Financially Independent -- and Married

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Difficult Discussions

Prenups -- and even less loaded financial matters -- are often tricky to discuss. Few couples have it as easy as this one: "My wife and I have never merged our finances. We haven't merged our books or CDs, either," says Mitch, 43, of San Diego, who's been married for 11 years. "We've discussed it but we've come to the conclusion that things are working out all right, so why mess with them?"

But if money matters aren't so mellow in your world, how do you bring up the issue of making changes? What if you'd like to siphon off, or start creating, more resources of your own: Is there a nonrevolutionary way to "declare" some degree of financial independence?

First of all, it's important to remember that even the most "liberated" husbands may still have their egos tied up in their money belts. When Judy and her husband-to-be sorted out her finances, she was well aware that "even though both his parents worked, he grew up feeling like the man was provider." She had to be very sensitive, she says, in this "series of conversations that put our salary differences in bold relief."

What worked for them: framing the conversations in terms of what's best for the couple. By contrast, Dave, 34, of New York City, was put off when his now ex-wife complained that since he handled all the bills, he could track her spending. "She suggested that we pool most of our money but that she should get extra over and above to spend as she chose," he says. He would have been much more open to her suggestion if it had come across as less negative, more even-handed.

Experts agree: the best approach when talking about funds? A mutual one. When it comes to carving out more financial independence for yourself:

  • "The best way to bring it up is as a benefit to the marriage," says Tina Tessina. "As in: I'm worried about what happens to us if something happens to you, and I want to sort out what happens to you if something happens to me."
  • "You want to phrase it so that he sees the advantage to it," says Jonathan Rich. "You could say that you'd like some more freedom when it comes to money -- and that along with that increased control you want increased responsibility." With your own assets to manage, you can also learn more about contributing to financial planning for the family as a whole. (Dated as that notion may sound, financial planners say they still see many women with plenty of money who still aren't comfortable figuring out how to manage it.)
  • Make it about you -- not about something wrong with him or the relationship," says Diana Kirschner. For example: "I feel so good being partners with you -- and on some personal level for me to feel even better I'd like to talk about having a separate account. It's not about you or us; it'll make me feel good about myself."

Over time, experts agree, the best way to talk about money is: frequently. "If you get money into your regular conversation it's not a scary thing," says Galia Gichon, a financial consultant to women and founder of Down-to-Earth Finance. Her recommendation: Set aside half an hour every couple of weeks to talk about your finances. When it comes to financial independence, after all, opening an account is one thing, but keeping communication open is everything. --Lynn Harris

Continued on page 4:  Tips for Financial Independence


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