There's a lot that couples can learn from the turbulence we're seeing in the stock market.
Investors, like couples in love, can get lulled into such a blissful state that they forget that the honeymoon doesn't last forever. After a long bull market, investors are reawakening to the reality that markets can fall — and fast.
I was thinking about this correlation while considering writing a love and money column for Valentine's Day. After the roses have wilted and the candy has been eaten, can your love withstand financial volatility? Here are four lessons couples can learn from the current stock market downturn.
• You've got to have a plan. I've worked with people who, when I ask them to tell me their investment strategy, just stare back at me with no clue about what I mean. But it's times like this, when the market is trending down and making people panic, that you need to ask yourself: What's my investment plan?
Are you just throwing money into your workplace retirement account without knowing where your funds are invested? If so, you may find that you're not aggressive enough or that you're taking too much risk. The younger you are — depending on your tolerance — the more you can afford to risk. But if you're closer to retirement, you want to make sure you're not being too risky at a time when you'll soon need to live off your investments.
In either case, you're less likely to be panic-stricken by a plunge in the stock market if you have a plan.
Likewise, when looking for a financial soul mate, what's your plan? I wanted to marry a saver. I didn't want to be married to someone who thought a credit card was his emergency fund. What are your nonnegotiables?
• Don't let your emotions cloud your judgment. Some investors have been in full panic mode. I understand the fear. You see gains disappearing and you become concerned about your financial future. But if you've got a long horizon ahead — 20 or more years until retirement — this current market storm may just be a blip.
The same advice goes for looking for a soul mate. Don't let your feelings cause you to ignore financial red flags. Love does not conquer all.
More than half of Americans with debt said it has negatively impacted their life. Of those, one in five said the debt is causing tension in their relationships with a spouse or partner, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of CPAs .
• Don't take more risk than you can afford. At the end of the day, you literally have to sleep. And if your investment portfolio is so risky that you're suffering from insomnia and night sweats, you many need to be more conservative in your investment choices.
With love, don't risk your peace of mind by staying with someone who doesn't share your financial values. For example, are you willing to fall in love with someone who is deeply in debt but not concerned about paying it off?
Finder.com surveyed 2,000 Americans about what types of debt they considered a relationship deal-breaker.
Three out of every four people surveyed considered credit card debt a good reason to kick someone to the curb. Payday loans came next, followed by student loans.
I don't think you should dump someone just because he or she has debt. However, if the person is an unrepentant spendthrift addicted to credit cards, that can become a huge problem if you're an ardent saver who loathes debt.
• Manage your expectations. None of us should be shocked the market went down. It's always going to be in flux. So, we have to learn to live with the highs and lows.
This is also true in relationships. I met a wife fuming that her husband couldn't manage money.
"How did he handle his money while you were dating?" I asked.
The question made her pause. He hadn't changed.
"You knowingly married an elephant and now you expect him to act like a giraffe," I joked.
I suggested they seek counseling and take a financial class to help them manage their money differences.
"In the relationship with both your partner and your portfolio, don't let emotions rule the decision making," said Michael Eisenberg, a CPA and member of AICPA's Financial Literacy Commission. "Developing a plan, whether for financial purposes or for personal purposes, will help you analyze and understand strengths, weaknesses and risks."
Whether you are investing in the stock market or looking for love, the more you know, the less likely you'll end up broke or with a broken heart.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at SingletaryM or Facebook at facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.