The institution of marriage and family structures have evolved significantly over the generations. We see more and more working couples than ever before, with women contributing an increasingly larger share of average household incomes. When it comes to financial management, both should be actively involved in steering the family's finances.
However, many couples unknowingly put-off having the “money talk” – a critical piece of the family’s well-being. Open communication, across all issues, is one of the fundamentals of a strong union. Yet having a candid conversation about the family’s present and future financial concerns is something many couples are struggling.
Starting the conversation the right way
Approaching the subject of money is always tricky, even for compatible couples. Some of us find it hard to ask our partners to chip in for dinner/groceries/gifts – let alone start a conversation on debt and savings.
So how to begin this difficult, but necessary, conversation?
Timing is everything: Topics as heavy as the “money talk” shouldn’t be rushed or forced. Choose a time when you’re both relaxed and free of other chores – during the weekend or after a satisfying meal, perhaps?
Start small: If this is your first conversation, don’t jump in to the deep end and discuss debt or income.Talk instead about upcoming plans and compare budgeting style/spending habits
Seek advice: Asking outright about his/her EPF savings or credit card debt can make things awkward. Instead, seek financial advice (Eg: “I’m torn between saving or paying off my credit card debt this month. What would you suggest?”). This way, you get to learn about your partner’s financial habits and their opinion on money matters.
Once you are both comfortable talking about money and finances, you can use these three tips to help you and your partner chart the way forward.
Money habits are often shaped by a person’s upbringing and the values imparted on them in their formative years.
No two people share the same circumstances growing-up, and these differences are manifested in your respective answers to the financial questions you encounter together.
Understanding where and why you and your partner concur, and differ, can be extremely helpful as you both jointly work-through your family's financial priorities in the many years to come.
Establish common goals
Whether it is buying a house, funding your children’s education or planning for a comfortable retirement, both partners need to make long-term commitments. Work-out the amounts required for your respective goals, and agree on how much each will contribute. And this has to be reviewed from time-to-time as income levels change!
The detailed arrangements are important, for example whether both partners are comfortable with a joint-account. Consistency is key – consider setting-up Scheduled Transactions to the sub-account so that both partners never forget to fulfil their financial promises.
Mine, yours, ours
It's important to know what you own, what your partner owns, and what you share. Having clear ownership does not only apply to your assets - savings, investments, property etc; it applies equally to your liabilities as well, for example loans and other forms of financial obligations.
Before you take on financial liabilities, consider the consequences if something unexpected were to happen to one or both of you. Even if the worst-case seems unlikely today, it’s always advisable to opt for a form of protection to ensure that your family’s long-term financial security is catered for.
This article is brought to you by CIMB as part of our ongoing efforts to raise the level of financial literacy among Malaysians. Financial knowledge and understanding are key to making well-informed and meaningful financial decisions that will improve all our well-being. This, in turn, achieves CIMB’s purpose of advancing customers and society.