Couples Who Share Money Decisions See Happiness Dividend

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Couple calculating their home expenses
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By Kimberly Palmer

Who makes the money decisions in your marriage -– you, your spouse or some combination? According to a report released last month from UBS Wealth Management Americas, you might be more confident and satisfied with your finances if you share responsibility for them with your partner.

The report, which is based on an online survey of 2,595 U.S. high-net-worth investors who are either married or living with their partners, found that in general, few people prefer to be the sole decision maker when it comes to money. Here are seven notable findings:

1. Stereotypical Roles

Men and women tend to share financial tasks, but those responsibilities are often split along stereotypical lines. Men tend to be in charge of investing, long-term planning and insurance, while women take care of daily expenses and charitable donations. Women of all ages, including millennials, were less likely to handle investments in their marriage. Responsibility for real estate, big purchases and estate planning tended to be shared evenly by couples.

2. Differing Investment Styles

Men and women approach investing differently. The fact that men tend to take charge of investments could mean that couples' money is invested more aggressively than it would be if women played a more active role in its management. That's because men tend to have a higher level of risk tolerance than women, and they are more likely to try to beat the market with their investments. In general, women gravitate toward saving more of their money in safer spots, like bank accounts.

3. The Masculine Perspective

In four out of 10 cases, men took charge of financial decision-making. Among older couples and in families where the man is the primary breadwinner, this man-led approach was even more popular. Interestingly, UBS found that in these kinds of traditional couples, men and women often disagree about how much risk to expose their portfolio to. The men tend to take on more risk, and because the man is in the driver's seat, the money gets placed in the more aggressive investments.
One problem with this approach is that as couples age and women are more likely to have to handle the finances on their own (due to their partner's death, disability or divorce), women feel less confident in their ability to do so. They haven't had practice making financial decisions on their own and might not even know exactly how their money is invested.

4. The Feminine Perspective

Women lead financial decisions just 16 percent of the time. About one-third of these couples include a woman who is the primary breadwinner, and they skew younger. Women in charge of handling the decisions also report higher levels of risk tolerance, which might mean they feel more comfortable placing investments in more aggressive portfolios. These women who are in charge are also more likely to feel better about their financial situation in retirement, perhaps because they have more experience handling their money.

5. Half and Half

One-quarter of couples split financial decision-making down the middle. Couples who take this togetherness approach are also most satisfied with their decisions and most confident about progress toward their money goals. They also have fewer disagreements about money. "Investing together is good for the relationship," the report notes. It's also possible that they opt to co-manage their money because they were on the same page to begin with.

6. Lies and Fights

The couples most likely to lie to each other and fight about money are the ones who keep their financial decisions separate. About 16 percent of couples take this his-her approach, paired with some shared accounts. They spend their money and manage their individual accounts without communicating with each other. About four in 10 of these couples report fighting about money at least every few months, a higher frequency than other couples.

Overall, about one-third of women and one-quarter of men say they lie or hide information about money from their spouse. (Women are twice as likely to hide purchases from their partners.)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples are more likely to go this separate route, sometimes so each can take on the level of risk that he or she wants with individual accounts. In general, LGBT couples reported higher levels of risk tolerance than other couples. They also report higher levels of optimism and confidence.

7. One Is the Loneliest Number

No one likes handling money on their own. Investing and other types of financial decisions can be stressful and often come with a hefty dose of responsibility. Handling it solo can be stressful. That's why couples usually report that they prefer to share jobs and are more satisfied when they tackle decisions together.

Sounds like solid financial -– and marital -– advice.

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