How Couples Sabotage Their Finances

With a wedding coming up, you’d think Jay Buerck would be obsessing about the usual details: Writing vows, choosing appetizers, or figuring out seating charts to accommodate challenging relatives.

But what worries the 29-year-old St. Louis marketing professional isn’t any of those things: It’s money.

Not that he and his bride-to-be Liz Downey won’t have enough; they earn comfortable salaries. What really freaks him out is the inherent challenge of joining two people’s finances.

The couple has already taken steps to prepare their finances. That’s a smart strategy, according to financial experts, especially now that U.S. couples are waiting longer to marry, and many people have thousands of dollars in student loans and credit card debt by the time they take their vows.

So where do couples go wrong, when it comes to money — and how can they make it right?

HAVE THE MONEY TALK

Only 43 percent of couples talked about money before marriage, according to a May 2010 survey conducted for American Express.

But lack of disclosure about your financial issues — maybe you’re struggling with $100,000 in student debt, or maybe you filed for bankruptcy at some point — isn’t really any different from lying. Be up front about your financial situation, have the “money talk” long before the big day, and tackle any challenges as a couple.

Minor money differences can be overcome as long as you have the basics covered: You have your daily needs met, you’re bringing in more than you’re paying out, and you’re able to build a nest egg for the future. But once overspending and debt enter the picture, all bets are off.

HIDING FROM HELP

Money is such an emotional issue that it could be difficult for couples to untangle all the knots on their own. A trained third party can help you figure out the core issues, and mutually agree on a financial plan.

“I’ve had clients yelling at each other in the parking lot, who came into the conference room and then wouldn’t say a word to each other for the first hour,” says Kimball. “But eventually we were able to work through it. Talking to someone can help air these financial issues in a safe environment.”

BEING ON SAME PAGE

It’s helpful to have basic guidelines in place that will keep you on the same page. For instance, purchases under a certain dollar amount can be left to each spouse’s discretion, while larger ones should to be cleared with your partner.

Some couples might be comfortable pooling all of their money, and others may not; neither is the “right” choice, but that should be decided explicitly.