It’s been said that the top two things that married couples argue about are money, and matters of the bedroom. We’re sticking to the first one. So…
Here are 10 key points to address and keep in mind when you are merging individual financial lives before, during and after getting married. (Congratulations, by the way!)
Basic attitude toward money
Spend or save? Gambler versus risk-averse? OK with debt or hate paying interest? It’s OK if you have different approaches to money as long as you: (1) Talk about it and understand your partner’s financial philosophy; and (2) Don’t expect it to change. If one buys shoes all the time and the other goes to too many ballgames, get used to it. Loving each other means accepting the whole package, Harry Potter memorabilia and all.
Build it into your routine
Have a monthly money meeting. Pay bills together. Help each other get the taxes done. Compare notes. Talk about major expenses, and don’t go rogue. You’re in this together; for better or for worse, finances are a big part of your life. Be the partners that you need to be.
Should you keep the individual accounts you had before getting married? Roll everything together into new joint accounts? Or both: keep some money separate for each of you but create joint accounts for, say, household expenses? There is no right or wrong answer here—this is entirely up to you. Great marriages use every combination. The key is to agree, be open about it all and be willing to change courses if and when it makes sense.
Who pays for what?
Split everything 50/50? Prorate it by income? You pay for this, I’ll pay for that? Same answer as the previous question.
Be ready for the unexpected
You might get a bonus from work, win the lottery or find a $10 bill on the sidewalk. That’s great! But unfortunately, many of life’s surprises come with negative financial consequences. Lose a job. Get burglarized. Crash the car. Get sick or injured. Or worst of all, suffer a death in the family. All can cost you time and money, and not everything is insured. It’s smart to set aside some funds for emergencies, if you can, and for a little cushion in an unpredictable world.
The national and global economies are a factor here as well. Should there be a stock market crash, housing crisis or other widespread economic downturn, you’ll need to have a plan (or at least an understanding that you don’t have a plan). For richer, for poorer, remember?
Consider hiring a financial advisor
Stock brokers, insurance agents, investment counselors, personal finance consultants. There are a ton of them out there, and finding one(s) you trust can be a big boost to your confidence and peace of mind. Yes, they cost money, but the return on that investment can pay off in the long run. Be careful, though, and make your own decisions with your spouse. Your money is ultimately your own responsibility, despite all the expert advice in the world.
You may each have a pet cause. Or you may not be able to afford to share much with others just yet. Either way, you should decide together how much you are comfortable with donating, and revisit your options from time to time.
Cousin Ralph has an investment opportunity. Dad offers some serious advice. Betty across the street asks for a loan. Julius from bowling wants to buy your car. Say thanks, talk to your spouse and make your choices as a team. You’ve got each other’s back.
You’re going to see this as the key to everything in a marriage, and it’s true. It might not be fun or romantic to talk about money, but you have to. Don’t ignore it.
Oh, and this should be obvious, but it needs to be said: No secrets. Mutual trust. Be upfront about any big financial albatrosses before you get married. You already knew that, right?
Sorry, we had to toss that in there. It’s another one of those things that starry-eyed engaged kids don’t want to think about, but they should. Here’s hoping someday you’ll be bouncing grandchildren on your knees saying, Well we didn’t need that after all, did we?