Financial compatibility: The dollars and cents of relationships

Expert financial journalist Jean Chatzky offers tips for finding the common ground you need to work toward the same money goals.

Tom Cruise said it best when he told a young Renée Zellweger in the 2007 movie Jerry Maguire, "You complete me." We tend to look to our partners for what we don't find in ourselves.

That's fine when it comes to being handy or even-tempered, but when a spender falls for a saver or Mr. Ginnie Mae for Ms. High-Yield Bond, it can be a problem. That's because there's a direct correlation between money disagreements and marital discord.

A 2009 study from the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families, aptly named The State of Our Unions, found that couples who fought about finances more than once a week were 30% more likely to divorce than those who clashed less often. Worse, pairs in which one partner felt the other spent money foolishly were 45% more likely to split up.

Tactics to preserve the peace and your passion

Let your differences make you stronger.

Think back to what originally drew you to your spouse. Chances are, part of the allure was the yin-yang nature of your complementary traits. Those differences don't change just because you marry.

We tend to assume that when we tie the knot, we're supposed to become one unit, with one set of behaviors and one set of dreams. That's unrealistic. Make a pact not just to remember your individual strengths, but also to use them to make you a stronger family.

Draw a line in the sand.

Some couples find it helps to come up with a weekly or monthly spending limit that they absolutely won't cross without discussing it first. The actual number is up to you—pick one that makes sense within the context of your budget and your financial goals.

Declare some financial independence.

In my book, Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security (Rodale Books, 2012), that's Rule #93. As I noted above, just because you're married doesn't mean your wants and desires are going to be the same.

You may want to spend more, save more, or buy a few shares of a company that your spouse doesn't think is particularly good. And you should be able to do that on occasion without asking permission.

That's why I'm a big fan of "your, my, and our accounts." Pay the monthly bills, save for your joint goals, and then give each other a little financial freedom with what's left. It’s just one key to a happier union.

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