One of my childhood friends just recently became engaged and within days was already finding herself in planning mode. While talking about flowers, centerpieces and what color the bridesmaids dresses would be, I asked her what her budget was. She looked at me with a startled deer in the headlights kind of look and said, “oh my goodness….I really don’t know!?” She’s not the only one to think this, I thought back to when my husband and I got married and a stern budget was not the first thing that went through my head after I said “yes!” But we were smart about our spending. We knew what we could afford and made plans around that. I also tried to be as thrifty and crafty as I could on my own, to keep our costs down. The most important factor in the entire planning process was that my husband and I talked about everything. So, I encouraged my friend to do the same. Talking about finances is not glamorous, or even fun, but it’s necessary when it comes to your life and the big moments in it.
Taking the first step can be difficult, so start off easy, ask yourself some questions about your spending and how you prioritize different aspects of spending.
- “Are you a spender or a saver?” – If one of you is a saver and the other a spender, create a budget that considers both styles. Studies show that men and women spend differently. Women often take care of daily expenses (groceries, utilities, clothes) while men make larger purchases, such as TVs, cars or computers. The amounts might be the same, but the perceptions are very different. About 36% of partners don’t talk to each other about big purchases, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
- “Are you in debt?” – A TD Ameritrade survey found that 38% of couples were “only somewhat” or “not at all” aware of their partner’s debts. When you get married, your spouse’s debt doesn’t automatically becomes yours, but what he or she owes will affect both your choices. For instance, heavy credit card debt could make it more difficult to buy a home. Make reducing debt a priority.
- “What are your financial goals?” or “Where do you want to be five or twenty years from now?” – People who identify specific goals make faster progress toward savings and investing targets. But first, you need to agree on what those targets are: buying a home, starting a family, being debt-free? List your individual goals, then share them with each other and make a joint plan. Know what’s important to each of you. What do you value more, things you can keep or experiences to remember? Maybe one of you wants to buy a house while the other thinks saving for retirement is essential. Get these things out in the open early.
Trust Each Other
A recent Money survey revealed that couples who trust their partner with finances feel more secure and argue less. That level of trust, though, isn’t common among newlyweds. “We’re intimate with our partners in so many ways before marriage, and yet money remains off the table,” says Paula Levy, a marriage and family therapist. Be honest. If you made a purchase you shouldn’t have, own up to it. Some 40% of men and women confess they’ve lied to their spouse about the price of something they bought, and lying about money can have huge repercussions. Support each other. Retreating doesn’t help, and neither does finger-pointing. Work together to come up with a game plan.
You’re Still Individuals
Celebrate the differences. If your partner is a bargain-hunter, put him in charge of the spending while you invest the savings. And decide on a monthly amount each of you can spend, no questions asked. The average amount couples say this should be, according to Money, is $150. There are pros and cons to opening a joint bank account. SmartMoney found that 64% of couples put all of their money in joint accounts, while 14% kept everything in separate accounts. For many newlyweds, the ideal choice may be both: yours, mine, and our accounts. Once you’ve determined shared living expenses, both of you can contribute your portion of those costs to the joint account based on your share of household income.
If you and your spouse find money conversations tough, you might want to bring in a financial planner or other professional. It never hurts to ask for help when it comes to your finances. Your credit union can help – that’s why they’re there. Take steps now to ensure that money won’t put rocks on your path to wedded bliss. I’m Claire, the Afena blog mom. Thanks for reading!