Congratulations! You’re married! The wedding was beautiful, the honeymoon was breathtaking, and the gifts were thoughtful. It is time to get back to reality which leads to the question that inevitably comes up – what to do with your finances now that you are married? Finances are a challenging topic because for the majority of your single life, it wasn’t a team sport. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to start taking a team approach to the financial part of your marriage.
Talk about your finances. The first and most important thing to start your financial marriage is to talk about it. It may not be the most romantic thing to do, but it is something that you need to do. Hopefully you were already doing this before marriage, but if you have not, start. Not sure how to? Take a financial compatibility quiz. It is a good starting point in finding out where you may or may not agree on topics and open the table for discussion. It is important to understand your spouse’s history and habits with money. This also means listing all your assets – checking, savings, IRA, 401ks etc., and your liabilities – credit card debt, student loans, mortgages etc. Now is the time to look at your cash flow – income vs. expenses. It is important to know where you stand as a whole in order to take the next step, setting goals.
Set financial goals. Once you have a clear view of your current financial situation, the next step is to set your future goals together. Discuss shorter-term goals, such as paying off debt or saving for a down payment on a home; and longer-term goals, such as retirement or college savings for the future children. Start an emergency fund (three to six months’ worth of expenses) if you have not already done so.
Set a budget. Determining your goals is the easy part. Next is how to make sure you will realize them. This is where, as a team, you will determine how much you can realistically set aside to reach those goals. Set a household budgetin order to avoid unnecessary spending that can impact your future. This does not mean no “fun money,” rather include your personal discretionary expenses in your budget so you can keep that spending under control.
Decide how to set up your accounts. Now it’s time for the more technical side, determining how to set up current and future accounts. You have basically three options – all joint, all separate, or a combination of both. Many couples find that having joint accounts for everything household related and separate accounts for personal discretionary spending work well, but this is all personal preference. There isn’t a right or wrong way to handle accounts. This is where your previous conversations about your spending habits and history come into play. Just make sure that both of you are on the same page.
Set a contingency plan. After going over all your accounts, it is a good idea to update the beneficiaries, the person who will receive the benefits, on them. These include any wills, trusts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts and any other financial accounts that may have come up. It is also a good time to give your spouse power of attorney and name them your health care proxy. It is crucial to decide ahead of time what legal decisions to make in the event of your illness or in a scenario where you cannot make these decisions yourself.
The most important thing to do: talk about your finances! Make a habit of discussing it with each other. Jeff Motkse’s The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility provides additional resources and advice on how to harmonize your relationship financially. It is important to be open and supportive of one another in marriage, which does include your money. With a little teamwork, your marriage should be long and prosperous.
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