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Smart Moves: Young couples need to talk money

Because the purchase of real estate is the largest financial decision most couples make, they need to talk through any underlying issues that could color their thinking.
By Ellen James Martin Published: March 29, 2014
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Looking back, a Silicon Valley couple in their 30s realizes it was a big mistake to buy a house in a premier suburb close to elite private schools.

They still own the house, but their marriage continues to suffer the pressure of payments that exceed half their income and have forced them to rely on loans from their parents.

“Truthfully, buying that house was very wrong for this couple. They overshot their budget, and that’s cost them many sleepless nights and polarizing fights,” said Deborah Price, an expert on couple’s financial issues who cites this true-life example of how the wrong real estate choices can lead to untold stress on a relationship.

“At the time, they didn’t forecast how their decision would backfire on their marriage,” said Price, the author of “The Heart of Money: A Couple’s Guide to Creating True Financial Intimacy.”

Because the purchase of real estate is the largest financial decision most couples make, Price urges them to talk through any underlying issues that could color their thinking.

For example, she said one partner might be a “spender” who’s comfortable with a large mortgage, while the other is a “saver” who becomes very anxious when facing challengingly high house payments.

To avoid missteps, Price encourages couples who disagree to seek professional guidance to clarify and align their plans in order to find a workable option. For example, the Silicon Valley couple could have chosen a less expensive neighborhood served by tuition-free charter schools.

One option is to work with one of the new breed of “money coaches.” These are typically financial advisers or therapists who’ve received special training on how to advise people on money issues. Price heads the Money Coaching Institute (www.moneycoachinginstitute.com), which has trained more than 400 such coaches in the past 14 years.

Here are a few other pointers for couples looking for a home:

Discuss your core beliefs.

“If you’re unprepared, conversations around what to buy can get extremely contentious,” said Leo Berard, a real estate broker and charter president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org). He recalls how, on several occasions, he had to halt a property tour involving young clients after they began to bicker.

“There was no point going on until they stepped back and talked out their differences,” Berard said.

For a lot of people, “finances are a taboo subject,” said Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and author of several books on the topic.

But money matters, including key decisions on housing, are so paramount to a couple’s plans that failure to address them can “really hurt the relationship later on, particularly if one partner resents the choice they’ve made,” Tyson said.

Before making a firm home-buying decision, Tyson said it can be helpful for couples to use paper-and-pencil exercises to explore their underlying values. He offers several such exercises in his book, “Mind Over Money: Your Path to Wealth and Happiness.”

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