In the United States today, about 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Of this population, nearly 80% say that issues with finances were the leading cause of their divorce. That means that, in the general population, 40% of all marriages lead to divorce primarily due to problems with money.
That’s a pretty daunting statistic, but just because it happens a lot doesn’t mean it needs to happen to you and your partner. To successfully transform “my” finances into “our” finances, you need to be willing to have open, honest, and often difficult discussions about finances. This is a broad topic, ranging from how finances will be handled, the many factors included in the finances of a marriage, and what financial histories each party brings to the table. But if you take these small steps one at a time, finances don’t have to be the elephant in the room waiting to trample your marriage:
Honesty is the Best Policy
The first step has to be an airing of dirty laundry, which can be painful, embarrassing, and fraught with tension. However, being honest and open with your partner about your personal spending habits, debt, and credit will help them understand where you are coming from and how to plan for what’s next.
- Don’t Dismiss the Details: If you’ve always paid your bills through snail mail with a glass of wine on a Sunday, your partner’s automatic electronic billing cycle might be a shock. Talking about how you as an individual have managed finances in the past is just as important as planning on how to do them in the future in your marriage. In this case, no detail is too small: How much have you saved? How many children do we want to have? What amenities can you not live without? How often do we eat out? Having this conversation at the beginning can avoid confusion and deception later on.
- Share Your Credit: Numbers are important – age, weight, people you’ve slept with, credit score… Knowing where each of you falls on the credit score can help you better identify an equally important number: how much you should be saving. Remember that in marriage, bad credit doesn’t transfer onto your partner, although it can affect your finances when it comes to applications for joint loans. If you don’t want this to become a point of contention in your marriage, look into raising your credit score.
- Understand Your Debts: Student loans are the new mortgages – everyone has them, and they’re going to take forever to pay off. Be clear about how much money each of you owes and why to identify spending habits and build in a payment plan. Unlike credit, debt does transfer to your partner with marriage, so honesty is perhaps most important in this case.
Banks Accounts and Budgets
After you’ve had that difficult but incredibly worthwhile discussion – or more likely discussions – you and your partner need to start setting up the framework for how you will manage your finances as a married couple.
- Joint or Separate?: When it comes to bank accounts, there are benefits and disadvantages to every option for couples. Some marriages choose to keep their accounts separate, some join just their savings accounts, and some people merge their accounts for a joint approach. Consider your options and do some research into the best strategy for you as individuals and as a couple – you can even set up a meeting at your bank for advice on your finances.
- Be Clear About Budgeting: Regardless of how you decide to do your bank accounts, a married couple’s budget is something that both partners need to be wholly committed to. Come to a clear agreement about how money will be saved, bills will be paid, and who will be responsible for which aspects of your finances.
Set Your Strategy in Motion
Okay, so you’ve had all of these (hopefully great) discussions. Now what?
- Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Well, now you’re married, and you should commit yourself not only to your partner but also to your promises. You’ve already established a plan for your finances and roles for each person: stick to it, and deliver on what you decided.
- Don’t Stop Using Words, Though: Actions are great, but communication is key for any successful marriage. Finances are a fluid concept, and your lives will constantly be changing and introducing new expenses, new opportunities, and new ventures. Be open, honest, and above all else, be flexible. Remember, this isn’t “my” money anymore.
No couple enters a marriage thinking they’ll join that 40%. The best way to keep finances from controlling your relationship is to be honest and open about them with your partner from start to finish. Have the hard conversation today, avoid the fight tomorrow, and retire together, safe and secure.