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Good financial planning may add to wedded bliss

August 25, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

George Shinham has always handled the family's finances, but that's never been a problem because he and his wife make financial decisions together.

"We work together and decide together," said Marie Shinham, 74, of Cearfoss.

For the couple, who will be married 55 years in October, making financial decisions together came naturally as part of their togetherness, they said.

Couples that don't work out financial matters before or early in their marriage can run into problems, experts said.

Financial problems are a leading reason or factor in many divorces, experts said.

Finances is one of the subjects Pastor Jim Stauffer discusses with couples in premarital counseling.

The two "most tender" subjects are finance and sex, he said.

"They get awful quiet," said Stauffer, pastor at Paramount Brethren In Christ on Longmeadow Road.

When Stauffer talks to them about finances, he's not asking them how much they make.

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"Hopefully, they know where their money is going," he said.

Stauffer impresses upon them the need to discuss with each other how much money each partner is making, where the money goes and their credit card habits.

"Every once in a while one raises the eyebrow with the other with credit cards," Stauffer said. That indicates they need to talk about it, he said.

"You're not marrying me. Don't look at me. Look at each other," he tells them.

"If they don't talk to each other, there's going to be friction," Stauffer said.

Communication problems are the No. 1 reason for divorce, said Judith McLean, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Family Life Counseling in Hagerstown.

But money is often a factor as well, experts said.

As an attorney for Martin Palmer & Associates in Hagerstown, Kelly Clopper has handled her share of divorces.

No matter what the main issue is with the couple, there is probably an underlying tension dealing with finances, Clopper said.

"Being married myself, I think there always is tension about finances. There can be problems if you don't plan properly," Clopper said.

"Arguing over money, that can be the friction that causes one of them to go off and have an affair," Clopper said.

One person may be controlling the relationship and the money, she said.

"Many times I've had people come in here and say, 'He was in charge of the money. He would give me the allowance,'" Clopper said. She also hears couples complain about credit card debt.

Couples need to work out a cooperative financial plan so money doesn't drive a wedge between them, she said.

When it comes to prenuptial agreements, some people take the view that it sets you up for divorce, Clopper said.

"Communication is better than a prenuptial," Clopper said.

"If you're telling your spouse, 'I don't trust you' going into the marriage, then what's that say about your marriage down the road?" Clopper said.

How a couple handles their finances can be symbolic of how they're going to handle their lives together, said Richard Stanzione, a licensed certified social worker-clinical who runs Adult, Couple and Family Counseling Services in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., with his wife, Eileen.

"How much compromise are they able to have as a unit?" Stanzione said.

Each person has his or her personality and the couple has its own personality, Stanzione said. They should look at themselves as a couple, giving and taking, he said.

Stanzione listed some questions couples should ask themselves:

  • Do they both have influence in their discussions and decisions?

  • Does each one listen respectfully to the other, even when they disagree?

  • What are their basic values and goals?



Having different values and goals can affect how they spend their money and handle their finances, Stanzione said.

Finances often play a role in why a couple has a problem, but it usually boils down to other issues such as respect and values, he said.

Here are some of the financial issues couples should discuss before they get married, experts said.

  • Their spending habits.

    "One issue that really comes out - one's a saver, one's a spender," Stauffer said. If that's the case, it needs to be discussed and worked out so it doesn't become a friction point, he said.

    If the breadwinner is the saver and the other spouse wants to spend, spend, spend, but isn't bringing in money, that can really create tension, Stauffer said.

    Stanzione said couples need to review their debt and the reasons for it.

    "Was it poor judgment? Addiction?" he said.

  • Whether to have a joint checking account or separate accounts.

    Stauffer encourages couples to have a joint account because it illustrates the scripture's two becoming one.

    "Too easily there can be secrets," Stauffer said.

    McLean suggests couples have a joint account and each partner have a separate account too.

    Couples should decide what percentage of their incomes should be deposited in the joint account for rent, utilities, food, clothes and toiletries, she said.

    McLean recommends having separate accounts so each partner has mad money.

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