Marriage and Money: Planning Your New Financial Life Together

Key Financial Basics: Questions and Answers

bride and groom as game pieces standing on top of coin stacks
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Marriage introduces changes in a new couple’s financial situation that affect all aspects of their life together. Everything from personal financial goals to credit card debt will bring new challenges to the relationship. The new partnership means also new ways of managing personal finances, although many couples have questions about what to ask and where to start.

Understanding how to navigate through these changes isn't guaranteed to be easy, but planning ahead can help you build a strong financial foundation for your relationship. Following are five key questions many couples ask, along with answers to shed some light on how you and your partner can best proceed with your own financial plan.

Should We Set Up Joint Checking or Keep the Accounts Separate?

One of the first questions newly married couples should ask centers on their bank accounts. Should you keep separate accounts or put everything into a joint account? Alternatively, should you have a combination of joint and separate accounts? Whatever you decide, this is an important issue to tackle as you begin your married life. 

There are some good reasons to consider a combination of both joint and individual accounts. A joint account should be used for family expenses: mortgage or rent, utilities, bills, groceries, and so on. Both of you can add funds to this account so that you each have a share in paying to maintain your household. In addition, each of you should have an individual discretionary account for personal spending or fun money. This arrangement can help simplify things when it comes to bills, yet also helps keep personal spending in check without requiring you to compromise financial freedom. 

When Is the Right Time to Discuss Our Finances?

The key to managing money successfully in marriage is good communication. Many couples find it hard to talk about money, which often leads to problems down the road. You may recall the stress that money can cause when you’re single, so imagine how stressful it can be when you’re married.

Don’t let small problems or assumptions grow into large problems. From the outset, be open with each other and talk about your money concerns. If one of you is bringing substantial debt into the marriage, don’t hide it. Be honest and come up with a plan for paying it off. No two people have identical values when it comes to money, so open communication helps to identify what is important to each of you. Then you can make the best decisions about your money as a couple.

How Do We Create Our Budget?

Not only is it important to decide how to allocate your money at the bank, but this is the time to get serious about creating a family budget. Your new spouse may be bringing assets or liabilities into the household, not to mention spending habits that might be completely different from yours. If you're used to budgeting solo, adding to the pieces of your financial puzzle will undoubtedly change the new budget.

Take some time to sit down with your spouse and look at your combined cash flow. What debt payments will you both have? How do your incomes match up? How much can you save? Can you find ways to combine expenses, such as switching to the same wireless phone plan? Are there any expenses that can be eliminated altogether? Answering these questions together will help you develop the most realistic budget for your married life.

How Do We Handle Beneficiaries?

Now that you’re married, you'll also need to make important decisions about insurance and estate planning. If both of you work and are covered by a health plan through an employer, take a look at which plan will be the most beneficial. For example, does one plan offer lower premiums or a wider choice of doctors? Does your spouse's plan cover pregnancy or have other benefits that your plan doesn't? Getting married is one of the life events that allows you to change your health insurance election without waiting for the open enrollment period, so use this time wisely.

In addition to health insurance, use this time to discuss life insurance. When you’re single and don't have children, there may be little need for life insurance since nobody is depending on your income but you. When you get married, you should discuss what would happen if your spouse was left to support your household alone, and consider whether or not life insurance would be appropriate. A sudden loss of income can be devastating to a family. Even if children still aren't in the picture, life insurance could help with paying for burial expenses or any debts you leave behind, such as student loans or a mortgage. 

How Do We Handle Retirement Planning?

Once you have your health and life insurance benefits squared away, you’ll also want to take a look at your beneficiaries on existing retirement plans, pensions, IRAs, and any other assets you may have. When you establish beneficiaries on these accounts, you can ensure that your assets are disbursed properly when you die.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the many different retirement accounts that are available to help your tax situation. That includes an employer's 401(k) or a similar tax-advantaged plan, as well as traditional and Roth individual retirement accounts. With two incomes, it can be a great time to begin saving for retirement and save money on taxes at the same time.