Consider these statistics on marriage and money. In a 2013 survey by National Center for Biotechnology Information, almost 36% of couples cited financial problems as the reason for their divorce, making money the fifth leading cause of divorce in the study1. The same year, in an Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts study, 22% of advisors said financial difficulties were a root cause of divorce among their clients2. A 2018 Fidelity survey showed in over half of married couples, one spouse brought debt into the relationship, and 49% contradicted each other on who’s responsibility for repaying the debt3.
Spencer Israel, host of eMoney Advisor’s “That Makes Cents,” starts Episode 5 of the podcast with these statistics. In this episode, advisors get insights into helping their married clients learn how to talk about money. Whether it’s about spending habits, saving for retirement or a home, investing, or paying off debt one of them brought into the marriage, having money conversations is a skill you can help them build.
To get both personal and professional perspectives on managing money in marriage, he talks to President of Wealth Planning at Aspen Wealth Strategies, Stephanie McElheny, CFP®, and newlyweds, Kyle and Jess Scheetz. The discussion begins with McElheny, who, as part of her role at Aspen, works on client financial plans.
She tells Israel about Aspen’s client onboarding process, “One of the first questions we’ll ask is, ‘What was your experience like with money growing up?'” She continues, “We’ll ask them how they think that’s impacted them, and it’s interesting to get different viewpoints from each couple.” McElheny’s firm also finds that many clients haven’t been asked by advisors about their money experiences in childhood despite the impact that has on many couples. “They may not have addressed that question in front of each other before,” she explains.
Couples don’t always recognize they had different experiences with money growing up. In one spouse’s household, money may have been a taboo subject, while the other spouse experienced open money discussions during childhood. “They’ll be looking at each other trying to explain what their experience was like, and maybe there’s a disconnect there,” she says.
McElheny does financial vision planning with couples to help them determine priorities in different areas throughout various life stages. In that process, often because of upbringing, she must work through competing priorities with couples. That can be a delicate process, especially when they discuss day-to-day expenditures or short-term goals like trips with friends. “We joke that it sometimes feels like marriage therapy,” she says.
Newlyweds Jess and Kyle Scheetz have a similar conversation with Israel about their experiences. Jess, who works for Kantar Health, says she remembers she and Kyle, who is eMoney’s Director of Sales Operations, talking about finances since early in their six-year relationship. “Kyle was really good to lean on; he was always someone I trusted to talk [to] about money,” she explains.
“As the relationship progressed, the conversations on money progressed as well,” adds Kyle, who has worked at eMoney for nearly eight years. He says working with a firm where the slogan is “Helping people talk about money” has facilitated his ease of conversation on the subject with his wife.
Their money talks got more sophisticated before they married, when they moved in together. To determine how best to take that step, they discussed, “What do we want to spend on rent based on our income?” Kyle reveals that was the biggest conversation about money they’d had to that point.
Since the wedding, he says, “We went from talking about ‘how does this [money decision] impact our expenses today’ [to] ‘how does this shape tomorrow?'” While they are making decisions about saving for the future, they’re still working on their timeline, Jess says.
Like the Scheetz’s have talked about money, McElheny recommends advisors tell their clients headed toward marriage to do the same, “It’s a lot easier to address this conversation beforehand to avoid any potential misunderstandings or conflict down the road.”
Advisors can learn more about how to help couples talk about money by listening to Episode 5 of That Make Cents.
1. Scott, Shelby B., Galena K. Rhoades, Scott M. Stanley, Elizabeth S. Allen, and Howard J. Markman. “Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention: Implications for Improving Relationship Education.” Couple Family Psychology, 2013, 131–45.
2. “Survey: Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) Professionals Reveal the Leading Causes of Divorce.” Institute for Divorce Financial Analystsn.d. https://institutedfa.com/Leading-Causes-Divorce/.
3. “ ‘Til Debt Do Us Part: Nearly Half of Couples Concerned about Debt Also Name Money as Their Biggest Relationships Challenge.” Fidelity® Couples & Money Study, 2018. June 26. https://www.fidelity.com/about-fidelity/individual-investing/til-debt-do-us-part.