“For better or for worse… For richer or for poorer.” This is what most of us promise to our spouse when we pledge ourselves in marriage. But unfortunately, many couples today can’t seem to survive either richer or poorer due to poor money management skills.
Some couples stick with their own individual way of managing money, which may or may not mesh with their spouse’s. Others may take the responsibility all on their own shoulders or shove it onto their spouse instead. Some spouses even lie, cheat, and overspend, and cause all trust within the relationship to be a distant memory. As a newly married couple, how can you prevent these tragedies from happening in your own marriage?
There is definitely hope, but you need to act early. In fact, money management can actually be a rewarding way to bond with your loved one. Here are steps to take and tips to make sure you get on the right track for a lifetime of properly managing your joint finances.
Managing your own money can be challenging enough. But incorporating your spouse’s finances can be overwhelming. In other words, don’t expect to be an expert right away. The two of you have some things to work out and should take plenty of time to do so. Follow these nine steps one step at a time so you and your spouse can easily get accustomed to healthy financial habits.
1. Start Talking About Finances
It’s best to do this before you get married, but if you have not, discuss finances with your new spouse as soon as possible. You’ll need to go over what accounts you have and how much debt you carry. You’ll also want to be clear on how you expect money to be handled.
For example, let your spouse know if you expect him or her to discuss purchases over $100 with you first. Make sure each person has a good understanding of where you stand financially as a couple and the expectations that the other holds.
2. Write Down Goals
After you have determined your baseline financial status, discuss your long-term financial goals in-depth. For example, do you plan to retire at a certain age? Do you want to get out of debt and become a millionaire?
My husband and I agreed on goals that included sticking to a budget each month and becoming a one-income family, so that I could be a stay-at-home mom. Make sure to write all of your goals down and review them periodically. You’ll have a much better chance at success if you do.
3. Discuss Bank Accounts
There are both pros and cons to opening a joint bank account or to maintaining your individual accounts after you’re married. You can even do both. Combining accounts can simplify your finances and may help breed trust in a marriage. Moreover, it may be especially valuable when one spouse chooses to take on more household or child-rearing duties than the other and as a result there is inequality in income.
That said, some level of independence may be preferable to you both, though it can also make it easy for you or your spouse to hide certain purchases or spending habits. Plus, given the high divorce rate, keeping separate bank accounts can provide you some measure of protection should your spouse decide to “take the money and run.” Discuss this at length with your spouse to make sure you’re both comfortable with whatever you decide.
4. Build an Emergency Fund
If you don’t already have an emergency fund, consider making this a top priority. An emergency fund is money that is set aside in case something expensive happens unexpectedly, such as a lost job, family illness, natural disaster, or a major home repair. Aim to save about 6 months’ worth of your household expenses in case the emergency is that you have no income. Building an emergency fund should be a priority because it will bring financial security and protect your relationship in case disaster strikes.
5. Design a Budget
As I mentioned, one of my goals with my husband is to ensure that we are within budget each month. So we don’t go into debt, we limit how much we’re allowed to spend in certain monthly budget categories, such as food, dining out, and entertainment.
Start by reviewing your joint expenses over the last few months to determine how much you’ve been spending and if you need to bring that amount down. Then, establish dollar limits per category that you create according to your after-tax income. Don’t forget to allocate for unexpected or irregular expenses, such as routine car maintenance or doctor’s appointments. Your budget may be a work in progress, so don’t worry if you have to make adjustments, especially over the first few months.
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