Money is one of the top issues couples fight about and one of the leading causes of divorce in America.
The problems often begin early, when they spend too much on their wedding, and then persist. A 2018 survey from TD Bank found one-third of married couples argue about money at least once a month, and that 44% of divorced couples had regular arguments about finances before they split.
Here are the most common money mistakes that can ruin a relationship — and tips on how to fix them.
1. Not setting shared financial goals
Building a life and a home with someone means setting mutual financial goals. If each of you is saving for a different vision of the future, you're bound to have issues.
Instead of assuming you're both on the same page, take the time to sit down together and make a five-year plan for meeting money goals as a couple.
Break down that plan into steps to be accomplished in the coming months and years. Working together will build a stronger relationship, a better understanding of your money, and a future you both want.
2. Not making time for financial talks
Most couples wait until it's too late to start discussing money. They put it off until the spending has gone too far or someone is already angry.
Relationships thrive on regular, calm and honest talks about money. Schedule a quick chat on a monthly or even weekly basis, to go over bills and recent purchases. This should be a safe time to discuss anything about money coming in and going out.
Not all months are the same, and it’s important to discuss shifting priorities and incomes — and not blame anybody when things aren't going well.
3. Concealing money
Concealing money from your mate is officially known as financial infidelity.
It can be just as damaging to a relationship as physical infidelity. In fact, CreditCards.com recently found that 3 in 10 people in relationships thought it would be worse than cheating for a partner to keep a secret bank account.
When one partner siphons money for his or her own reasons, it's essentially a betrayal of the couple’s shared financial goals and vision.
4. Keeping debt a secret
Debt can be embarrassing, but it can’t be kept secret forever. Hiding debt is just as bad as hiding money from your spouse.
Eventually, outstanding student loans, late mortgage payments or that expensive car will come back to haunt you both.
If you’re struggling with debt, don’t struggle alone. Be honest with your partner. Even if he or she is shocked at first, odds are good that you'll be supported in your commitment to paying off your debt and getting back on the right track.
5. Being ignorant about your partner's finances
In an ideal world, partners would always find out about each other's financial standing before getting married. This is because spouses are often responsible for the other's debt if the debtor passes away.
If you’re in a relationship and your partner is secretly spending a ton of money on personal credit cards, this is a very big problem.
It’s important to stay aware of your spending and your spouse’s spending. If it looks like your partner is spending beyond his or her means, start asking questions. It’s not being nosy; it’s being a responsible and caring partner.
6. Letting emotions enter your money talks
Financial discussions can help create a mutual understanding of your shared financial status and goals. But when setbacks happen, it’s easy to get emotional or angry.
It’s important to take a deep breath and try to keep emotions at bay. When anger, blame and resentment enter money discussions, everyone suffers.
Money talks should never be used to hurt each other — they’re intended to help you move forward together.
7. Rushing into a joint account
Many couples opt to streamline their finances by opening a joint bank account and credit cards — but this may not work for everyone, especially not right away.
Early in a relationship, you may want to wade into a joint account by opening a shared account for household expenses and common goals but maintaining separate accounts for personal goals and spending.
Joint accounts should be avoided entirely before marriage, unless your state recognizes common law marriages. If you break up or one partner steals from the other, sorting things out may be difficult if the law does not recognize your status.
8. Trying to keep your finances separate
Keeping finances entirely separate is not a good idea either, and referring to money as “mine” and “yours” rather than "ours" can quickly open a rift.
This is especially true when one partner makes significantly more than the other or when one partner's income pays bills while the other's income is used as spending money.
You're sharing a home and expenses, so why not pool your money into a shared account for meeting your financial obligations together?
9. Not establishing spending rules
When two people contribute to a common spending account, it’s a good idea to agree on some spending rules.
Having rules will encourages you both to check in with each other before making any major purchase, so there won't be any resentment when a new smartphone magically appears or a new car shows up in the driveway.
Making spending decisions together helps curb impulse buying and ensures that your family will stay on track with its financial goals.
10. Thinking you can change your partner's bad money habits
If your mate was terrible at saving or was extremely thrifty before you got married, those habits won’t suddenly disappear after the wedding day.
Expecting this to happen or assuming that you'll be able to change your spouse's ways will lead to major disappointment.
The key to a successful financial partnership is to understand each other’s habits and money outlook before getting serious — and committing to working together to build better habits and a solid financial future.