person (for instance, new clothes or a morning latte). This requires budgeting because once that money is gone for the week or month, you have to wait until the next allowance to replenish your funds.

3.      Make it a date. Once you commit to life as a couple, money decisions are no longer a solo act. Nevertheless, it might feel that way if one person shoulders the bill-paying burden. To keep this from happening, plan regular monthly date nights to review income and expenses. This is the best way to make sure each party is accountable for doing their share of saving and that unexpected purchases do not catch you unaware. It also bolsters trust and fosters an easier, more open dialogue about money.

4.      Combine finances -- or not. Many couples maintain joint checking accounts for shared expenses such as rent or mortgage, utilities and groceries, yet keep separate individual accounts to help maintain some fiscal independence. The key is to determine what percentage of each paycheck goes into the joint account so that contributions and expenses are covered fairly. Keeping finances separate may be a smart move if one spouse has poor credit, as the spouse with better credit usually would be in a better position to get a mortgage or other loan at a better rate. 

5.      Look to the future. Talk about financial priorities. Where do you see yourselves living three to five years from now? How will you save for a down payment for a home? Do you want to start a family? If so, when? If one partner plans to stay home with the children, how will that affect your income and plans? Make sure both people contribute to retirement accounts, as well as put funds into an emergency savings account.

6.      Keep it honest. Lying to your partner is never good, especially about something as important as money. If you went a little overboard while shopping with the girls, or the Vegas guys' weekend cost more than you expected, be honest with each other. That way, you avoid surprises – and can pool your resources before the debt and the lies snowball into something you cannot control. 

Keeping a marriage happy and healthy is not an easy feat. A 2013 study from Kansas State University found that couples who argue about money early in their relationships have a greater risk for divorce. One way to help protect yourself from becoming a divorce statistic is by talking often about finances. 

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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