Money is one of the leading causes of divorce. Before saying I do, having conversations about your finances can help you start your life together as a couple on a good note.
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Before getting married, my now-husband and I sat down for a few much-needed money conversations. Here are the steps we took to organize our finances before marriage.
Assess Your Starting Point as a Couple
One survey found that 4 out of 10 Americans do not know how much their spouse earns. Knowing your full household income helps you plan for your future together. It is a starting point to determine what you can afford for your living expenses and how much you can save and invest.
Read More: How to Master a Household Budget
My husband and I shared income information before getting engaged. This conversation also gave us a quick overview of whether each other’s spending habits matched our income. Once we decided to get married, we discussed buying a house together. Sharing our income information helped us figure out how much home we could afford to buy together.
Understanding how much debt your spouse has is necessary to have a clear picture of where you stand financially as a couple.
Taking the time to discuss student debt, credit card, mortgage debt, or any other financial obligation is an important conversation to have before marriage.
If you or your spouse have debt, discussing a plan to get out of debt will be vital to building a solid financial future. Some couples decide to include the debt repayment plan in their budget. Other couples agree that any debt a spouse has acquired before marriage is their responsibility to pay off, but they keep the debt in mind when determining how to tackle household bills. No matter which strategy you pick, you want to be transparent about your debt and make it a priority to pay it off.
Your spouse’s credit score will affect you if you decide to join your finances or make purchases leveraging credit together. If you have good credit, then it should not cause any tension when it’s time to apply for loans. But, if you have a not-so-stellar credit score, it can hinder some of the plans you have together as a couple. That’s why being proactive by sharing credit information before getting married will prevent surprises. It will also give you room to figure out how to overcome that hurdle, whether it is by taking the time to fix the spouse’s credit, or by applying under one person’s name.
Understanding your future spouse’s financial responsibilities is essential because they will likely continue during your marriage. Whether it is dependents such as a child from a previous relationship or relatives, you or your spouse support financially, including the overall financial picture as a couple will help start your marriage on the right note.
Decide How to Organize Your Finances
Before getting married, it is important to decide how you will organize your finances as a couple.
We decided to merge our finances and keep separate accounts to maintain some level of independence. But that’s just one way you can handle your finances. How you decide to organize your finances as a couple is up to you. However, it is essential to make a decision instead of being reactive.
Do you plan to keep your finances separate and split the bills? Are you both going to be responsible for paying household bills?
Do you plan to split the bills down in the middle or based on the percentage of the household income each spouse brings home?
Do you plan to have joint finances, whether it’s for all of your accounts or for specific accounts only?
If one spouse becomes a stay-at-home parent, how will you handle the family’s finances to ensure they don’t fall behind on planning their financial future because they are home caring for your children?
Addressing those points before getting married will help make the transition as a married couple easier.
Discuss Your Financial Future
What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
What would you like to prioritize financially over the next 5 to 10 years? Those are some of the questions we asked each other during our initial conversations.
Some of the goals we discussed included buying our first home, investing in the stock market, having children and saving for our honeymoon. Having those initial conversations gave us a starting point to create our joint financial plan.
Create a Plan
Creating a plan together can help you keep track of your financial objectives. You can use Personal Capital’s free personal finance tools to see all of your financial accounts in one place. Armed with this information, you can use the technology to budget, build plans for debt payoff, and create savings goals for big-ticket expenses like your future kids’ college education and your own retirement.
Learn More: Get Clarity on Your Money
Before starting a joint budget as a couple, we took a close look at our expenses to identify anything overlapping and see where we could save. As a result, we transitioned to a family cell phone plan, saved money on housing, and reallocated the funds towards our savings.
We then developed a budget together that allowed us to work towards our financial goals. We implemented a monthly budget planning review which is an opportunity to review how well you are doing compared to the plan.
Having extensive money conversations before marriage is a great way to avoid surprises or pitfalls that could result from not being transparent when it comes to your finances. Couples should be proactive in asking uncomfortable money questions. This way, they can begin developing healthy habits when it comes to building a financial future together.
Personal Capital compensates Anne-Lyse Wealth (“Author”) for providing the content contained in this blog post. Compensation not to exceed $500. Author is not a client of Personal Capital Advisors Corporation.