When you’re caught up in planning a wedding, it’s easy to forget about what comes after. And no, I don’t mean your honeymoon. I’m talking about your financial future together.
Money consistently crops up as the biggest source of friction between married couples. One survey found that although eight in 10 couples think they’re on the same page about money, they actually disagree about things like who should pay the bills or take care of retirement planning.
Fortunately, you can sidestep a lot of arguments by having an honest discussion about finances before you tie the knot. Getting on the same page might require some heavy compromising, but it can make you a stronger couple and help you work as a team toward your shared goals. And that’s what marriage is all about.
So before you answer “I do,” take some time to answer these important questions:
1. Who will manage the money?
Married couples have all sorts of different financial arrangements. Some merge their finances. Others keep them separate. Some divvy up the money management responsibilities. Others entrust them entirely to their spouse. “Before you think about marriage, one of the big questions to ask yourself is how much do you trust your partner to manage money wisely?” asks financial planner Kelly Anderson.
2. What’s our budget?
Whether you decide to merge your finances or keep them separate, you’ll still need to come up with a household budget that works for both of you. How often will you be able to take vacations? How will you pay for major purchases? What kind of lifestyle can you both afford? Lay your financial obligations on the table and hammer out how to get them met on both sides.
3. How’s your credit?
Bad credit may not be a deal-breaker, but you should know about your spouse’s financial history and credit habits. They’ll affect your ability to borrow money down the road. When you apply for joint credit, lenders will take both of your credit scores into account. When you get joint credit, how your partner uses it will directly affect your own score. Bottom line: You’re both responsible for maintaining healthy credit if you want to buy a car or house together someday.
4. Where will we live?
Location, location, location—it’s as important in marriage as it is in real estate. Where are your jobs likely to take you? How far away are you willing to move? Will you rent or buy? Lots of things can affect your living situation, including your budget, your job and your credit history. Figure out what’s realistic for you right now and where you hope to be able to live in the future. Getting the home you want may require you save up, reduce your debt load or work on your credit score.
5. What are our goals?
If there’s one thing a couple should sync up on, it’s their long-term financial goals—they’re right up there with dog versus cat or whether the toilet paper goes over or under. Where do you see yourselves at your 5, 10 and 20-year anniversaries? Do either of you dream of going back to school or staying home with the kids? Do you want kids? Even if you want different things, it’s important to find a middle ground you can agree on.
Now that you’ve got the financial questions nailed down, you can move on to the big stuff. Like where to go for your honeymoon.