Late-in-life marriages (or partnerships), often result in a couple keeping their financial lives somewhat separate. Diane and Joe are a newly retired baby boomer couple, each in their second marriage. Everything seemed to be fine with their “yours and mine” approach to money, until Diane revealed something interesting.
Diane has been spending much less than she could on things that are very important to her (travel and charitable giving), given her overall financial picture and resources. Why? Diane finally shared that she’s concerned how it might make Joe feel if she spends more on these things than he could. Though he’s financially stable, Joe has a much smaller nest egg than she does, and thus could never spend as much as her on the things that they enjoy doing together (especially travel!). So what can they do?
It’s no secret that financial tensions among couples increase the risk of divorce. I’m no therapist, but a heart-to-heart conversation might reveal that Joe would be fine with her spending more than him on shared experiences.
My friend Jim, who’s always been the breadwinner in his relationships, married his long-term partner a few years ago. When I asked if he’s ever had a similar challenge, he had only one thing to say. “Once you’re married, you don’t count.” He felt that once you’re partnered up, each person should just contribute what he can and then enjoy whatever lifestyle is affordable for both as a unit. “Talking about it usually makes it go away,” he added.
Yours, Mine, and Ours
Diane and Joe can try out a new system for tending to these emotionally-charged expenses and create specific “ours” buckets – joint bank savings accounts where they each agree to a monthly recurring transfer equal to whatever is affordable and desirable.
They can have one account that receives cash for future traveling and the other for charitable giving – no worrying about who adds more or less. If Diane adds $1,000 per month and Joe adds $300, so be it. Then when it comes time to book that trip to Bora Bora or donate to a cause, it’s a joint expense, 50/50, every time, no questions asked.
I hope my little nudge to talk this through and try the “ours bucket” idea will open up a big door for how they share the rest of their life together. If you are in a relationship where you keep your finances separate, what has worked for you? You may also enjoy the article my colleague Neela Hummel wrote about couples merging their finances. If you have suggestions for other couples facing this challenge, I’d love to hear from you.