Getting On The Same Page: Investing With Your Spouse

When couples are on the same investment strategy page, it will help avoid some of the following situations.Are we speaking a different language?

Financial experts, thought leaders, and academics have written extensively about the role gender plays in investment styles, and the innate differences can be a source of conflict during financial planning.

Studies generally agree women feel less confident about investing, and prefer to keep more cash assets, while men can be overconfident, preferring to make more trades – with either style, a singular approach often adversely affects long-term returns.

Successful long-term investment strategies can be especially challenging to implement when a couple can’t agree on what to do with their nest egg – or when one investment style dominates to the detriment of the couple’s finances.

As an advisor, facilitating communication and building consensus between clients is so important. Being on the same investment strategy page will help avoid some of the following situations:

Over-Invested in One Asset Class

Pam and Kevin* were confident they had enough money to retire, and happily sold their high-priced home in the San Francisco Bay Area, relocating to a lower cost area in the Southwest. Kevin was a do-it-yourself investor and prided himself on growing the couple’s retirement savings. Pam was happy to let her husband handle the investments, and focused on managing the household finances.

For the first few retirement years the outgoing couple thoroughly enjoyed life without work, getting involved with the local community and volunteer opportunities, and taking full advantage of their newly free time. However, when oil prices plunged in 2015, so did the value of their investments.

Since 2009, Kevin had invested the majority of their savings in Master Limited Partnership (MLP) funds that invested in companies in the oil and gas industry. He was not alone – between 2010 and 2014, $44 billion flowed into these MLP Funds, primarily for their high dividend pay-out, but also to enjoy the growth of the oil and gas industry in the U.S. In 2015 the price of U.S.-traded crude oil declined 30%, but the shares of MLP’s fell over 44%.

The devastating loss in the value of their investment portfolio prompted Kevin and Pam to reenter the job market – they realized it was no longer sustainable to withdraw from their investments for living expenses. Retirement looks very different to them now, but they are recalibrating, and dealing with changed circumstances as best they can.

Trying to Time the Market

Ann and Paul* both worked for Silicon Valley technology companies for many years and saved enough to fund substantial IRA’s for retirement, and a good amount in taxable savings, as well. During the 2007-2009 recession Paul pulled all his money out of the market, and has kept it in cash. Ann recently rolled over her 401(k) to an IRA, and on Paul’s advice has kept that money invested in cash.

Because Ann and Paul have always kept their assets separate, Ann is now withdrawing from her IRA early (before Required Minimum Distributions begin at age 70 1/2) to pay expenses. She is very concerned because there is no growth in her IRA, and she sees the balance declining. Paul insists that it isn’t the right time to invest in stocks and bonds, and is convinced there is a huge market crash coming. Ann, however, understands asset allocation and diversification, and believes in investing for the long haul. The problem is, she can’t get Paul to see it her way, and she is hesitant to rock the boat.

What can be learned from these two couples, and their financial challenges (and opportunities)?

Although men and women may have innately different investment styles as evidenced by the stories above, when differing strategies come together they can create a strong complementary approach. As with every ‘battle of the sexes’ difference, communication is key.

If Pam had been more involved in decisions about how the couple’s money was invested, she may have urged Kevin to take a more balanced approach. In Paul and Ann’s case, her long-term outlook could have helped temper Paul’s urge to control things, and time the market.

If consensus isn’t possible, I would suggest the couple agrees to have each person invest a portion of their money individually – especially when the investments involve separate funds such as IRA’s or investment accounts. In the cases I reference, it would be the responsibility of Pam and Ann to educate themselves about different options, and to use that knowledge to make confident investment decisions.

In many cases, couples at odds over investment styles choose to go it alone – without the guidance of a professional advisor to help them find a middle ground.

My advice?

Having a portion of an investment portfolio invested in a balanced way is better than none at all.

And, of course, gender differences may not apply to all couples – every individual approaches investment decisions in their own unique way. Consider your own investing style — it might be the first step in open conversation with your partner about long-term financial goals.

*Names have been changed.

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