The ways we couple up, cohabitate, and balance responsibilities in relationships have changed dramatically in the past decade.
Want a hard copy? Relationship Goals: How Americans are Saving Together is available as an eBook here.
Not only are Americans getting married later, but more couples are moving in together before making a lifelong commitment, and a growing number of families are dual-income.
All of these changes have continued to complicate what was already a challenging aspect of any relationship: managing money, together.
Countless surveys have shown that money is a top source of conflict and stress in relationships, and that hiding purchases or keeping secret bank accounts from your spouse or partner happens more often than you think.
But the reality is that across the United States, an estimated 73 million people report finding it ‘difficult to get by’ financially.
Real wages are not much higher than they were in 1989, and without much financial literacy, we’re responsible for navigating the complex world of saving and investing on our own.
For most of us, money is just a means to an end.
That end is a life full of dreams achieved, and time spent with family and friends. There shouldn’t be constant worry about finances, but rather spending time – and money – on what brings you joy and meaning.
Most people who manage their family’s finances have both big and small goals they’re constantly working toward.
Beyond setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement, there are weddings, dream vacations and your “forever home,” among other aspirations for the future.
To better understand how Americans are saving together, Twine partnered with Equation Research to ask 1,000 adults, ages 25+, who are in long-term relationships, how they save collaboratively with their partner and exactly what they are saving toward.
This report shares insights into how modern couples are saving, goal-setting and communicating about their life dreams.
For this report, a long-term relationship is defined as a committed relationship that the respondent has been in for two years or more. This includes serious relationships, marriages, domestic partnerships, engaged couples, etc.
1. Setting #Goals
You don’t have to have your whole future mapped out to have life goals.
Life goals, also called medium-term goals, are financial milestones families work toward before retirement, typically between 3-10 years. These could include goals like purchasing a first home, saving to start a family, paying for a wedding, or going on a dream vacation.
When asked if they have a life goal, 88 percent of respondents indicated they have one or more. Here are the most common goals:
More people are focused on near-term goals (achieved within the next 1-3 years), that offer immediate gratification, with a majority of respondents saving for emergency funds and vacations.
It makes sense that the more immediate needs take priority – you might be planning to take a vacation before buying a house a few years down the road. That said, people still have the future in mind.
According to the results, 62 percent of respondents (and 74 percent of millennials) are currently contributing to a 401(k).
Saving for goals can be tough.
When asked why life goals are abandoned, most respondents indicated that life and unexpected expenses simply get in the way.
2: Saving Together
Americans have ambitious savings goals, which may explain why our findings showed that many couples do combine their finances – especially to reach a life goal – and the majority approach the idea of doing so with excitement and optimism.
Reasons for taking the plunge included, “that’s what families do,” it “makes life easier” and it “avoids arguments over money.”
Despite the willingness to pool finances to buy that new car or put a down payment on a house, there isn’t much patience when it comes to the amount of time people are willing to actually save for those goals.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents will only save for one year before throwing in the towel – a short amount of time when it comes to building significant savings, especially for things like a home.
To really pull the curtain back on saving versus spending, respondents were asked to share how they allocate extra funds – whether they are gifted, received as a bonus or won. The results showed that the likelihood to impulse purchase or splurge when a little extra money comes in may be causing setbacks toward achieving life goals:
In reality, how often do we receive large sums of money at once?
Relying on a yearly tax return, holiday bonus or birthday gift to reach financial goals will delay crossing the finish the line, and given that many are only willing to save for about a year, the chances couples will actually achieve their goal declines.
Not everyone is as willing and optimistic about their finances and saving.
Fear and confusion can plague people about personal finances, saving and investing. That fear creates roadblocks for those working towards a financial goal, and ultimately deters people altogether from combining finances with their partner.
According to the survey, nearly one-third of U.S. men and women noted fear, confusion and anxiety when thinking about saving with a loved one.
3: Getting on the Same Page — #RealTalk
Talking about money is rarely comfortable, especially when it happens between couples who may have conflicting viewpoints on how that money should be saved and spent.
The results of the study proved that there is indeed room for improvement when it comes to talking about financial goals.
As noted in previous sections, couples are on the right track in setting goals and saving together, but it’s the communication (or lack thereof) that appears to be a barrier to becoming aligned and achieving those goals.
While 43 percent of respondents indicated they talk to their partner about financial goals daily or weekly, it’s the how and where they are talking about these goals that may be impacting their progress towards shared goals.
It’s not terribly surprising to see that couples who are managing busy work and life schedules aren’t setting up time to sit and talk about their finances.
However, when you consider that more than half of respondents have never consulted a financial professional about their goals, it raises a red flag that the serious conversations about goal setting and planning aren’t happening at all.
After analyzing the views of 1,000 consumers in long-term relationships about their collaborative savings habits, a few key trends emerged.
By far the biggest challenge that couples face is communication.
Only four in ten couples discuss their financial goals with each other and for the vast majority (70 percent), the conversations are sporadic and casual, rather than planned discussions.
Only a small sliver (9 percent) of couples discuss their finances during pre-planned meetings.
While couples struggle to communicate effectively about their finances, the good news is that the desire to save together is there.
Most couples share both a checking and savings account, citing the fact that combining finances is convenient and simply ‘what families do.’
Most couples feel optimistic and motivated to save with their partner.
The reality is that combining and managing finances alone or as a couple is complicated.
Couples need better education, support and real-world tips about how to maximize family funds in order to manage and reach their life goals all in one place.
Technology that taps into behavioral finance and machine learning algorithms, nudging people along in their savings journey, is the next generation of savings.
Technology can make it easy and painless to save. Even when something unexpected pops up (the top reason people abandon financial goals) they should still be able to work toward those goals because they have a plan set.
This report was commissioned by Twine/John Hancock and fielded by independent research firm Equation Research in November 2017. The responses were generated from a survey 1,013 people ages 25+, who self-identified as being in a committed relationship for two years or more and have a household income of at least $50,000.