Financial friction is one of the leading causes of miserable marriages and divorce — but it doesn’t have to be. When couples commit to making a few critical money decisions after the honeymoon ends, they can set themselves up for decades of happiness and prosperity.
“Managing finances as a couple is an important aspect of building a strong and stable future together,” said John Garcia, CEO of Prudent Financial Solutions.
So, first, congratulations on the wedding. But now it’s time to tackle the financial issues facing you and your new spouse before they tackle what could have been your happy marriage.
Although it’s much easier to get excited for karaoke night, movie night and even Scrabble night, money discussion night is the one with the power to save your marriage.
“There’s no need to wait for things to go wrong before broaching the subject of money,” said financial industry veteran Jeremy Biberdorf, owner of the investing platform and services comparison site Modest Money. “Instead, it should be a healthy, ongoing conversation. So, schedule a financial date night once a month to discuss your financial situation, make plans for the future, and assess your progress toward your goals.”
Biberdorf suggested monthly money check-ins, but they could also take place weekly or every night at dinner. It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re talking.
“The foundation of financial success in marriage is open and honest communication,” Garcia said.
Here’s what you have to look forward to on your first round of financial date nights. They’ll add exactly zero spice and spontaneity to your marriage, but they’ll build the foundation for decades of actual date nights to come.
Date Night No. 1: Discuss the Basics and Your Backgrounds
You should probably have had this talk before tying the knot, but if you’re just getting to it now, don’t waste any more time.
“Start by discussing your financial backgrounds, including any debts, assets and your respective financial goals and values,” Garcia said. “Identify your short-term and long-term financial goals together. Whether it’s buying a home, saving for your children’s education, or retirement planning, having shared objectives will guide your financial decisions. This sets the stage for mutual understanding.”
Date Night No. 2: Map Your Financial Future
With your backgrounds and present situations laid bare, it’s time to create a vision for where you want to be in the near future and a plan for getting there.
“They need to make a five-year strategic plan for their wealth,” said Patrick Kilbane, J.D., CDFA, general counsel, wealth advisor and director of the divorce advisory group at Ullmann Wealth Partners. “They absolutely need to know how much money it takes on a monthly basis to run their lives and where the monthly excess capital, if any, will be deployed.”
Date Night No. 3: Create a Joint Budget
With a five-year goal in place, it’s time to create the personal finance equivalent of a roadmap to guide you there.
“Work together to create a joint budget that encompasses both of your incomes, expenses, and savings objectives,” Garcia said. “This will provide clarity on your financial situation and help you allocate resources wisely.”
Date Night No. 4: Prepare for the Worst
With your future financial destination established and a budgetary map in place to guide you there, the next step is to make a plan to build emergency savings. After all, without a rainy day fund, the next unforeseen expense will derail all the plans you made and goals you set.
“Having three to six months’ worth of living expenses set aside in a dedicated savings account can provide peace of mind and financial security during unexpected crises,” Garcia said.
Date Night No. 5: Focus on Debt Management — Because Nothing Keeps Things Interesting Like Interest
An emergency fund comes before debt reduction because, without one, you’ll have to borrow your way out of the next crisis. But with a rainy day fund in place, it’s time to talk about paying back what you owe.
“If you or your spouse have existing debts, develop a strategy to manage and pay them off efficiently,” Garcia said. “Tackle high-interest debts first and explore options like debt consolidation or refinancing to reduce interest costs.”
Date Night No. 6: Establish an Investment Strategy
Any money left over after you pay your bills, contribute to your emergency fund and manage your debt should be put to work — and now is the time to decide how and where you’ll invest it.
“Develop an investment strategy that matches your risk tolerance, financial goals and investment horizon,” Garcia said. “A diversified portfolio can help you achieve your financial objectives while managing risk.”
Date Night No. 7: Agree on Banking Arrangements
One of the most important topics is how you want to handle your bank accounts. Will you segregate your money, pool it or adopt a hybrid format?
“Some couples prefer a joint account for shared expenses while maintaining individual accounts for personal spending,” Garcia said. “Find a setup that suits your preferences and needs.”
Date Night No. 8: Role Play — Agree on a Financial Division of Labor
Distinctly established tasks and responsibilities can help couples avoid financial friction and keep the household running smoothly.
“Clearly define who is responsible for what when it comes to managing bills, making savings contributions, and handling investments,” Garcia said. “Ensure both partners actively participate in decision-making.”
Date Night No. 9: Put on Soft Music and Review Your Insurance Policies
Some date nights involve time under the covers. This one determines which insurance policies you’ll be covered under. For example, upon getting married, two insurance policies often become one and life insurance often becomes a necessity for the first time.
“Update beneficiaries, if necessary, and consider combining policies to potentially reduce costs,” Garcia said. “Also, evaluate your coverage to ensure it aligns with your current needs.”
Date Night No. 10: Estate Planning — Because YOLO
This date night is always one of the most romantic of all because you get to talk about your eventual deaths.
“Now is the time to create or update your wills, power-of-attorney documents and healthcare directives,” Garcia said. “Make sure your assets are designated to go where you want in case of unforeseen events.”
Date Night No. 11: Spice Things Up With Some Tax Planning
All great date nights involve you, your main squeeze and IRS documents spread across the kitchen table — and this one is no different.
“Understand how your tax situation may change after marriage,” Garcia said. “Investigate potential tax advantages and adjust your tax withholdings or filing status accordingly to optimize your financial position.”
Date Night No. 12: Discuss Bringing In Third Parties, If That’s Your Thing
On the final date, you’ll revisit all the topics you’ve discussed and decisions you’ve made up to this point and take an honest inventory of whether you need help moving forward — it’s OK if you do.
“When in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek assistance from financial advisors, tax professionals or marriage counselors,” Garcia said. “They can provide expert guidance tailored to your unique circumstances.”
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