Engaged couples often spend a lot of time and effort—and money—optimizing their special day, complete with venue visits, dress shopping and honeymoon research. However, among the flurry of wedding planning, one essential after-wedding element should also be discussed: finances.
Rather than starting off on the wrong foot—studies show that 21% of divorcees cite money as the cause of their divorce—use the time leading up to your marriage to sit down and discuss what your expenses will look like as a newly married couple. While it might not seem romantic, doing so could be the key to starting your marriage off on a happy and healthy note. Talking about money can seem intimidating, but if you break the process down into manageable steps, you might be surprised how easy it can be.
Gather Yours and Your Spouse's Financial Information
Before you can figure out how to divide your expenses, you’ll need to get a pretty healthy picture of what your expenses actually are, which means gathering together all the details. Some of the most common elements you’ll want to include are:
Before heading into your money talks, gather together all the pertinent information about any outstanding debts you already have heading into the marriage. That includes everything from student loans to credit card debt and beyond.
Why It Helps: Any true conversation about expenses can’t begin without first discussing existing debts on both sides. According to some statistics, couples who fight about money have approximately $30,000 in consumer debt, and nearly two-thirds of all marriages start off in debt. Don’t be embarrassed about existing debt, either—on average, each household with a credit card carries $8,398 in credit card debt. By being open and honest with each other upfront about debt, you can figure out the best way to tackle it and move forward.
Essential Monthly Spending
If you’ve already moved in together then you’ll have a good idea of what your monthly essentials—rent or mortgage, utilities, car payments, food, etc.—look like, but even if you haven’t, you can likely make an educated guess about what most of those things will look like based on your current monthly bills.
Why it helps: Creating a solid monthly budget has multiple benefits. Not only is it the best way to ensure you stay out of debt moving forward, but it also helps ensure you can reach some of your larger goals in the future.
Once your debt repayment and monthly essentials are covered off, you can discuss your combined future plans—like buying a new car, buying your first home, starting a family and saving for retirement—and figure out how to start saving now for those additional goals. Saving in an emergency fund is also an important way to stay covered in the case of a crisis and to avoid going any further into debt.
Why It Helps: It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of paying for our immediate needs without focusing on things we might want in the future, but a good overall financial budget includes putting at least a little bit away for these additional goals, as well.
Extra "Fun" Spending Money
Depending on how much you have leftover after covering off debt, your monthly essential and any big-ticket savings goals, it’s always a good idea to create an additional savings account for more short-term—but still important—goals. These might include things like travel, holiday spending and outfitting your first place together.
Why It Helps: The more you can save up to buy these types of items outright—rather than putting then on credit cards—the easier it will be to stay out of debt and to feel better about your buying decisions.
Dividing Expenses With Your Spouse
After you have a good idea of how much the above items will cost each month, you can set up a system that seems fair to both sides about how to cover them. This could mean one of any number of options. Some popular ways to divide expenses after getting married include:
How to Divide Expenses Evenly
If you have fairly similar salaries, it might make the most sense to just throw everything into one bucket and divide it evenly. This should help avoid feelings of one person paying more than the other, and it helps both parties feel like they are contributing evenly to both day-to-day necessities, as well as future goals.
You're Each Responsible for Your Expenses
In some cases, a couple may decide that certain expenses—like existing debts, or personal monthly expenses—should be left to each individual to pay off monthly. This doesn’t mean that you can’t combine other expenses—like joint monthly needs—but it allows for each person to take care of any financial issues that existed before the marriage, while still contributing to the joint daily needs.
Divide Expenses Based on Salary
In cases where the salaries between two people are quite varied, it might make more sense to come up with a hybrid system where each person is responsible for a percentage of the monthly budget based on how much money they bring in each month. Or, in this case, perhaps the person making the higher salary pays for the larger expenses—like immediate monthly needs and debt repayments—while the other contributes to savings accounts for future goals.
At the end of the day, there is no one right way to go about dividing expenses after marriage. The most important thing is to enter into a conversation about money with an open mind, to figure out a goal that works for both of you, and to revisit regularly to adjust as necessary. If you’re still stuck on how to move forward, a Fifth Third advisor can help point you in the right direction.