Engaged? You Might Need Money Therapy

Wedding plans aside, prior to getting married, the biggest money decisions some couples make together is ‘who is going to pay for dinner’ or ‘can we afford a romantic getaway to Aruba?’

Studies have shown that money is the number one reason married couples argue, and often the main reason couples head to divorce court. Clear communication is key to having the correct expectations when it comes to money and marriage. So it’s not a bad idea to get some money therapy of sorts before you head down the aisle.

Here are the topics you and your mate should work on to make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to your lifetime financial goals.

Task #1: Write It Down

Get a visual handle on where you both are with your finances. Write down each other’s assets: Home and car values, checking, savings and investment account balances. Then, write each other’s liabilities: mortgage, auto and student loans and credit card debt. You can’t manage it until you face it — the good, the bad and the ugly.

This type of disclosure may lead to a conversation regarding a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial is an agreement that states how money will be distributed in the event of divorce. This is never a fun conversation, but certainly an important option in some cases.

Task #2: Manage Your Collective Debt

Going from “this is mine” to “this is ours” is only fun when gaining substantial assets. When there is significant debt on the table, the picture is not so rosy. It is important to discuss how current debt will be reduced and how comfortable each person is with taking on any new debt.

Task #3: Agree on How to Spend

Prior to getting married, the only person to say “maybe that new pair of shoes (or new golf club) is not such a good idea” — was you!  In marriage, there’s one more person giving input on purchases. The two most important things when approaching spending is to be responsible and aware. You can’t be responsible unless you are aware of how much there is to spend.  Take the time to review your income and expenses with your partner so you know exactly what is left over each month.

Task #4: Allocate Funds

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to merging finances. Couples often have predetermined opinions regarding joint and separate bank accounts. The best approach is to keep it simple. It is important to have a checking account for household bills, a petty savings account for life’s pleasures, an emergency fund for life’s disasters, and an individual retirement account for life’s golden years. Beyond that, you’re just adding more to manage!

Task #5: Get Professional Guidance

The best wedding gift you can give yourselves is an appointment with a fee-only Certified Financial Planner™. These individuals are highly trained and specialize in improving the financial well being of single professionals, couples and families. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is the country’s leading professional association of fee-only Certified Financial Planner ™ professionals and can help you find a planner near you. (Full disclosure: I am a fee-only CFP® and a NAPFA member.)

Image: iStockphoto

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