Whether you’re already engaged or just starting to discuss it, marriage can be a financial decision as well as a romantic one. Thinking through some of the bigger questions early on can help set you up for success long beyond the wedding. After all, the goal is alignment and cohesion in all areas of married life, including your finances. This checklist can help you and your partner get on the same page with both big and little decisions.
Before you get married:
Talk about retirement
Discussing your long-term plan early on can help you prioritize the big picture. In fact, putting your biggest savings goals (like retirement) first helps make smaller day-to-day financial decisions (like eating out or buying groceries) less of an issue. Use these questions to start your discussion:
- How much are we each contributing to our 401(k)?
- What type of accounts are we both contributing to?
- Employer-sponsored plan (such as 401(k) or 403(b))
- Roth account
- How much do we currently each have saved?
- When would we both, ideally, like to retire? _______________________________
- What does the ideal retirement look like? _________________________________
- Are we on track to get there?
If you aren’t on the same page right away, don’t worry. Meeting with a financial advisor can help you discover opportunities and find alignment on key issues.
Discuss big-ticket items
With the biggest-picture item out of the way, it’s time to discuss the big goals you may be working toward in between now and retirement: buying a house, having kids, paying for their college, and more. Like retirement, getting on the same page about these big-ticket items makes it easier to deal with smaller money issues when they arise. (For instance, a rogue purchase matters less when you know you’re on track to meet your biggest goals.)
- Goals. Chances are you’ve discussed what your life together may look like, but have you mapped these dreams to financial goals? Make note of those goals here (whether it’s buying a house, a lake house later in life, raising kids, and so on.)
- Salary. Salary can be a tricky topic early in relationships, especially as it’s unlikely you and your partner earn the same amount. But discussing salary—including your future earning potential—can help you plan better (especially when it comes to tax strategy).
- Financial planning. Integrating your finances can be challenging, especially when you’re tackling big goals in both the long and short term. A financial advisor can help you come up with a comprehensive plan to (hopefully) cut back on some of that stress.
- Student loans. When you marry someone, you marry their debt. List any student loans you have, including outstanding balance, interest rate, and other payment details.
- Other debt. If you have debt aside from student debt—whether it’s a mortgage, a car, or credit card debt—share this information with your partner so you can incorporate a debt paydown strategy into your financial plan.
- Anything else. Will one of you quit your job to help care for children? Do you have family members (such as aging parents) that you may need to support? Will your family be able to contribute to any of your big-picture financial goals? Discuss any intangibles with a financial dimension.
Consider how much you need to set aside to pay down your debt and save toward the big goals you’ve identified. Once you estimate this number, it’s easier to see how much discretionary income you’ll have for other aspects of your budget.
Build a new family budget
Different advisors have different perspectives on whether to combine bank accounts and finances. I tend to suggest couples join accounts early on and adapt an “ours” mentality without keeping score. This is easier to do if you’ve already gotten aligned on the big-ticket things, like retirement and goals. Talk through the following as a couple:
- Will we keep separate bank accounts, have a combined account, or both?
- Who will be responsible for physically paying our bills (and with which account)?
- How will we approach a family budget? (Discuss how strict you’ll be, who will monitor spending, and how frequently you might want to adjust.)
- Do we have similar spending and saving habits, or do they differ?
- How will we discuss big purchases (and what constitutes a big purchase)?
- If we need to cut back on spending, how will we approach those conversations? (Is there an area in a budget where we both think it will be easiest to cut back?)
If you don’t have budgets, use your credit card and bank statements to help you get a sense of what each of you is spending on these things already.
Wedding costs vary greatly depending on your vision for your wedding day. While you deserve to have the wedding of your dreams, it’s important to stay practical. After all—you want to set yourself up for a financially successful marriage once the party is over.
- How will you pay for your wedding?
- Will you have help? Parents and grandparents may offer to contribute to a wedding. Be sure to plan strategically if this is the case. For instance, you may want your family to pay vendors directly (versus you) to avoid potential tax implications. You may also want to have a clear conversation about what your relatives expect in exchange for helping you.
- Reconsider debt. We recommend against taking on debt if possible; often couples end up paying these bills for years to come, which can compromise goals that may matter more in the long run.
The memories from a wedding often last a lifetime, so it’s important to plan carefully and spend on what’s important. Thinking about the wedding in the context of your broader marriage can help you figure out where to splurge and where you may want to cut back.
After you get married:
There are a number of logistics to take care of after the wedding that can help prepare you for married life (including the financial parts). We can review these as needed together.
- Organize your paperwork. From a legal name change to marriage certificates, you’ll likely need multiple copies of these documents to share with financial institutions.
- Review your life insurance. Check your life insurance policies to make sure you still have enough coverage.
- Check your health insurance. Who has better coverage, both in terms of premiums and deductibles, as well as the network of doctors? Make any relevant changes.
- Review and update your beneficiaries. Check your retirement accounts, insurance policies, and other financial documents to make sure your beneficiary is current.
- Review, update, or create your estate plan. Estate plans protect your assets from probate and can protect you in an emergency. Make sure you have:
- A will.
- A healthcare directive and medical power of attorney.
- Financial power of attorney.
- Talk about taxes. You’ll need to begin filing as a married couple the year of your wedding, even if you marry December 31.
- You’ll be able to select between “married filing separately” and “married filing jointly.” It’s common for “married filing jointly” to come with tax breaks that lower your tax liability, but this doesn’t apply to every situation.
- If you and your new spouse have a significant discrepancy between your incomes, you may want to adjust your withholdings to prepare for your updated filing status and avoid a surprise.
- Working with a tax planning professional early on can help you spot opportunities that may come with your updated relationship status.
If you have questions about any of the content listed here, or if you’d like to set up a meeting to actively go over anything, set up an appointment. We’re happy to meet with you as a couple or individually to help you prepare for this next chapter.