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Getting Married

So, you've set the wedding date, but have you planned for everything? What about your individual assets, checking accounts, debts, credit cards, 401(k)'s, and households?

When two people decide to join their separate lives into one, there are many things that must be dealt with from a financial perspective. Don't let the splendor of the sacred event cloud the reality of the day-to-day issues you and your spouse-to-be need to consider. You have lots of decisions to make together and many questions to answer. Sorting out possible money issues up front can help you avoid difficulties later on.

Assets

  • Do you each own your own assets, such as a house, car or a 401(k) plan?
  • What about furniture, jewelry, collectibles, and other important things of value?

You need to decide whether these assets should be jointly owned or kept separate. You may need to investigate the laws regarding certain investment products, such as a 401(k), since you might be required to name your spouse as beneficiary.

Banking

  • Who is going to pay the bills and balance the checkbook?
  • Are you going to maintain separate checking accounts or pool your money?

One issue newly married couples often encounter is handling routine finances. Make sure you and your spouse reach a consensus on handling your day-to-day affairs. If you decide that one of you should be the primary record keeper, make sure both of you know where the records are and what the overall state of your financial affairs really is.

Budgeting

  • Do you account for every penny you spend?
  • How much does each of you get as an allowance for your money?
  • Do you like to eat out every night?

Think about how you currently manage your money as single people, talk it over, and set up a realistic spending plan that fits your circumstances. Make sure to decide up front how to allocate and spend your money. You should consider choosing a threshold amount and agree that individual purchases above that amount require your partner's agreement.

Credit Use

  • Are you a spender?
  • Do you regularly use your credit cards to buy routine products?
  • Do you carry a balance month to month?
  • How much total credit card debt do you currently have?

Make sure you have discussed how much debt each of you are bringing to the union, and make sure your attitudes surrounding the use of credit are in sync.

Savings

  • Are you a saver?
  • Do you have an emergency fund set up to cover your new household expenses?
  • Do you have short-term goals, such as an exotic vacation, and a plan to achieve them?

Make sure you try to save at least 10% of your combined incomes, and include an emergency fund that covers 2-3 months of living expenses. Set goals together and make sure your objectives are aligned with each other.

Investing

  • Have you established joint short-term as well as long-term goals?
  • Have you both started a retirement plan?
  • Are you a conservative investor or an aggressive risk taker?

Compare your philosophies on investing and come up with a compromise solution that takes both of your views into account.

Households

  • Who's house are you going to live in?
  • Whose sofa are you going to sit on?
  • Which one of you owns that ratty old easy chair that you can't bear to part with, and where is it going to go in your new home?
  • Do you want new furniture and appliances?

Combining households is not an easy task. Agree up front on some ground rules to get through these questions easily and fairly.

Careers and Money

  • Are you on a fast track to super success in your career?
  • Are you highly competitive when it comes to work and salary earned?
  • What if one of you ends up making a significantly higher income?
  • What if one of you ends up traveling a lot in conjunction with work?

Talk about these possibilities up front and make sure that each of you is prepared in the event any of these eventualities occurs.

Views About Money

  • What do you believe about money?
  • Do you spend it as soon as you make it?
  • Do you invest every penny, living scrupulously and frugally, so you can save?
  • Do you tend to live for today and make impulsive purchases?

These questions are just the beginning. Marriage is a partnership on many levels, and the economic perspective is an important one. Make sure you identify all your personal differences around values and beliefs regarding financial goals, spending habits, investing, and saving. There are no rules to follow; the essential thing is to be open and honest and be willing to compromise on the important stuff. Make sure that your newly combined financial lives begin stress free!

For more suggestions about money management in a marriage, see the USAA Educational Foundation article Marriage and Money.

Take control of your finances with our debt help tools. Use our calculators and budget planner to help you manage your money.

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