Prepare Financially for the Partnership of Marriage
Here comes the bride, and she’s beautiful. My, isn’t the groom handsome?
Her average age is 27, his 29. They make a lovely couple as they walk down the aisle together and out into their new life. “…and they lived happily ever after.” Right?
- On average, this couple has just spent $26,444 for the big event, not counting the $5,000 expense for the honeymoon and $7,750 for engagement and wedding rings. (It is important to note that a study by Emory University found that couples who spend more than $20,000 on their wedding are 3.5 times more likely to be divorced that those who spent $5,000 t0 $10,000.)
- To complicate matters further, this bride and groom each have approximately $4,700 in credit card debt.
- They also have student loan payments to make monthly.
- They may have car payments on one or two cars.
And yet, there are above average chances that this couple has failed to discuss their financial plans for their life together.
Surely, they know that financial stress is consistently one of the top three reasons that 50 percent of all first marriages end in divorce. Financial stress only becomes more prevalent for the divorced and those in second marriages, as previous obligations still place demands on budgets.
What should be discussed before the walk down the aisle?
What is each individual’s relationship with money? What past experiences with financial decisions have they had and what have these been like? Was the outcome what they expected? How did their parents deal with money? What did they like or dislike about that? What kind of spending behaviors do they have? Do they even know what spending behaviors are?
Do they have a financial philosophy and goals? Does the couple have a long term vision and plan for their financial future beyond the lottery ticket they received as a gift from Uncle Lou? Where do they want to be financially in 10 years, in 20? What is their view of cars and houses – do they buy the newest and most they can qualify for? How much cushion in a budget is enough?
Have they completely disclosed and discussed each of their financial assets and liabilities? Do not assume that your partner knows you have student loans that will take 20 years to repay. Do not assume that they have no debts just because they never brought them up. Discuss income and where it goes. That great car may not be an indication of a good salary but rather someone who is living beyond their means, and now is the time to bring these realities into the light of day.
Will they have children and when? Will one of them stay at home to raise any children? How much should be in savings before the children arrive to provide a comfort zone?
Do either of them have a dream of starting their own business? How will they survive during start-up?
Who will handle the record keeping? – check book, monthly bills, monthly cash flow, and income tax records? Have they drawn a new will and advanced directive?
Will they comingle their money? Will there be one household checkbook into which all income is deposited and all bills paid. Or will each keep their own account and contribute to a single household account? Or will they split the bills according to income or some other measurement and take responsibility for a portion of the bills? If they do this, do they owe the other spouse any documentation?
How will decisions be made? Thousands of decisions and compromises are made during the course of a marriage. Will one or the other or both make decisions about credit, debt, investments, employer benefits, insurance, retirement planning, home ownership, and credit report monitoring? If both partners are making decisions, do they have a clearly understood method for reaching a decision together?
Once couples start talking, it’s important to remember that much of our attitudes about money are a result of our experiences growing up. Many of us often carry subconscious fears or anger about money and our experiences with it. Some of us, while extremely competent in the workplace, fear that we will fail with money or disappoint our loved ones through our decisions. The best way to deal with these attitudes is to bring it out in the open and talk about it. Not once, but continuously through the years.
Finally, we must review basic advice from financial experts for couples as they begin and continue their financial conversations:
Create a budget. Creating a budget is always a good starting point but even better is budgeting below your means. In other words, don’t commit every dime of income to some part of your budget. Start a savings account and contribute regularly.
Plan. Discuss where you are now and where you want to be when you retire and the life you want to live together between those two points and beyond. Family, careers, and community take foresight and commitment.
Save. Earmark at least 10 percent of your budget to saving starting out. Create an emergency savings account – 3 to 6 months-worth of everyday living expenses – for emergencies only. Now is the time to start saving for your children’s education and your retirement, too. If your employer offers a matching dollars program for the retirement plan or 401(k), join now. Don’t throw away truly free money!!
Avoid debt. It may not always be simple but don’t give in to the allure of easy credit card money. Let’s face the facts – the highway to debt trouble is paved by credit cards. If you must use one, pay it off monthly.
Above all, never forget you’re no longer alone. As a couple, you and your partner now have the advantage and power of combined strengths as you create your own “happily ever after”.