There’s so much to consider when you’re planning to walk down the aisle. There’s the gown to purchase, the honeymoon, the caterer, the rings and where you’re going to live. During this stage couples talk freely about most things–like children and homeownership–but fall flat when it comes to discussing how they will go about achieving these goals. One of the surest ways to realize their dreams is for a couple to combine their finances, says Mary Claire Allvine, co-author of “The Family CFO: The Couple’s Business Plan for Love and Money.” “Marriage is a business combination,” she says. “If you combine two businesses and never merge staffs you wouldn’t have combined the businesses.” Allvine talked to ESSENCE.com about the benefits of combining finances to avoid problems later on in the marriage. ESSENCE.com: One of the concepts you have in the book is that couples should think of finances as part of romance. What do you mean? MARY CLAIRE ALLVINE: The exciting part about the dating period is that you’re thinking about all of the things now that you want to do together in the future and that’s why you decide to get married, right? Whether it’s to buy a home or have children, you’re thinking about what you want to do together. All of these things are financial goals. When we’re dating we talk about them as dreams and they’re part of our romance. What you’re really talking about together are the uses of money so you better be on the same page in terms of how you spend. I find that the biggest mistake that couples make is that they decide to share their lives together but they’re not going to share their checking account. They maintain a “his” and “hers.” ESSENCE.com: So you don’t advocate that couples have separate accounts and then a third joint account, for example? ALLVINE: Absolutely not. It doesn’t work when the rubber meets the road. It seems like a good idea when everything is going well, but everything going well is not financial planning. There will be times in life when things go wrong. When one of you wants to change jobs or invest in a new career or loses a job, what are you gonna do, show up to your unemployed spouse and ask them to pay their half of the mortgage? Before walking down the aisle you should be asking yourself, ‘Do I trust and love this person well enough to combine our checking account?’ ESSENCE.com: What questions should couples be asking each other? ALLVINE: ‘Tell me about your attitude towards credit cards,’ ‘tell me how you spend money.’ ‘Would you be willing to combine checking accounts?’ Talk about whether you want to put away money for retirement. Write down those dreams and goals because they’ll change over time but they need to be the driving factor for all decisions. Couples should be thinking about romance-driven finance. We have the money going towards the things we dream and we talk about things like retiring and living debt-free. ESSENCE.com: You’ve said that family finances should be approached like a corporation. ALLVINE: The part about corporate finances that I think families can learn from is firstly, the idea that corporations are not filled with automatons. They’re filled with people and they’re passionate, or they’re petty–all things you find in a family. But where corporations are effective is that they have systems in place organized around goals, which is profitability. Your romance is built around dreams; let’s call those corporate goals and then money is allocated, budgeted according to what you’re trying to achieve. That’s very corporate. I think there are other corporate behaviors that family’s can take on effectively is the reporting mechanism, a balance sheet, an income statement, at least keeping on a regular basis, a list of everything you own and everything you owe. There’s a reason that corporations use that; it’s not just to track where they’re going but it’s way to communicate with one another. ESSENCE.com: How do you suggest a woman approach the topic of money with her fianc or husband? ALLVINE: They can say something like, ‘Hey I was reading something online about romance and finance’ and you throw that idea out and you see the receptivity. You say, ‘Can you believe they’re only recommending a joint checking account. What do you think?’ Start with a provocative idea and let the conversation open up. Mary Claire Allvine, CFP, is a principal in the Chicago office of Brownson, Rehmus & Foxworth Inc., a financial planning firm, where she advises high-net-worth families and senior corporate executives on investments, cash management and estate planning.“The Family CFO: The Couple’s Business Plan for Love and Money” is available through Amazon.com.
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