Last year I made the most important decision of my life when I asked my best friend, Lauren, to marry me. After she (happily for me) said “Yes,” we realized we had some decisions to make. While we had been dating for five years and living together for the last three, we had not yet felt the need to officially consolidate our finances. Lauren and I both had full-time jobs—I as a Financial Planner, she as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker—so we were both financially stable. We shared household expenses, so we certainly discussed money, but we had not formally combined our separate financial lives. After I proposed, however, we knew it was time to sit down and decide how to unify our finances. I think the topics we examined would be beneficial to any couple planning a marriage:
- Discuss each other’s plans and goals for the future
- Determine how to achieve those through a merged budget
- Review outstanding credit card debt and student loan balances
- Evaluate each person’s property (real estate, vehicles, etc.) and other premarital assets (brokerage accounts, employer retirement accounts, savings accounts)
- Decide on the structure of joint and/or separate accounts
- Plan where to live after the wedding:
- Whether to buy a house or condo
- How to merge households
- Discuss how the cost of the wedding would be covered by us and/or our parents
- Talk about whether or not drafting a prenuptial agreement is needed
After we celebrated our wedding with family and friends, Lauren and I created a list of action items for us both to complete to finish merging our financial futures:
- Name Change
- Social Security Card/Passport/Driver’s License, Bank Accounts, Investment accounts, Vehicle Title & Registration, etc.
- Joint Bank/Brokerage Accounts
- Establishing a “household” account for all joint expenses
- Invest any wedding gifts
- Joint Budget vs Individual Budget
- Depending on what income looks like, evaluate how much each party is providing to joint expenses. What does an individual budget look like after marriage?
- Joint Credit Card
- Look for a rewards program that benefits both parties on joint expenses
- Review of benefits (material change allows for this)
- Which health/dental/vision plan is better? Does it make sense to join each other’s? Or does it make sense to stay on our plan?
- Life Insurance Needs
- Does it make sense to get a policy to cover mortgage/future needs?
- Beneficiary Change/Review
- Removing parents/siblings as beneficiaries on employer-provided insurances or individual policies.
- Estate planning documents
Getting married is a joyful, romantic time. The process of creating a joint financial life, however, should not be overlooked. My wife and I are happy we took the time for this discussion before we got married. If both parties are transparent about their goals and expectations, planning for the future is much easier. Making sure you are financially unified will allow you and your partner to handle much that life will throw your way.