The wedding went perfectly. You love living together (even if you occasionally argue about whose turn it is to do the dishes). However, there's a shadow hovering over your happily-ever-after: finances. No one wants to think about money or budgeting, but it's a fact of life. The truth is, a little prep can mean a lot less stress. It's time to tackle the money talk so you can get back to the rest of newlywed life.
1. Establish a joint bank account. This doesn't mean you have to put all your money together, though. Think about using a joint bank account just for what you both use: groceries, household products, rent, etc.
If you prefer to combine the majority of your expenses, consider using your personal account as a "fun" spending account. Have your paychecks go to the main account, then set aside equal amounts to your and your spouse's individual accounts. This way, you can spend money without the guilt. You'll know what money you can use to splurge on a latte or a new pair of shoes. Your spouse can do the same, and you won't have to argue about unnecessary expenses.
2. Set goals. You need to find out where your priorities lie so you can decide where your money should go. Chances are you've (hopefully) already had this talk before, but make sure you're both aware and in agreement on what you want to accomplish. What are your career goals, and where do you want to be in the next 5 or 10 years? If you're planning on having kids or buying a house, what's your timeline? Think further out, too, and consider retirement plans and what you'll need to save for.
3. Set up a budget. Yep, you knew it was coming. However, before you sigh, groan, or stop reading, hear us out. It doesn't have to be painful. Setting up a budget for two isn't too different from setting up a budget for one. You just have to be on the same page and both be willing to make compromises.
4. Review insurance coverage. This includes disability, car, and homeowner's or renter's insurance. It also includes the big one: health insurance. Chances are, you each had different needs as individuals with separate plans. If you're combining insurances, figure out the best route for the two of you together. If kids are on the horizon, you'll want to make sure your health insurance plan allows for you to have adequate coverage for doctor's appointments. Also, if you're having kids soon, you may want to consider setting up life insurance.
5. Save for retirement by taking advantage of a 401(k) plan. Okay, first of all, don't worry if you don't have one just yet or it's not offered. There are other ways to save and plan for retirement (such as traditional or Roth IRA). This is just one benefit you should take advantage of if it's there.
So, if either of your employers offers this retirement plan, use it -- especially if the employer offers a company match. You won't have to worry about setting the money aside (or where to put it) since it'll be automatically withdrawn, and it's taken out before it's taxed.
6. Create an emergency cash reserve. You never know when you'll need extra money to make ends meet, make repairs, or pay for an emergency room trip. Additionally, if either of you loses your job or decides to go back to school, there needs to be a backup plan in place. Set aside the money now so you're prepared for whatever comes. Consider saving enough to cover your expenses for up to three months, or even six months to one year.
7. Get ready for tax season. That tax benefit for getting married is nice and all, but there are still other things to get ready before filing. Decide if you'll be filing a joint return (there are still options to file separately) and make sure you're both aware of each other's situation (from trust funds to deductibles) so you won't have any surprises to face with your accountant. Also, don't forget to update your W-4 form at work to show the new number of dependents.
8. Figure out where you can save money. Maybe you're not staying within your budget yet, or you're trying to bring your monthly expenses down. Regardless, finding ways to save money is essential. Look at where you're currently spending the most money and how you can bring the costs down. Too many trips to the movie theater or expensive date-night dinners out? Try seeing who can plan the most fun date night with the least amount of money. As long as you're spending time together, you'll have a great time.
9. Decide on the amount of money that can be spent without a discussion. This will vary depending on where both of you are financially. Maybe a $50 purchase needs to be discussed with your partner. Perhaps it depends on where the money is being spent; $100 on groceries could be perfectly fine, but maybe the same amount on shoes should be discussed. Set rules and know when to have a discussion so that spending money doesn't become a point of contention in your marriage.
10. Write a will. Not the most romantic thing, but it's one that's essential. The truth is, if you don't decide where your wealth goes, someone else will -- so take control.
11. Send out notifications or make some phone calls. Tell Social Security, the IRS, the Department of Motor Vehicles, credit card companies, and employers of any name or address changes. It will make things easier to be proactive rather than waiting until an issue possibly arises.
12. Put all the cards on the table. It's time to know and understand each other; financially, that is. If you have any investments, be aware of them, and review your combined portfolio for diversity (range of investments) and liquidity (money you can get ahold of quickly if you need to). Make sure you know each other's income, debts, and assets. You'll want to make sure everything is accounted for. If anything has been left out in the budget, taxes, or other talks, now's the time to spill.
13. Change beneficiaries. Chances are, you'll want your spouse to be a beneficiary now. Check your life insurance, pension, and profit-sharing plans, employer 401(k) plans, bank accounts, and more to make sure they are in order with the correct beneficiary.
14. Talk about your history with money. Your past affects your future, so don't be afraid to discuss it. If finances were a point of contention in your family, let your spouse know that. If you never heard a word about money growing up, that's also important to share. Understand each other's financial habits better by understanding where you each came from.
It's a lot to consider, but it will help ease your financial worries to be proactive and aware of the state of your finances. Take some time today to start planning and you'll help both your mindset and your marriage.