Jen Masseau and her fiancé, Andrew, aren’t even married yet, but they already understand the importance of open communication — especially when it comes to money. The couple talk about their finances usually once a month, says Masseau, a 30-year-old magazine editor in Toronto, and it’s paying off: They bought their first car and paid for it in full. They’re actively saving for a down payment on a house. They’re both debt-free.“We talk about money so we can maintain good standing with our finances,” she says. “We don’t want to be in debt. We see other people struggle with that, and it’s not something we want for ourselves.”
The couple, who are getting married next June, are in an enviable position, especially among their millennial peers. A new poll
from CIBC finds that 66 percent of those who plan to marry or live common-law are entering their relationship with debt. Only 35 percent of newly committed couples say they’ve talked about money in detail, while 40 percent have only had a brief conversation about money.
“Financial topics can be difficult to discuss — they’re not romantic or sexy,” says Jamie Golombek, Managing Director of Tax and Estate Planning, CIBC Wealth Strategies Group, and the author of a new report For richer or poorer: Financial Planning Tips for Newlyweds
. In fact, a recent U.S. survey listed finances as the most challenging thing to talk about, above politics, religion and even death.
Yet having an open and honest discussion about finances is a vitally important first step in a new life together.
“Couples should absolutely talk about finances before getting married,” says Golombek. “They’re merging not just their love for one another, but their assets and liabilities as well. There should be no surprises.”
Here are five ways to start talking and begin building your joint savings:
1. Conquer your financial fears
“People are afraid of admitting what they spend on and that their financial philosophy might be different from their partner’s, but there’s no reason why two different money personalities can’t be compatible,” says Golombek.
If money talk makes you squirm, come right out and tell your partner about your discomfort. Don’t be secretive about money, says Golombek. Financial secrets in marriage can undermine trust and cause major marital problems down the road.
“Start the conversation by saying, ‘I have something I want to discuss that’s challenging for me to raise with you,’” adds Gary Direnfeld, a marriage and family counsellor based in Dundas, Ontario.
2. Decide how to manage joint finances
Once you’ve merged your lives, you’ll need to figure out how to approach shared money management. If you want to share everything, combine your money into one joint account. This works well if both of you are cautious with your money. If you want to keep your accounts separate then assign common expenses – maybe one of you pays for rent, and the other for all groceries.
Then there’s the combo approach: Each of you keeps a separate account for personal spending, but you pay household expenses from a joint account that both of you fund. Whatever your method of choice, it’s essential to set a budget and review what you’re spending each month, says Golombek.
3. Set goals
What financial milestones are important to you and your partner? Whether your sights are set on starting a family, buying a home or retiring to a beachside villa, you should talk about how you’ll each contribute to funding your dreams.
The conversation should also extend to other obligations, like student loans. “If one person is coming into the relationship with debt, there should be a plan for how to pay it down,” says Golombek.
4. Bank smart
After the joint account is set up, consider sharing other financial products, such as reward credit cards.
Two cards to consider are the CIBC Aventura® Visa Infinite* Card
and the CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card
The CIBC Aventura® Visa Infinite* Card
is a travel rewards card that allows you to redeem your Aventura points for full airfare on any airline at any time with no blackout periods, so you could use them for your honeymoon travels. You could also use your Aventura points to purchase select merchandise, make payments towards your Aventura credit card balance, or even make a residential mortgage prepayment.
The CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card
is a cash back card – you get 4% percent cash back on gas and grocery purchases, 2% cash back on Tim Hortons and TELUS purchases, and 1% on everything else. That cash back could then be used for anything you choose — decorating a new home, buying a car or a getaway to celebrate an anniversary.
“As a couple with a shared vision for the future, it’s important to have banking products that work for both of you to help you reach your financial goals sooner,” says Steve Webster, Vice President, Retail and Business Banking, CIBC. “Using credit cards like the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card or the CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite Card to help pay for your wedding is a smart way to turn your expenses into valuable points or cashback that you could use for the travel and purchases you want to make together.”
5. See a professional
If you’re struggling to have the money talk, Golombek recommends asking a financial advisor to moderate the conversation. They can also help with planning, and guide you toward achieving your goals.
“You get a videographer and wedding planner to help with the big day, why not get a professional to help you with your money?” asks Golombek. “An initial meeting is a good springboard for couples to have a regular financial discussion.”
For Masseau and her fiancé, the wedding planning itself presented an opportunity to discuss their approach to managing their finances.
“We’re opening a joint account so we don’t have to worry about dividing up who is paying for what vendor deposits,” says Masseau. “That’s what makes sense for us.”