Finance Matters Every Couple Should Discuss Before Marriage

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Finance Matters Every Couple Should Discuss Before Marriage


It's always a bit of a mystery to us what couples' priorities are when it comes to planning for the future. Marriage can be a tough choice, and many people choose to get married without considering all the aspects of their financial lives. But as this article points out, that doesn't have to be the case. 

If you do want to work manually through your finances (and most people do) then you need to know how long your spouse plans on working and how much retirement savings they have before marriage. That way, you can plan accordingly. That's not up for debate—it has to be done!

Before you merge your finances, understand each other's past

  • Discuss your childhoods and how your respective families approached money.
  • Explore how much you learned about money as a child.
  • Discuss if your attitudes toward money match, and how you feel about each other's financial past.

Decide how you'll handle debt as a couple

When it comes to money in marriage, the experts agree: No secrets. If you're going into a marriage, your partner needs to know how much you owe and what you're already doing about it. Discuss how long it will take to pay off your debt—and how you'll stick to paying off that debt as a couple. 

This is especially important if one spouse has more (or less) money than the other or if one spouse has student loans and the other doesn't. It's also important for setting up joint expenses like a mortgage or rent, car payments, and insurance policies together.

It's also a good idea to work out any premarital debt before getting married so that you can start fresh with no red flags on your credit report. You may want to set up something like a budgeting app like You Need A Budget, which allows both people in a relationship equal access to the budget so they can know where every dollar is going at all times in order to keep spending aligned with goals and values before tying the knot.

Establishing ground rules for spending can prevent problems down the road

It's important to talk about money in your relationship and set a few ground rules for spending. Here are some guidelines:

  • Let each other know when you're planning to buy more expensive items—anything over $50. You don't have to ask permission before making the purchase, but it's respectful to give your partner a heads-up.

  • Establish a limit for how much one person can spend on something without checking with the other first. If one of you is extremely budget-conscious while the other tends toward more reckless spending, it may make sense to keep your individual expenses separate (more on that later). 

    But if you aren't sure what that limit should be, consider using 50 percent of the total household income as a guideline for how much each of you is allowed to spend at one time. So if your combined monthly income is $5,000, either of you should cap spending at $2,500 unless it's a necessity like rent or food or something else both partners agree upon.

  • Keep a shared account for expenses that are mutually beneficial like groceries and rent, and maintain separate accounts for personal spending.

    Even though this may seem like an unnecessary step since many couples already share most expenses anyway, keeping these accounts separate can help prevent resentment down the road because each partner has their own space where they can spend money however they want without having to explain themselves every time they go shopping or out with friends.

Identify how you'll deal with unexpected expenses before they arise

Before you start your life together, it's important to take the time to learn about how your partner makes financial decisions and to come up with a plan for how you will deal with unexpected expenses that arise.

Here are some things to consider:

  • What is your position on getting a life insurance policy? If you have children or plan on having children in the future, taking out a policy could be worth it. However, in the case of childless couples, this is an expense that gets very little return—especially if both members of the couple work full-time.

  • Talk about how each of you deals with emergencies and unexpected expenses when they arise. Do they tend to panic? Get angry? Calmly sit down and make a spreadsheet budgeting out their finances for the next few months? Understanding how your partner reacts to emergencies can help you prepare for anything that comes up in the future.

  • Make a list of potential emergencies and discuss what steps you would take if any of those were to happen (job loss, illness). It may seem like an unpleasant exercise, but discussing worst-case scenarios beforehand can do wonders for helping couples avoid conflict when something does happen unexpectedly.

Decide who will handle your shared finances

The simplest approach to managing your finances is combining them. But it may not be the best option for you and your partner. Some couples choose to keep their finances separate, even for their shared expenses. To know what's best for you, consider the pros and cons of combining your finances:

Pros:

  • Easier to budget together so that all bills are paid on time
  • You can build a safety net by pooling your resources and contributing equally

Cons:

  • If one spouse spends too much without the other's knowledge, both could end up in debt
  • If one spouse doesn't have enough income or has bad credit, it could bring down the other's credit score as well

Set up a budget, and then stick to it

Setting up and maintaining a budget is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, your partner, and your family. You may have heard of a few different types: envelopes, or the 50/20/30 method. There are many other ways to set up a budget, but the first step is finding what works best for you and your partner.

Once you decide on a budget that works for both of you, it’s important to stick to it! It can be difficult at first, but as long as you maintain that discipline, you will see results quickly. The most helpful way we’ve found to maintain discipline is with online resources like Mint or YNAB (You Need A Budget).

Start talking about retirement early on in your marriage

  • You both need to talk about how much you’ll need to retire. Once you do that, you can start planning for it.

  • Each of you will have different approaches to saving and investing. Talk about that too.

  • Find a good investment advisor who is a certified financial planner to help you with your money decisions.

  • Once you are married, whether one of you has more money or not, figure out how much money each of you can afford to spend on stuff like going out or buying new clothes or bags, etc.

Communicating and planning are key to having a healthy relationship with money

One of the most important (and often overlooked) keys to success is to communicate openly and honestly. Doing so doesn't mean you need to share absolutely everything—your bank account password, for example. It does mean that things like your monthly income and debt should be on the table.

Many couples start thinking about their finances once they begin planning a wedding, but financial expert and author Dawn Graham suggests starting much sooner than that—especially if you have a prenup in mind.

"Marriage is not just about love," she says. "It's also a business transaction." Getting ahead of those details early on can save you from many headaches down the road, especially when it comes time to file taxes and plan your estate.

When it comes to planning, it's better to do it too soon rather than too late: 36 percent of Americans have no idea how much money they'll need in retirement, according to a 2018 survey by Charles Schwab, even though two-thirds of them are aiming for early retirement (before age 60). |

And although there are plenty of calculators out there that can help you figure out exactly how much money you'll need at different stages of your life (and which will let you know if your goals are unrealistic or not), the best rule of thumb is: Save as much as possible!

 

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