- Before making any joint financial decisions, newly married couples should sit down and work out what their shared priorities in life are.
- Financial advisors take different approaches to helping newlyweds but all share the goal of encouraging financial compatibility and responsibility.
- "I often see couples come in with conflicting pre-conceived notions about every financial decision," said advisor Zak Bouck at Denver Wealth Management in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
Before starting any planning around money, newlyweds should take a hard look at who they are and what they want out of life, financial advisors say.
"It's important for you to sit down together and discuss your values — both as individuals, and then as a couple," said certified financial planner Eric Roberge, founder of Beyond Your Hammock in Boston.
Roberge refers couples to an online list of values and asks them to consider, individually and jointly, what three to five values — such as community, growth, security — support the ideal vision for their lives. They can then use their shared values to drive joint financial decisions.
"Your values can, and should, inform the financial decisions you make," Roberge said. "[If] their actions and financial choices do not align with that value, people find themselves in a cycle where no matter how much their financial situation improves, they never feel like they've 'made it' or they always feel like they're missing something."
For Zak Bouck, managing principal at Denver Wealth Management in Greenwood Village, Colorado, "the three main things in marriage are: communication, communication, communication."
"I often see couples come in with conflicting preconceived notions about every financial decision," he said.
Bouck facilitates couple discussions with a deck of cards representing different priorities, asking the spouses to choose their individual top five. Asking each spouse separately makes them feel "heard," he said.
Building financial awareness together
Brian Mercado, a CFP with JSF Financial in Los Angeles, also focuses on helping spouses understand themselves better. He has couples fill out a detailed worksheet of what they think they're spending on their budget. Then he runs reports of the actual numbers, which often show a very different picture.
"We usually find it's the little things that add up," Mercado said. "It's an awareness campaign."
Pertinent topics for newlyweds, he said, include how or whether to merge their finances, tax filing (joint versus separate) and employee benefits (e.g., whose are better for which situations).
Mercado also does a joint education session — meant to bring both partners up to speed — on the importance of saving and investing (informed by the previously completed budget worksheet), investing principles (why invest, time horizons, allocation, inflation protection, etc.), and the meaning of financial terms such as "stock market" and "bonds."
Marriage is also a good time to look at life insurance, said Luis Rosa, a CFP and founder of Build a Better Financial Future, in Pasadena, California. "Do you need more than what's provided at work, for example, if you buy a house?" he said.
Rosa also advises spouses protect each other by updating beneficiary designations for retirement accounts and life insurance policies, for example; sharing passwords and policy numbers; and executing estate documents such as powers of attorney and health-care directives, especially in light of HIPAA restrictions.
"It's not all about money — you want your spouse to be involved in case of a medical emergency," he said.
For his part, Bouck provides young marrieds a "Life as Newlyweds" checklist and lays out a broad financial plan that explains basics such as savings rate (what percentage or amount of income they're saving) and different types of investment options.
Working as a team
Beyond self-reflection and planning, advisors emphasize the need for both spouses to work and think as a team.
Rosa recommends paying debt off as a couple, thinking in terms of whose debt should be paid off first, instead of each continuing to pay off their individual debt at their previous speed. He also suggests spouses have money dates — periodic 15-minute check-ins to keep each one informed of what the other is doing (e.g., transfers between accounts, contributions to investment accounts, large purchases, deductible expenses, etc.)
It's important for both partners to always understand their total financial situation.
"Consider a personal finance management system that involves both of you," Roberge said. "You don't have to divide the labor of managing your personal finances 50/50, but you should sit down and discuss how you'll function as a team so that you are both participating in some way — and you both have at least a general understanding of your financial picture and the key parts of that."