By Tracy Scott
When you announced “I do,” did you realize you also said yes to your partner’s financial habits? For better or for worse, their money smarts are now part of your current fiscal reality. The wonderful news is that regardless of you or your spouse’s history with money, the two of you can create a beautiful financial future together. Becoming one means both of you now share financial responsibility going forward. Your ability to save enough money for retirement, buy a home, or save for your children’s education will depend on how you manage your finances as a couple.
Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Create a budget.
A household budget should include the income and fixed expenses for both parties. Start with your household income. Gather your recent paystubs and note any other sources of income, e.g., side hustle, small business income, etc. Identify the total take-home pay for the household and enter it into your budgeting tool of choice.
Next, add your fixed expenses, which are bill payments that stay the same each month. These can include debts incurred months or years before you tied the knot, such as student loans. Finally, input your variable expenses. For many households, this includes groceries, clothing, entertainment, and more. Subtract expenses from household income, and you’re left with funds that can be used to reach goals set in a financial plan.
Use a checking account to pay all living expenses. Review your accounts monthly or more often to ensure you don’t spend more than you earn.
2. Commit to a financial plan.
Get on the same financial page and set money priorities together. This includes saving for vacations, a down payment on a new home, or an 18-month plan to get out of debt. Questions that can help create a financial plan you can both stand behind include:
- Do you plan on finishing your college degree or going to graduate school?
- What’s your ideal retirement age?
- Should we keep renting or save for a home?
3. Start an emergency fund.
If one, or both of you, experiences an unexpected job loss, the remaining income might not be enough to cover household expenses. Even if it is, a job loss coupled with an emergency auto repair or medical expense could cause you to turn to high-interest rate credit cards to cover your bills. Instead, build an emergency fund equal to six months of living expenses.
Many couples find it takes time to grow their emergency fund and often start with small, consistent deposits, e.g., $50 a month. When you make regular monthly deposits into a club savings account, money market account, or Add & Earn Share Certificate your money can grow quickly since dividends are compounded and paid monthly.
4. Update your employment documents.
Speak with your employer’s human resources department to determine how your updated marital status might affect your W-2 federal withholdings and employer benefits, i.e., retirement plans and health insurance coverage.
Employer benefits such as 401(k) retirement plans, health savings accounts, and other employer benefits where funds accrue, require the employee to name at least one person to whom the funds will transfer to upon your death. Help ease the stress and possible confusion should the worst happen. Update your employment documents to include your spouse as a beneficiary.
If you participate in an employer-sponsored life insurance plan, or have an independent policy, update the beneficiary information. No life insurance? Consider buying a policy that covers 5 to 10 times your annual earnings. This amount helps to financially provide for your spouse after a sudden loss in household income.
Select the better employer health insurance coverage between the two of you. If you’re both covered by your employer, compare the costs and features and decide if it makes more financial sense to move to your spouse’s insurance carrier. Many insurance carriers recognize marriage as a life event, thereby avoiding the need to wait until open enrollment to make the update.
5. Write or update your legal documents.
Estate plans, wills, powers of attorney and health care directives are topics that many couples avoid discussing but need to if they hope to ease the stress that comes with caring for or making final arrangements for their spouse. A certified financial professional can assist with drafting these necessary documents. Financial planning isn’t only for the wealthy. Putting your financial house in order brings peace of mind and can give you the confidence to tackle your other financial goals.
Talk money early and often to avoid misunderstandings and financial heartache later. Open and honest communication about debts, credit history, and income is necessary if you hope to live the financial lives of your dreams.