In the last column we looked at the first four of ten financial mistakes that thebalance.com says that you don’t want to make as a newlywed. They are: (1) not having and discussing individual long-term financial goals and plans to determine if they are compatible; (2) not having a frank discussion about each person’s current finances; (3) not being open and honest about financial and other habits, like gambling, that could affect the marriage in a significant way; and (4) combining finances before marriage.
Before we look at the remaining mistakes, and 10 questions that newlyweds, or any life partners, should ask, I want to share a recent conversation with a regular reader. I asked him if he enjoyed the columns, and he said “yes, some more than others,” which I told him was what I would expect. We got into my hopes for the columns. I expressed that I hoped that they would afford some important and useful financial advice, at times for the reader, but at other times for family members or friends, if they passed them on. I also hoped that they would keep readers informed about current financial issues, like tariffs, so that they could further track them, and think about and discuss how they might affect them individually, or their friends or families. In addition, I hoped that, at times, they would provide some scary financial statistics or the results of surveys, that would make readers think more deeply about their individual finances and those of others, including their children or grandchildren. Then, sometimes, the column might even offer up some financial humor.
Let’s return to the additional mistakes that newlyweds don’t want to make.
5. Putting the wedding or honeymoon on a credit card without having the money to pay the charges in full. It is not wise to start life off together with a lot of unnecessary debt, even though this may mean that you have to cut back on some of the things you might otherwise want. As we have discussed in this column, there are numerous websites available today to help you plan a wonderful, but affordable, wedding.
6. Refusing to create a family budget. A budget is the key to being financially successful as a couple, just like it is for an individual or a business, no matter how much money you make. It will usually require some give and take, since often each party’s financial priorities may not be the same, but in the end you can come up with a budget that works for the family. Again, if you can’t come to that joint budget that works, consider a session with a fee based financial planner. In fact, you might want to keep one on retainer after you have read all these possible mistakes.
7. Keeping finances separate. Ideally, combining your finances and budgeting together can help you work more easily toward your financial goals as a couple. However, in today’s more complicated world that may not always work well. Couples are getting married later, having had many years of handling their own finances; multiple marriages and blended families are not uncommon; and there are other financial issues that some couples will have to deal with. In those cases, it may be advisable to work with professionals to look at different options. They could include some separate and some joint accounts, for example.
8. Ignoring warning signs. Things like overspending and an unwillingness to talk about family finances need to be confronted in a positive and healthy way before they become a bigger problem.
9. Not working as a financial team. It is important at all times to budget together, discuss finances, and avoid things that can prevent you from meeting your shared goals, like overspending and incurring unnecessary debt.
10. Ignoring any debt that you bring into the marriage. Tackle that debt hard and early, no matter what it is, if it is consumer debt, like credit card or even student loan debt, as opposed to reasonable mortgage or business debt. The quicker you are a debt-free team, the better change you will have to meet all of your financial goals as life plays out.
Let’s turn now to Jeff Opdyke’s 2009 book, “Financially Ever After,” the couples' guide to managing money. By the way, this would be a great engagement gift for many couples. Actually, it addresses finances even for couples who have been together for a long time, so it would be a good gift for almost any couple.
First, before we get to those questions that newlyweds should ask and answer, here are a few things in the introduction that got my attention. In one survey, two-thirds of newlyweds surveyed reported that conflicts over spending inflicted the most damage on their marriage in the first year. Another report found that debt brought into the marriage was one of the three most difficult hurdles faced by new couples in their first five years together.
Here, and in the next column, are the ten questions that he believes need to be resolved by a couple living together, engaged, or already married, in order to financially succeed in the relationship, along with what I found to be some of his key points. Many of these questions will lead into discussions and actions that will prevent couples from making the ten mistakes we have discussed.
QUESTION 1: Do You Have a Basic Understanding of Money? Many Americans have a basic understanding of spending and incurring unnecessary or unaffordable debt, but they are pretty financially illiterate, especially when it comes to saving, investing, budgeting, comparing financial products, and setting and realizing long-term financial goals. The more financially literate each party is, the better chance the couple will have of setting important common financial goals and working together to meet them. If there is a big gap in financial literacy, the more financially savvy one should consider taking the emotion out of it all, and suggest that they go together to that fee-based financial planner to close the gap. The same applies if they both realize that they really aren’t up to the challenge of combining their finances and then creating a clear roadmap to financial success as a couple.
In the next column we will finish the ten questions every couple must ask. In the meantime, are you thinking that maybe everyone should spend some time with a fee-based financial planner?
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.