Combining finances after marriage is no joke! When Brandon and I married back in 2011, there were a ton of questions to ask and decisions to make that we hadn’t yet thought or talked about together. We had very different approaches to how we managed our money and those first couple of months were kind of a mess. We were just not on the same page at all and it made for a contentious beginning; financially, anyway.
A lot of couples choose to keep their finances separate and take a divide and conquer approach to bills and debt. He pays this, she pays that, and everything is taken care of. Brandon and I wanted to combine our finances. We had chosen to merge our lives and, to us, our finances was a part of that. Nothing was “his” or “hers” anymore, everything was “ours” but it took us a little bit to figure out how to manage “ours” together without arguments and annoyances cropping up.
It actually wasn’t until Brandon was sick and confined to bed that we really started to get things on track. I think it was just the sudden pressure of medical bills, hospital visits, prescriptions, and all of these experimental things we were chasing to find a solution to his illness that forced us to finally sit down and get our financial sh*t together. Not to mention, him being confined to bed meant the loss of his income and we were just really thrown for a loop. Our first years together, I’m telling you, they were the best of times and they were the worst of times.
Ultimately, we developed a financial system that worked for us, Brandon had surgery and made a full recovery, and we moved 5 times and finally settled down. It’s good now but it could have started out so much better if we’d just had a plan for our finances and money management before marriage.
Discussing money management before marriage
We had thought that things would fall into place like everything else had during our whirlwind relationship. We had never been the couple to sit down, discuss, and plan. We just…did. There was no discussion about whose apartment we were going to move into, whose furniture we were going to keep, or which car we were going to drive when we went out. We didn’t debate restaurants, movies, or TV shows. When we adopted a dog, we didn’t discuss the size, the breed, or the name. We just did things or made decisions and it was all perfect. Why then was money so different?
I think it’s because we have this security attachment to money. We know that it is essential to sustaining a livelihood so giving up control or allowing someone into your financial world means giving up a piece of that control and therefore your security, to another person. That’s a big deal! Fortunately, since those very early days we’ve learned a lot and I know that if we had discussed these topics about money management before marriage, we would have been on better ground.
Disclose your debt
Disclose your debt and disclose all of it. Be upfront and honest about student loans, credit card debt, car payments, and any other ugly collections you may have chasing after you. Prior to Brandon I had been in a toxic long-term relationship that had left me with some negative financial marks. Brandon had a previous divorce which left him half-responsible for debt his ex-wife had accumulated on credit cards. It didn’t really matter where the debt came from, just that we had it and it wasn’t “his” or “mine” anymore. It was ours and we needed to share it openly so we could create a plan to tackle it.
Share your goals
If you’ve been individually saving for or dreaming of a major financial goal, you have to share that with your new spouse. When you marry, those financial goals become #couplegoals so you need to share what is important, why it is important, and how you’re going to achieve those goals together. When we first married, Brandon’s top goal was to move out of Alabama. He hated the town he was in and he missed living in Florida so we made it a goal of ours to move back to Florida as soon as possible. We saved our pennies, developed a plan, and exactly 6 month after we married we were loading up our cars for the 12-hour drive south.
Review your daily, weekly, and monthly habits
That daily latte habit isn’t a big deal when it’s just you and you make the decision that you can afford it and it’s worth it to you. However, a $5 latte Monday – Friday adds up to about $100 a month which may be a big deal when you’re married and your spouse doesn’t agree that $100 in coffee is a financial necessity each month. In our case, Brandon had a 3x a day Starbucks habit that I just could not accept. I had a $200 per month shoes habit that he thought was crazy. We both had to learn the art of compromise which led him to him having a 1x a day Starbucks habit and me having a 1-pair per month shoe habit. Now, our habits are even better than that but sitting down to review our habits together was definitely eye-opening.
Create a long-term plan (be ambitious!)
We set a long-term plan by completing this sentence with a financial goal:
“By our 5th wedding anniversary I want to __________________.”
My statement was, “By our 5th wedding anniversary I want to comfortably live in a major US city.”
His statement was, “By our 5th wedding anniversary I want to have established retirement accounts and have saved $25,000 in a savings account.”
We then sat down to determine how much we would have to sit aside each month if we were going to cover moving expenses to a major city, establish retirement accounts, and build our savings account to $25,000. Having those numbers written down was an amazing eye-opener and let us really see how far our money would or would not go.
[bctt tweet=”Are you and your spouse on the same financial page? @ashleyfromfbl is sharing a few tips to get you there!” via=”no”]
In the beginning, we could have been better about discussing money, spending habits, and savings goals but we thought it would just be one of those things that somehow magically aligned. It’s not. Personal finance and money management is just not one of those things you can let happen by itself. It takes conversation and deliberate planning. It took us a little over a year to get there but we persisted and now our financial habits are healthy and we know we are on the same page.
How do you manage money in your marriage? Are you working toward the same goals? Do you have financial check-ins?