(This is a guest post from NBC Today Financial Editor Jean Chatzky)
We’re right on the verge of warmer weather and, as such, wedding season, at least in my neck of the woods. If you’re planning a walk down the aisle, don’t forget to budget in time for a discussion about how you plan to manage your finances after the cake is cut. After all, money is one of the leading causes of marital discord. How do you keep the peace? I have a few suggestions (and, by the way — if your honeymoon is over, but you’re still struggling to bring your money together, this post is for you, too. I know couples who have been married for 10 or 20 years and could still benefit from a little help here).
* Be open. It’s never too late to share information about your finances — credit card debt, your credit score, how much you have in savings — but ideally, you want to talk before you walk. Sit down together and agree to put it all on the table, because any flubs in your past could have an impact on your partner. It’s better to fess up about your damaged credit score now than have a lender air your dirty laundry later, when you’ve found a house you want to purchase.
* Work together. I think both partners should have a stake in the game, and I kept that in mind when I designed the budget spreadsheets and spending trackers that come with my virtual Budgeting Boot camp. If you are feeling like there just isn’t enough money in the month, it helps to go back to square one by tracking your spending. Do it individually, then come together at the end of the day and share what you’ve learned. This isn’t an exercise you need to do long-term, but initially, it’s a good way to get a picture of where you stand. Then you can budget, together, from there — I like budgeting backwards, which means looking at what you’re spending now, comparing it to your income, and then slowly making tweaks to get things in line. Talk too about where you can cut back. Another one of my classes, a Crash Course in Saving More, can help there.
* Keep some autonomy. When it comes to the structure of how you mange your money, I like a system I call yours, mine and ours. Essentially, you have both joint and separate accounts: Once you’ve come up with your household budget, you each deposit enough into your joint account to cover that budget. Please note that that includes savings, both for retirement and an emergency fund, but also for fun things like upcoming vacations. Then what remains is yours to spend how you please. How do you decide how much goes into the shared account? Obviously, you need enough to cover your expenses. But how you arrive at that amount is up to you — if you have fairly even incomes, you might just split it in half. If one partner earns a great deal more or less, you might do a percentage system, so you each contribute X percent of your income, but the actual amounts vary.
Bio: Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC Today, is the author of 8 books on personal finance, most recently Money Rules. You can keep up with her on JeanChatzky.com. Follow her @jeanchatzky.
Photo by USNavy