Disclaimer: Jill Schlesinger is an ambassador for Marcus by Goldman Sachs and has received financial compensation. However, all thoughts and opinions are hers.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs is the sponsor of the Jill on Money podcast, featuring Jill Schlesinger, a Certified Financial Planner, CBS News Business Analyst and author of the new book “The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money”.
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A couple is getting married and wants to know if they should combine their money. Up until now, they have lived separately and kept their finances separate.
How should they think about this? How and when should they have the conversation?
As you prepare to take your vows and plan your ceremonies, I know that it is a drag to have someone like me remind you that in addition to all of the fun stuff, marriage is a legal union that will also bring your finances together. As a result, couples getting married need to have honest conversations about money. Of course it’s tough to do — money discussions can often bring up core issues about how we were raised or fear about the future. That’s why financial issues can be so loaded for couples and often lead to heated battles.
Start by having the conversation
Set aside a specific time and place to talk about the dreaded topic. You can reduce emotions by setting ground rules: No judgments — just an open dialogue. During the conversation, share information like outstanding debt, the amount of money you have in savings or investment accounts, and your retirement holdings. If you are planning to purchase a home together any time soon, you should also pull your credit reports/scores.
You need to determine whether you want to keep separate bank accounts and then contribute to a joint account for your expenses, or merge everything into one account — there is no “right” answer on this one! Many couples ask me about paying off old debts. Again, this is up to you, but you have to make a decision one way or the other.
Divide and conquer
After you have that initial conversation, you should follow up with a plan to divide financial responsibilities. My recommendation is to work toward your strengths. If you are an app queen and like to track money, perhaps you should manage the day-to-day bill paying. If either of you wants to be responsible for overseeing the investment accounts, that’s fine, but make sure that you are on the same page when it comes to risk. If one person in the relationship is completely uninterested in all of this stuff, don’t let him/her off the hook: each of you has to understand the game plan and you should have quarterly chats (followed by a romantic dinner, perhaps?) to review the most recent statements.
The thing no one wants to bring up…prenups
Finally, a quick note about a pre-nuptial agreement (“prenup”), which is the most unromantic engagement topic ever. A prenup is a contract that essentially outlines how a couple would split their finances in the event that the relationship does not work out.
Nobody wants to contemplate the end of a relationship, but for those who have been married previously, have children from a prior relationship, or are owners of a closely held business, a prenup is a helpful way to keep assets separate and to honor previous obligations.
If you are convinced that a prenup would be smart for you as a couple, it’s important to approach the topic without sounding like a jerk. Start by having the conversation at a time that feels “safe” — do not blurt it out in the middle of a fight or the night before the wedding!
You may want to open up the dialogue by saying that you would like to discuss how both of you can feel protected in the event that the relationship does not last. If there is immediate resistance, do not push the conversation; rather back off and make a plan to revisit it.
The bottom line
If all of this sounds onerous, please know that the process is worth it: while not romantic, these conversations can save a lot of future heartache. Just like most issues, communication and empathy are the go-to tools that will help you navigate the process.