Should you be in business with your spouse?

I love my husband. He loves me (at least that’s what he says.) But the idea of working together is – I have to admit – more than a little daunting. I like that he has stories to tell me at the end of the day. I think he feels the same. But more than that, I am fearful that if things didn’t go well it would have a lousy impact on our marriage. And yet…millions of couples, including Amy and her husband do it, successfully. What are the secrets to making your relationship work on both fronts?

Be specific. You may be running this business together, but what’s your job? What’s your spouse’s job? What are your hours vs. your spouse’s hours? And how will you handle the division of labor at home? It may sound unnecessary, but it’s truly helpful to write down what each of you is planning to handle – in both places. That’s not to say you can’t help each other out (you can), or that you should be making big decisions independently (you shouldn’t), but structure is crucial. Also, if as in Amy’s case, one of you is keeping your day job until the business gets off the ground (a fabulous idea), consider how that person’s workload should be tempered.

Clarify your financial expectations. This is an important move to make before you start any business, but more so when it involves both of the wage earners in your family. Sit down with a legal pad or at a computer and outline how much you think the business will be earning and how much you’ll be able to pay yourselves. Don’t expect that you’ll start this conversation in complete agreement. Often we play out business scenarios in our minds before we talk about them on paper. It’s up to you to keep each other both realistic and in check. And address now what will happen if the business doesn’t meet even your most conservative projections.

Go over the impact on your budget and lifestyle. As you’re running the numbers on your business, take the time to figure out what they mean for your life. If you’ll be drawing smaller salaries, for example, while you’re in the start-up phase, what changes are you going to make in your life to accommodate them? Consider not just the day-to-day (perhaps you’ll have to eat out less or defer a vacation) but the long-term (what does this mean for your contributions to college and retirement?)

Give yourself space. Working together in close quarters isn’t always easy. You’ll want to structure your physical environment so that if one of you has to work the phones during the day and the other needs quiet to concentrate, you can accomplish both. Also, give each other permission to get away – whether it’s to the gym to blow off steam or to go out to lunch with someone else. Involving others in your life (and business) is key when it comes to staying fresh about ideas.

Consider what if. No one likes to talk about what happens if the business doesn’t work, but it’s an important thing to do – up front. If you miss on your sales projections, will one of you look for a job elsewhere while the other keeps the business going? How long will you allow yourselves to try to make a hit of this enterprise before cutting bait? And what happens if one of you gets an amazing job offer? Would it be okay to leave and hire an outside person to take over? All blue sky scenarios, yes. But you’re better off considering them (and others you can envision) sooner rather than later.

Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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