September 11, 2017
It may not be the most fun part of marriage, but it is one of the most important parts: talking about money. Whether you want to discuss it or not, money matters are going to come up, from who's responsible for the bills to how you can afford that big screen TV. This can be a source of genuine marital conflict, and the best way to avoid it is to talk it over in advance.
Here are four things to discuss with your spouse before your finances turn into fights.
Agree on financial ground rules
If one spouse likes to save every penny for a rainy day and the other treats every dime in their paycheck as money to be spent, financial strife is right around the corner. You shouldn't expect to completely change your spouse's financial mindset, but you should be ready to settle on some ground rules.
This doesn't mean you have to work out every detail of your finances: you just want to be sure both of you are on the same page about what to do with your money. That could be as simple as saying after the monthly bills are paid, you'll put a certain percentage of your income into savings, put a certain percentage of your income towards paying off debt, and have fun spending the rest of it.
The important thing isn't having a set of strict rules, though: it's to figure out a financial philosophy that both of you can live with. If the rules you initially come up with don't work, that's okay. Just have another conversation and figure out how to make it work.
Work out a household budget
Managing money for one person can be complicated — and managing money for two people can make it that much more complicated. With two people both bringing in money and spending it, it’s tough to keep track of what’s happening to your money. That’s why it's crucial to have a household budget.
Whether you use paper, a spreadsheet or a fancy app, write down all of your bills and what you both typically spend every month. You can be as sketchy or as detailed as you'd like: the goal is to make a framework to base your spending on. If the budget doesn't work — or one of you really wants to buy that big screen TV this month — talk about it and decide how to proceed together.
While budgeting sounds boring, this is a good time to talk about your long-term goals together. Do you want to take a European vacation? Get a new car? Buy your dream house? Talk about it and make a plan to save up for it.
Decide who pays the bills
There's no right or wrong answer here. You may have one spouse handling all of the bill paying or draw up specific responsibilities for who does what (i.e. one of you manages the cell phone bills, the other handles the rent). It's important to make sure you both know who's responsible for what so no financial obligations falls through the cracks.
Should you get a joint account?
Does being married mean you need a joint checking account? Not necessarily — and some couples prefer the independence of keeping their finances separate. However, there are benefits to a joint checking account: primarily that you money is equally available to both of you as needed. Without joint accounts, you may have to move money around and make a detailed division of who’s responsible for which expenses. A joint account means all of your money is in one place so you don't have to do any juggling.
Still, it's not the best approach for everyone, especially for couples who can't quite agree what to do with their money. If how to spend keeps turning into a fight, keeping things separate — where each spouse is responsible for their own money — may be the best way to go. However, you could take a hybrid approach too: each having accounts for your own spending money, with a joint account to handle mutual expenses.
But whatever you decide, the important thing is to decide together.