Sharing finances as marrieds may be one of the biggest adjustments a couple has to make. With my wedding coming up at the end of this year, it’s certainly something that’s on my mind. The journey is different for everyone, but here are some learnings that might help you navigate this new territory.
There’s bound to be a lot of change in your future lives. What’s right for you now, might not be right in five (or thirty) years time. The important thing is to create a plan that works for your current situation that is easily adaptable in future.
With so much change going on already. It might be prudent to ease into shared finances. Initially, only combine necessities (like rent, new furniture, electricity bills), but keep the remainder separate (like mobile phone bills, personal and transport expenses). As things change (if you move from two incomes to one) you will need to reassess, but baby steps help to make the transition easier.
It’s a good idea to discuss attitudes toward money from the very start. If you’re a saver and your partner’s a spender, you are going to need a plan to manage that.
Be open about debt. It’s going to be very hard to build anything with high interest debt eating away at your goals in the background. Be transparent about your individual financial situations and figure out a way to manage them together.
On the flip side, one of you might make substantially more than the other, or have significantly more assets to bring to the marriage. This is personal, but be up front about your situation and expectations no matter what.
Organization & Automation
Since working at Betterment, I’ve become a huge advocate for automation. It’s such an efficient way to live, and removes the “pain of paying”. We created a budget for our expenses and investments and have automated the lot. It’s such a great feeling knowing our finances are taken care of, no matter what.
When you share your finances you share expenses – yes – but you also share your goals. Working toward shared goals is one the biggest – and most exciting – changes we’ve experienced. It’s not all sunshine and roses however; figuring out goals may make you realize you are not aligned in your visions for the future. Perhaps you want different things, or perhaps you simply differ in your opinions on how much you need to save now compared to later, or how much you can devote to your personal goals.
The priority at this point is to align your goals and values. One person might value insurance more highly than the other. One might want to hold off saving for a big goal for a few years. It can get heated, but the aim is to get on the same page and make a plan for achieving the things you both want out of life.
It goes without saying that we spend money on different things. It’s extremely important for us to keep some of our funds for ourselves. Neither of us wants to be the person trawling through the transactions – or the one spending all the money for that matter!
I’m glad that we’re investing for the big, serious goals together, but I’m also set on keeping my own dreams alive. I’m no Dr. Phil, but retaining your sense of self seems quite important as you set up lives together. But if you choose to have multiple accounts – like we do – watch out for account fees.
Additionally, it can make financial sense to have separate goals – retirement is a good example here. If your employer contributes to your 401(k) be sure to take advantage. IRAs are only available to individuals. For couples living off one income, you can utilize a spousal IRA, where one person funds an IRA on behalf of his/her spouse.
Planning for Change
Start small, dream big, and create a sustainable setup that only needs tweaking here or there. As you move through life, you will have new goals and more expenses. There might be radical change too – you might have to live off only one income, or different income levels. The important thing is to keep talking, planning, and doing. After all, money is here for us to do things with.
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This article was published on April 22, 2013