If I think we’ll all agree that good communication makes for a good relationship, whether that be between financial advisers and their clients, co-workers, friends or spouses. In my experience over three decades as a money manager and one decade as an arbitrator, I can confirm that problems start with miscommunication.
Given that frame of reference, it’s always good to hear when things are going well. A new survey from Fidelity focusing on couples (tinyurl.com/4sf87k69) concluded that 71% of partners communicate at least “very well” with their other half about finances — including 25% who say they communicate “exceptionally well.”
However, the survey, as usual with these sorts of things, found room for improvement.
Just how much should a partner know about family finances or how their partner feels about discussing financial issues? Should you know how much your partner earns? (Two out of 5 surveyed did not know.) Should you be able to discuss health and lifestyle as easily as careers and estate planning? (Couples found it easy to discuss health and lifestyle and “most difficult” to discuss careers and estate planning.)
What about the tone of your discussions? Should finances cause arguments or relationship challenges? (Forty-four percent admitted to arguing about money at least occasionally, while 18% said that money is the greatest challenge in their relationship.)
What about how you make decisions on big financial matters, such as retirement? Do you do that jointly? (Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they are joint decision-makers when it comes to retirement and other long-term financial goals.)
Do you agree on how much you need to save for retirement or when to retire? (Fifty-one percent of non-retired couples disagreed on how much savings is needed to reach retirement, and 48% disagreed on the age they were expecting to retire.)
If one of you becomes incapacitated, will you feel confident that your partner can take over? (While almost half of the respondents had complete confidence in either themselves or their partner to take over decision-making capabilities for day-to-day finances and short-term goals, when it came to taking full control of finances and strategies for retirement, only 4 in 10 felt completely confident in their or their partner’s ability to do it.)
If you are a wife, do you want to have input in planning for retirement? Twenty-two percent of women said they had little or no input with retirement planning. Considering that women tend to live longer than men — a National Center for Health Statistics report in February 2021 (tinyurl.com/p43cchrc) found that the life expectancy for males at birth was 75.1 years in the first half of 2020; for females, it was 80.5 years — this is not good news. One of the things I encourage in my practice is that both partners be equally knowledgeable and comfortable about financing the future.
If you were lucky enough to be in a good-communicating partnership, would you expect to be content with your family’s finances? (Yes, indeed. For those couples who said they communicated well, 73% rated their household’s financial health as excellent or good, compared with 42% for couples who said they did not communicate well).
That data point is hard to ignore. From my own experience, I can tell you that there is nothing more important than open and clear communication between partners, aging parents and their adult children, and anyone who needs to interact socially, within a family or on the job.
If your communication skills need some help, there is no better time than right this second to start. Take just one step toward better communication. How? Take the initiative. Ask some of the few questions we discussed in this column. Listen to the answers.
Fidelity, one of the largest asset managers in the world, offers some additional tips at tinyurl.com/3pwu3w9b.
The 2021 version of the Fidelity Couples & Money study surveyed 1,713 couples with a minimum household income of $75,000, or at least $100,000 in investable assets.