You’re Married! Now what?
Three steps couples should take to get their newly-united financial house in order.
No one likes to talk about money, but newlyweds have a unique opportunity to start things out on the right foot. We’ve all read the statistics that show couples who have financial disagreements are more likely to end up in a not-so-happy place. What can new couples do to prevent that type of marital discord? Let’s examine three important practices:
There’s simply no substitute for clear communication. This holds true when it comes to your household finances as well. Sit down with your partner and have the money talk. What do each of you have? What do each of you owe? (Although, this should probably come up before the vows.) What do each of you make? And, lastly, what do each of you spend? Starting out with open and equal knowledge of your finances coming into the marriage can help avoid misunderstanding. That is, if you follow through to step two:
2. Make a plan.
If you’ve aired all of the financial laundry, then you both know where you’re starting. Next, come up with a plan to get from where you are to where you want to be. No, you don’t have to map out of rest of your lives, but you should know how you’re going to pay the bills, put food on the table, and tackle any preexisting debts. If you’re splitting responsibilities, then write them down and agree to them. Don’t worry! We’re not talking legal contracts! Get out a notepad and a pencil. Who’s going to do what? What purchase decisions will you make together, and which ones are you both okay making independently? After you take care of the here and now, talk about the future. What are your joint financial goals?
3. Go together to seek advice.
How has marriage changed your tax situation? Whose retirement accounts should be maxed out? Do you need a will? Life insurance? These are all questions that may require an expert’s advice. Go together to an accountant, financial planner, attorney, and any other needed professional that can help meet your needs. Why go together? So that, again, you agree on your plan of action. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to be more financially savvy than the other. That’s okay, but it shouldn’t mean the other spouse is simply left in the dark and expected to follow orders. Going together to advisors helps both partners ask questions, understand the answers, and agree to the next steps they will take as a result of the advice they receive.
Remember that communication, planning, and seeking sound advice are ongoing activities. Your life isn’t a one-and-done exercise, and finances are no exception. As new circumstances come up, whether they be a change in jobs, expecting a child, buying a home, or caring for an elderly parent, it will be important to routinely repeat these steps.