Have you thought about what life looks like after you get married?
It’s easy to get so caught up in being engaged, booking your honeymoon, and planning for the big day that you forget all about life on the other side. But today, I want you to stop for a minute, take a breath, and think about this important topic: money and marriage.
One of the quickest ways to put a strain on your new marriage is to not be on the same page with your spouse about money. It doesn’t matter whether you earn $10,000 or $1 million, if you and your spouse aren’t seeing eye to eye on handling your money, you will eventually have problems.
The number-one cause of divorce in America is money fights and money problems. I don’t say that as a scare tactic, but I do want to remind you that you can’t avoid this topic.
So when you return from your honeymoon and embark on that first year of marriage, what can you do to make sure you handle money the right way?
Talk about your money goals with your spouse. Where do you want to be financially in a month? Next year? Five years? Talk about your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to spending and saving money. Set an amount—say, $100—and agree that all purchases above that amount need to be talked about and agreed upon.
Communication in marriage is extremely important. To really win in your finances and your marriage, you have to be on the same page.
2. Make a budget.
The budget gets a bad rap, but all the budget does is tell your money where to go each month so you aren’t left wondering where it went. This isn’t rocket science. You’re simply sitting down with your spouse and deciding how you will spend your income that month. Give every dollar a name. It will take a few months to get this down, so don’t expect perfection right away. But if you want to get on the same page with your spouse about money, creating a budget together is the best way to do that.
3. Make a plan.
The first step toward improving your money situation in the long run is getting out of debt. It’s hard to save and make a difference with your income when half of it is going to pay car loans, student loans and credit cards every month.
To get out of debt, you need to make a plan. We call it the debt snowball. Simply list all of your monthly payments from smallest to largest. Pay the minimum on all the bills but the smallest one, and attack that one with every bit of extra money you have. Once you pay that bill off, add your old payment to what you’re paying on the next bill on the list. Rinse and repeat until you are debt-free!
4. Combine bank accounts.
Many people go into marriage thinking, “That’s your money, and this is my money.” They draw a line in the sand. But remember what your pastor said when you got married: “Now, you are ONE.” It’s our money, not my money.
So go to the same bank and combine your checking accounts once you get married. This is another way to improve your communication and stay on the same page about your money.
5. Recognize your differences.
In most marriages, there is a free spirit and a nerd. Generally, the free spirit is the spender who’s not so crazy about details and making a plan. And the nerd is the saver—the one who loves to run the numbers and create lists of goals and priorities. Sometimes the free spirit might be the saver and the nerd might be the spender, but the idea is that you’re both unique.
You both need each other. The free spirit helps the nerd lighten up every now and then. And the nerd helps the free spirit learn to focus and make a plan. Embrace those differences!
6. Don’t buy a house … yet.
Telling a newly married couple not to buy a house isn’t popular advice. After all, we’ve all watched House Hunters and dreamed of when it would be our turn to find the perfect place. But it’s okay to rent during the first year to make sure both you and your spouse are exactly where you want to be for a while and you both have a good idea of what you are looking for.
Get settled in. Enjoy being married without a mortgage payment and all the maintenance headaches. This time next year, as long as you are out of debt and have at least a 10% down payment, then house hunt to your heart’s content.
7. Don’t copy your parents’ lifestyle.
Here’s what I mean by that: Most of us want to live the same lifestyle we did with our parents. But the difference is that it took them 20 years to get there, and we’re just getting started. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to overstretch yourself by getting into a mortgage you can’t afford and a couple of car loans that are weighing you down.
The BMW and the white picket fence can wait. Be patient. Make smart decisions with your money. Avoid debt and save, save, save. You’ll get there soon enough, but you’re setting yourself up to fail when you try and live your parents’ lifestyle without the money to do so.
When I got married five years ago, my spouse and I decided to live out these principles, and it’s a decision we don’t regret. For you, I can promise that how you manage your money will be one of the most important factors in determining the quality of your marriage.
Don’t get so caught up in the romance that you forget the practical stuff. Take the time to sit down with your future spouse and talk about money issues.
By discussing these issues now, you’ll set yourself up for an amazing first year of marriage!