What to do before you say, “I do”—The present
I’ve said it before, but when it comes to combining your finances with your partner, there’s no “one-and-done” conversation. It’s an ongoing journey through past, present, and future.
These conversations can be tough, and I’ll be honest with you: Sometimes they may feel like a chore. But they’re something you can accomplish faster and easier—and with less headache—when you work together as a team. More importantly, these conversations are part of preparing for a life together and, with some good listening, they can bring you closer as a couple.
In my last blog, we talked about the past, so now let’s focus on the present.
The present talk
The present talk is all about logistics: what you’ve got and how you manage it. From there, you’ll create a plan to join and manage your finances going forward.
Now, the present talk may be your most uncomfortable of the three. After all, we’re taught at a young age not to discuss money. You may have student loans and your partner may have credit card debt. You may have gotten an inheritance from your grandfather and they may be living paycheck to paycheck. Regardless, you need to know where your partner’s finances stand with your own.
Thankfully, my fiancée Rebecca’s financial life and mine are fairly straightforward; we each make a similar salary and neither of us is saddled with debt. After showing each other the inner workings of our personal finances, we came up with a plan to organize and simplify.
First, we made Rebecca an authorized user on one of my credit cards and designated it for joint expenses. Since I’m a points junkie, I picked the card with the best grocery and dining benefits, since that’s the bulk of our spending. This helped us ease into sharing money, budget better as a team, and even earn more rewards points from our spending.
Then, after several months of sharing expenses, we opened a joint checking account and started directing our paychecks there. We also set up a monthly transfer from this account to our individual accounts to give each other a regular spending allowance. To keep gift giving a secret around holidays and birthdays, we’d increase this allowance to pay for extra gift expenses. Not only did this strategy simplify bill paying—it also ended the era of transferring money back and forth.
Finally, it was time to tackle investments and the emergency fund. We decided to consolidate Rebecca’s investments at Vanguard, since keeping track of her investments at multiple firms was time-consuming. Then we cleaned up her accounts and set up an automated monthly investment plan into the portfolio. When it came to our emergency fund, we decided to keep 3 months of living expenses in a high-interest savings account.
Your present talk might sound different than ours, and that’s okay. In any case, you’ll want to start by identifying your assets and liabilities as we did. Assets are things you own—your investments, property, paycheck, etc.—and liabilities are things you owe, like rent and student loans. Then look at your budget. If you haven’t budgeted yet, begin by sorting your monthly spending into categories—housing, dining out, savings, etc. If you notice you’re not saving as much as you’d like, you may want to cut back your spending in other areas.
Keep in mind that you and your partner will need discipline to implement a budget and stick to it, and this may require changes or sacrifices in your everyday life. But don’t be afraid to hold each other accountable. If you’re trying to save but notice Amazon packages piling up on your doorstep, ask each other if you’re on the same page about what’s needed. The conversations might get tough, but remember this should never feel like it’s you versus them. You and your partner are a team working toward a goal.
In my last blog in this series, I’ll discuss what may be the heaviest of these talks: the future talk. When building your marriage to last, you’ll want to understand how your partner sees the future and what they prioritize.
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