Tying the Financial Knot
For your marriage to succeed, you have to agree about the role money will play in your marriage. Open communication about money is key. Once you've decided to tie the knot, discussions about money shouldn't be far behind. When you get married, you take on not only all your loved one's emotional baggage, but all his or her financial baggage as well. You need to know just how heavy that baggage is.
Talking about Money
Some people are very uncomfortable talking about money, so you may want to start out gradually by discussing how your parents handled money and how you feel about its role in your life. For some people, money symbolizes love or security; for others, it symbolizes power or control. It can be something to be spent freely with no thought for tomorrow, or hoarded and saved for the future. Explore your feelings about money together.
Once you're married, your partner's finances will be your finances, for better or for worse. After you've had a few initial discussions about money in general, initiate a discussion about your respective financial situations. Figure out whether either of you have any of the following:
Credit card debt
Child support or alimony obligations
A bad credit record
A trust fund
Get copies of your credit reports and go over them together. If your spouse-to-be won't talk about money, consider counseling. How can you work toward common goals if one of you can't or won't talk about money?
What Does Money Mean to You?
It's also important to understand what money means to your future spouse, and vice versa, because your beliefs about money and your emotional attachments to it strongly influence the way you spend.
Every couple needs common goals to work toward together, whether it's buying a house or planning for an early retirement, but it's important to realize that each of you will probably have goals that the other doesn't share. Acknowledge that they're important too, and try to find a way to work toward these individual goals as well as those you have in common.
There are a number of good books about money and relationships, including Money Harmony: Resolving Money
Coping with a Spender Versus a Saver
Tension can develop to the breaking point in a marriage when one person wants to spend and the other wants to save. Spenders often marry savers, so this is a common issue. If you're a saver and you open the credit card statement to find that your spouse has bought several hundred dollars' worth of hunting gear when you were planning to use that money for some much needed auto repairs, an argument is almost inevitable. If your spouse constantly nags at you and blames the constant drip of your ATM habits for the huge leak in the budget by month's end, another argument is on its way. When there's a saver and a spender in a relationship, you have to come to a compromise you can both live with if you want to avoid constant arguments or unspoken resentments over money.
Who Will Do What?
The mechanics of managing your finances may be easier to deal with than the emotional issues surrounding money. How will you handle your banking? Will you keep separate bank accounts and split the bills between you? Will you share a joint account that all of your income goes into and all of your bills are paid from? It's very difficult to keep track of the transactions that two people make to a single bank account and this can lead to bounced checks and frequent arguments. Many couples find that a joint account for household expenses and individual accounts for each spouse's personal spending works very well (“His,” “Hers,” and “Theirs”). It allows each of you to have discretionary money for expenditures that you don't have to explain or justify to each other.
If one person in a relationship controls the other's spending, it gives the controlling person a parental type of power that's not healthy in a marriage, and can cause resentment to build in the spouse who has no financial power in the relationship.
Often there's one person in a marriage who is more interested, motivated, or adept at paying the bills, balancing the checkbooks, tracking expenses and investments, and maintaining a budget. Talk about it. The person who handles the money should be detail-oriented. You may both quickly agree on the obvious choice for these tasks or you may decide to share the responsibility. Regardless of who does what, sit down at least once a month and review your finances together. What progress have you made toward your joint budgeting and savings goals? Are there any cash shortfalls or large expenditures looming? How are your investments performing?
Maintaining Credit in Your Own Name
Virtually all financial experts agree that after marriage you should maintain credit in your own name. Keep a credit card in your name only, and use it occasionally, but always pay off the balance each month. If you find yourself on your own through death or divorce, you'll have immediate credit available. It can be difficult to obtain credit for even the most basic needs, let alone a large purchase like a car or house, if you don't have a credit history that doesn't include your spouse.