The saying is true, marriage is HARD. It is hard work, there are hard times, and often, your spouse has a hard-head (as may you)! However, in a good and strong marriage, the benefits far outweigh the hard. You are gaining a partner for life, someone who will see you through good times and bad, ups and downs, and the sense of comfort from having tied the knot is huge in so many ways.
Here is the thing though, not all marriages work, and a huge culprit is the finances – usually secrets kept from a spouse or a spouse feels that part of their financial picture is unfair in some way. Inevitably once someone is sitting in my office, a financial ordeal is at issue. The good news: You can avoid some of these financial problems with some honest conversation PRIOR to saying “I do.” In my experience, the BIGGEST issue relating to finances is the simple lack of communication. In order to create a path to marital bliss – read below!
Prior to your wedding (6 months at least!), make a time to sit down and have a financial meeting with one another. In that meeting, it is imperative you discuss:
- Bills and Paychecks: Are you going to maintain separate or apart finances? If separate, how much will you each contribute to bills, savings, retirement, etc.? If you are combining everything and dumping both paychecks into one account, set a budget. Decide who is going to physically pay the bills. If you aren’t going to be the bill payer, it is important you still have a healthy knowledge of what your financial picture is (overall and monthly). Ask to sit down with your spouse and watch how he/she pays everything. Ask to review the bank statements, etc. from time to time so you can see the flow and ensure bills are being paid. If you are the bill payer don’t be annoyed when your spouse asks to see what you are doing – they are just trying to make wise financial decisions and aren’t necessarily “checking up” on you.
***Keep in mind that even if you maintain separate finances, that balance in your “sole” bank account that you earned during your marriage – like your paycheck – is still marital property. If one of you wants to save your extra money and the other wants to spend, talk about this too and what is fair. Also make sure you are talking with your financial planner and your family law attorney here so you aren’t in for a surprise down the line – that savings account is marital property even though YOU were the one who decided to save.
- Assets and Debts: Be up front about your financial picture with your fiancé.
- Do you have debt? Is it credit card debt? Is it something you can tackle prior to the marriage? Talk with your fiancé about it and start planning on how to deal with it now.
- Do you have assets? What do you have? How, if at all, do you plan on “sharing” with your fiancé. NOTE: if you have assets you want to hang onto as yours no matter what, talk with your financial planner and family law attorney so you can plan and decide if a prenuptial agreement is necessary to protect those assets.
- Print out a credit report and swap with your fiancé so you each are fully disclosing your financial picture with one another.
- Division of LABOR: Be up front about the non-economic division of labor. Who is going to do dishes, laundry, clean, yard work, pay the bills, etc.? Do both of you hate housework? Talk seriously about allocating some budget money to a housekeeper. A housekeeper has saved many marriages. It is money well spent – it takes enormous stress off your marriage and gives you more time with your loved ones.
If either you or your fiancée have real property, retirement, bank accounts, etc. going in to your marriage, there are some things to keep in mind. Anything earned prior to the marriage is considered non-marital property. Anything accumulated during the marriage is marital. There are some tricky situations though where you may accidentally create quasi marital/non-martial property and there are some situations where it is simply unavoidable. If you have significant assets going into a marriage and you know you want to keep them separate, make sure you are speaking with a financial planner or family law attorney PRIOR to getting married (again a good 6 months is wise), so you have time to learn your options and discuss with your fiancé.
This is a hard one to master once kids come into the picture (paying for a babysitter, paying to go out, etc.), but again this is money well spent. The more in line and communicative you and your spouse are, the lesser chance of divorce, which will save you a significant amount of money in the long run.
Checking In/Financial Meetings
Continue to check in with one another to have financial overviews and meetings. Set a separate time and don’t count this as your date night! Make sure to calendar it and get it done! Agree to keep all of your financial documents somewhere you both can access.
Don’t be Afraid to Seek Help and Maybe to Walk Away
Once you have gone through all of this, if there is something that truly bugs you out — for example, your fiancé is unwilling to share information with you, your fiancé has lied about their financial picture, the two of you are not in tune AT ALL with one another’s ideas, etc. — it may be time to seek help. Either with a counselor or financial planner or both. If you STILL cannot get on the same page, it pains me to say it, but being married is not a magic elixir and it will not change your spouse or their mind. If you are at a standstill and not comfortable in your gut, then you may want to seek individual therapy for yourself and think about walking away before it is too late.
Above All, Be Kind.
This is probably a stressful and emotional time already and talking money always sort of hurts. Just because it is hard, don’t shy away from it. Above all, be kind to one another. Remember you may not have matching financial pictures going into this, but that doesn’t mean you are the lessor spouse or greater spouse, you are just you. Recall WHY you fell in love and why you want to marry the person. If it was all about the money, you are likely getting married for the wrong reasons. If you can come up with a positive framework of how you and your spouse plan to navigate the finances of your marriage, you are ahead of your peers. High five and good luck.
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