When you are single, you get to make your own decisions about how you want to manage bill payments, where to put your money, how to invest your cash, and what your savings goals are.
When you get married, those decisions are no longer just yours to make. It can be a rude awakening when combining two people’s finances, especially if both people in the relationship seek to control the finances.
Conversely, there can also be bitter feelings that come to the surface when one person is deemed solely responsible for all things money and the other simply goes along for the ride. In some relationships, separate finances can work.
While there is certainly no single solution for managing combined money matters, it may be that a mix of all three styles may be best. Ideally, both spouses should take an active participation in the financial management of their incomes.
Here are some valuable steps to take if you are about to be married, are newly married, or are just plain tired of fighting about money:
Step 1: Get It Together. Whether you’ve looked at your individual finances together or not, make a date free of distractions to do just that. Gather your paperwork, statements, unopened bills, all of your personal financial information, and just lay it out.
You can organize papers into things to discuss, bills to pay, and what needs to be filed away for safekeeping.
Step 2: Define Your Goals Together. You and your significant other should write down financial goals individually. Outline short- and long-term goal. You can also write down a few “wants” you’d like to work out, such as vacations you want to go on and new furniture you would like to buy.
When your lists are done, swap papers and review each other's goals. Any that match up should be prioritized. The rest should be discussed and note a time frame for when you would like to accomplish your other goals and wants.
Step 3: Review Your Bank Options. Using the goals you have defined and your other personal financial information, review your banking options. Newly married couples with separate accounts or married-for-years couples with cash all over the place should consolidate their accounts into places that make good financial sense. Consolidating your finances into just a few locations with a defined purpose can make a significant difference in your ability to manage your incomes and accounts.
Many banks allow you to open accounts online, so take advantage of the time together to start achieving your goals. Find the accounts best suited to your financial situation overall and for your individual needs. Make sure you are noting information that will be necessary to provide to the payroll department to enroll in direct deposit so you don’t have to backtrack later.
Step 4: Create a Budget for the Household. With your financials in front of you, design a budget that makes sense for your income and expenses. Figure out how much is being brought into the household and how much goes out each month. Identify how much cash remains and where it should go on a regular basis. If no cash is left over and you are in the red, take the time to start slashing your spending by brainstorming ideas together. Find ways to add more into your joint savings goals, especially for unexpected emergencies.
You should also take the time to prioritize your debts—both joint debts and individual ones. Many couples come into a marriage with financial baggage and it can get overwhelming. With a household budget, it can be easier to allocate your funds toward debt reduction.
Step 5: Create To-Do List. As a newly married couple or a married couple that lacks some basic information about important financial matters, such as investments and retirement savings, take time to discuss what you don’t know or what you need while you are together.
Make a list of what needs to be done to correct the situation. Assign tasks so all of the work doesn’t fall to one person. For instance, one person can contact a financial adviser while the other gets more information about life insurance quotes. By delegating tasks to each person, everyone is involved and money management doesn’t become a point of contention.
Step 6: Define Weekly Follow-Ups. Once you get the big first meeting out of the way, set a specific day and time each week to review your money matters.
If you remain organized, you can review your bill payments and other financial issues in just a few minutes. If you tend to keep putting off these follow up reviews, your money matters can get thrown out of whack. Monthly checkbook reviews are also a good idea.
Step 7: Get Connected. There are some useful technological tools that can help couple stay in sync. There are many levels of money apps, from the very simple to the more complex, that allow spouses to get an at-a-glance look at their money. These tools can make it easy for couples to stay on the same page where money is concerned and can be convenient when money decisions need to be made on the go.
Step 8: Establish Some Common Courtesies. Combining hard-earned money can make people testy, especially if they feel they are not being treated fairly or like family.
Together, you both can come up with a brief list of common courtesies to respect concerning finances. Some common courtesies married couples discuss include not spending more than a certain amount of cash without checking in with the other person or not lying about impulsive spending.
This can keep expectations in sight for both spouses and make managing money matters less stressful.
Debbie Dragon is a contributor to MyBankTracker.com, where she writes about savings rates, personal finance, and banking.