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Tips From An Expert Wedding Guest – Jan. 25, 2012
2012 Bridal Guide
by Leah Carey
You’re marrying more than just his family. You’re marrying more than just her workaholic tendencies.
You’re marrying into each other’s finances.
You’re marrying into a financial past and creating a financial future, and that requires as much (or more) planning as the wedding itself.
“The number one thing is they need to talk about it first,” said Lisa Helme, director of Financial Literacy and Communications at the Vermont Treasurer’s Office. “It sounds so basic, but personal finances remain a real culturally taboo subject.”
Helme said that while many people may be willing to talk in generalities about their finances, the specifics of how much they make, how much they paid for their car and how much they owe on their credit cards are difficult subjects. On top of that, “Don’t be surprised if your spouse-to-be doesn’t have a lot of information. An unfortunate amount of the population doesn’t have a written budget.”
How to start
Helme suggests that couples make time to have a detailed conversation about their financial lives. Rather than making it a scary conversation, though, she suggests letting it be fun. “A really nice way of approaching this is by having a very positive ‘building our future’ discussion over dinner. Picture what it’s going to be like to live together as a married couple and envisioning where we’re going to live and what it’s going to cost. As you imagine what your life will be like together, you start to assign some of the costs of that. If it’s kept in that realm, it can be a very positive thing.”
You may also want to make an appointment with a financial adviser to do a financial check-up. “It’s a nice way for the information to be shared without either spouse feeling like they’re trying to pry anything out,” said Helme. “The adviser should help lead them through the questions they should be thinking about.”
“It’s a red flag if people won’t share that information,” warned Helme. “If you’re entering into a marriage you should be willing to trust each other and share information and share the financial paperwork associated.”
One way to be sure that you’re getting good information is for each partner to order a free credit report and then look at them together. According to Helme, the best website to use for requesting a free credit report is www.annualcreditreport.com. “That is the one that is truly free,” she said.
The credit history of each spouse is important because it impacts your future credit rating as a couple. “It could have a huge impact on their ability to borrow money and the interest rate on borrowing. That can be a big surprise,” warned Helme.
Planning for the future
One of the biggest financial questions that couples face is whether to open a joint checking account or keep their money separate. If they do open a joint account, how much does each partner contribute? Each solution will be as individual as the couple making it, but it’s important to have explicit conversations that lay out a clear plan.
“This can get into power struggles,” Helme said. “If you can talk about it before it becomes a confrontation, that would be a much better way to deal with it. It shows attitudes people have about money. Money is a very personal thing.”
Talking about financial goals may also reveal other areas in life that require compromise, like where you want to live in or the number of kids you want to have. “Keep an open mind,” Helme suggested about these conversations. “Because marriage, like so many things, is about compromise. Approaching long-term planning will be very revealing if you are not able to compromise at all. I suspect there will be other things you won’t be able to compromise on either.”
If one or both of you have children, that adds another layer of complexity to the financial conversation.
“Part of building that financial picture is child support,” reminded Helme. “For the spouse who has the child, what are their financial and legal obligations with those children?”
Understanding each other
You can find many studies that show money as one of the hottest sources for conflict in marriages, and there’s a reason why, according to Helme. “It’s not just dollars and cents. It’s emotions and power. It’s how we view ourselves in terms of self-esteem. That’s why it’s important to talk about it along with everything else as you’re getting ready to get married.”
“Talk soon, talk often, talk basics,” she continued. “From that you can begin to not only understand your own finances and your spouse-to-be, but you can better understand how each of you approaches life and what’s important to each of you.”
Helme suggests these online resources:
- moneyed.vermont.gov – click the “Manage Your Money” link then click “Getting Married.”
- mymoney.gov – on this site you’ll find calculators, budgeting worksheets and checklists to get you started.
- investopedia.com – a site for investing information.
“Money doesn’t have to be the thing that drags you down,” she said. “It can be a solid foundation for your relationship that won’t get shaken later.”
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