A lot goes into a wedding; but a lot more goes into a marriage. When planning your big day, don’t forget to take time to talk with your partner about the realities of life that come after the “I do’s”—especially your finances. The truth is that money-related issues are often the cause of disagreement (and ultimately, arguments) between married couples. By getting on the same financial page now, you may be able to save yourself from certain cash conflicts and feel more secure in your financial future.
Here are 10 conversations you should have before getting hitched:
Past and present debt. It may sound cliché, but you need to know what you are getting yourself into. Discuss credit card debt, student loans, business loans, anything you or your partner are paying off. Then, determine how the debt will be paid going forward—jointly or separately.
You can even take the conversation deeper and explore each other’s past debts as well. Although you may feel this could conjure up negative feelings, knowing how diligent and strategic your spouse was about managing their student debt could be a pleasant surprise and could make you feel more confident with creating your own good debt together—such as a mortgage to purchase a home.
Income, investments, and savings. Most people assume the income conversation is much easier and more pleasant than the debt discussion, but in reality, it can be just as hard. For some couples, the discrepancies in income and assets between husband and wife can be a major tension point. Be honest with one another about how much you make and how you feel about each other’s assets. This may naturally bring you to your next conversation point; who has access to what.
Joining together. You’re ready to join in the union of matrimony, but have you decided how you’ll be combining your finances? Will you move all your money into one joint account? Or have one for his, hers, and ours? If you decide to work with three accounts, how much will each person contribute to the joint account? Work together as a team to determine what works best for your relationship and your new combined expenses.
Determining roles. Most couples appoint one person in the relationship as the money manager. Their role is to take care of and keep up with the everyday spending and budgeting. Although individuals tend to agree this makes sense, it can often be a point of conflict in a marriage. To help avoid any disputes, the spouse in charge of the finances should not only be good with money, but a good communicator as well. It’s important that neither individual feels left out of or burdened by financial decision making. Don’t forget: You should also discuss the use of financial advisors, accounts, estate attorneys and other advisors --- and how they factor into your financial planning.
Setting financial goals. What does financial success mean to you? Does it mean the same thing to your partner? This is a critical question to answer and discuss with your spouse-to-be. While you don’t need to have the same answers for this question, you must be aware of what you both want to achieve. Don’t cut this discussion short, as there are a lot of topics you could and should cover, including:
- How large do you want your emergency fund to be?
- What will warrant accessing these funds?
- How affluent do you want to be?
- What are you willing to sacrifice and how hard are you willing to work to get there?
- How will you plan for children?
- Will you save for their college expenses?
- How much do you want to save for a down payment?
- How much are you willing to borrow for the house you want?
- When do you want to retire? What does your retirement look like?
Building a budget. To work towards the financial goals you set out for yourselves, it’s imperative to develop a family budget. There are a variety of tools and resources available that can help you with this task. To make sure your plan is realistic, track your income and expenses for one to three months and always account for future and possible unexpected expenses.
Examining insurance. Getting through good times and bad and sickness and health can be easier when you and your partner are properly insured. Take time to review and consolidate your plans and perhaps purchase new policies to adequately insure your health, life, income and property.
Drafting a will or trust. When starting your life together, you must also confront the end of your lives, together, as well. A proper estate plan is essential for protecting your loved ones and ensuring your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes in the event of your death or medical decisions in the case of incapacity.
Considering a pre-marital agreement. Prenuptial agreements are not just for the rich or those of little faith. It may make sense for you and your partner to consider such an agreement if one of you is in considerably more debt than the other, or if one of you owns your own business. The conversation should not be viewed as inappropriate or uncomfortable since you are in a committed, intimate, and open relationship.
Committing to communication. A common thread for dealing with all the financial tasks mentioned here in this article is communication. You and your partner must work together and communicate openly to avoid unnecessary issues and to give yourselves the best chance at financial and marital success. One strategy that may help to keep the communication lines open is to set a specific day and time each week to discuss finances and any other pressing matters.
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