Whatever way you choose to do it, getting serious with your partner and moving in together is an exciting time. It’s the beginning of a new life together for you both. You love each other and now you’re going to be sharing your life and your future with all that entails. You’re two young lovers embarking on a great adventure: but any great adventure requires a certain amount of planning or preparation if it’s going to succeed, and marriage is no exception.
The most significant area you will need to look at is your financial situation. Finances underpin everything else you hope to do or have to deal with. How, where and with whom you live are all going to be determined to some extent by your finances.
Don’t keep secrets
How you deal with money issues also reflects your relationship overall. For that reason the golden rule regarding finances is to be open and honest about them. Listen to what your partner has to say, accept them as they are and be considerate of their beliefs, expectations, wants and needs. As in every other aspect of your relationship, trust and truthfulness should be your guiding principles.
Get everything clear from the start
Be open about any existing obligations. These may include student loan payments, credit card debt, child support maintenance or any other loans /debts that are still being paid off. Equally, be clear about any assets or savings that you are bringing to the relationship, and how far you are willing to share them. You may both come from very different financial backgrounds or have different levels of income. That will affect your expectations of life together and can be tricky emotionally if it feels as though one of you is contributing more financially than the other.
Have at least three bank accounts
A big question many couples consider when they first get married is whether to keep separate bank accounts or to set up one joint account. The recommended answer is both. Keep separate accounts so that you each have a degree of independence and autonomy, and have money that is just yours, for fun stuff that you don’t need to justify to anyone. But have a joint account as well that you both pay into, and use this money for household expenses and utility payments. You might also consider having a separate joint savings account to allow you both to save for the future.
Set long-term goals
Whatever your combined income it makes sense to try to save for the future, and it also makes sense to be in agreement about what you’re saving for. Do you hope to buy a house together? Are you intending to have children, and if so what level of financial security do you hope to achieve before doing this? What are your long-term career goals? Is it expected that both of you will keep working, or not? The answers to these questions have clear implications for your shared finances.
Find ways to cut expenditure
When you first set up home together it pays to be frugal. That can all be part of your adventure together, and there are many examples of how two can actually live cheaper than one, for instance in terms of combined grocery and utility bills. Asking “should I lease or finance my next car“ is also a pertinent question, as there are pros and cons to each option. Leasing will often result in smaller monthly payments and less tax, but you will have to pay regular maintenance charges and there will be restrictions on your use of the vehicle. Financing the purchase of your own car through an auto loan at least means the car is yours and you can do what you like with it.
Get your paperwork in order
Financial planning as a couple also means looking at your insurance, health and retirement plans. There are many tax breaks for newly married couples, so this is a good opportunity to review your existing healthcare scheme or to start saving for retirement, for instance in an employer’s 401(K) retirement plan.
Ultimately the aim is not to let money worries come between you or become the cause of too much stress. Financial disagreements are the biggest cause of divorce, but being open about the subject can make it so much easier to handle. A problem shared is a problem halved, and if you’re going to be looking after each other for the rest of your lives then it’s important to start out on the right foot.