Do you know what your partner, husband or wife earns, spends, saves and invests? Do you know their FICO score? (And vice versa)?
Today’s New York Times has a terrific column on the four issues every couple needs to grapple with before marriage or serious commitment: ancestry, credit, control and affluence. We all bring patterns of spending influenced by our families of origin. Credit is how many of us get through life, whether a car loan, college loan or mortgage, but you can’t get far with a lousy FICO score. Control is the toughest. I don’t want to tell my partner he can’t play a round of golf, but when a day’s outing at a decent public course where we live costs $100, I wince every time he reaches for the clubs. Not fair, not fun. Somehow, we have to figure it out so I, too, can have my amusements without asking permission for every one of them.
Affluence is another challenge to unpack, certainly in a recession where the lifestyle you thought you married can suddenly fly out the window with job loss, prolonged job searches and perhaps a new job at half the old salary. Living “for richer, for poorer” tests any marriage, but especially one where no one’s hopes or expectations have ever been explicitly acknowledged or discussed.
Talking frankly about money and what you want to do with it — whether blowing it on a pair (or five) of Jimmy Choos or a new set of clubs or saving up a six-month emergency fund — is rarely easy. People set up housekeeping every day with no idea what their partner really values most or knowing how to even initiate the conversation. So many of us avoid it. Bad idea. I was so deliberately, lazily ignorant while married to an M.D. I did not know who held our mortgage nor the amount nor the due date. He walked out, for good, the day it was due. Ooops.
This week has been a real financial come-to-Jesus moment at our house for two reasons; my sweetie’s newspaper employer suddenly announced the need to cut 100 jobs before Christmas, including buyouts. No pressure. And we’re hoping to refinance our mortgage, reducing the interest rate from a usurious 8 percent to 5 or thereabouts. That means — ugh — writing out all our assets and liabilities so the bank can shine a light into every imaginable orifice. Before the bank sees it, we’ve seen it. Shriek.
Have that talk. Today!