It will be one of the most amazing days of your life, full of laughter, joy and plenty of love. Your wedding will launch you and your spouse into a lifetime of marital bliss. But if you want your marriage to remain blissful, you’d better have a game plan for your finances.
Money isn’t everything in a marriage, but it certainly is a big thing. Earning, managing and spending money will consume a great deal of your time as a married couple, and your success at dealing with money will go a long way to determining your success in other areas of life. And since financial strains and disagreements of money are one of the leading causes of marital trouble in the U.S., handling your money well can be a key factor in keeping your marriage healthy.
Since we’re headed quickly into wedding season, we thought we’d share some wisdom for those couples who will be tying the knot this summer. And even if you’re already married, don’t worry — these ideas can be just as helpful to you too.
If you’re a young adult just getting started on your own, you’ll be well served to check out our previous article, Financial Advice for Graduates. Today’s tips are going beyond the nuts and bolts of finance to address the ways that your money decisions affect your marriage. So here are our top five pieces of financial advice for newlyweds.
1) Start with honesty
This rule applies as much to money as it does any other area of your marriage: No matter what happens, you must build your financial relationship on honesty. Chances are that the two of you come from different backgrounds with different financial track records. But no matter how messy your finances are, you need to be forthright with your spouse about your money situation. Don’t bring any secrets or surprises into the marriage — that’s a sure recipe for mistrust and disaster.
Beginning with honesty puts all of your cards on the table, and it allows the two of you to plan your budget and financial goals effectively. It also establishes good patterns for the future. Learn to be honest with each other about money now, and it will prepare you to be honest with much bigger money issues in the future.
2) Share everything
Some people like the idea of keeping their finances separate after they get married — “You have your money, I have mine, and we’ll split the expenses.” On paper, this may seem just as good as having a joint bank account, and it affords each spouse a sense of financial independence. But the trouble is that you’re not supposed to be independent in marriage, and keeping your finances separate creates a lot of room for mistakes and mistrust.
At its core, marriage is all about sharing. You share your home, your time, your lives, your bodies and your families — why would you not also share your money? You wouldn’t withhold your time or your body from your spouse, so why would you withhold your money? Having “his and hers” bank accounts creates more problems than it solves, engendering an atmosphere that is conducive to secrets and mistrust. And the fact is that you can be more focused and efficient toward goals like paying debt, saving or giving when you work out of one account and one budget instead of two. So skip past “yours and mine” and go directly to “ours.”
3) Communicate constantly
As you grow in your marriage, you’ll discover that clear, constant communication is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. This is certainly true in the area of your finances. Money isn’t a static thing; your income, expenses and financial goals will change and fluctuate throughout your married life. If you’re not communicating consistently about your finances, you’re going to find yourselves at odds about how you handle the changing needs of your family.
Since every couple and every situation are different, it’s hard to make a blanket rule about how often you should discuss money. Some couples need to sit down and review their budgets together once a month or even as often as once a week. Others can look over the numbers less often, getting together on the budget only when income or expenses change. But don’t let your budget meetings be the only time that you talk about money. You should communicate with each other about your smaller expenditures and habits until you are both comfortable with your spending patterns, and you know that you’re moving in unity toward your greater financial goals.
4) Use budgets to avoid conflict
One of the chief financial argument starters in marriage is “I can’t believe you spent so much on that!” Two people with different habits, different tastes and different financial backgrounds are bound to have different priorities when it comes to how money should be spent. And if there’s no unified plan about where money ought to go, you’re both likely to find yourselves second-guessing and criticizing the decisions that the other one makes.
The solution to this problem is to use budgets to plan your spending across all categories of your life, and then stick to that budget. If you know that you have $500 to spend on clothing this year, it doesn’t matter if you chose to use $200 for a pair of shoes — what does matter is that you keep the total annual clothes spending within your agreed-upon budget. The same goes for recurring expenses like groceries or restaurant meals: With a weekly or monthly budget in place, your plan tells you what you’re allowed to spend. You don’t have to argue about individual expenses, because you’ve already agreed about where your money should go beforehand.
5) Establish good habits early
Success in any area of life ultimately boils down to choices, habits and discipline. To succeed with money in your marriage, you’re going to have to make good choices consistently over time. And the sooner you establish good patterns and habits, the more quickly you’ll be moving down the right road.
If you want to be honest, transparent and diligent in your finances, start early (like as soon as you get back from your honeymoon). If you want to be generous people, begin giving now, even if you can only afford to give a little bit. If you want to model wise financial behavior for your children, begin by doing the right things now. It’s much easier to establish a good habit than to reverse a bad habit. So figure out what kind of actions are going to bring you success in the financial area of your marriage, and then start doing those things today.
Those are our top five financial tips for newlyweds. What else have you learned about money and marriage that young couples ought to know?
Photo by Katsu Nojiri. Used under Creative Commons License.