Getting married is an exciting time for a couple. However, along with this excitement come many challenges. One such challenge is how to manage your finances together. The key to success is to communicate with your partner and come up with a financial plan that you both agree on, since the financial decisions you make now can have a lasting impact on your finances in the future.
Map out your financial future together
Your first step should be to discuss your common financial goals. Where do you see yourself next year? What about five years from now? Together, make a list of your short- and long-term financial goals. Short-term goals are ones that can be achieved in less than five years (e.g., saving for a down payment on a home or new car). Long-term goals usually take more than five years to achieve (e.g., paying off college loans, saving for retirement). Next, determine which financial goals are most important to both of you so together you can focus your energy on them.
Prepare a budget
A budget is an important part of managing your finances. Knowing exactly how you are spending your money each month can set you on a more clear path to pursue your financial goals. Start by listing your current monthly income. In addition to your regular salary and wages, be sure to include other types of income, such as dividends and interest. Next, add up all of your expenses. It helps to divide expenses into two categories: fixed (e.g., housing, food, transportation, student loan payments) and discretionary (e.g., entertainment, vacations). Ideally, you should be spending less than you earn. If not, you need to review your expenses and look for ways to cut down on your spending.
Consider combining bank accounts
You'll also need to decide whether you and your spouse should combine bank accounts or keep them separate. While maintaining a joint account does have its advantages (e.g., easier record keeping and lower maintenance fees), it is sometimes difficult to keep track of the flow of money when two individuals have access to a single account. Fortunately, online banking makes it easier to know exactly what is in your account at all times. If you choose to keep separate accounts, you might consider opening a joint checking account to pay for common household expenses.
Resolve outstanding credit/debt issues
Having good credit is an important part of any sound financial plan, so this would be a good time to identify any potential credit or debt problems you or your spouse may have and try to resolve them now rather than later. Order copies of your credit reports and review them together. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once every 12 months (visit annualcreditreport.com for more information). For the most part, you are not responsible for your spouse's past credit problems, but they can prevent you from getting credit together as a married couple. Even if you've always had good credit, you may be turned down for credit cards or loans that you apply for together if your spouse has a bad credit history. As a result, if one of you had credit issues, you might consider keeping your credit separate until your credit situation improves.
Evaluate your employee and retirement benefits
If you and your spouse have separate health insurance coverage through an employer, you'll want to do a cost-benefit analysis of each plan to determine whether you should keep your health coverage separate. Compare each plan's deductible, copayment, and benefits as well as the premium for one family plan against the cost of two single plans. In addition, if you and your spouse participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you should be aware of each plan's investment options, matching contributions, and loan provisions. Review each plan carefully and determine which one provides the better benefits. If you can afford to, contribute the maximum amount possible to your respective plans.
Assess your life and disability insurance needs
While the need for life and disability insurance may not have seemed necessary when you were both single, as a married couple you may find that you are financially dependent on each other. Having life and disability plans in place will help ensure that your financial needs will be taken care of if either of you dies or becomes disabled. If you already have insurance, you should reevaluate the adequacy of your coverage and update your beneficiary designations.