5 financial tips for the newly engaged

By Dana Dratch

If you're recently engaged, chances are you're mulling venues, cakes and theme colors. If you really want a happy life together, though, take a little time to talk money, credit and how you'll pay for those dreams of a bright future.

Smart money management can make a big difference in happiness after the big day, according to both financial planners and relationship experts.

5 Money Tips for the Newly Engaged

However, "couples tend to spend more time planning their wedding than they do planning their life together," says Jill Gianola, a certified financial planner and author of "The Young Couple's Guide to Growing Rich Together."

While no one solution fits all money dilemmas, couples can begin building strategies to boost the chances of financial success. Here are five ways to get started:

1. Talk, dream, plan
One of the great things about finding the person with whom you want to spend your life? Having someone to share your hopes and dreams for the future.

So start talking. One way to kick off the dialogue: "Take an evening and talk about where each of you would like to be in five years, whether it's where you see yourself living or what you see yourself doing for a living," says Gianola. "Just to see how meshed you are on your goals."

"And it doesn't all have to be money," she says. Include personal, professional and educational goals.

It's "really nice to just start that conversation," she says. "And it's a conversation you're going to have a lot of times."

 A couple of topics Gianola suggests for future evenings:

  • What accomplishment with money are you most proud of? It might have been paying off a debt, saving for an important purchase or getting through school without taking out any loans.
  • Do you have any money obligations that I should know about? From school debt to a sister that you slip $50 every so often, or parents who are expecting to spend their golden years in your spare room, these are things you need to share, she says.

Too often, people don't discuss their hopes and dreams for the future, Gianola says. "If you can't share that with your soon-to-be spouse, who can you share it with?"

2. Take a premarital financial class
Before you book the hall, pick out the napkins or send out those save-the-date cards, register for a good premarital seminar, says Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for The Washington Post and author of "Spend Well, Live Rich."

Look for a multiweek course and make sure at least a few of those classes focus on finances, she says. Those are the sessions in which you'll share credit reports and credit scores and draft a budget, she says.

So how does a couple find a good premarital seminar? A lot of religious organizations, counselors and therapists offer them, says Singletary. Search them out and make a call to see how many of the sessions will center on finances.

"It's not that two opposites can't get married," says Singletary. "But you have to have a plan."

It's not that two opposites can't get married. But you have to have a plan.

-- Michelle Singletary
Personal finance columnist

3. Learn what money represents
"Disagreements about finances have little to do with money itself and more to do with the meaning of money," says Terri Orbuch, author of "5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great."

Money represents different things to different people. To some, it's security, freedom, control or even a token of love. Those personal associations "affect how you're going to deal with money later on," says Gianola.

So figure out and share what money really means to each of you, Orbuch says. A couple of conversation points to help the two of you do just that:

  • What did money mean to you growing up?
  • What did your parents spend money on?
  • Did you hear people arguing about money?

"If you don't understand what money means to you and your partner," says Orbuch, "it's going to come between you."

Don't wait until something's gone wrong to talk about finances, she says. Instead, schedule regular money chats where you talk spending, saving and planning. While you're engaged and planning a wedding and a life together, shoot for once a week, Orbuch says. Once you're married, talk money at least once every three months, she advises.

4. Practice with cash
For engaged couples, "It's really important that they find a way to start practicing with money together," says Ruth Hayden, financial consultant and author of "For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples."  

One strategy she recommends: Designate an envelope or gender-neutral wallet as the payment source for the things you do together, such as dinner out, movies, pizza night or events with friends. Each of you contributes regularly to your joint fund.

It's really important that they find a way to start practicing with money together.

-- Ruth Hayden
Financial consultant

The idea is to use this cash cache to start talking about things like salaries and obligations, expectations and decision-making, she says.

"And I think it's better to practice with a little bit of cash," says Hayden.

5. Pull credit reports, buy scores
Do this activity together: Get printed copies and treat them like awards-show envelopes from Price Waterhouse -- no peeking allowed, and open them together.

Attack any problems as a team, no one gets to lord it over the other or claim financial superiority, Hayden says.

You're looking for both errors on the reports that can be corrected, and behavioral mistakes you've made in the past that you can change going forward. Don't be surprised to discover that your histories, and even your attitudes about money, are totally disparate, she says.

"We know that the credit histories are going to be different, and the credit scores are going to be different and the salaries are going to be different," Hayden says. The real assignment is, "Let's figure out a way to make the differences work in a relationship," she says.

One couple Hayden counseled literally shook hands and agreed, "We will figure this out, and we will do it respectfully." And over the years, they went back to that promise whenever they dealt with financial challenges, Hayden says. "It became their mantra."

See related: Financial infidelity poll: 6% hid bank account from spouse or partner, Married women find financial responsibility attractive

Published: March 13, 2015

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