Managing Finances Can Help Couples Avoid Common Pitfalls
Just over 2 million couples tied the knot last year, a rate of 6.9 per 1,000 total population. About 70% of those couples have argued or will argue about money. Disagreements about finances top other subjects such as household chores, snoring, togetherness, sex, and what’s for dinner. When married twosomes argue about money, they typically quarrel about spending (55%), saving (37%), lying (21%), and exclusion from decisions (11%).
The good news, though, is that disagreements over money can be effectively managed—whether you’re deep into marriage or just starting out. We have some useful tips for engaged couples and newlyweds for discussing financial concerns early on. Even if you have been married a while, though, these pointers can help.
Whether you are 25 or 55, couples considering marriage should discuss these financial topics.
- Before you get married, talk frankly and honestly about money. Disclose your debts and your credit score to your significant other. Decide now how you will work through financial issues that come up along the way.
- Talk about your money styles and your preferences—are you frugal or a spendthrift? Do you prefer cash, check, or debit/credit cards? What is the threshold amount for discussing big purchases?
- Set your financial goals—discuss the possibility of homeownership, children, traveling, retirement, college tuition, health care crises, job loss, material items, and experiences. Talk about how you will manage financial emergencies and
how you will save for and spend your lifestyle expenses.
- Create a budget, and decide how the bills will get paid and who will pay them. By setting up a budget, you each will understand how much money comes in and how much goes out. Figure out how much you will save and how much each of you receives for personal spending.
- What money tools will you use? Will you bank only in person or use online- and mobile-banking options? How often will you check balances on your accounts, and who will handle this? Find out if your bank offers seminars or apps for newlyweds and couples who have been married longer.
- Decide how you will manage insurance needs—health, life, disability, auto, and home. Agree on contributions to employer-sponsored retirement plans, 401(k)s, and IRAs.
- Once you marry or combine households—and you have merged some or your expenses and income—you might feel like you just won the lottery, got a raise, or came into extra cash. Though it might be tempting to bump up your lifestyle, do not do it. Instead, use your newfound surplus to pay off loans and credit cards or boost your savings. If you can, live on one income, and bank the rest for the future. Prepare for unexpected issues such as job loss or a health crises or for things like starting your own business or going back to school. Saving now gives you more options later.
- Update or create your wills, and change your beneficiary information on your retirement, investment, or insurance accounts.
- Merge your lifestyles, and abandon any “it’s my money” attitudes. These cause tensions and build resentment if one spouse has significantly more money than the other and spends extravagantly while the other is clipping coupons and shopping for clothes at the nearest thrift store.
- Review your tax withholding, and look for ways to decrease taxes and maximize retirement savings.
Whatever plan you put in place, make sure, as a couple, you come back to it at least once a month. Set aside time every 4 to 6 weeks to talk about money, financial issues, and your progress and setbacks. Work as a team, and be honest and open to the possibility that your spouse has some great ideas about decreasing your debt, increasing your wealth, and living the life you both dream of.
Remarrying Later in Life
Couples entering their second (or more) marriage—and especially couples who are combining families, have adult children from previous relationships, or have their own strong portfolios established—may have added, and often very serious, matters to consider.
- A meeting about finances is essential before the wedding day, especially if both spouses have advanced careers, significant assets, and/or children of any age. Honesty and clarity are critical to creating a successful plan. Here are some topics to deliberate as you get ready to walk down the aisle again.
- Set up a specific time, and make an agenda to discuss your respective financial situations.
- If you have your own financial advisors, introduce them to your new spouse to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Be transparent with your new spouse about your financial situation, whether it is a positive or negative picture you will be painting. Consider sharing financial documents, including tax returns, pay stubs, bank and investment statements, and even a credit report.
- Review any contractual obligations you have with former spouses.
- Talk about how you want to support not only each other but each other’s children or other family members. Discuss any relevant guardianship issues.
- Determine and acknowledge each of your spending and savings styles, and map out a plan for handling any differences.
- Merging ideas may be challenging if there are children involved, an ex-spouse, or a noticeable socioeconomic gap between you. Try to see the other’s point of view, and learn his or her strengths and weaknesses so you can complement each area.
- Set guidelines and boundaries about a joint checking account, how you will save for your kids’ college educations, and the price tag limit for discussing and agreeing on large purchases.
- You will need to review any plans from prior marriages, including wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations, and create a clear plan that addresses all matters of “yours,” “mine,” and “ours.”
Each of these topics has multiple layers and even more answers, depending on which state you live in. But if you talk about these things early on, even as uncomfortable as it might be, it could save you even more difficult conversations down the road—and potentially could save your marriage.