For Richer or Poorer: Six Financial Steps to Start Your Marriage
Engagement parties. Venue tours. Cake tasting. The time between getting engaged and actually tying the knot is full of excitement and joyful events. It’s understandable that personal finances don’t always make it to the top of a couple’s to-do lists — but it should! Research suggests that 70 percent of married couples argue about money — more than any other topic.
This is a crucial time for couples to set expectations and have honest conversations about their finances. Here are six steps you can take to start your “happily ever after” off on a strong financial note.
1. Be open about your current financial situation
Getting married means you will take on your partner’s balance sheet — both the good and the bad. So the earlier you get those skeletons out of the closet, the better. While it may be uncomfortable at first, being upfront about your current financial situation before you take the plunge can avoid potentially destructive discussions down the road. Share what you own and what you owe — current income, account balances, student debt, credit card debt, and even credit scores. Once you have this conversation, you can begin to concentrate on making a plan, together.
2. Decide how you want to manage your money as a couple
Your whole life you’ve had complete control over your personal finances and now you have to balance responsibilities with another person. Determine what each of your roles will be when it comes to your finances. Who will pay the bills? Who will monitor the accounts? Also discuss if you want to open a joint bank account or maintain your individual bank accounts after you’re married. There are pros and cons to both and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Combining accounts can simplify things, while separate accounts can help you maintain some independence. Whatever your priorities, make sure you’re both comfortable with your decisions and be flexible to changing arrangements as you navigate what works best for the two of you.
3. Discuss your financial goals
Setting goals as a couple keeps you focused on achieving what’s truly important to you, especially when life gets busy. Start by defining your goals individually. Organize them into short-term (12 months or less), intermediate-term (one to five years), and long-term (five-plus years) buckets. Do you want to buy a house? Change careers? Have children? Retire early? Then share those goals with each other and shape a joint plan to work toward them. This will likely require some prioritization and compromise (it is marriage after all). Be committed to the plan you create and re-evaluate your goals together frequently.
4. Create a budget — together
There, I said it, the “B” word. Budgeting doesn’t mean you need to cancel your Netflix subscription or stop dining out, it’s simply meant to put you in control of your spending. Looking at your income and creating a plan on how you want to spend and save your money allows you to balance your current self with your future self. If this is your first time creating a budget, a good place to start is by tracking everything you spend over a three-month period, and then averaging your expenditures by category. Technology has made the process a whole lot easier with online tools like Mint, PocketGuard, and GoodBudget. Once you create a budget, stick to it!
5. Schedule regular money talks
Life happens, circumstances change, and your financial goals and priorities will change along the way, too. Setting aside a specific time to talk about money matters without distractions can be a proactive way to make sure you and your partner stay on the same page and are working toward the same goals. It doesn’t have to be a dreaded conversation. Make it a tradition to connect as a couple — maybe a coffee date or over a home-cooked meal. Try to do this monthly, quarterly, or at the very least, annually.
6. Invest in your future together
Managing finances in a marriage takes a whole lot of communication and transparency. It won’t always be easy, but if you build a strong financial foundation from the very beginning you can create healthy habits for yourself and your spouse. Cheers to a financially successful marriage!