Married people think about money a lot.  Of course, single people think a lot about how to save and spend their own money; married people, though, have the added wrinkle of pondering the questions surrounding shared accounts, and establishing shared financial goals.  This gets very tricky, primarily because of one thing: just as personality opposites attract, spenders and savers tend to marry one another.

If we are honest with ourselves, everyone tends towards one camp-spending or saving.  And if you look across the dinner table at your spouse, you might notice that he/she handles money in a different way.  So how do you make good financial decisions without wrecking your marriage?  Let’s discuss. 


Communication is Key

The old adage is correct: open communication really is crucial to financial success in marriage. That’s why it’s so important to discuss finances with your future spouse.  Where to start? You probably already have a hunch about your fiancé’s spending habits from your time together, but maybe you don’t!  (Remember, it’s easy to spend money when you are enjoying the dating and romance phase, and going out to eat and seeing movies frequently).  Ask him what his financial goals are for his future, and discuss his timeline for achieving those goals. (You might also ask yourself whether these goals sound realistic given his career trajectory). If his goals reflect a complete turnaround from his current actions, he may need a kind-hearted intervention prior to the marriage. 


Aligning Your Goals

What happens if your financial goals are misaligned?  Perhaps he would like to save enough to buy a $600k house, while you’d rather live in a modest $350k house and take lavish vacations. If you do not agree on your financial goals at the outset, this could be a source of disagreement and angst down the road. All good marriages involve compromise, so it is helpful to begin those discussions early. When the house-buying time finally comes, you will likely be more sensitive to your spouse’s outlook, since you were forewarned.


Securing a Prenuptial Agreement

If you are entering into a second marriage, or if either of you have substantial assets to protect, it might be worthwhile to have one of our attornies draft a prenuptial agreement.  Counter to popular belief, signing a prenuptial agreement is not a negative reflection of the strength of your marriage.  Rather, it’s an intelligent method of protecting each other’s assets and planning for the future, akin to buying disability insurance. 


Joint or Separate Accounts

 The recurring question of newlyweds the world over: Should we have joint or separate accounts, or a combination of both? Happy couples swear by each method, so there is not necessarily one best way for everyone. I know one couple that writes checks to one another for chores on a regular basis-and they are happily married after 35 years! Still, having a least one joint account typically simplifies matters. For shared expenses such as utility bills and TV or Internet bills, a joint account makes a lot of sense. Cell phone bills, vacations, and dinners out are a bit murkier. Does the spouse making more money pay these bills? Many couples operate by unspoken rules in these areas, establishing precedent by past actions. This is fine as long as both spouses are on the same page and not harboring hidden agendas or hiding money intentionally. Go with what works best for you as a couple-just make sure both you and your significant other are comfortable with your plan.

It’s a good thing that love binds spouses together. With love comes forgiveness, which will surely be needed to overlook a multitude of financial sins.  Nobody is perfect with money, including your future spouse.  But as long as goals are openly discussed and both partners actively work towards those goals, a peaceful financial future is possible. 


H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg
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