The 3 Biggest Money Mistakes Couples Make
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The Fiscal Times
November 6, 2013

Just get Kevin O’Leary talking about money – and the silly and stupid mistakes a lot of us make when it comes to our finances.

A business entrepreneur who has founded, funded and sold numerous companies, O’Leary today runs O’Leary Funds, an investment company headquartered in Montreal. He’s probably best known to most of America, though, as the straight-shooting co-star of ABC’s “Shark Tank,” the popular reality show in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their products to a panel of potential investors. (O’Leary is one.)  

He teaches money management to audiences old and young, backing up no-nonsense principles with years of experience. We could be saving ourselves from so much grief, frustration and stress if we only did a few key things differently, he said in an interview.

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Here are three of the biggest financial mistakes O’Leary, author of the new book The Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women & Money, says we’re making – and how we can fix them:

We’re not acknowledging gender differences with money. “Women tend to be better investors than men, period,” said O’Leary. He knows this point may be controversial – but he’s seen it in action.

“As chairman of a $1 billion mutual fund company, I meet men and women every day in the industry, traders, strategists, portfolio managers, analysts. And I can say that generally speaking, women are more pragmatic than men about money and get better outcomes with their investments. They tend to take less risk, understand the difference between risk and reward, and bring diversification into most investment strategies – they never put all their eggs in one basket.

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Forget stereotypes, says O’Leary. “Most women don’t get emotionally involved with money. They tend to take an arm’s length view. I ask men to take a lesson from it. I tell them, ‘Whatever these women are doing, do the same thing. The results are better.’”

The truth is that “most men tend to make big financial bets and get their emotions involved. They get behind an idea and say, ‘I’m gonna make a big bet.’ You just don’t find most women making that mistake. The London whale who blows up JPMorgan – it’s never a woman. That doesn’t happen.”

We forget marriage isn’t about love alone. Marriage makes no economic sense at all “if you’re not having children,” said O’Leary.

If couples are planning a family, “understand you’re starting a business unit -- that you’re building something together over a long period of time. Women get this more than men – they understand the pragmatic side of marriage. They have a more enlightened, expanded view of it.” 

Keep finances separate, urges O’Leary. “There is no reason to merge your financial accounts when you marry. Instead, set up a third account. If you’re just starting out, you might each put $10,000 into it and then deploy capital based on your income as you see fit. But keep your investments independent. Keep your own financial identity and credit history in case things don’t work out.” 

Doesn’t this fly in the face of romantic notions of two lives joined as one, yada, yada, yada? O’Leary: “You show loyalty to the union by setting up a third account and financing it in a way you both agree on. This dialogue should happen before marriage – it’s part of due diligence. Good relationships are based not only on love but on good financial goals – buying a home, saving, spending, whatever – that you meet together.” 

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Most marriages fail, maintains O’Leary, “not because of infidelity but because of financial stress.” O’Leary draws the business parallel: “Would you ever merge your company with another without understanding the business plan? Same here. When you get married, you’re merging your stocks.”

We’re not educating kids about money. “Most parents today teach their children morals, give them a religious foundation, talk to them about relating to others, and send them off to school to learn about history, geography, science, health,” said O’Leary. “But there’s never any teaching about money. Why? Huge mistake.” 

The concept of what money is “should be developed early. It should be taught to children at home starting at about age 5 in very basic terms,” he said. “It’s an asset we can’t live without, so kids should know where it comes from – what it’s for, why it’s important, how it helps the family. 

“My reasoning: People who have tremendous problems with money later in life usually developed an improper relationship with it starting at early age. You learn money can be your most powerful ally – or your worst enemy.” 

Once children have developed respect for money, O’Leary counsels, “By age 9, 10, 11, 12, that’s when you start putting discipline into how money’s managed. I advise taking 10 percent of a child’s allowance or gifts from relatives and putting that into a trust that becomes the child’s later. It provides a sounder footing for what’s going to happen to kids as they get older. You’ll get a much better financial outcome with this strategy.”

Managing Editor Maureen Mackey oversees scheduling and work flow and also writes and edits features and reports on a wide array of subjects. She spent more than 20 years as a senior book and features editor at Reader’s Digest.