Here comes the happy couple – and an entirely new financial life together. In the United States, June is the most popular month for weddings, so that’s a journey that begins for many couples right now! It takes all your attention to plan that perfect day, we know, but don’t lose sight of the day after that, and the day after that one. You’ll want to start out on the right foot when it comes to how you “do money.”
Many couples already have approached the question in their formal marriage preparation sessions, or in conversations with family and friends. Since most couples marry in their mid- to late 20s (it’s an average age of 30 for men in New York and D.C.), they bring individual financial histories to the relationship. It’s not just accounts and assets and credit card debts, but ways of thinking about money that come with it.
Everyone tells you to talk about money and your expectations about handling finances in your future. They’re right, but sometimes that advice sounds like you need to do it once, check it off your list, and call the florist and the tailor next. The reality is that you’ll be talking about money for the rest of your lives, so don’t take shortcuts the first time around. This isn’t just a conversation about which bank accounts are jointly held, if any, or which house to sell, for those of you who are more established and have to decide between them. It’s really about what money is for, what it means, and why that matters.
Money remains one of the top reasons why couples fight, but it’s different than inevitable arguments that arise over the years about kids, or in-laws or sex. A 2013 study found that when couples fight about money – and especially when they fight about money from the beginning – they’re more likely to end a marriage down the road. That was true, the Kansas State University researchers say, no matter how much money the partners make, or the size of their debts or net worth. Money conversations matter.
There are a few things that matter more than others though. For one thing, it’s important to be honest about your finances from the beginning and maintain that transparency throughout your marriage. If you bring a lot of student loan debt to the relationship, or your child support payments are always a battle with the ex, say so. If you’ve saved money that you intend to fund your retirement with, make sure your spouse has a complete understanding of the financial portrait – including a shared budget.
No one expects to have to ask permission every time they whip out a card to buy clothes or pick up the check with friends, but the reality is that for many couples, those are the little things that add up. So do the frustrations if partners don’t feel they’re being treated fairly, or they’re blindsided by surprise bills.
For some people, the silence about spending leads to suspicions about everything from too many trips to the mall or the casino, to confrontations about an affair. Far more serious are the scenarios in which financial control is tied to abuse – and that’s true for couples of all kinds, despite their socioeconomic status or educational backgrounds. The bottom line is, be honest about the bottom line. This isn’t what a bride-to-be is thinking about or a groom wants to hear, but it’s how to build happiness forever.
Across a lifetime, the reality is that your happiness will be interrupted by financial challenges big and small. The euphoria that floats like bubbles on your wedding day is a memory to cherish, and the love that you celebrate is real – but that’s what makes it so easy to think you’ll be the one couple that was invincible and escaped from money’s darker side.
That’s an illusion that’s OK for one day, and for the once-in-a-lifetime memories you make during the honeymoon that follows. For reality, it’s planning and partnership that will protect you after you’ve gone back to work and written all those thank-you notes. When you look back, you’ll be glad you did.