Imagine if you started discussing your long-term financial goals about the same time you were planning your nuptials. Perhaps if you spent less time thinking, “band or DJ,” and more time thinking about investing, your life together could be vastly improved.
That’s because the financial decisions that couples make in the early years together have a huge impact on their future income. But how could you know? Individual financial habits are hard to break. You were single before entering this partnership and you managed your finances on your own, which meant you didn’t have to check in with anyone before indulging in that expensive vacation or buying a flat screen TV. Your parents would have told you or perhaps you’re telling yourself now, had you invested that money, after 10, 15, 25 years, the money spent on an impulse purchase could have become a down payment on a house.
That doesn’t make this the time for guilt. It’s time to take action. Everyone’s situation is unique, but it all comes back to one simple principal — the earlier you have the conversations about money and the sooner you take action on that discussion, the better off you’ll be.
Fidelity Investments recently polled more than 800 of America’s couples asking them about how they communicate and decide on financial matters in the household. What we learned might surprise you. Most couples say they’re on the same page financially, but there are glaring disconnects when it comes to action and who’s in charge, which is the most worrisome part.
Women, despite earning as much money and in some cases more than their male partners, are still taking a backseat when it comes to joint financial decision making. Women are more confident in their spouse’s ability than their own as it pertains to financial responsibility on retirement decisions — and their male partners agree. This disconnect is not reserved for long-term financial issues either. Less than one-half of couples agree that daily financial decisions are made jointly. (Special Report: Women and Money)
It’s worse for younger women. While 24 percent of female Boomers (born 1946-1966) identify themselves as the primary decision maker for day-to-day financial decisions, only 12 percent of Gen Y women (born 1979-1988) and 17 percent of Gen X women (born 1967-1978) feel the same way.
Furthermore, 53 percent of retired women and 51 percent of female Boomers express complete confidence in their capacity to assume financial responsibility, versus 32 percent of Gen X and 38 percent of Gen Y.
Before sharing how to potentially adjust this imbalance in your household, consider the following reason enough. The average American can expect to spend about 30 years or more in retirement. For a 65-year-old couple today, there’s a 50 percent chance one will live to the age of 92 and a 25 percent chance one will live to the age of 97. What’s more, the average female can expect to outlive the men in their lives by almost five years. Although it’s an unpleasant thought, when one factors in a greater than 50 percent divorce rate in this country, there is a significant likelihood many women will at some point need to assumesole responsibility for their finances.
This is a big part of the reason why both partners should be equally prepared to manage money. At this point, you might be saying that you’re already in sync with your significant other on everything from paying for dinner tonight to where you plan to live in retirement. Here is a list of questions to get the conversation started:
1. In case of an emergency, do you know where your financial and legal documents are?
2. How confident are you in taking full responsibility for your retirement savings strategy?
3. Everyone pictures retirement differently. What does yours look like?
4. Your favorite store is having a blowout sale; what will you do?
5. You just received a large tax refund. What are you most likely to do with it?
6. You inherit $10,000. What’s your first instinct?
7. You decided to refinance the mortgage on your house. Who will take the lead?
8. Who manages your day-to-day household finances (paying bills, deposits, budgets, etc.)?
9. When it comes to investing for your retirement, who takes the lead?
We’ve taken these questions and made it an interactive online quiz that you and your partner can take to better understand each other’s financial personalities. It also shows you how you stack up against your peers. Try it – and let us know how you scored on Facebook.
Kathy Murphy is president of Personal Investing, a Fidelity Investments company. She oversees a business with more than $1 trillion in client assets under administration, more than 13.5 million customer accounts and more than 10,000 employees.
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