I recently had my wedding at the end of January and there has been no shortage of people offering me advice on how to have a successful marriage. I didn’t realise this, but apparently every couple thinks that their relationship is the best in the world, and that many couples also have a compulsive need to explain how their relationship got that way as well. Many times, my wife and I rolled our eyes, but we also heard some things that really made sense. As one might expect, the best advice came from the people who were married for over 40 years. After sifting through a whole lot of chaff to get to the wheat (sorry, prairie idioms) here are my Top 10 financial tips to help getting things in order if you are recently married, or to revisit if your knot has been tied for a while now.
1 – Everybody Manages Their Money Differently – Some Solutions Won’t Work For You
This is my favorite one because no couple manages their money the same way, but EVERY couple feels that their way is best, therefore you should obviously do it their way too. Everyone has different comfort levels and each couple has different needs and financial goals, so there is no way that the same method will work for every couple.
My wife and I have a joint account with Tangerine as well as our own personal ones. One of our paycheques goes into the joint chequing account and it takes care of all of our expenses. Once the rent, utilities, and groceries get paid for, the remainder gets transferred into a joint savings account – also with Tangerine.
To be honest, we never figured out what we’re going to use that for yet but it’s probably our vacation fund. We set this up before our wedding and our idea was to get a more established plan in place afterwards, but it hasn’t happened yet. Eventually, this fund will start going towards our down-payment fund for a home if we decide to go that route.
This arrangement works for us because we still have our own accounts to buy the things we love to buy. She likes her shoes, I like my technology, and we don’t pester each other about our purchases since we use our own money. We are both 28 so we both are used to being independent and this method fits nicely.
My Brother: People are crazy, for some reason everyone thinks that their way of managing money is the best. Figure out what works best for you.
2 – Talk Openly And Keep Up The Communications
Talking to your spouse in an open and honest way is an important building block to financial success in a relationship. It’s a good way to understand each other and see what your spending habits are like. This isn’t a good time to keep secret accounts…
Recently-Married Friends – Make sure you talk to one another, you don’t want to end up like “that couple” who is always one fight away from a divorce.
3 – Figure Out Your Financial Goals
What are the big expenses that will be coming up in the future? Are you looking to buy a home or a vehicle in the next five years? It’s important to figure out the estimated costs so that you can start saving for it. You could look at this as a key part of your long-term budget. Once you have the big picture in place you can start creating a savings plan and set goals along the way. Don’t forget that it’s okay for this plan to change because life happens and surprises do come up. Just remember that planning for those major goals will help you to achieve them without going into crippling amounts of debt.
Every 2nd person we talked to at the wedding – “Soooo??? When are you buying a house?” or “When are you having kids?” (why do people constantly ask that anyway?)
4 – Create A Budget
In the past I really hated budgets to be honest, and I almost never had them on paper. This is one of those cases where you should “Do as I say not as I do.”. I recently started to use Waveapps to organize our finances and it has a nice budgeting feature built in. For me, putting things in an online format makes it easier to stick to and keep up with. This software is free to use, but you can always use a basic spreadsheet to figure everything out. Here are a couple templates you can use:
If you’re a student: Student Budget Template
Budget Template from Squawkfox: Track your money with the Free Budget Spreadsheet
If you want to be fancy you can always look at software like mint.com or YYNB.
Related: YNAB Review
That overly-organized friend – If you make a budget and review it every two weeks everyone is on the same page and there are less arguments that way. **Husband rolls his eyes, out of view from the wife – or vice versa!**
5 – Coordinate Your Work Benefits
We both have benefits through our work, but since I work at the University of Manitoba, mine are sort of the Cadillac of benefit plans. My wife and I compared our benefits and I pay nearly half of what she pays on a monthly basis, but my benefits are almost twice as good as what she gets. It didn’t make sense for us both to have them, so she dropped hers and is now covered under mine – saving us around $50/month. Go over your medical bills for the last few years and pick the plan that works best for you. If you nearly maxed out your plan it might be beneficial to use your spouse’s plan to “top up” the remaining amount owing when you put in a claim if that’s an option for you.
Colleague from work: Make sure you both take a look at your benefits. My husband’s are so good I don’t use a thing from my work and we save a pile of money!
6 – Update Your Beneficiaries
Once you are married it’s a good time to change your beneficiaries so that they include your spouse. You need to change them for every financial institution that you have, along with your benefits. I received some good advice from a man who was on his third marriage:
Colleague from work: When you are changing your beneficiaries, just make them all go to your estate. That way you don’t need to change them each time you get married. Nothing pisses off the 2nd wife more than having your worldly possessions going to your 1st wife. When they are all pointed to your estate you just need to change the details in your will. So you only have to make changes in one place!
Mildly offensive advice, but he has a point….
7 – Make A Will
I am told that arguing over a dead relative’s possessions is a good way to tear apart a family. If I were to die without a will, my wife would likely inherit everything, but if she died with me, then I believe everything of mine would go to my brothers. It will be divided up according to the specific provincial law that applies to me and not necessarily the way I would want it to. At the end of the day it’s a good idea to have one so you can control who gets what. If you are recently married you’ll need to update it to include your spouse if they are not in there already. No matter who you want to inherit your property, having a proper will drawn up will save a lot of time, money, and energy, at a time when no one wants to be worrying about money-related issues.
Disgruntled farmer – Make sure you make a will! You don’t want to give any more to the government or the lawyers than you already do!
8 – Figure Out Who Will Take Care Of The Bills
If you have joint expenses such as rent or utilities, it can make things easier if you have one person paying them, but it’s important to make sure both parties are informed. This is a lot easier if you have a joint account for this purpose. Right now we have a joint credit card that is used for groceries, Netflix, our internet bill, and any other purchases that we both use. Gifts for friends for weddings and baby showers also get paid for out of this account. I pay off the card in full at the beginning of each month from the joint bank account and we both have access to the transactions online. The only thing we really check on is our hydro bill since it seems to change for no reason. If we pay an extra $100 on groceries on a certain month we don’t worry about it because it’s only $100, and we both prioritise food and eating healthy. We usually use a credit card to take advantage of rewards points. The important thing is that both partners know and understand the household’s incomes and expenses, and that a routine develops in terms of who pays which bills so that no mistakes get made with each partner assuming the other took care of it.
My VERY fortunate Uncle who has been happily married for over 35 years – I have no idea what anything costs for our monthly expenses. My wife handles all of that stuff, I just make sure I keep her happy and things take care of itself!
9 – Update Insurance Policies
You always need insurance and when you get married you’ll need to update everything. We are renting and while I always made sure to have tenants insurance to cover my possessions, I had to get the policy updated to account for all my wife’s possessions, and let me tell you… jewellery sure brings up the value… We also have rider insurance on the more valuable items we carry around such as her engagement ring and my high-end laptop. My wife and I updated our life insurance through our work benefits since I never had much to begin with and have no debts to cover. Now that I have a wife, I want her to be taken care of in the event I get hit by a truck, so I increased my life insurance. I’ll likely to look into this again if we do the whole children thing. You will also need to revisit your insurance whenever you make a big purchase. Like your budget, this is meant to be looked at often and is not set in stone.
Brother/Best Man You want to set your life insurance high enough where your wife is taken care of when you die, but not high enough to “give her any ideas”…
10 – Find A Good Accountant If You Are Not Sure What To Do
My wife and I have been filing our own taxes separately for ten years, so next year will be a bit of a change. She was also a student until last year, so 2014 was the first year she’s been making more than $10,000/year. Her tax situation will change and it won’t be as simple as it used to be. Since we got married in 2015 she’s still on her own for the 2014 tax year, but next year we will likely file a joint return. If you are unsure of what to do for your taxes we have some helpful articles to get you started. If you’re not the math type, consider going to a chartered accountant that has been recommended to you personally. Not all accountants are created equal and it’s worth your time to check into things before blindly trusting someone else with your books. Paying attention to what deductions and tax credits you qualify for can save you a lot of money at this time of the year.
Uncle who is a retired chartered accountant – “…blah blah blah random benefit of filing taxes together, blah blah blah…” (It was hard paying attention to conversations relating to accounting, they are almost as exciting as budgeting…)
These are just 10 tips but I'm sure there are lots more. Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment below!