This week, couples across the nation sent chocolates and delivered bouquets in honor of St. Valentine’s Day. People may accuse me of being unromantic, but I hope these couples—especially the soon-to-be-marrieds and newlyweds—took some time this week to discuss finances.
I actually think such discussion is quite romantic because honest and open communication about money is crucial to a thriving relationship. And yet many couples enter marriage never having discussed their personal finances on any sort of substantive level.
According to one American Express survey, only 43% of the people surveyed discussed money before they got married. That’s a recipe for disaster, as money issues can make or break a marriage.
In honor of St. Valentine’s week, here are five financial tips for newlyweds and other couples. These tips may not be as romantic as a dozen long-stemmed red roses, but they can help provide the foundation for a thriving relationship, which may be just as sweet.
Talk Early and Often
Talking dollars and cents can make a lot of people uncomfortable, which may very well be why couples avoid such discussions. But it is important that you and your partner discuss your personal finances early and keep on discussing them for the rest of your lives.
Such conversations early on can help you plan for a future together while avoiding nasty shocks, like learning that your soon-to-be spouse is tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Your conversation should include your incomes, your debts, and your credit scores. It should include questions that determine whether your financial personalities are compatible, such as how much you each save and how often you use your credit cards. And if yours is a second marriage, you should know how much your partner pays in alimony or child support, as well as their wishes for inheritances.
You may also want to discuss a prenuptial agreement. Some people believe that a prenup shows a lack of trust; however, the legal agreement will spell out financial expectations, protect pre-marital assets, and detail how children will receive support after a spouse’s death, among its other benefits.
Decide How Much to Merge
As part of your communication, you and your partner should decide how much of your financial lives you will merge. Often, this comes down to a matter of values. For example, you both may favor financial independence and decide to keep checking and savings accounts separate. Or perhaps you two enjoy the simplicity and teamwork fostered by joint accounts. Or you may meet in the middle, opening a shared checking account in which each of you contributes money for household expenses while keeping individual accounts for your own use.
Learn About Each Other’s Goals
Goals can cost money—especially big-ticket items like travel and homes. You and your partner should discuss your visions for both the short term and long term. Differing goals aren’t necessarily a sign of incompatibility. You just need a financial plan that takes into account your individual and shared goals and how you’ll achieve them.
Make a Budget
I think a budget can be a marriage saver. By working as a couple on a detailed plan for spending, you can eliminate arguments that would have arisen over surprise expenses. With a budget, you create a plan for how much you will save and how much you will spend, including your monthly expenses and your short- and long-term goals.
Consider giving yourselves a “fun fund” that you individually can spend on whatever you want without having to get the other person’s OK. A budget can feel stifling—having some money to spend on whatever you choose without your partner’s say-so can ease the pressure of coupledom.
Make Retirement a Priority
Your long-term goals should include retirement. And the more comfortable a retirement lifestyle you envision, the more you should be saving. Do a search for online retirement calculators to get a ballpark estimate of how much you should set aside based on your age and other factors. Then, as a couple, make these savings your priority.
While you’re saving for retirement, it’s a good idea to save for an emergency fund too. Your emergency fund should be large enough to cover three to six months of expenses. Should one of you get injured or laid off, that emergency fund can help reduce fighting during a tough time and perhaps save your marriage while you set life aright again.