With Valentine’s Day around the corner, gifts and fancy dinner reservations can prompt an uncomfortable conversation that is widely considered one of the top reasons couples fight: money.
A recent survey by PNC Bank found that six-in-10 couples talked about their financial situation before getting married or living with their partner, while three-in-10 never brought up the subject.
PNC based its findings on a survey of close to 1,000 millionaire couples about their spending habits, but Anna Vitelli, PNC wealth management director in greater Maryland, said that money problems between couples are consistent regardless of household income.
“Millionaires don’t have significantly different concerns than the rest of that population,” said Vitelli, adding that families who make less are more likely to argue about day-to-day expenses.
Data show that money can play a significant factor in ensuring domestic bliss.
A 2014 Emory University study found that couples who make more than $125,000 combined a year reduce their risk of divorce by half. That same study showed the more a couple spends on a wedding, the more likely they are to get divorced, specifically when weddings cost more than $20,000.
Generally, people are likely to marry their financial opposite, said Vitelli. That is, one person does all the budgeting while the other person does the spending. Those financial dynamics can lead to conflict, but couples with a running dialogue about their finances are more likely to avoid that.
“You should be talking with your significant other about finances regularly,” said Vitelli, who also works with a lot of same-sex couples to help navigate laws and make sure assets are protected. “That can go from big-ticket item purchases to long-term investments.”
Part of that conversation is getting partners to take part in the budgeting and spending parts of financial planning.
The role women play in financial planning has changed significantly over the years. Among some of Vitelli’s older clients, the husband typically takes care of the finances. But now, women play a much larger role in that conversation: A 2010 study from the Pew Research Center found women are starting to become the primary breadwinners in households.
“We’ve seen women making longer term decisions,” said Vitelli.
When deciding whether to keep bank accounts separate or merge them, the couples who are more transparent with their spending tend to pool their money together.
“They see themselves as one unit,” said Vitelli.
Among the millionaire couples surveyed by PNC, two-thirds said they treat their money as one pool, 26 percent keep some of their money separate while 7 percent keep everything separate.