Planning for marriage should involve more than just picking out invitations and deciding whether you should serve chicken or fish at the reception. More importantly, you'll want to take a look at how marriage will impact your financial situation. And while there are a number of issues you'll need to think about, careful planning can increase the likelihood that you'll have financial success as you enter this new chapter in your life.
Consider a prenuptial agreement
If either you or your future spouse has or may inherit substantial assets, or if either of you has children from previous marriages, you may want to consider a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial agreement is a binding contract between future spouses that defines the rights, duties, and obligations of the parties during marriage and in the event of legal separation, annulment, divorce, or death. A prenuptial agreement typically addresses the following areas:
- Assets and liabilities--What assets will each of you bring into the marriage? What liabilities do each of you have (e.g., credit card/mortgage debt)?
- Contributions of each partner--Will there be particular consideration given for special contributions that either of you make (e.g., one spouse limiting his or her career)?
- Divorce--If you and your future spouse divorce, will there be alimony or a lump-sum payment? How will you divide assets purchased from joint funds?
- Estate planning--Who gets what at the death of either spouse?
Discuss your financial history
Marriage is the union of two separate individuals ... and their finances. While talking about money can be a stressful topic for many couples, you'll want to sit down and discuss your financial history and your future spouse's financial history before you merge your money.
Start out by taking stock of each of your respective financial situations. You should each make a list of your individual assets (e.g., investments, real estate) and any liabilities (e.g., student loans, credit card debt) you may have. This is also the time to address items such as how much each of you earns and if either of you has additional sources of income (e.g., interest, dividends).
Agree on a system for budgeting/maintaining bank accounts
Right now, you are probably accustomed to managing your finances in a way that is comfortable for you and you alone. Once you are married, you and your spouse will have to agree on a system for budgeting your money and paying your bills together as a couple.
Either of you can agree to be in charge of managing the budget, or you can take turns keeping records and paying the bills. If both of you are going to be involved in the budgeting process, make sure that you develop a record-keeping system that both of you understand and agree upon. In addition, you'll want to keep your records in a joint filing system so that both of you can easily locate important documents.
Once you agree on a budgeting system, you'll be able to establish a budget. Begin by listing all of your income and expenses over a certain time period (for example, monthly). Sources of income can include things such as salaries and wages, interest, and dividends. Expenses can be divided into two categories: fixed (e.g., housing, utilities, food) and discretionary (e.g., entertainment, vacations). Be sure to include occasional expenses (e.g., car maintenance) as well. To help you and your future spouse stay on track with your budget:
- Try to make budgeting part of your daily routine
- Build occasional rewards into your budget (e.g., going to the movies)
- Examine your budget regularly and adjust/make changes as needed
This might also be a good time to decide whether you and your future spouse will combine yo