If you're recently engaged or just married, your money concerns probably begin and end with paying for the wedding and honeymoon. But there's plenty to think about after you've tied the knot, from divvying up spending to planning a shared retirement. We asked the happily married, the happily divorced, and a few money experts to give us their best advice for newlyweds trying to sort out their combined finances.
Banker-turned-financial-consultant Denise Winston of Money Start Here says that wedding finances are a great place to start the conversation. From there, it's easy to transition to talking about debt, spending habits, and retirement planning.
"I always ask clients, 'Tell me what your dream life looks like.' When you have that conversation with your partner, you can build expectations," she says. "[If] one of you wants to have kids and buy a bigger house to raise them in, and the other doesn't, you have different ideas of your dream life and how much it's going to cost."
Cherylyn Murphy, a happily married communications professional with two children in N.J., says communication is key. "Make sure both parties know what's coming in, what's going out and what it takes to financially run their lifestyle. Don't lie about expenditures, hide money or make large purchases without both parties agreeing first."
Get Used to Being a Couple
Eric and Erika Torres publish the Newlyweds on a Budget blog, and were married after three months of dating and a three-week engagement. "The hardest aspect of combining our finances once we got married was definitely learning to view money as ours, rather than yours and mine," Erika says. "Especially when one partner makes significantly more than the other partner, a lot of resentment can build. It took us a while to finally get to a good enough place with our finances where we both feel comfortable and involved."
Avoid or Pay Down Debt
"Don't force yourself to buy more expensive furniture, cars, clothes, or homes just because your friends look like they're on their on their way up in the world," says journalist John Platt, happily paired in Maine. "For all you know, they're in debt up to their eyeballs."
The Torreses had significant debt when they were married, but are now nearly debt-free.
"We lived in a shack in someone's backyard," Erika recalls. "We put 20 percent of our take-home pay toward debt and savings. We hardly ever went out to eat and instead had friends come over. It was not easy, but we're in a much better place right now."
Switch it Up
Whatever decisions you make about your finances, resist the urge to put one person in charge of the couple's money.
"Don't let money become one person's 'thing,'" says newly-divorced Aaron Futch, a lawyer from Bethesda, Maryland. "It should be a joint responsibility, with joint decision-making. I've seen friends who split up, and one member of the couple had no idea what their financial situation was, or how to manage their own finances in the future."
Winston of Money Start Here recommends switching things up so you don't fall into a rut of who's managing the finances.
"You can really get into a groove in regards to who's handling the investments and who's paying the bills," she says. "Consider switching roles before getting into a habit."