5 Key Financial Steps to Take Before Tying the Knot
Plan for the unexpected this wedding season
With wedding season in full swing, many couples are tackling fun to-dos like selecting a venue, sampling cake and auditioning bands, but there’s one critical task often overlooked before exchanging vows.
The conversation around merging finances – and financial habits – isn’t nearly as pleasant as some of the common perks of wedding planning, but it’s arguably the most critical and requires a plan of its own.
Did you know your fiancé spends $500 on golf each month, gets mani-pedis every week, and owes $20,000 in student loan debt? After all, money is often a big source of marital conflict. According to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, money issues are the third leading cause of divorce, preceded only by incompatibility and infidelity.
To prepare for a happy and healthy partnership, here are five important financial questions for couples to discuss before tying the knot. Engaging in an open dialogue about these topics can help streamline the process of merging finances and alleviate marital stress down the line.
- WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT FINANCIAL SITUATION?
Inquiring about your partner’s financial status may be uncomfortable, particularly early on, but having clear and honest communication about finances before the big day can help you identify and plan for potential points of contention in the future. As with any financial investment, examine each other’s personal ‘balance sheets’ – How much do you have in liquid savings? Are you carrying any debt? Do you have a retirement account? If you’re not on the same page financially, it doesn’t have to spell disaster. Understanding your partner’s financial beliefs and practices and working through those together is an important and vital first step when approaching marriage. Practice open communication to set clear boundaries and determine how you’ll split ownership of debts and assets moving forward.
- HOW DO YOU APPROACH MAJOR PURCHASES?
Understanding each other’s spending habits and willingness to take on debt is an important factor in determining how you should approach financial milestones as a couple, such as buying a home or financing a car. Are you an impulse buyer or do you shop thoughtfully? Do you use your credit card for every purchase large or small, or do you prefer to spend only what you have on hand? If one partner tends to splurge without much consideration, try setting a mutually agreed upon spending method for individual purchases.
- WHO WILL BE CFO OF THE HOUSEHOLD?
In many households, one spouse naturally (or begrudgingly) takes on the role of managing finances. But what happens if that individual suddenly falls ill and is no longer able to manage the daily tasks of paying bills and tracking budgets? Instead, consider implementing a division of labor where one spouse manages daily finances like credit card payments and utility bills, while the other oversees longer-term financial instruments like insurance, investments and retirement accounts. Consider each other’s strengths and preferences, such as organizational skills and financial acumen. And make sure to create a cheat sheet in the event you or your partner need immediate access to key information.
- HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO FUND THE COST OF YOUR CHILDREN’S EDUATION?
If children are part of your future plans, it’s important to understand your partner’s views on education. Many people have strongly-held opinions when it comes to public versus private schooling, which are often influenced by their own background, experiences and upbringing. Is sending your children to private school a top priority for your significant other? If so, be proactive about planning for how you will cover the cost. You might consider a specialized college savings plan that will help you start accumulating education funds for various expenses early on.
- WHO WILL SHOULDER THE FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR FAMILY MEMBERS?
As parents age, they often become financially dependent on children due to instability, incapacity or lack of resources. Consider the needs of your parents, siblings and extended family today and beyond. Will any of them depend on you for financial support in the future? Who will absorb the costs associated with long-term care? Discuss the possibilities and pre-determine a course of action to ensure you have a mutually agreed upon plan in place. And consider engaging your extended families in the conversation, to preempt any family strife and minimize the emotional impact of unexpected life events down the line.
While most couples undoubtedly experience financial hurdles in their marriage, having honest and candid conversations early on can help alleviate pain points later in life. If you’re struggling to reconcile differences in your spending, saving and investing habits, consult a financial advisor for help – having an unbiased third-party to offer guidance based on experience and expertise can be invaluable in aligning and prioritizing your future financial goals. Marriages thrive on honesty and communication, so don’t let finances get in the way of your happily ever after.
Andrew Murano, RICP and Maureen Murano, CPA CLTC®, RICP of Northwestern Mutual. Both originally from the East Coast, Andrew graduated from Business School at St. Bonaventure University and Maureen graduated from Business School at the University of Notre Dame. In 2010, Maureen started her financial practice with Northwestern Mutual where she met Andrew. Both Andrew and Maureen have 19 years of combined wealth management experience, specializing in comprehensive financial planning and tax strategies for business owners and families.