You probably heard it a million times before you walked down the aisle – money is the number one source of marital discord. There is a reason everyone from your Aunt Tilly to the nice old man at the bank advised you to talk about financial issues before marriage; research has proven that it is the leading cause of divorce and the biggest reason couples cite for unhappiness. While some of these issues stem from the lack of money, much of trouble is actually from lack of communication on the issue and differing views on how to handle money. If you’re a young married couple who has not had to grapple with big financial issues before, there are plenty of things you can do now to create a solid financial foundation for the future. Here are five tips on how to avoid common money pitfalls and foster financial harmony in your marriage.
1. Come Clean About Your Financial Past
Everyone has something in their past they’d rather not share, especially with the person they love the most. But when it comes to past financial mistakes, it’s best to come clean. If you haven’t already, schedule a date to have a frank talk with your spouse about your personal finances. Bring copies of your credit reports, credit card statements, investment records, etc. Be prepared to disclose all current and past debt, including credit card bills and student loans. Once everything is out in the open, you’ll be able to get a clearer view of how to plan for your financial future as a couple.
2. Talk About Your Future Goals
As a couple, you’ll need to figure out your long-term financial goals. Is it most important to pay off all debt? Save for a house? Invest heavily in hopes of early retirement so you can travel the world? Save a little but spend your extra money on adventures before you have children? Whatever it is, make sure you are on the same page. Make a few long-term goals and then figure out steps you can be taking now to make sure get to where you both want to go.
3. Budget Together
The best way to work toward money goals together is to make a budget as a couple. Start by creating a complete list of all of your fixed income (salary, interest earned, etc.) and expenses — include everything from rent to regular donations to magazine subscriptions. Decide how much you’d like to save each month and what amount you each get for discretionary funds. Talk about potential big expenses and where that money will come from. Use a budgeting tool to help you wade through the numbers — PC World recommends Mint, You Need a Budget and Quicken. When you’ve worked out a budget together, you’ll both feel more obligated and motivated to stick to that budget.
4. Pool Your Money, But Allow for Financial Independence
Particularly when it comes to bills, the least problematic method in the long-term is to treat all money earned by both parties as marital money. So instead of one partner bringing in X amount and the other bringing in Y amount, you both have Z amount. To avoid the resentments that can stem from any income inequality, pay all bills from this community pot and then portion an amount out to each partner that can be used however they want.
5. Keep Finances Secure
Even if both partners are communicating openly and spending wisely, an unexpected financial disaster can cause undue strain on a relationship. While some things, like surprise medical bills or a sudden layoff, are unavoidable, you can protect yourself from something like identity theft by making sure both partners are keeping sensitive personal and financial information secure. Invest in an identity theft protection service to make sure you’re both truly protected.