By Kerry Smith
An annual Love and Money survey found that couples talked more about money during the shutdown, but many conversations focused on delaying a home purchase.
CHERRY HILL, N.J. – TD Bank’s annual Love and Money survey attempted to quantify the impact the pandemic quarantine and economic slowdown had on couples and their finances.
According to the survey, 1 in 10 American couples were furloughed, lost their job or had work hours decreased as a result of COVID-19, forcing them to put off certain financial milestones. Despite a sharp decrease in large purchases, more couples stuck at home had conversations about money. The survey polled 1,709 U.S. individuals who are married, in a committed relationship or divorced.
Of the couples, two out of three (67%) said they’re finding it difficult to achieve certain milestones as a result of the pandemic. Despite the booming real estate market, nearly 1 in 4 couples with jobs impacted by COVID-19 said they had to delay purchasing a home until they feel financially ready. The proportion of millennials putting off a house purchase is seven times that of baby boomers (30% vs. 4%).
Financial hardships and resulting delays are particularly high among millennial couples, who also worry more about repaying their current debt than other generations – 1.5 times more. Millennials also say a lack of time to research (19%) and not knowing the next steps to take as they weather a newfound financial hardship (17%) are additional barriers to reaching financial goals.
Despite financial issues, though, more than two-thirds (68%) of Americans are very or extremely happy in their relationships, and 52% say they’ve found it easier to talk about money with their partner. In the 2019 survey, 13% of respondents said they keep financial secrets from their partner; in 2020, it dropped to 11%.
“Even with the clear financial setbacks imposed upon Americans by COVID-19, we’re seeing money conversations increasing among couples, and the stigma around discussing finances diminishing,” says Mike Kinane, head of consumer deposits, products and payments at TD Bank. “This silver lining creates a unique opportunity to educate couples about managing their money in the short-term, and how they can maintain an open dialogue about finances.”
Agree to disagree?
While American couples are talking about money more – 86% say they do so at least monthly – the discussions aren’t always positive. Among those discussing finances every month, 30% admit to financial arguments.
Prioritizing costs seems to be a particular point of tension: 44% of couples admit to disagreements about which expenses are “needs” and which are “wants,” with baby boomers more likely to agree (62%) and millennials (50%) least likely to agree.
Another sensitive topic: The perception of financial ownership within relationships. While 62% of men claim their household’s everyday financial decision-making is shared between them and their partner, 61% of women claim they’re the sole decision-makers, indicating a lack of alignment on who’s “in charge.”
Future expectations: Cautiously optimistic
Most Americans are staying optimistic, with 75% of those with a job impacted by the pandemic saying their financial confidence hasn’t declined. In fact, two out of five (39%) expect to bounce back from financial disruption within a year.
When asked about financial fears, 19% don’t have any – another sign that Americans seem to remain financially confident. Among other fears, 17% feared not being able to retire (significantly higher among baby boomers at 28%) and 11% about not being able to provide for their family.
While many remain confident, it’s likely because they acted quickly to curb spending in the early days of the pandemic.
More than half of all American couples say they quickly cut their budgets and spending habits to offset the impact of the pandemic: 58% reduced spending on nonessential items, 43% cancelled travel plans and 36% delayed larger purchases – unless you’re a millennial. Of that generation, 25% of couples engaged in excessive or frivolous spending behavior over the course of the year, further contributing to their financial setbacks.
“Aligning on a set of goals – especially around sensitive subjects like money – can be challenging when people have differing priorities and perceptions, but the pandemic has made many of these conversations unavoidable for couples and families who have been impacted with job loss or reduced earnings,” says Kinane. “Couples can use today’s financial challenges as a catalyst to discuss near- and long-term financial goals. While debt and bills may have been hard to talk about before, the pandemic has made it easier – and necessary – to have an open conversation on these topics.”
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