Life partners need to be on the same page about money.

We all know couples who fight about money. You may even be in a relationship where finances are a source of tension. It’s no mystery why these kinds of conflicts are so common — money fuels our ability to take care of ourselves and our dependents. Managing it requires discipline and a plan, but often, couples don’t see eye-to-eye on what that means. When long-term committed partners share their finances, but not the same values and habits regarding money, friction often ensues. Fortunately, as with most things, clear and open communication can help. Here are four question to facilitate an honest and productive conversation with your spouse or partner about money.

1) How are expenses managed?

If you are soon to be married or living together, you need to determine how your money will be combined (joint checking and savings accounts or separate accounts) and who will be responsible for each household expense. If you’ve been together for some time, your primary focus is to make sure that you’re living within your means and that there is transparency about all money matters. To the extent you take on debt or make large purchases, it needs to be an amount both parties are comfortable with.

2) What are today’s financial priorities?

These can change from time to time, but it’s important for couples to frequently discuss what is important to them. For example, young couples may want to determine if they should set money aside for a down payment on a house. Some may want to prioritize spending on vacations. Later in life, couples need to think about how they plan to spend their time (and money) in retirement. These issues should be discussed frequently.

3) What are your long-term goals?

These tend to vary based on your age and are likely to change, to some extent, over the course of your lives. As a young couple, putting money aside for higher education (your own or your children’s) may be one of your priorities. Even though retirement may be a long way off, the sooner you begin saving for that goal, the better. Those who are older may be primarily focused on retirement and the disposition of their estate. Sitting down with a financial advisor can be beneficial regardless of your age. An advisor will gather input from both parties and craft a plan to help guide your long-term financial decision-making.

4) Is proper paperwork in place?

For couples who plan to get married, there might be reasons to consider a pre-nuptial agreement. It spells out how assets are to be divided in case of divorce. Most importantly, it limits costs related to litigation should divorce occur, as the parties agreed in advance on how assets will be split. For older couples, making sure estate documents are in place is important. The issues are trickier in cases of blended families. In both cases, seeking solid legal guidance is important.

Bottom Line

When it comes to money, communication is key, so talking about it regularly is important. For couples, limiting financial surprises , such as long-standing debt or large purchases, can go a long way to building a healthy, team-oriented approach to budgeting and managing money.

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Michael W. K. Yee, CFP®, CFS®, CLTC, CRPC ®, is a Private Wealth Advisor, Certified Financial Planner ™ practitioner, with Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC. in Honolulu, HI. He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 38 years.

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