For Richer or Poorer

Dollar sign in sandMany couples become so caught up in planning their weddings that they forget to plan for their marriages. This is most apparent when it comes to finances. Once the honeymoon is over, this reality sometimes hits hard: You want to save up to start a family, but he wants a new car. He wants to start saving for retirement now, but you want to redecorate the family room. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these desires, you both need to consider your collective financial goals and create a plan for accomplishing them.

The first step should be for you and your fiancé to sit down and discuss your financial picture. “While couples often share social, political and religious values, financial values tend to get overlooked,” says Judi Rosenthal, senior financial adviser for Ameriprise Financial. “It’s important that new couples discuss their personal views and aspirations for saving, spending and sharing money. Then establish some mutual financial goals, and develop a plan to achieve these goals.”

The key component to any successful financial plan is a household budget. You must know how much money you have coming in and how much you have going out. This way, you know how much money you have to put into savings, purchase a new car or plan a summer vacation. When establishing your budget, be sure to include all related household expenses. “Conflicts can arise when one partner doesn’t understand how much it costs to fulfill a particular obligation, such as purchasing groceries or doing home maintenance,” Rosenthal says. Also, keep a record of your budget so you can refer back to it and make adjustments when necessary.

While getting married encompasses a large amount of combining “his” and “hers,” this may not be true with bank accounts. If you both agree that one person will handle the expenses, then a joint account is a good decision. If, however, he constantly complains about how much you spend on shoes or you always question why he needs so many sports collectibles, then separate accounts for personal spending would be a better choice. “This can help [couples] focus on bigger things, like savings and retirement goals,” Rosenthal says.

Naturally, you will always come across items you really want to buy, but it’s important to stop and consider whether or not you can afford them. “I tell couples to first focus on their goals, then on their purchases,” Rosenthal says. “While it may be tempting to buy a new car or go on a pricey vacation, these things shouldn’t put your long-term goals at risk.”

On the other hand, there may be large purchases that you both want and need, such as a new home. To make these purchases a reality, Rosenthal advocates planning in advance. “Depending on the timeline, there are different savings and investment vehicles to consider,” she says. “However, it really comes down to making saving for the down payment a priority.”

One obstacle to good fiscal responsibility may be your credit standing. Is it good? If so, take care to keep it this way by paying your bills on time and not taking on large amounts of debt at any one time. If it’s less than desirable, you can take steps to improve it, such as paying down existing credit and/or loan balances, avoiding late payments, and correcting any inaccuracies on your credit report.

If you don’t have an established credit history–good or bad, Rosenthal recommends opening a credit card account and paying it off in full every month. “This should help build credit history and demonstrate credit worthiness in the future,” she says.

Yes, planning a wedding is fun and exciting, but planning for your marriage is much more important. By discussing and setting up a fiscal plan of goals and responsibilities prior to the big day, you are setting the stage for future financial success.