2016 financial fitness tips for couples

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If you experience a post-holiday let down when you review your finances starting 2016, you probably won’t be alone.

The American Psychological Association reports 75 percent of people feel occasional stress over finances. As many as 22 percent feel frequent stress over money.

According to Findlaw.com, the third week of January is typically when the credit card bills from holiday spending start to arrive in the mail. It’s also a time when divorce rates spike.

Pam Friedman, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), cautions that when a marriage is ending, that is NOT the time to begin financial discussions.

“Most of those clients knew very little about the contract they signed when they got married. They’re finding out at a time when their head is clouded by the fact that they’re getting divorced,” said the author of I Now Pronounce You Financially Fit: How to Protect Your Money in Marriage and Divorce. “It’s pretty much the worst time to make financial decisions.”

According to Friedman, one of the biggest regrets among couples is not discussing finances early in the relationship. She suggests first reviewing family and parent spending habits.

“Did one spend and one save? Did they put you through college? Did you get an allowance? Who taught you about money? That can get the conversation rolling. Then dive into how are we going to manage our money.”

Friedman advises everyone in a family be involved in budgeting.

“I see a lot of couples where mom took care of the kids and their activities. Dad was working and took care of investments. That’s how they divided the work. You can’t divide the work that way. Dad needs to know more about the kids for sure. But, mom needs to know a lot more about the financial situation,” said the former Wall Street banker.

International Business Times’ list of goals to better your budget in 2016 includes simply buy less and do more. Lauren Lyons Cole wrote, “cut back on shopping for things you don’t really need and instead save for a trip you’ve always wanted to take.” Research shows spenders are less regretful when paying for experiences.

But, Friedman explains there are other priorities to take note of when budgeting as a couple.

“You plan for retirement. You might plan for college spending. Why aren’t we planning for the risk of divorce? When you sign up for marriage you’re signing up for some laws and that requires some legal smarts as well as financial smarts when you get married so you know what you’re getting yourself into,” she stated.

Part of the preparation might begin with sharing lists of finances.

“And, if there’s something embarrassing about that list, like maybe you’ve maxed out a credit card, talk about plans to get that resolved together,” Friedman said.

Both Cole and Friedman encourage early investing for down the road.

“So we’re out spending on gifts when we call our planner and he says did you do that contribution this year? You’re like, I’ll do better next year. If that happens every year, we end up with no money in retirement,” Friedman said.

If one or both people in a marriage come into the union with outstanding student loans, Cole learned “creating a payment plan and sticking with it is important for managing any debt, including student loads.” Stick with the plan to avoid excessive worrying.

Other things to consider as you try to begin a new year financially fit – work to improve your credit score and negotiating better employment options.