In sickness and in wealth: Start your financial future together on the right foot
Marriage is life-changing in a number of ways, including financially.
The shift from looking after your own money to being half of a financial partnership is a big step, but some forward planning and sensible decision-making can help smooth the path toward the sharing of financial obligations.
If wedding bells are on the horizon, here are some things to think about so you get started in the right financial direction.
Talk seriously about financial matters before you tie the knot
Some people are naturally ‘good with money’, and others are not. The best time to find out if your partner is a frivolous spender or poor money saver is before marriage – not after. Discuss everything that might affect your combined financial responsibilities – accommodation costs, employment situation, plans to raise a family and existing debts (including student loans and credit card debt). Know your partner’s financial history, and make sure you’re both ‘on the same page’ money-wise.
Debt can affect your marriage
Financial worries are one of the most common sources of marital stress, and debt can take a toll on any committed relationship. Total household debt in Australia is currently close to 2 trillion dollars, which equates to around $80,000 for each person living in the country1.
Ongoing debt is a serious issue that can have a major impact on your marital future. When it comes to large purchases like your home it’s often a necessary evil, but wherever possible you should do everything you can to aggressively reduce your debt levels. Fight debt systematically – your future self will thank you.
Create a budget plan you can both live with
There’s a great old saying: ‘money may not buy happiness, but it does provide a much wider choice of miseries’. The best way to work toward a sustainable financial future is to make a money plan that you and your partner can agree upon, and that is realistically achievable for both of you.
Look ahead and decide where you want to be financially in 5 years, and in 10. Financial independence down the track is a worthy goal, but it needs careful planning. Keep good track of your spending so you know where every dollar is going. Only by regularly monitoring your income versus expenditure can you create achievable financial goals.
Take advantage of the financial perks of being married
Being a couple can help you save money in many areas. Sharing health or car insurance plans can result in thousands of dollars in savings compared to single-person rates. You can also add a second car to one policy. Creating a joint bank account helps, because you can halve your monthly bank fees. Also, there’s one set of utility bills instead of two and just one rent or mortgage payment.
You can also save money by filing a joint tax return. If you’re both employed, you may have access to each other’s benefit plans. And if you begin your marriage with two sets of furniture and appliances, you can consolidate these and sell any unneeded extras for ready cash. And, as every married couple knows, when both parties can view the credit card bill, this serves as a handy psychological deterrent to excessive spending by one or the other – so you both save!
It’s not just you any more
In getting married, you are entering into an arrangement that carries additional financial responsibilities. Your monetary life will change. Individual debts become shared debts. Personal obligations become joint obligations. Solitary financial decisions become a matter of mutual discussion and agreement.
Your bank accounts may change, your debts may change and your approach to spending will most certainly change – from ‘me’ to ‘we’. As a couple (and especially with children in the equation), life insurance becomes more important than ever. If something happens to you when you are married, will your spouse and children be provided for financially? This is just one of many new money matters to think about as a married person.
Invest in yourself
What’s your most valuable asset? It’s you. It’s your future earnings, and your ability to use your character, experience and drive to achieve your financial goals. You must develop your level of ‘financial literacy’ to provide for yourself and your family. Just as importantly, you must decide what in life is most important to you and keep focused on those goals.
Need to take extra courses, acquire new skills or change careers in mid-stream to make the most of promising opportunities? Then do whatever needs doing. A secure financial future is only one ingredient in the recipe for a happy marriage, but it’s a part you can start planning for right now.