The month of June traditionally marked the peak of wedding season. However, after the Covid-19 pandemic led to thousands of couples delaying their nuptials by a year or more, every month has become peak season. Last year was definitely a busy year for weddings. I know because we were among the many families fortunate to celebrate this great milestone as our daughter Maddie and son-in-law Ryan tied the knot. This year will see even more couples say, “I do.” According one report, roughly 2.5 million weddings are expected to take place this year, the most since 1984. This means that millions of couples will be seeking ways to seamlessly blend their worlds—which inevitably includes their finances. Fortunately, getting on the same page where your finances are concerned may be easier than you think. Whether this is your first marriage or your fourth, the following tips can help you start married life off on the right financial footing.
1. Commit to communicate – Learning how to communicate about money is essential for a healthy relationship. While money can be a source of tension for married couples, it doesn’t have to be. Many people are surprised to learn that regardless of how much or how little you may have, poor communication—not money—is often the underlying cause of marital financial stress. This is especially true if you and your partner come from different financial backgrounds. Maybe you grew up in a household where it was considered taboo or crass to talk about money. Or maybe money was a recurring theme at home during your formative years. Either way, it’s important to acknowledge each other’s attitudes, concerns and past experiences with money.
Since money can be a highly charged and emotional topic, an effective way to approach discussions about your finances is to schedule a designated time and place where you’re both relaxed and won’t be distracted. Be transparent about debt, credit scores, investments, etc. Agree to ‘no judgement’ about poor financial decisions you may have made in the past. While it’s important to learn from the past, you want to focus your energy on how you will move closer to your goals as a couple.
2. Remember that you’re on the same team – While one of you may generate more income or be more proficient when it comes to budgeting, investing or understanding financial concepts, it’s never a good idea for one spouse to be solely responsible for the family finances. Successful financial management requires both of you to be involved in how you are building and protecting your wealth. Fortunately, today’s couples have greater access to financial information and education than ever before from the internet to employer-provided resources and independent financial advisors. Many employers offer online and in-person financial education programs, usually in conjunction with their retirement plan offering. This is a great place to start if you or your spouse want to learn more about basic financial concepts. A licensed financial advisor can help with coaching, developing a personalized investment strategy for your needs, as well as more complex challenges.
The combination of education, advice and a commitment to ongoing communication can go a long way toward resolving any financial conflicts that may arise, so you and your partner can continue to work toward your common goals.
3. Document your goals – If you don’t know what you’re working toward, it’s impossible to know if you’re on track or not. It’s also really hard to make progress building wealth as a couple if one partner thinks they’re saving for the down payment on a house and the other wants to spend that money on travel, debt reduction or a new car. While you can work toward all of these goals and more, you need to agree on what’s most important to you when you think about the lifestyle you want now and 40+ years from now. Once you have established your goals, document them so you can prioritize them and begin to work toward achieving them.
Keep in mind, your priorities may change over time as you grow your family and your wealth, change jobs or careers, or due to any number of circumstances. That’s why you want to take time at least once a year to review your goals and ensure you’re both still on the same page.
4. Create a budget – Whether both partners generate income from work or not, it’s important to create a monthly budget that you can both stick to. When determining your monthly budget, make sure your essential expenses are covered first. These include food, clothing, housing, utilities, mobile phone service, transportation, childcare, healthcare, pet needs or anything else deemed to be a true necessity in your household. Then prioritize your discretionary spending. These are the things you want but could live without if you had to. They may include entertainment, streaming services, travel, club and gym memberships, etc. Your budget should also prioritize spending for long-term goals such as regular retirement plan contributions, as well as emergency savings.
One of the easiest ways to manage your budget is through an online or mobile app that allows you to aggregate data from all of your financial accounts so you can easily track what’s coming into your household each month and what’s going out. That will also help to quickly spot areas where you may be overspending or identify excess cash that can be directed to savings each month.
5. Build a safety net – Setting aside enough money to cover several months of living expenses in a liquid savings account is important since unexpected events, such as a job loss, medical emergency or expensive car repair can happen at any time. Whenever possible, you want to use emergency savings to pay for an unanticipated expense, rather than being forced to borrow or incur high-interest credit card debt.
6. Meet with a financial advisor – As you begin life together as a married couple, your finances inevitably become more complicated, resulting in questions you may not be prepared to answer on your own. Should you combine checking and savings accounts? When should you begin saving for retirement? Are you saving enough? Do you need to create a will? Are your joint goals aligned with your investment allocations? Do your retirement plan investment portfolios overlap or complement each other? How will you protect your family’s income needs in the event of incapacitation or death? If one or both of you have been married before, or have children from a previous marriage, you may face even more complex challenges in areas like retirement, tax, charitable giving, estate and multigenerational planning.
This is where an independent financial advisor can add significant value. An experienced wealth advisor will not only address your questions and concerns but help you develop a comprehensive financial plan aligned with your goals that seeks to protect and grow your wealth. Your plan will serve as a road map as you move through the different stages of your life as a couple, from growing a family or business, to preparing for your lifestyle needs in retirement. Along the way, your advisor will provide coaching and financial education, and proactively monitor your strategy and investment portfolio to help ensure that you remain on track toward the things you want to accomplish.
Ready to begin building your future as a married couple? Our free guide, The Family Budget: Financial Empowerment at Your Fingertips, is a great place to start. Download it now for free.
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