You did it. You met your soulmate, fell in love and are preparing to take the next step forward in your relationship by getting married. A lifetime of commitment, adventure and fights over finances lies ahead of you — wait, what was that last one?
Money. The big green elephant in the room is ranked in the top 10 reasons for divorce for several reasons, most of which stem from poor communication. I know, I know. Talking about money isn’t the most fun or sexy pre-wedding topic to tackle when you could be cake tasting or picking a honeymoon destination. However, once the wedding is over, you’ll realize that conversation was an important investment in your relationship. The better understanding of your partner’s money habits you have early on, the more you’ll be prepared for the financial future for two that comes after saying “I do.”
For richer, for poorer, and everything else in between, focus on maintaining these healthy money habits before marriage.
1. Getting comfortable sharing your financial lives.
Aly Russo is getting married in 2020. Russo is an outreach specialist at FinanceBuzz.com and as she plans for her wedding, Russo says she is “lucky” she and her partner have been open with one another about their finances for years. Discussing money happened well before the pair were engaged, and Russo credits great communication as key to having conversations about money.
“When it comes to finances with your soon-to-be spouse, make sure you’re both comfortable sharing your financial lives," she shares.
Even the scary statements like student loans? Especially the student loans. If your existing debt worries you, don’t bottle that feeling up inside. Talk to your significant other honestly about it. Share everything that concerns you, no matter how big or small, so you can plan how to tackle existing debt and pay it off.
“Vowing to spend the rest of your lives together includes taking responsibility for one another — debt included,” Russo says. “Having an open conversation with your fiancé will only make you more prepared to spend the rest of your lives together, happily and financially stable.”
2. Budgeting... together.
Now that you’re on a dual income, you’re ready to learn about a new set of financial expenses and income — and the spending and budgeting habits of your partner.
Financial attorney Leslie H. Tayne is the founder of debt management law firm Tayne Law Group P.C. She advises couples figure out their budgets together in a positive manner that is planned out for their maximum benefit. There’s the fun of budgeting for the wedding, of course, but it’s also important to budget for living together and financial goals you’re working to achieve.
“Set money habits early and stay on the same page,” Tayne says. “Know who will pay the bills and where the money is coming from for spending and expenses. Take into account everything that may change once you’re married, including health insurance premiums and tax implications.”
One of the best money habits couples can get into early on is deciding spending wants versus needs. Tayne notes that these are often subjective, so it’s important to get on the same page and know each partner’s habits.
“Everyone has a different threshold of spending,” Tayne says. “Some spend a little, some spend a lot. Some plan, some are spontaneous. You can set the pace for spending in the relationship if you know your habits and your partner’s habits.”
Speaking of, is it better to open joint accounts or keep finances separate? Ultimately, Tayne says there’s no right or wrong way to manage your finances as a couple, as long as both partners are in agreement.
3. Coming up with plans to manage debt.
Many couples getting married may have some debt joining them at their nuptials, like a student loan. Having debt isn’t great, but it’s important to have a strategic plan for you plan to get out of it. Tayne emphasizes that each partner discloses the exact details, no matter how embarrassing, of the amount of debt they owe. The next step? Discovering how they plan to get out of debt — and if there’s a real plan in place to pay it off.
“Talk through your plan to pay off debt with your partner so they have a better understanding of your overall financial standing as a couple,” Tayne says.
What happens if you’re not honest about your debt and repayment plans? Tayne warns that this can lead to financial problems for both the individual and the couple, and even cause relationship troubles.
4. Understanding credit scores.
Before you walk down the aisle, credit industry analyst Nathan Grant emphasizes that both partners understand how credit scores work and know each other’s number. According to Grant, bad credit scores threaten the likelihood of your future together. Regardless of who is at fault for the delinquency, late payments can stay on credit reports for up to seven years. This can create serious struggles for couples looking to be approved for future loans for transportation, rental property and/or a home mortgage, or joint credit cards.
If you do have bad credit (gulp), all is not lost.
“Responsible credit use and timely credit card and loan payments will help steer your scores back up over time,” Grant says.
5. Keeping the money conversation going.
Talking about money isn’t a one and done conversation for any couple. After getting married, check in with your partner on a regular basis to review monthly financial updates. This gives you a better idea of what’s happening with your money, how debt is being repaid and how you’re working towards goals like home ownership or starting a family as a team.