However perfect or disastrous the wedding, the big day is only a small part of your future lives together. Couples will have to navigate decades together, and the journey of a thousand miles starts with a few simple but important financial decisions.
The process of setting up your finances after marriage differs from couple to couple. Some couples choose to pool all their income, others choose to keep some separate accounts, and still others pay for almost everything separately. Here is a short list of the steps you need to take to set up your finances after you get married.
Decide on Bank Accounts
The first step to setting up your finances is the bank account question. Whether you want to have one joint account, a joint account for shared expenses and bills with separate accounts for "fun spending" and other costs, or only shared accounts, all options can work. You just need to sit down and have a discussion with your new spouse to be sure they're on the same page. Some people expect that they will immediately begin spending from a joint account, and if your spouse is a lavish spender while you're a thrifty sort, this might quickly lead to tension.
If you decide on a combination of accounts like many people do, set up your bill payments accordingly. You can have payments for your mortgage or rent, bills, groceries, and utilities all come from the joint account. When you are paid by your employers, each paycheck can be deposited into your individual account. Then, you set up your account to automatically transfer the appropriate amount of money into the joint account. Whatever is left over is yours to save, spend, or do with as you like. Some people do this manually, but when it's on automatic, it's less likely that you'll forget to transfer money and cause an insufficient fund (NSF) charge.
Make Sure You Have a Budget
If it isn't already obvious, you should have a budget. Each of you needs to sit down with your separate budgets and find a way to combine them that works for you. Some couples decide that rent should be split equally between two people, even if incomes are not equal; others decide that percentages are more fair – if your spouse earns twice as much as you, they would pay a share of the rent that is twice as large as you pay, for instance.
Look at each of your debt payments and the overall cash flow to see whether you're missing any payments or need to save money in any areas. If you're doing well, each of you should agree on how much money you're responsible for saving, either in the joint account or separately, in case of emergencies. If you're falling short, look for ways to cut down on expenses but make sure you agree on them – one person giving up the TV plan won't go over well if the other one thinks of that as a must-have entertainment system.
Make Sure Your Names are Changed
If you're setting up a joint account, adding names to accounts, or even just planning for the future, you'll need to file a name change for each financial institution. This may not seem like a problem yet, but when you get a check made out to your married name and you have never changed it at your bank, it can be a hassle to change later. At the very least, banks and financial institutions can make a note of the name change so they can accept payments made out to either name.
This is also important when you're both moving into one household. Bills, the lease, and other important documents are probably in one name only, so make sure both of your married names are on all the bills and paperwork. Names should be updated as soon as possible to avoid any hassles in getting service or paying the bills later.
Plan for the Future Together
Other financial decisions you need to make include health insurance and life insurance, saving for a house, car, or children together, and retirement plans. These are all plans that require you to discuss your future dreams and goals, so you may have some idea of each other's current financial status and wishes, but you need to make that concrete. Look at the health insurance plan that is most beneficial for you both to be on and whether you can consolidate health insurance payments that way, discuss life insurance to see if it is essential to your household now, and look at retirement plans and pension plans. You should add each other as beneficiaries on existing IRAs or retirement plans to make sure the future goes smoothly.
Get Into the Habit of Talking About Money
One of the most important tips for any new couple is to get into the habit of regularly discussing money, your plans, and what you should be doing with your finances. Some couples shy away from this topic, but you're in it together now. You need to be honest and communicate your current situation and future plans. Money can be twice as stressful when you're married, so be sure a small problem with uneven spending doesn't grow into a big fight about who gets more "fun money" and why.
For some couples, money discussions come easily. They can talk about insurance rates, ways to save more money in their budget, or the amount of debt they're paying off without thinking twice. Other couples have to work to ensure they're communicating honestly and openly, especially when one or both people come into the marriage with existing debt or when incomes are uneven. If setting up a regular time to balance your budget and talk about finances will help, whether that's once a week or once a month, go ahead and suggest it to your new spouse.
Making financial changes is one of the first steps you will take in your new marriage, but it doesn't have to be stressful. As long as you stay open and communicate as much as possible about your existing financial situation and what you expect in the future, you can make financial planning part of your plans for fulfilling your future hopes and dreams!