You’ve been in a relationship for a while now, and now you’re ready to take that next step — getting married and moving in together.
On the financial front, marriage comes with a whole new set of questions and challenges. Mainly, how do you both navigate your spending, money and financial goals together as a couple?
Yes, broaching the subject of finances before you make this big life decision can feel daunting but we’ve got you covered. Here, we’ve come up with a financial checklist to help you spark that discussion about your finances before you get married.
1. Understand each other’s spending habits and how you value money
Take the time to learn about your partner’s spending habits. Doing this lets you learn about each others’ motivations for spending and how both of you view money.
For example, your partner may believe that every cent should be saved, even if it means living less comfortably. You, on the other hand, may believe that money can be used to improve your standard of living and that an indulgence every now and then is perfectly acceptable.
Since our attitudes about money are largely formed during our childhood, thinking about why you feel the way you do about money can help create understanding in the relationship.
Start by having conversations about some money habits that both of you have, both the good and the bad. And approach the conversation with an attitude of openness and patience — money can be a scary thing to talk about. It’s also important to reassure your partner that this isn’t a judgement of their habits.
After all, it’s all about being curious about each other’s habits and learning together, as a team!
2. Discuss how much you’ll need for emergencies
Let’s be real, as much as we try to plan for things, things rarely turn out the way that we expect them to. Medical emergencies and unexpected job losses are just some of the many things that can happen. That’s why it’s important that both you and your partner figure out how much you should set aside for a safety net should things go wrong. The usual recommended amount is three to six months of your monthly cash needs.
Once again, it’s all about understanding how both of you value and use money. And you’ll probably want to achieve a balance between saving for emergencies and fulfilling your current needs and wants.
Make no mistake, this will take sacrifice on both parts. But in the long run, the benefits will outweigh the cons.
3. Talk about lifestyle, investing, saving goals
Have you talked about your future with your partner? Think weddings and the lifestyles that you aspire to have. However, to make those a reality, both of you will need to plan and save for it.
And whilst those goals and values might change along the way, they should be more or less aligned with your partner.
You will also want to talk about personal financial goals and plans, set up joint financial goals and concretely work towards those goals.
For example, you or your partner might want to FIRE (Financially Independent, Retiring Early and you can jointly decide how much exactly you need to save and invest each month to be able to FIRE together.
Or you may want to have children. Since children come with big costs and purchases, you want to talk about how that fits into your respective financial horizons.
These plans will factor into the lifestyles that you intend to lead as well. What you can afford should not be based on your take-home pay. Always account for financial commitments like your savings (both for emergency and future), investments, and insurance premiums.
Be aware too of lifestyle inflation — many people fall victim to it as their pay increases because people generally think that earning more means you can afford “better” things, as outlined in a Forbes article.
Instead, keep savings and investments your priority and stay focused on your couple financial goals. Through these difficult but rewarding conversations, you’ll deepen and strengthen your relationship with your partner.
4. Think about the protection that you and your partner need
You know how it goes. When it rains, it storms.
As you go through life together, your financial commitments will increase. Mortgages, phone bills, parents’ allowances, children’s tuition fees are just some of the expenses that will creep up along the way. These things will need to be paid for, even if one of you gets retrenched, or (touch wood) becomes critically ill.
Insurance payouts can help to tide you (and/or the kids) through, and come in handy for paying medical bills too.
That being said, be sure to get the right amount of insurance coverage for your needs. Do your homework so you don’t end up with less than what you need and pay more than you should.
5. Don’t shy away from talking about debt
Debt is often the elephant in the room, but it shouldn’t be. Marriage is a partnership, and it’ll be inevitable that your finances will be mixed, so have a conversation about any debts that both of you might have.
Without knowing what combined debt you might have, it’s hard to plan for what you can or cannot afford. For example, credit cards debts can rack up really quickly since they come with very high interest rates and can be extremely hard to get rid of without the right intervention.
Debts can also make it very difficult to get loans for important things like your house or a vehicle as it affects your credit score.
If either one of you has debt, this is a great chance to work as a team and work out a plan on how to clear your debt. Have an open conversation about it, no matter how difficult it may be.
Generally, debt shouldn’t be a dealbreaker — as long as it’s under control. Make sure you set expectations and boundaries about this.
6. Talk accounts – joint or separate
When it comes to account management, there are various schools of thought on this issue. Some believe accounts are personal and should be separate so both parties have control over their own money. Some believe marriage is a union of soul, body, and bank accounts. Some just have joint accounts because it’s easier to pay bills.
Honestly, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach — different methods work for different couples.
However, you need to keep communication open with your partner. Regardless of your final decision regarding accounts, talk about how you will use your money and stick to that. For example, if you think that joint account funds should only be used for the utility bills, you want to make sure your partner agrees, and doesn’t spend it on the latest gadgets, even if it is for your home.
Some couples are okay with completely combining their finances, and some are comfortable with just a fraction of their savings. Both are options you can consider – but as always, have an open conversation with your partner about how they feel about combining finances.
This is but the first step in your lifetime journey together. It sounds like a lot, but a good foundation will be the key to your success as a couple. After all, marriage is a team effort. Now go forth and love!
DISCLAIMER: The above are guidelines only and ticking off everything on the list doesn’t mean that your relationship is going to be a success. And if you need help, do seek professional advice from a financial advisor, or relationship counsellor.
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