Your new life together means not only the union of two households, but also the merger of two financial portfolios. Maybe you've already lived together and shared expenses, but perhaps you haven't considered that now you're also tied together legally. Hopefully you agree on major money matters, but it is inevitable that you'll have disagreements. Getting your marriage and your finances off on the right foot will help prevent trouble later.
Save Early for Retirement
You just walked down the aisle, so it's hard to look forward to your golden anniversary party already, but it's never too early to save for retirement. Make it a habit to automatically and regularly contribute to your retirement accounts. Find an online retirement calculator where you can plug in numbers to figure out how much money you'll need upon retirement and how much you should put away to achieve that goal. Your investments will have decades to grow, for earnings to compound and to ride the ups and downs of the markets.
Home is Where the Heart Is
The bank may tell you that you can “afford” a certain house price. It has not, however, counted on repairs, your swanky kitchen remodel, increases in property tax and insurance, home owner association special assessments or upswings in utility costs. It also hasn't counted on one of you scaling back work hours when you start a family. You can always trade up later. Don't feel obligated to buy at all if apartment living makes more sense. If you don't want to worry about maintenance, or if you don't think you'll stay in the area for at least five years, being renters makes financial and practical sense.
Lay the Ground Rules Early
One or both of you may have substantial premarital assets, or debts. Now your fortunes are legally bound together – even if you have a prenuptial agreement – so it's time to stop thinking of money as “mine” and instead consider it “ours.” When one spouse says, “I'll just pay for it with my own money,” it still legally and practically comes out of the same pot. Some couples find it helpful to set a dollar limit above which spending, or investing, decisions are made together.
Keep Both Spouses in the Know
Even though you've both been doing your own bill paying and banking up until now, the truth is that in most families one spouse ends up taking over the lion's share of the paperwork. It's a matter of efficiency, but the other needs to at least have an inkling about what's going on. If there is a spike in the electric bill, discuss the cause. If an unusual charge appears on the credit card statement, talk together to determine if you've become the victims of credit card fraud. Couples should also make investment decisions together.
Invest in Your Marriage
Financial guru Suze Orman's famous mantra is “People first, then money, then things.” Put yourselves, and your marriage, first. The divorce alternative is an emotional and expensive train wreck. Have regular date nights, which can be an inexpensive meal out or a free walk in the park. Too often couples get caught up in their careers and making money, and later they find themselves drifting apart. Take time, and even a little money, to do things together and keep the passion alive.
Annabella Gualdoni has written newsletters and reports for corporations and nonprofits since 1994. She is a real estate professional and also teaches subjects including international cooking and travel, dating/relationships and personal finance. Gualdoni has a Bachelor of Arts in international development from University of California, Berkeley, a Master of Arts in international relations from Boston University, and a Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School.