Wedding: How To: The Big Merge

It’s time to play nice and learn to share all over again

How to Merge … Your Finances 

This, dear brides, is one of those issues that, left unattended, can end up being a land mine. But there are lots of easy ways to make sure you don’t step on it. “Bank accounts and finances are more than just dealing with money,” says Center City-and-Wynnewood-based licensed psychotherapist Tracey Ellenbogen. “Merging financially is a huge issue for newlyweds, because most people come to the marriage with different ideas about money — how to spend it, and how much debt they’re comfortable with.” Which is why she, and most financial planners, suggests — surprise, surprise — talking it out before you start pooling any funds.

Mary Jo Harper, vice president and wealth management adviser at Merrill Lynch in Blue Bell, says that a good way to begin is to have a conversation about short- and long-term goals. Do you want to save for a house? Would you rather spend it all traveling the world? Inclined to sock extra money away for retirement? It all depends on your age, state of mind, and place in life, says Harper: “People can have very different visions.”

Malvern-based certified financial planner Beth D’Andrea has seen firsthand how important it is to get on the same financial page. “Be honest, and lay it all out on the table,” she says. “The worst thing would be to find out that your new husband has credit-card debt, or that he doesn’t think eating out every night is a prerequisite, like you do.” Brutally honest conversations like this (which actually might provide relief from seating-chart hell) can help determine who plays what financial roles in your new team. And they could answer the age-old question of whether to have separate, his-and-hers bank accounts or not. “Either way is okay, as long as you both agree on it,” says D’Andrea. “It all comes down to what works for you as a couple.” Just make sure, she says, that the person  in charge of the finances sits down with their spouse a few times a year to keep him or her in the loop.

Regardless of how you set up shop — as with personal space — it’s important that each person has his or her own budget or money. “It can prevent finger-pointing later,” says D’Andrea. This way, the other person doesn’t get a say in how you spend your money (men never understand how much highlights cost) as long as you stay within your own budget.

Just don’t forget to fit in these conversations during the pre-wedding phase, because time can be of the essence. Many insurance companies only allow you to make changes to your account up to 30 days after you get married. And in some cases, merging things like car, health and homeowners’ insurance can equal big savings.