MONEY Love and Money

What to Do When Financial Opposites Attract

magnet pulling money
Yamada Taro—Getty Images

Here's how to keep the attraction going strong when money starts to pull you apart.

Ira Cohen and his wife, Lisa, have been married for 34 years, and they are the first to admit that they are financial opposites: “She’s a “let’s live for the moment” person, and I err on the side of caution,” says Ira, a mutual fund executive. That created a conflict when the Sugar Land, Texas, couple remodeled their kitchen several years ago. Lisa was insistent on a $1,500 warming drawer that Ira didn’t think was necessary. The couple bickered over it, then “I overrode him and bought it anyway,” says Lisa, a high school administrator. He wasn’t happy but finally succumbed. “If she is that passionate about this, am I really going to fight and scream over it?” he says.

In a poll last year, MONEY found that 70% of couples argue about money, putting it ahead of conflicts over chores, sex, or snoring. What’s more, money fights are the only common spats correlated to divorce: Couples who fight about money weekly are 52% more likely to divorce than those who argue about money monthly, according to a study by Jeffrey Dew, associate professor at Utah State University.

In this year’s Love & Money survey, MONEY identified the No. 1 source of conflict: “spending too much on frivolous purchases.” A partner’s frugality is another major trigger, in the top five for both generations. This classic spender-saver tension can be bad for your marriage, but can also be deleterious for your finances, particularly if the spender gets out of control.

Here’s how to keep each of your opposite tendencies in check to strengthen your union.

Allow bandwidth on smaller stuff. Spenders feel oppressed by savers watching them like hawks (which may explain why American Express found that 33% of men and 40% of women have hidden purchases from their partners). Savers get anxious every time they see their spouses swipe a card. To overcome this tension, automate savings so that those funds are never in question. Also take a cue from the 54% of millennials and 51% of boomers who think spouses should keep some money separate. You’ll both feel freer if you set up his-and-her discretionary spending accounts in which you ask no questions about where the money goes, says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and the author of Mind Over Money.

To prevent conflicts on joint accounts, set a spending cap, above which each of you has to clear purchases with the other. Around $150 seems to be a magic number for both boomers and millennials in MONEY’s survey. Or set alerts on your accounts to let you know when you exceed a withdrawal amount or your balance falls below a certain level.

Let numbers drive bigger decisions. Larger purchases will naturally require more back and forth. Ira Cohen offers this advice: To avoid inciting anger, don’t just say no to a spouse who wants something you don’t want. “I tend not to debate the value of the item with Lisa, but be the voice of reason on timing and assessment of need, saying, ‘Can we wait on this?’ ” says Ira. And if she keeps asking, he eventually cedes, recognizing it’s something she cares a lot about.

Asking a spender to prioritize wants within a budget can also help you compromise without breaking the bank. Moving from Florida to Chicago this winter, Patricio Virgili, 29, an airport inspector, and his partner, Edmund Balzer, 23, a library specialist, went from one bedroom to two. “We had a lot of empty space, and I wanted to get furniture to fill it out,” says Balzer. “But Patricio is conservative with money and happy with a spartan lifestyle.” So he made a list of what he wanted, and they ranked items by importance. “Then we negotiated and renegotiated till we were both happy,” he says.

Audit yourselves periodically. Whenever Avik and Shailja Chopra feel as if their budget is getting off track, the Millburn, N.J., couple pick a month to record every expense and then talk about what they found. “You don’t realize how much you spend until you put it all down on paper,” says Shailja, 48, a lawyer. “It always changes the way we handle our finances,” adds Avik, 54, a technology consultant.

Flash-point budgeting like this—whether manual or automatic through Mint or Quicken—can help you uncover spending leaks. One time the Chopras discovered Avik was spending $100 a week on lunch. “When my wife saw that, she thought I should bring food from home,” Avik says. But he wanted time to connect with his colleagues. So they compromised: He now brown bags lunch three days a week.

More from the Love & Money survey:
Poll: How Boomer and Millennial Couples Feel About Love and Money
Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
The Single Most Important Money Talk for Couples

MONEY Love + Money

The Single Most Important Money Talk for Couples

The Voorhes

A new MONEY poll of millennial and boomer couples suggests that getting on the same page about your biggest money goal —retirement— leads to a happier and stronger union.

Married for 38 years, San Jose couple Carol and Ron Beck started getting serious about retirement in their mid-thirties. By that time, they had two kids and realized they needed to be thinking about their family’s future. So they set some savings goals, and continued talking about their plans in the years and decades that followed. Ron planned to retire around 65, and did. Carol is expecting to quit in the next two years. “We’re still deciding where we’d like to retire to,” Ron says. But even on that they have a good idea: a home near their daughter in Monterey, Calif.

There’s no question that couples need to plan together for retirement. In fact, since amassing the requisite amount of money will take time, retirement should typically be first on the list of priorities. “When it comes to goals, everything else comes next,” says Elizabeth Grahsl, a financial planner in Dallas.

A new MONEY poll of boomer and millennial couples suggests that we may need a little more help with this goal then we think. Some 79% of millennials and 91% of boomers surveyed say they are in agreement with their partners on saving for retirement. But MONEY also found that, among people who are married or living with a significant other, one in 10 boomers and four in 10 millennials don’t know their partner’s retirement account balance, while 14% of boomers and 40% of millennials don’t know when their partner plans to retire. That backs up a 2013 Fidelity poll that found that 38% of couples disagree on the lifestyle they expect, 36% on where they will live, and 32% on whether they will work. The costs of not being aligned are substantial: You could end up with less than you need at the finish line.

Here’s how you can avoid such a fate while strengthening your union and your finances.

Know your retirement wish lists. Since the amount of savings you need depends on your wants, create a “vision plan” together, says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and the author of Mind Over Money. Both of you should write down at what age you want to retire, where you want to live, and what you expect your life to look like. Do you want to stay put, downsize … sail around the world? “Come to the table with your dreams,” Klontz says. “Where you agree, it will be easy to adjust your finances because you are excited.”

Do a reality check. First, are you saving enough for the life you want? Check what your nest egg is on track to produce in annual income with T. Rowe Price’s Retirement Income Calculator, and see if that squares with your vision.

Second, keep in mind that retiring at the same time as your spouse typically isn’t the best move. Wives are often younger than their husbands, and women have longer life spans, so if a wife retires with her hubby, she’ll probably need to draw from their retirement savings for longer.

Also figuring into the equation are Social Security benefits, which make up 38% of income for the average retiree and which you’ll also want to coordinate with your spouse. One way to maximize benefits is to “file and suspend.” The higher earner files, then immediately defers benefits to let them grow (they rise 8% for every year you delay between full retirement age and 70). Assuming the lower earner is at full retirement age, he or she can then claim a spousal benefit, deferring his or her own benefit, which will also rise in the meantime. As you near retirement, run this and other basic scenarios using the benefits planner at ssa.gov or more detailed ones at maximizemysocialsecurity.com ($40).

Create a holistic plan. Make sure you’re acting as a team when it comes to saving and investing. If you’re a two-income household, you probably have access to two 401(k)s, for total annual tax-deferred savings of $36,000, or $48,000 if you’re both 50-plus. Stash at least enough in each to get the full company matches. If you can’t max out, sign up for automatic increases as your pay rises. “This is so basic it’s like breathing,” says O’Kurley, “yet a lot of couples don’t talk about it.”

You also want to think of your portfolio as one, and make sure you don’t have overlap or overexposure in your overall mix. The Instant X-Ray tool at Morningstar.com can help you figure this out. As a general rule, the percentage of your portfolio in stocks should be equal to 110 minus your age; the rest should be primarily in bonds. But if one or both of you have a traditional pension, you could adjust the bond allocation lower, since the guaranteed income allows you to take more risk.

Got several years between you or different tastes for risk? A UBS survey found that half of couples have divergent risk tolerances, but among them, those who choose an allocation between their preferences tended to be most satisfied. It’s also okay for the more risk-averse partner’s plan to be tilted toward bonds and the other’s to serve as a counterbalance in stocks, if that keeps the nervous one from overreacting to volatility. Another reason to split the baby: If your plan has lousy bond fund options, say, you could use your spouse’s plan to fulfill that allocation while using your 401(k) for stocks.

More from Love & Money:
Poll: How Boomer and Millennial Couples Feel About Love and Money
Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
This Is the Magic Number That Can Help Couples Avoid Money Fights

 

MONEY Buying a House

These Millennials Bought Their House Before Getting Married

First comes love, then comes home ownership for many millennials who combine financial lives before marriage.

MONEY Love + Money

Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked

The Voorhes

A new MONEY poll of millennial and boomer couples suggests that baring it all when it comes to money leads to a happier—and richer—relationship.

Katy Klein and her fiancé, Charles Hagman, both 30, began opening up about salaries, savings, and student loans just nine months into dating. The topics came up naturally as the Seattle couple figured out their plans for attending a pal’s wedding.

“Some of our friends were going early and renting a home by the beach,” says Klein, who works in PR. “So we had a conversation about whether that was in our budget … which spurred other conversations.”

Hagman, a software engineer, had intended to dig into those issues anyway. “I wanted someone who had similar savings goals,” he says. But for Klein, it was new terrain: “I’d never laid it all out.” Now that she’s done so, however, she says that financial transparency has set a solid foundation for their marriage.

Experts would agree. “Couples have less conflict about money when they share information,” says Terri Orbuch, a Detroit family therapist and the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. Knowing where you stand and what you want to accomplish builds trust and a sense of teamwork. Plus, getting on the same page gives you a better shot at hitting your goals and less risk you’ll unwittingly work against each other, she says. Thus, it’s crucial for married couples—and those headed to the altar—to open their books.

A new MONEY poll of boomer and millennial couples suggests that both generations are on board with baring all. When it comes to what partners should discuss before marriage, boomers and millennials both say the docket should include debt (78% of both groups), savings goals (69% and 74%, respectively), and amount saved (63% and 56%).

And yet other research suggests that few married couples truly practice transparency in their daily lives. A few years back, an American Express poll found that 91% of people avoid money talks with their partners; another from last year revealed that only 52% have financial conversations at least weekly. Worse, one in three adults in relationships say they lie to their partner about money, the National Endowment for Financial Education found.

As part of a monthlong series on Love and Money, we’ll be digging into our survey data and suggesting ways that couples can strengthen their unions and their finances. First step: Get financially naked. Here’s how to do it.

Choose a happy moment. Start the transparency conversation around the time of a positive event, like a promotion or a wedding, or at least when there’s an absence of major problems. “Finances are much easier to talk about when you are flush and happy,” says Mary Claire Allvine, a financial planner in Atlanta and the author of The Family CFO. “And opening up in good times makes it easier to talk about money when life changes for the worse.”

If you’re starting in a void, point to an article you’ve read, like this one. Say something like, “It made me realize I don’t know where we stand. Maybe we could take a look some night this week?”

Go full frontal. Crack open a bottle of wine and start opening your books. Begin by making a net-worth statement. This summary of assets and liabilities gives you a framework toward your common goals. It can also help you uncover flaws in your strategy, like debt growing as fast as savings. Use an online net-worth calculator like the one at Bankrate.com or an Excel spreadsheet. Plan to update your numbers quarterly.

If you have the energy, make a list of monthly expenses—review the last few months of bank and credit card statements—so you know where money is going. Or upload your accounts to an online money-management tool like Quicken or Mint, says Miami financial planner Ashley O’Kurley.

Find out your mate’s musts. Setting goals together begins with understanding your partner, says Patrick Wallace, a financial planner with Higher Strata Wealth Management in Hurst, Texas. He suggests you both answer these questions: What are the three most important money lessons you learned growing up? What are your three biggest money worries? What are your three biggest goals? What are the three most important ways you want to use money to leave a legacy? The answers will help your spouse understand what is important to you. “Your goals may still be in conflict,” says Wallace, “but it will be easier to compromise.”

 

MONEY Love and Money

This Is the Magic Number That Can Help Couples Avoid Money Fights

hand holding shopping bags
Dra Schwartz—Getty Images

It's $154. Here's why.

Let me hazard a guess that the last money fight you had with your spouse was about somebody’s spending habits.

Am I right?

A recent Money poll suggests that I am. Our survey of some 1,000 baby boomers and millennials found that, while the two generations can be quite different in their approaches to money within relationships, they fight most often about the same thing.

One third of the older generation and 45% of the younger one said the top cause of conflict with their partner is “overspending on frivolous purchases.”

But the survey results also suggest a possible solution.

Respondents were asked what amount they thought they could spend without informing their spouse. And the average for the two generations was exactly the same, down to the dollar: $154. That’s in spite of household income differences of $28,000 between age groups.

Of course, there were some differences between genders, with the median answer for millennial females $131 vs. males in their peer group saying $180, and $162 vs. $143 for boomer females vs. males.

But the number itself isn’t so important as the fact that you’ve agreed on it together.

Financial experts have long championed spending limits, along with his-hers-and-ours accounts, as the keys to resolving the age-old challenge presented when financial opposites attract… and then repel.

Here’s why: By setting a limit above which you need to clear purchases—or by setting up discretionary accounts funded with an agreed-upon sum—the more free-spirited one of you gets to have a bit of longed-for independence. Meanwhile, the more frugal partner can rest assured knowing that the other isn’t going to spend down the retirement accounts.

So talk to your spouse and choose a number that works for both of you. Maybe start the bidding at $150, since that’s a nice round number close to the median.

Below that target, you can both spend as you wish. Above it, a referendum is in order.

Everybody’s happy. Everybody wins. Now you can go back to fighting over more important things, like whose turn it is to take out the trash.

Get more insights from Money’s 2015 Love & Money survey

 

MONEY Love and Money

POLL: How Boomer and Millennial Couples Feel About Love and Money

The results of MONEY's exclusive survey on the financial lives of millennial and boomer couples. Bottom line: The differences in how the two generations manage money in relationships are striking. But so, surprisingly, are the similarities.

Last year, MONEY conducted an exclusive survey on men, women, and money. The results captured sweeping changes in the way husbands and wives manage their finances and the impact of money on a marriage, particularly as wives bring home more of the bacon.

This year, we dug down into generational differences: Our latest MONEY poll compares the perceptions and behaviors of some 500 millennials and 500 baby boomers when it comes to their relationships and money. The results reveal distinct differences in their approaches to financial matters. But one theme crosses generations: Couples who are in sync on issues like saving and budgeting feel more financially secure, argue less about money—and have hotter sex lives. Click through the gallery for a look at the numbers.

 

MONEY Financial Planning

7 Ways Couples Cheat on Each Other — Financially

Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

Financial infidelity and the lies we tell

Several years ago, a friend of mine admitted she had a bank account her husband didn’t know about so that she could spend from her secret stash on the sly. And recently, an acquaintance who owns a luxury jewelry store revealed to me that some of her clients purchase the high-end gems with cash in order to keep their spouse in the dark about their indulgences.

These breaches of trust are surprisingly common: According to a recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education, one in three adults who have combined their money in a relationship admit to committing financial infidelity against their partner. And 76 percent of those people concede that their deception has affected the relationship.

Why all the fibs about your finances? We dug into the reasons behind some of the biggest fiscal lies couples tell, and the steps you can take to get back on track.

Lie #1: “Yes, I paid that bill.”

Where it Comes From: There are two primary reasons why people hide money moves from their significant other. Number one: “You might feel controlled by your partner, so you act out as a form of rebellion,” says money coach Deborah Price, CEO and founder of the Money Coaching Institute and author of “The Heart of Money.”

If one person is in charge of the purchasing decisions (picking apart every detail of the credit card statement, deciding what their spouse can and can’t buy, imposing a spending limit), while the other doesn’t have much of a say, anger and resentment can build up — which results in deceptive behavior.

Number two: “You feel ashamed about your financial situation, so you try to cover it up, hoping you’ll be able to get a handle on things before your spouse finds out,” says Price. “You’re afraid that your partner won’t be able to cope with the truth.” Maybe you’re in debt, and are worried your husband wouldn’t want to be with you if he discovers what’s really going on. Or perhaps you feel guilty about splurging, and don’t want your partner to judge you.

Break the Habit: The first step is to get to the bottom of the lie. “Most money problems aren’t actually about money — they’re symptoms, and the problems are truly about something else,” says Price, who advises to look into when and why the behavior initially emerged. One method: Write what she calls a “money biography.” Did the fib predate your marriage or start after you wed? How does lying make you feel — guilty for being dishonest, thrilled about getting away with something, or afraid that your partner will learn the truth?

“Most of our money patterns are formed in early childhood and get acted out in our relationships unconsciously,” says Price. “Once you understand your patterns, you have some power over them and can begin taking measures to correct them.

Next, consider what it would feel like to come clean. Ask yourself, if you were sure that your partner wouldn’t freak out, what would you ideally like to happen? Now, how can you start to move toward that? “In order to tell the truth, it’s important that you feel safe in your relationship,” explains Price. “You can’t be worried that your partner will run out the door.” She suggests starting the conversation by saying, “There’s something important I need to talk to you about, but I’m afraid that it will upset you. Before I tell you, will you promise to stay calm and help me work through it?” Yes it will be a tough discussion, but coming forward will ultimately help you build a stronger bond.

Lie #2: “I’m terrible with money — you handle it.”

Where it Comes From: This is an incredibly common phenomenon: People who are perfectly competent mistakenly believe that they are financially inept. “You feel powerless and are fearful that you will make a mistake,” says Price. “Maybe you were told you weren’t smart growing up, or had parents or teachers who made you feel insecure.” She also points out that sometimes there’s a subconscious benefit to not being powerful with money, in that it lets you off the hook about having to be the “responsible one” and sets the stage for you to be rescued by someone more “capable.”

Break the Habit: Is it true that you don’t have a good grasp on finances, or is it a projection based upon your fears that you’ll mess up? To find out, list your fiscal skills: Are you aware of how much you have in your checking and savings accounts? Do you know how much you earn? Are you contributing to a 401(k) or IRA? When you were on your own, did you pay your bills on time and spend within your means? You might realize that you’re more in control of your money than you thought. Or, you will identify what areas where you need need some guidance. (Check out our DIY Financial Planning Guide.)

Even though you haven’t done something in the past, it doesn’t mean you can’t become proficient,” stresses Price. “And while it’s okay for one person to have the role of ‘family CFO,’ both of you should be involved in your finances to some extent.” In the worst-case scenario, if you lose your spouse or get divorced and they have the keys to your fiscal life, you’ll be in a bind — especially if there are kids in the picture. So, no matter who takes the lead with financial decisions, make sure to sit down together at least once a month to discuss where your joint finances stand.

Lie #3: “Sure, we can afford that.”

Where it Comes From: This one might not be an outright lie. Many people simply aren’t connected enough to their daily financial accounting to knowwhether or not they can afford a new car or trip to the Andes. And once you’re married, money cluelessness can get even worse — assuming that your spouse will handle the finances gives you an excuse to grow more out of touch.

Plus, when there are two of you, it’s easy to pass the buck so you won’t be the one at fault for having made an irresponsible decision. “Some people might also avoid telling the truth [that a certain item is out of your price range] in order to avoid a potential fight,” adds Price. (Of course, that backfires: You might end up pointing the finger at each other later on when fiscal remorse sets in.)

Break the Habit: Part of the problem here is that we are hard-wired to want to spend money. “We are largely governed by a part of the mind called the instinctive brain, which is driven by desire and is wholly distinct from the prefrontal cortex, the section that processes rational thought,” explains Price. As a result, money decisions are often guided by emotions, rather than logic. So, before making a major purchase you and your spouse should list all of the positive and negative consequences of the decision. “This slows down your neural processing centers and activates the prefrontal cortex,” says Price. Not only will you be less likely to get carried away in the excitement of the moment, but it also forces you to take a hard look at your financial situation.

Lie #4: “My money is your money.”

Where it Comes From: The survey mentioned earlier found that three in 10 adults with joint finances have hidden a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash from their partner. So what’s with all the covert ops? “Concealing fiscal information is a self-protective response to feeling unsafe in the relationship,” says Kate Levinson, PhD, author of “Emotional Currency.” “Even though you may like the idea of merging your money with your spouse’s on an intellectual level, you ultimately don’t trust that your partner will be there for you.

This sense of insecurity might be triggered by past experiences with someone who abused money (for example, a parent who gambled away the rent or burned through the grocery budget to fund a shopping addiction). It can also be a sign of emotional unrest — if you were betrayed by an ex or had an emotionally unavailable parent, you might have learned that you can’t rely on others. “Money represents an internal need to stay independent, and squirreling it away reassures you that you aren’t overly vulnerable,” says Levinson. Thanks to your cash stash, you feel like you have a way out.

Break the Habit: Begin by investigating the underlying cause of your deception on your own — write about it, talk to a friend or therapist, or meditate until you understand what’s going on underneath. “You need to recognize that your behavior is being driven by elements outside of your awareness,” explains Levinson.

After you gain some insight into the underlying causes, work through the issue with your partner. To begin the discussion, try focusing on the relationship with an opening like: “There’s something that I’ve been afraid to talk to you about. I know you’re going to be mad, but I need you to help me figure out what’s going on because it’s getting in the way of me being close to you.” You may also want to preface the conversation by asking your partner to just listen without interrupting so that you can tell him the story in full. “Keep in mind that the core problem might have nothing to do with money, but rather can shine a light on something that’s missing in your relationship — be it that you need more one-on-one time with him, or want him to help out more around the house,” adds Levinson.

Lie #5: “I’ve had these shoes for years.”

Where it Comes From: Denial of spending is a fear-based reaction. “You’re worried that your partner might judge you for being indulgent, selfish, frivolous or undeserving — and that they won’t love you for it,” says Levinson. Your response might be an accurate reflection of your current bind, say, if your partner is financially controlling, or you have a problem with overspending. Or it might be a byproduct of your upbringing; according to Levinson, you could be modeling behavior that you saw play out in childhood (for example, your mom encouraging you to hide new purchases from your dad.

Break the Habit: Do a realistic assessment of your financial situation: “Clarify your financial goals and priorities and establish a specific budget based on your fixed expenses and discretionary spending,” Levinson recommends. Knowing exactly how much you have to splurge will alleviate any fear that your partner might disapprove. Stick to that budget, and review it monthly or bimonthly to make sure it’s still working for you.

Lie #6: “I don’t have any debt.”

Where it Comes From: Thirteen percent of survey respondents said they’d committed a serious infraction, like lying about the amount of debt that they owe. “This fib stems from shame, feeling overwhelmed, or a fear of being judged by your partner,” says Levinson. You might also be in a state of denial — subconsciously, you feel like if you haven’t told your partner the truth, then the debt doesn’t exist and you won’t have to face the consequences of it.

Break the Habit: It’s time to confront your financial situation head-on. “Own your debt,” urges Levinson. “Talk to someone you trust — a counselor, financial advisor, or family member — to begin figuring out how to get debt-free.” That way, when you come clean to your partner (try using the same conversation technique as before), you’ll have a plan of action in mind, which sends the message that you’re finally taking control of things. “You also might want to consider separating your finances to show that you understand the debt is your responsibility,” adds Levinson.

Lie #7: “I don’t have that much money.”

Where it Comes From: On the flipside, some people claim they make less than they actually do. “You may keep an inheritance or large salary from your partner while you’re dating because you’re concerned about being taken advantage of, or loved only for you money,” says Levinson. “Then you hang onto the lie because you don’t want to rock the boat.” This whopper also unleashes a cascade of tough personal questions: How will I be able to handle having so much more than my spouse? What kind of person will I become if I tap into this money? What will it do to our relationship to go from being financially equal to unequal?

Break the Habit: In this case, Levinson strongly suggests seeing a counselor, because it can be unsettling to have huge wealth discrepancies in a relationship. “Some couples are naturally financially compatible and agree on how to spend and save,” says Levinson. “But for many, it’s difficult. Your spouse might be scared of wealth, judgmental about rich people or afraid that having money will turn them into a different person with different values.

There are also questions about how your dynamic changes: If one of you has a lot more money, does what you say hold more weight? “Issues of feeling better than or less than your partner are very tricky territory to navigate, especially when there’s a sense of betrayal on top of that,” says Levinson. “Just be sure to find a couple’s therapist who’s comfortable talking about money.

More From Daily Worth:

MONEY Face to Face

How to Tell Your Kid You Can’t Afford to Pay for Her Dream Wedding

parents wedding contributions budget child
Getty Images

Use this dialogue to let your child know you can't bankroll the ceremony.

Of course, you’re delighted your baby has found “the one.” But if the prospect of paying for your child’s special day has you hearing wedding blues instead of bells, it’s no wonder.

Weddings are costly affairs, running $31,213 on average in 2014, according to TheKnot.com’s annual Real Weddings Survey. While that number is certainly skewed higher by the extravagant spenders out there—we’re looking at you, bridezillas—it’s still scarily large.

Scary especially for the bride’s parents, who contribute 43% of the total wedding budget, amounting to about $13,422 on average.

Don’t have such a large sum put aside for your kid’s nuptials? Don’t spend the big day worrying about impending bills or, worse, going into debt. Here’s how to gently break it to your child that you can only give so much.

YOU SAY: “I’m so glad you and James could come over for lunch. I want to hear all of your wedding ideas.”

Because this conversation can be difficult and you don’t want to disappoint your child, you may be tempted to put it off. But if you wait too long into the planning to state your intentions, the bride and groom could have already made (costly) assumptions.

So as soon as the celebration around the engagement dies down a bit—and before the planning starts to get underway—schedule a time to sit down privately with the couple to talk about what you can contribute.

Don’t leave the groom out! “The couple needs to hear it together first-hand since a wedding is all joint decisions and both need to know the budget,” says protocol and etiquette consultant Nancy R. Mitchell.

YOU SAY: “Your father and I want to help you both pay for the wedding, so we’ve set aside $XX,XXX for you to use to cover costs.”

Once you and your spouse have run the numbers to come up with a figure you can responsibly give without endangering your own savings goals, let your child know exactly what that amount is.

You might be tempted to simply say that you’ll cover, say, the catering or venue costs rather than naming a number. But that’s a bad idea: “Without clear budget guidelines, your child will be writing checks without knowing what the balance actually is,” says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. And that could put both of you in hot water when the bills come in.

YOU SAY: “We would love to be able to help out more, but we’re still paying your brother’s college tuition and helping your grandparents with medical bills.”

If you can’t afford to help at all or the amount you can give is less than what you or your child had hoped for, explain why.

You don’t need to go in too much detail—your child doesn’t need to know the exact amount in your bank account or the total cost of the mortgage. But you can remind him or her gently of your current money obligations, says Gottsman, who owns The Protocol School of Texas.

This way they understand where the number is coming from and can truly appreciate your generosity.

YOU SAY: “Of course, you can always count on us to make centerpieces or call venues, or anything else you need.”

Remind your child that though your ability to help with money is limited, you’re willing to put unlimited (or at least less limited!) time and effort into helping make the big day special.

Wedding planning is stressful, and your child may need a supporting hand when the to-do list runs down past her knee. Let her know that you’ll always be available for a venting session or to make 500 packets of Jordan almonds at the last minute.

YOU SAY: “What are your plans for any expenses that go above what your father and I can help out with?”

As a parent, you don’t want to see your child’s marriage start in debt. But nearly half of couples do end up spending above their wedding budgets.

So some of the best help you can provide is to help your child make concessions that will help them stay within their means.

“Always pressure them to stay in budget and scale back,” says Minneapolis-area certified financial planner Sophia Bera.

“If they do decide to spend more than they have on the wedding, and it’s only a few thousand dollars over, I’d recommend dipping into their emergency savings account,” she adds.

If it’s more than a few grand, she suggests putting the costs on to a 0% credit card (MONEY recommends Chase Slate, which charges no interest for the first 15 months). “But then they need to build into their new household budget a method to pay it off quickest,” Bera says.

More on wedding planning from Money.com:

10 Most Expensive Places to Get Married

8 Ways to Throw a Memorable Wedding for Less

Say Yes to a Cheaper Wedding Dress

MONEY Marriage

5 Ways to Protect Your Money Without a Prenup

"His" and "Hers" towels
Ethan Myerson—Getty Images

If a prenuptial agreement is not in the cards, you can still keep your cash secure.

Prenuptial agreements can be a great tool for protecting assets for married couples who ultimately end up divorcing. But what happens when you don’t have a prenup? Or if you wanted one but your spouse refused to sign and you decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation? Can you still protect your assets? The answer, as is so often the case in law, is that it depends. Certain assets can absolutely be protected. Others not so much. Here is the list of ways you can protect (at least some of) your money and assets without a prenup.

1. Keep your own funds separate.

The word “commingling” is often synonymous with “lottery winnings” to one spouse; and “gambling losses” to the other. If you have an account that has funds in it that you either 1) owned prior to the marriage; or 2) received during the marriage as inheritance or a non-marital gift; and then mixed in your earnings from your pay, or joint funds from another bank account – then poof! The entire account becomes marital. Why? Because the courts consider money to be “fungible” meaning that once that marital dollar goes in, you can’t tell which dollar is coming back out. So Rule #1 – Keep your separate funds separate!

2. Keep your own real estate separate.

Many people own a home prior to getting married. Oftentimes, especially if that home becomes the home for the married couple, the homeowner decides to throw the other person’s name onto the deed. What harm could that be? Right? I mean what happens if the owner died – wouldn’t you want your spouse to have it? The answer is that once the non-owning spouse’s name is on that deed, even if it is removed again down the road, the result is that the court will presume that you have given half the value to that spouse as a gift. And yes, you can sit on the stand and testify that it was only done for “estate planning” purposes, but most times that kind of testimony just comes off as self-serving and falls flat. So, you can always create a will or trust that leaves your property to your spouse. Rule #2 – do not put your spouse’s name on the deed unless you are prepared to hand over half the value of it in a divorce.

3. Use nonmarital funds to maintain non-marital property.

Here’s where the waters get murkier. It is easy enough to decide to keep your own property in your own name. The rub comes when it comes to maintaining that property. This is where the couple is using their paychecks to pay the mortgage on that property, or to make renovations or improvements to that property. Now the court is going to be faced with trying to carve out which part of the value of the property might be marital and which part of the value has remained non-marital – a tedious and tortuous task. To keep it all clean, just use your funds from your premarital or inherited account to maintain your non-marital property, too.

4. Keep bank statements for retirement accounts issued at the date of marriage.

Unlike other accounts that are commingled, if you have retirement account assets at the date of marriage, and at the time of divorce, you can produce a statement that shows what you had in that account, then the court may let you carve off that amount and divide the rest. The challenge is finding those statements sometimes. Make sure you keep statements that show if the custodian changes.

5. Get a valuation of your business around the date of the marriage.

Also unlike bank accounts that are commingled, the court has the ability to potentially carve off the appreciated value of a non-marital business. So for example, if your business was worth $1 million on the date of your marriage and worth $2 million on the date of your divorce, your spouse would be entitled to the one half of the difference or $500,000. (Or you could have just had the spouse sign a prenuptial agreement that waived any and all appreciation — but assuming you didn’t, this is the next best option).

While a prenuptial agreement is the ideal way for specifying how assets are to be divided should there be a dissolution of marriage, all is not lost if there isn’t one. By following these five steps, you can still protect some, if not all, of your premarital or non-marital assets.

The financial effects of divorce can also have an impact on your credit. So both during and after your divorce, it’s important to keep an eye on your credit reports and credit scores to watch for inaccuracies or any other problems that need your attention. You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get your credit scores for free from many sources, including Credit.com.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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