Family Law

After Marriage: Top Money Issues to Discuss With Your New Spouse

By Amy Castillo, J.D., University of Minnesota School of Law
Learn about the kinds of conversations you can have with your spouse to help you avoid money arguments.

Weddings are an exciting time. You’re planning a reception, which is probably the biggest party you’ll ever host, and most important—you’re looking forward to committing yourself to a spouse and to a shared future. With all of that going on, it’s understandable if you avoided some of the big conversations you needed to have. If you didn't discuss critical financial matters before you married, it’s not too late to open that dialogue once you're back from the honeymoon.

Did either of you come into the marriage with debt?

You should have a very frank discussion about your current debt levels and how much each of you brought into the marriage. Consider all of your debts, including credit cards, car loans, and student loans. Don’t get angry or argue—it is what it is. Once you can see the big picture, you can formulate a plan to get yourself out of debt and on the path to saving for your future.

Are you both willing to establish and live by a financial budget?

Regardless of whether you’re bearing the burden of a lot of debt or whether you’re completely debt-free, it’s wise to live according to a budget. There are countless websites and apps—look for one that’s reputable—that can help you track your expenses and your incoming funds and then establish a customized budget that helps you pay all your liabilities and save a healthy percentage of your money for a rainy day.

Would you be better off if one spouse handled some or all of the finances?

Depending on the intricacies of your marriage, it may be that you have too many cooks in your financial kitchen. One of you may be skilled at managing money, whereas the other becomes anxious or depressed when confronted with financial realities. Have a discussion about whether it would be prudent for one spouse to manage the monthly budget, while keeping the other spouse fully informed.

Have you updated your beneficiaries?

If you’re married, you can change the beneficiaries on your insurance policies and retirement plans to name your spouse as the main beneficiary. One thing to keep in mind is whether, if you were married in the past, a court order prevents you from doing so. If not, you should change your policies and plans so your new spouse reaps the benefit.

Have you changed your withholdings?

Make it a priority to talk to a CPA and decide whether, in your situation, it’s better to file your taxes jointly, as a married couple, or individually. You then need to connect with your employer’s human resources or payroll department and consider changing your withholdings so they best fit your new tax situation.

Have you made a long-term plan?

Sit down together and talk through your current employment and where you believe your career will be in five, 10, and 20 years. Factoring in your projected income, try to anticipate what you’ll each be contributing to your retirement plans. How long will it take you to get to retirement? Are there interim sacrifices you need to make—like cutting out cable television or restaurant meals—to achieve your long-term goal? Working together toward a desirable shared future can only strengthen your finances and, more important, your marriage.

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