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By Jennifer Leathem
Communication is essential in any harmonious relationship. Some conversations are easy: Who will pick up dinner? Where will we spend our vacation? Others are more difficult: Where will we live? Whose family will we spend the holidays with? Do we want to start a family one day?
One of the most important conversations to be had, that about money, is often one couples try to avoid. Sharing information with a new partner on your income and assets may be a very vulnerable conversation to have. You may not be ready to share and prefer to keep your situation private. It may result in conflict, expectations or disappointment. But having that conversation today may be one of the most important steps you take.
You may not choose to combine your finances right away, or at all, but here are some important financial considerations when committing to a long-term relationship.
Be open and honest: Your feelings towards money and spending may be aligned or very different, so ongoing communication is key. One partner may carry debt and the other may be debt adverse. Laying out your current situation honestly will ensure there are no surprises later. It also gives you the opportunity to work together and find solutions for any potential problems.
Make a budget: What one partner decides to spend their money on may be different than the other, and it often comes down to values about money. Working on a budget together and planning for where the money will be directed each month will help prevent conflicts. Decide upfront how expenses will be covered and make sure it is fair how the money is being directed. For example, if one partner covers all the expenses while the other pays the mortgage, one is building equity and the other is not.
Discuss your financial goals and objectives: Discussing goals and objectives will help ensure you are on the same page. You may find your partner has different goals than you do. Some key things to discuss include: When do you see yourselves retiring? What type of retirement do you want to have? Is having a career important or do you prefer someone stay home to raise children? How do you want to help family and charitable causes? Things in life are never linear, and there will be life events, such as having children or a career change, along the way that will require goals and objectives to be reviewed.
Meet with a financial adviser: A financial adviser can prepare a financial plan and update it regularly, which will act as a roadmap for you and your partner to follow. This will allow you to check in on how you are progressing towards your goals and objectives and hold you accountable to someone other than your partner.
Protect yourself: You may find that you are entering a relationship in a very different financial situation than your partner. Inequalities with income and assets are not uncommon. You may be expecting a large inheritance down the road. Speak with a lawyer before cohabitating to make sure you, and what you have worked so hard for, is protected if there is a relationship breakdown later. Having this conversation with your partner before signing a cohabitation or marriage agreement may be uncomfortable, but you will be happy you did if things turn out differently than you expected.
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Things to watch for: Without a clear understanding of incomes and a budget in place, you may have questions on where the money is being directed every month. We have all heard stories of partners hiding money or debts from each other, as well as serious issues such as gambling or shopping addictions. If you have good reason to believe your partner is being dishonest, or hiding money from you, bring this up early before things get worse. Enlist the help of a professional if needed.
The start of a new relationship is exciting and fun, but the honeymoon period can often be disrupted by money matters. There are many issues to consider in money and relationships, but the key to success in both is communication. By proactively having these conversations, and focusing on your common financial goals, you can avoid turbulence down the road.
Jennifer Leathem, CFP, CIM, is a financial adviser at Nicola Wealth. This article should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. All investments contain risk and may gain or lose value. Nicola Wealth is registered as a Portfolio Manager, Exempt Market Dealer and Investment Fund Manager with the required provincial securities commissions.
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