THE FIRST YEAR: Getting on the Same Financial Page
Let’s face it: Credit reports and 401 K plans aren’t exactly exciting or romantic, so it’s no wonder that most brides-to-be don’t like to mix banking with their Big Day plans. And while we understand you’d love to bury the boring “money” talk with your fiancé under wedding cake samples, financial planning can cause a serious honeymoon hangover if not taken care of early. That’s why we asked Malvern financial planner Beth D’Andrea to help make this daunting (and sometimes awkward) task less of a headache. Here are her top five steps to make sure both you and your piggy bank are ready to take that walk down the aisle:
1. Get financially re-acquainted. The best way to fend off fiscal disaster early in your marriage, D’Andrea advises, is to have an open heart-to-heart about each of your financial personalities and habits. “The first step is making this not a taboo subject,” she says. “Find out how much each of you has in savings and debt, and find out who’s a spender and who’s a saver.” Just doing this basic number-crunching will lay the foundation for smoother financial meshing down the road.
2. Make a to-do list. After you’ve gone over the basics, D’Andrea says, you and your significant other need to “design a future together.” This might sound easier said than done, but really, she promises, it’s just a matter of talking through your priorities as a couple. Do we want to buy or rent our first house? When are kids a realistic idea? What about a dog? “Once you nail your priorities down,” D’Andrea says, “you know what you have to do with your money.”
3. Figure out the best route. Once you’ve totaled your assets and expenses, it’s time to map the best path for reaching your own white picket fence. Building a long-term budget can be complicated, so D’Andrea suggests finding a financial planner to help you navigate the numbers. “Having a third impartial party can make things much easier,” she says. “We’re trained to understand everything about a person and their money, and can help people feel more comfortable with their choices.”
4. Take another look at your employee benefits. Employers’ insurance and retirement plans often have cost-cutting options for married couples, so be sure to re-examine your benefits at work. Figure out who has the better health plan and the best strategy for fattening your retirement fund. D’Andrea warns that a lot of employers’ policies only give you 30 days after the wedding to make changes, so it’s important to take care of this step ASAP.
5. If it starts to get overwhelming, think small. Looking too far down the road can be daunting, especially coupled with the usual wedding stresses, so it can help to focus on the everyday nickels and dimes. “Start with the day-to-day,” says D’Andrea. “Decide how to handle your checking accounts, who’ll pay electric and water, and who’ll pay the mortgage.” After you’ve divided basic expenses like these, you’ll feel more ready to tackle the major paperwork.