Set financial goals—together
If you were getting ready to go on a road trip, you wouldn’t set off for your destination without a map at hand. You’d have a plan—complete with gas stations, rest stops, and fast food joints. (What is a road trip without fast food?) Whether you’re paying down debt or saving for a down payment on your first home, having a plan positions you to reach your financial goals. And setting financial goals together is a great opportunity to connect about your future. Do you want to live debt free? Do you want to plan a trip for your first wedding anniversary? Do you want to buy an investment property? Carve out the time for this exercise, and make a date out of it. Ask yourselves: What are your top five financial goals as a couple? Then, together, chart your course on how to get there.
Get honest about debt
Debt is normal. (You read that right.) Most adults carry some sort of debt, from credit cards and student loans to home mortgages or auto financing. Debt is part of a healthy financial life, and no matter the type, talking candidly about that debt with your spouse is important. You can only build a strong financial foundation as a married couple if it’s focused on the truth. If you’re worried about disclosing your financial past, you’re not alone: One in three Americans admit to lying to their spouse about money. Among those couples impacted by financial infidelity, 67% said the deception led to an argument, and 42% said it caused less trust in the relationship. The truth is difficult, but lying about debt is even harder. We say, get honest. When you have a clear understanding of each other’s debt, you become available to tackle it together, and you can go a long way in building trust—the true currency of your relationship.
Debt is part of a healthy financial life, and no matter the type, talking candidly about that debt with your spouse is important.
Create a budget
Budget is not a four letter word (it’s a six letter word, if you’re counting). In fact, it’s one of the most important components of financial health. At its simplest, a budget is an estimate of your income and expenses—your financial inputs and outputs—for a set period of time. There are plenty of tools available for creating a budget. You can keep it low-fi with an Excel sheet, use money management software like Quicken, or take advantage of dozens of savings and personal finance apps. (There are even apps made specifically for couples, like Honeydue!) When you learn to budget and have a clear idea of how to strategically pay down debt (or save for the things you want), you can set realistic goals as a couple—and feel good knowing that you’re mastering your finances together.
Make money-talk a habit
Most of what we do as humans is habitual. It’s the way we’re wired. It’s likely you have plenty of habits you don’t even consider habits at all! (In what order do you brush your teeth and wash your face? That, friend, is a habit.) Some habits come to us naturally, and others have to be developed. There’s quite a bit of brain research on how to create new habits, most specifically by tapping into existing behaviors. Do you and your spouse have a show that you’re currently binge-watching? Try adding in a brief discussion of weekly finances before rolling into the next episode. There are lots of little habits that govern your weeks and weekends. Find one that gives you the time to talk about finances. If all else fails, put something on the calendar and stick to it.
Have some fun
Tending to your finances should be a discipline, not a prison—you have to leave room for some flexibility. The more time you take to talk about your financial situation, set goals as a couple, and stick to a budget, the more control you’ll ultimately have over your money. That means you’ll have a better sense of when to save and when to splurge. And you can create space in your budget for tiny indulgences: date nights, weekend getaways each quarter, and gifts for one another.
Managing your finances as a couple doesn’t have to be a drag. There will be hard conversations, but they are conversations worth having—especially during your first year of marriage.