Before You Say “I Do,” Have the Money Talk

The rings. The caterer. The venue. The guest list. Sounds like an I-Do list for the wedding day, one of the most important days of your life. Through all the planning, couples often forget to have a serious talk about what comes after that day—combining households and finances into one partnership.

If you’re getting married in the near future, or know someone who is; plan a stress-free path to “I do” by taking a financial inventory before that walk down the aisle.

Let’s talk about it
The key to managing money successfully in marriage is good communication. Start by having an open and honest discussion to head off trouble down the road. Work as a team, and talk seriously about who owns what, who owes what, and how your finances will be ‘married’ together.

A few areas to get started with include:

  • Establish Goals – Do you or your spouse plan to retire early? Or, are you planning for a family and might possibly try to live on one income? It’s good to know where your partner stands on these goals, so that you can set realistic expectations and plan your budget, living arrangements, etc. around it. After marriage, review your goals periodically, because you’ll have a better chance at success if you do.
  • Discuss Bank Accounts – One of the biggest decisions about your accounts is whether or not to combine them into joint accounts. Or, maybe you should have a combination of the two? Combining accounts can help simplify your finances and breed trust in the marriage. Maintaining separate accounts may allow each partner to hang on to some independence, particularly if there are differences in the ways each handle their debt. Or, it could be used to conceal certain purchases or spending habits. Discuss the pros and cons of this and make sure you’re both comfortable with your decision. Read more about joint credit here.
  • Set Up Emergency Funds – Unexpected events can really impact your finances. Consider the costs associated with homeownership—a new roof, a flooded basement, or any other major home repair. Or what about a job loss, a medical emergency or other event? For that reason, experts recommend building a 6-month emergency fund to help you through those stressful times.
  • Make a Budget – The best way to run a household budget is to actually have one in place. Where do you start? Help is available from many sources. Tower’s Money Management is a free budgeting tool available in Home Banking that allows you to combine accounts from many accounts (including those at other financial institutions), track spending habits, and set budgets. It’s an easy way to stay on track with real-time spending. Half the battle of sticking to a budget is knowing exactly where your money goes each month. Then you can both decide how much you can reasonably put into savings, retirement, or other common goals.
  • Make a Debt Management Plan – Do one or both of you carry balances on credit cards? Paying off and/or consolidating your debt would be a great way to begin your marriage. Spend time understanding each other’s current debt obligations, and work together to establish a debt reduction plan. You may even want to consolidate debt into a lower interest loan to save money on payments and interest. Use Tower’s debt calculator to see where the numbers line up.
  • Save for Retirement – It might seem so far off, but saving and planning for retirement as a couple is a wise thing to do. Take advantage of 401(k) plans with your employer, particularly if they match a percentage of your contribution. Try to save 10-15% of your gross salary up to the allowed limits, which the IRS establishes each year. You can also set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) in addition to your 401(k). Read more about saving for retirement.

Resources: Forbes, The Balance, Money Crashers, Lifehacker.com.