Which is harder to do: achieve financial success or find true love? With savvy planning, couples can do both.
According to the results of TD Bank's Love and Money Survey, 58 percent of respondents said that finding true love was the more difficult of the two prospects. The detailed survey of 1,482 people – all in relationships – sheds significant light onto how people in love talk about money, no matter what relationship stage they are in.
"Every relationship is different, the same way each couple's financial goals are different," says Jason Thacker, head of U.S. consumer deposits and payments at TD Bank. "The most important thing is that couples are on the same page about their priorities, their approach and their timeline."
No matter what relationship stage you are in, there are strategies to follow when it comes to love and money.
If you're newly dating. Getting to know a new special someone is an exciting time. It can also be nerve-wracking as you figure out the best way to exchange financial info – like if you have significant student loan or credit card debt.
Tip: Avoid TMI. Talking about finances too early in your courtship can change relationship dynamics. "The first several dates are too soon to have serious conversations about money," says relationship expert Terri Orbuch. "That doesn't mean you can't be aware of how the other person spends money and ask questions about specific money issues – but the serious conversations come when you consider yourself in a relationship, rather than just two separate individuals dating."
Tip: Ask the right questions. You can find out a lot about your potential sweetheart's attitudes about money and marriage compatibility without ever bringing up the subject directly. "Break the ice by asking about their job, where they live and with whom, what they do for fun and how they vacation," says relationship expert April Masini. "These questions appear to be about lifestyle, but they're also about money and can help you learn more about your date's income, financial plans and money lifestyle."
If you're in a long-term relationship. Once you begin talking about money, do it regularly. Couples who discuss money on at least a weekly basis also report being happy in their relationship, according to the TD Bank survey.
Tip: Talk about the difficult issues. Among those surveyed, 36 percent reported having an argument about money at least once a month. "If your partner doesn't plan or address potential pitfalls with finances, you're looking at drama down the road," Masini says. "Talking money isn't sexy, but not talking about money is less sexy."
Tip: Observe actions as much as words. A good way to determine someone's approach to money is to read nonverbal cues. "Is your significant other always wearing a new outfit?" asks financial therapist Clare Dubé. "Are they a big tipper?" Little clues like these can offer big insights into your sweetie's overall money habits.
Your partner's approach to money will tell you about his or her character, too. "Pay attention to your partner's generosity, responsibility and respect for money," Masini says. "The way your partner treats money has a lot to do with the way he or she treats people."
If you're engaged. The average price for an engagement ring was $6,163 in 2016, according to wedding website The Knot. In the TD Bank Love and Money Survey, 49 percent of respondents said an engagement ring should cost between $1,000 and $5,000. A ring is just one of many large expenses you'll need to navigate with your significant other.
Tip: Nail down a number first. Planning a wedding is already stressful, so set expectations together. "If a couple needs to save up to pay for a wedding, then they both need to agree on the expected cost and how that might impact their long-term financial goals," Thacker says. "Before the planning process, couples should visit their local bank to connect with a financial professional to help create a plan that works for their unique needs."
Plan for a lifetime, not a single-day event. Know the answer to some fundamental life questions before launching into the wedding-planning process. Questions Dubé encourages her clients to ask include: Will we have kids? Do we want to purchase a home? Will we pay for all or any part of our children's college education? Will we lend money or help family out with financial struggles?
If you're newly married. Many couples – 51 percent of respondents in the TD Bank survey – wait until they're married to start saving together. To be good at money management, though, couples need to be on the same page – whether they're saving or spending.
Tip: Make the rules together. No matter how you choose to blend your finances, it's important to set financial guidelines to enhance marriage compatibility. "Set up a joint spending plan and decide whether you each have separate accounts in addition to a joint account," Dubé says. "Set a dollar limit on what can be spent without needing a discussion or justification."
Tip: Avoid surprises to ease stress. Anticipate what your spouse's money sensitivities are and make an effort to give him or her sufficient warning. New-marriage pitfalls can range from learning about debt commitments to disagreements about how much to save for retirement, Orbuch says. "These money disagreements arise when the bills come, around tax time and when finances are tight for the couple," Orbuch says.
If you've been married for a long time. Finances in marriage change after the kids are out of the nest. Only 12 percent of the TD Bank survey respondents ages 55 and older said retirement planning was one of their biggest successes as a couple.
Tip: Define new goals. Keep up those weekly talks about money, even when you've been married for decades. "Couples need to regroup about money spending once the kids have grown," Orbuch says. "Couples may talk about their goals early on in the marriage and forget that they have to revisit them later in the marriage. Sharing and understanding your partner's evolving financial goals and expectations strengthens the marriage and the relationship."
Tip: Revisit estate planning. Masini recommends revisiting your estate plan every few years because circumstances change. For example, if your children have divorced, you may want to nix the ex-spouse from any inheritance plan. "Don't leave your estate plan alone once it's written," she says. "Revisit it and update it."