Money coach helps couples start off on the right foot financially

Bainbridge financial expert offers advice for planning ahead.

Maureen Gilbert

While you may think your partner is your perfect match, the way he or she handles finances may be far from ideal in your eyes. Starting the conversation long before a serious commitment is important, said Maureen Gilbert, a Bainbridge Island-based certified money coach.

Yet, it is a topic most people will go out of their way to avoid.

“Just culturally, even if you’re not dating, people are reluctant to talk about money. There’s almost this shame about it,” said Gilbert. “We’re more comfortable talking about our sex lives with our friends than our money.”

While much of bad spending habits may seem uncontrollable and out of left field, the way people spend money isn’t all that surprising, Gilbert noted.

“No one wants to make a mess of their finances or be behind on their mortgage. We are dealing with subconscious behavior, patterns and beliefs around money that most of us have never taken a look at,” she said.

A few tips for couples to put to use before tying the knot:

• Talk about finances as early as possible.

Waiting until after marriage to let your significant other know about all your debt or huge trust fund is not the way to start a new life together. Consider discussing attitudes toward spending and credit card debt as soon as things get serious. Start off from “a place of non-judgment and partnership,” Gilbert suggested, when starting to talk about money. “The sooner you can do it and look at it and know where the potential for conflict is, the better off you are.”

• Communication is key.

Once the conversation is started, keep the door open for money talks.

While it may seem that money is the real center of financial decisions, it’s quite the opposite. “Money issues are never about the money. They may seem like it on the surface, but underlying it’s really about things like identity or sense of security,” she said. Try to find the root of why each of you spends or saves the way you do.

• Keep a spending record for three months.

After everything is out in the open, consider keeping a log of spending habits for a period of three months. No fancy record keeping is necessary; a simple notebook will do. “Once you have that information in front of you, you can start having interesting conversations,” Gilbert said.

“I really like the idea of a spending plan and then using it as a starting place for conversation. It’s a huge exercise for anyone to do. Most people, if you ask what they spend the most on each month, they couldn’t tell you.”

• Make savings part of your budget plan.

Keeping a strict record of spending habits will show where significant chunks of your paychecks go. The spending patterns will show areas where cutting back may be important in order to save.

Gilbert recommends setting aside a certain amount for savings each month, especially for big-ticket items like house repairs or car troubles. That way you “don’t get hit (hard) when your car needs a new transmission,” she said.

• Be honest.

When making a commitment to openly discuss finances and budgeting, Gilbert says it is crucial to be honest. Finding out that your wife spent $300 on a purse when she told you it was only $100 is going to be an issue, especially if it becomes a habit.

“Financial infidelity can be just as difficult to deal with or hard to come back from as an actual sexual affair,” said Gilbert. “Once spending boundaries are set, try to stick to them,” she advised. However, if there is money left in the budget at the end of the month, there is room for what Gilbert calls “financial individuality.” Each person in the relationship should have a maximum amount of money that can be spent however they wish — and the other partner can’t say a thing about it. But, Gilbert warns, “you both have to agree on what that magic number is.”

Reach Gilbert at 360-813-8311, or email her at trueself@me.com.

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