If you’ve recently become engaged, or are still in the honeymoon phase of your marriage, having “the talk” about finances can be a difficult and challenging one. Talking about money is one of THE hardest conversations to have, but it’s also one of the most important ones. Each and every year, finances continue to be one of the leading causes of divorce, but it doesn’t have to be. Being married for more than 10 years myself, I have seen firsthand how being on the same page about money can provide not only a happier marriage, but also a more profitable one!
When a couple has trouble managing money, it can lead to a lot of stress. Sometimes, this stress can carry over to other areas of their lives, making their lifelong journey together a difficult one. One of my first suggestions for newly engaged or recently married couples, is to sit down and talk about your financial situation, together.
Step 1: Talk about your goals
A couple should discuss their financial goals, early on in their marriage. What do they want to save for? A house? New cars? A dream vacation or honeymoon? When do they want to retire? Having these short- and long-term financial goal discussions is such an important step early on in a marriage. Once you become married, your financial dreams and goals become one. When you as a couple are on the same page about your financial goals, you will be more inclined to work together to achieve them! Goals should be S.M.A.R.T., meaning they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. I often provide a Financial SMART Goals Guide to help couples get started.
Step 2: See where your money goes
When I sit down with a newly engaged couple, I usually have them start with an activity that will lead to future discussions. I will give each of them a Daily Spending Worksheet to track everything they spend for a week. I encourage them to write EVERYTHING they spend their money on. This includes small items such as snacks from the vending machine, the soft drink(s) at the gas station, fast food, a latte, EVERYTHING!
Many individuals don’t realize that it’s the small dollar items that can add up to be a very large amount in the long run. A coffee at your favorite shop, if purchased on a daily basis, can add up to $70,000+ over a working lifetime. That is a latte of money. I encourage the couple to complete this worksheet for one week, and then discuss with each other where their money went. Sometimes we purchase things out of habit, and never really know where our money is going. Performing this exercise TOGETHER will really help a couple get on the same page for where they spend their money on a weekly basis, outside of bills.
Step 3: Creating a budget
This step is one of the most important ones a couple can do together. Putting together a budget is crucial for all couples, and especially when they are early on in the marriage. Many couples tell me they don’t do a budget because they are “afraid” of what it might look like. In reality, most couples are pleasantly surprised to see the “net income” amount on paper once they look at their total income and expenses together. But then they usually ask, “Ben, it’s nice that we show we have extra money on paper, but where is it? I don’t see a dime of it!” This is when I have them pull out their Daily Spending Worksheet to see where all the extra money went.
There are also more automated tools to help couples track their spending, such as Old National's Money Management product.
Step 4: Combining accounts
When a couple considers combining their financial accounts, it can be challenging at first. Some couples will consider opening joint accounts, and some prefer to keep them separate. Personally, I recommend joint accounts. When a couple monitors their spending together, they are more likely to not spend money on things they do not need. I have seen first hand that when some couples use separate accounts, it can result in one spouse feeling the other is hiding their spending habits. When there is mistrust with financial spending, this will sometimes lead to other trust issues in the marriage down the road.
I also recommend that couples set up an automated deposit from their checking account into their savings and investment accounts. This will help ensure they can reach the financial goals they have set out to achieve for the long- and short-term. With automated payments and deposits, couples can be certain bills are getting paid on time and money is being saved for emergencies and long-term goals.
Step 5: Don’t forget about retirement
Many couples, early on, don’t think about retirement planning as it seems “so far away.” I can’t stress enough how important it is to put money away for retirement, especially when you are young or early in the relationship. As life gets hectic, expenses can start to add up. Once you are married, the number of bills can start to increase. Couples should make sure they are stashing money away, so they can enjoy retirement before they are 100! Taking advantage of compound interest early on in a relationship can help on the road to retirement. Albert Einstein once said, “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” He was a pretty smart guy, so I would suggest listening to him. Using the power of compound interest can help you retire, when YOU want to!
In a committed relationship, it’s important to hold each other accountable for spending and money management. While this may be difficult at first, it can pay off in the long run. Think about it like this. A renewed dedication to eating healthy or getting fit can be a struggle at first, and having someone to hold you accountable can keep you on track. Over time, it becomes easier and eventually becomes a habit. The same holds true with managing your finances. Once this becomes a habit, achieving your financial dreams will be easier than you ever thought possible!
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