Updated: Jul 16
Negociate Credit Solutions - Author Lauren Heekes
Couples are waiting longer to get married and so when it’s time for wedding bells to start ringing, many come to the table with personal debt and individual financial goals.
Finances before and after you get married
If you’re considering marriage or co-habitation, it’s important to discuss where you and your partner stand financially before making it official.
Money issues are responsible for 22% of all divorces and so diving head on into marriage without a clear combined financial picture can set you up for disaster.
It’s no secret that fighting about money puts a huge strain on a relationship. Take steps to avoid letting money matters get the best of your marriage.
Mine, Yours, Ours
You have grown accustomed to managing your own finances. You don’t think it’s necessary to discuss your finances with your partner. So, what do you do? You decide to split the bills down the middle or allocate them according to income percentages. Once the bills are covered, each spouse can spend what they have left as they see fit.
It sounds like a reasonable plan, but the process often builds resentment. It divides spending power, eliminating the financial value of marriage. This in turn prevents the ability to plan for long term goals. Separating accounts and bills also creates a platform for spouses to hide purchases, debt and any other bad money habits.
Proper planning in terms of unforeseen expenses and loss of income is also ignored because the mine, yours, ours mentality is selfish and doesn’t consider these possibilities in terms of future events. It doesn’t consider the impact as a whole on the future family.
One of the worst things that a couple can do is to spend too much money on the wedding, especially if credit is used to do so. The wedding lasts one day, but the debt lasts for more than 5 years.
The financial pressure that this debt adds to the start of your married life is inevitable and unpleasant.
If it’s money that you have saved it can be put to better use. Set up your financial future by putting this money down as a deposit on a new home or invest it into savings or rainy-day funds.
Instead of the huge wedding, decide to celebrate your financial successes by saving for your 10th anniversary. It’s a great milestone to mark the fact that you are still married and have made great strides in working towards financial freedom, achieving most of the goals that you set for yourselves as a couple.
To truly understand money habits, take a good look at credit reports, scores and payment history. A poor credit score and payment history is a clear indication of financial issues. Discuss what led to these issues and poor financial choices. Was it due to unforeseen events or just being reckless with credit?
Understanding your spouse’s current financial history and situation can also provide the clues needed to nip those financial habits in the bud.
Budget – The new sexy word
Only 32% of couples sit down and plan their finances for the month. Not budgeting is like trying to reach a destination without a map.
Technology makes budgeting easy with apps that track your accounts and monthly expenditure. Online calendar reminders are set for payments and also for your next budget meeting so that no other plans are made on that day.
If unforeseen expenses arise, setup a separate meeting for where other costs can be cut and how you intend to make up for that unforeseen expense over the coming months.
If you decide to get married in community of property, it’s important to understand that the law sees you as one entity. i.e. your debt is your spouse’s debt and vice versa. If a spouse is retrenched, loses income or dies then the remaining spouse will be left with all the debt. Make sure that you discuss how much debt you each have.
Obtain credit life cover to protect yourselves in the event of loss of income or life cover that will settle all debt in the event of death.
Budget properly so that you work towards settling this debt as soon as possible.
If you decide to get married out of community of property you should still have the discussion. Living separate financial lives in a marriage is a recipe for disaster. Couples should be transparent about debt even though it is an uncomfortable subject. Couples should also set joint goals to pay off debt as soon as possible. The faster you can pay off debt and learn to live with less, the better your financial future will look.
It’s important to understand what your spouse’s financial weak points are, how they plot monthly expenditure and their attitude towards saving and investing. Once you have a complete understanding of each other’s money values and habits you can better establish common goals.
Money habits are generally inherited from parents. What you see is what you get. If parents were not particularly good at managing money, chances are you won’t be particularly good at managing money. These habits can be unlearned but support is needed in order to achieve this.
A spouse with responsible financial habits is more than likely going to have problems with the spouse that doesn’t manage money correctly. This is where conflict starts.
Be honest with each other about this and if necessary get outside help to get financial matters in order. Learning about money together can be extremely rewarding especially when debt is settled or net worth is growing annually due to responsible joint decisions.
Stop Keeping Secrets
Treat your spouse as you would want him or her to treat you. You wouldn’t want to be left with a nasty financial surprise and neither would your spouse. Be respectful of each other and understand that what you do has a knock-on effect and causes problems for your entire family.
While no one should be micromanaged or expected to disclose every purchase, hiding accounts or lying about big purchases can be toxic to the relationship. This can lead to bigger issues down the line, such as guilt by the person keeping the secrets and questions of trust, when the partner who was deceived inevitably finds out.
No one is perfect and we all fall off the rails every now and then. Own up to your mistakes and involve your partner in getting you out of debt or paying off that frivolous purchase you made in a weak moment.
Start at the end not at the beginning
Where do you and your partner want to be at the end of your financial journey. Plot a story board of the goals and dreams you have. If you know where you want to be at the end of life, then it is much easier to plot a path to that end. Working on small short term goals is great, but these little goals should lead you down a path to your ultimate goal. What does your life look like in your head when you reach the end?
Family and Friends
Set strict rules about lending money to friends or family. The best rule is not to lend money at all. However, if a situation arises and you are in a position to assist, make sure that you discuss it with each other before doing anything. Lending money to a family member, without first discussing it with your spouse, can cause huge problems for your relationship.
While a payment plan should be put in place to repay this money, the general consensus should be that you only lend money you can afford to lose. It is very easy for a family member or friend not to stick to that repayment plan. If you lend money you can afford to lose then the impact of that, both financially and personally, will not be as great.
Children are expensive and there are far more unforeseen expenses when you have children. Clear financial goals should be set in advance for each point in that journey. Take a year or two to get as much debt paid off as possible before having children. If you are having trouble paying off debt or putting aside money for saving, then having children is probably not the best idea.
It is becoming harder for children to find employment and leave home. Understand that children could therefore be a lifelong financial commitment.
Pass on good financial habits to your children
If children are in your future, start teaching them about money when they are young. Preparing them for a financially responsible future reduces the odds of them dipping into your wallet once they grow up and knocking your savings plan off track. Use allowances and goals to teach your children about earning, saving and spending money.
Lack of communication about finances is the source of many marital issues. Clear and honest communication before and after marriage is key to becoming financially successful. Try to see each other as partners in a business. That business is going to evolve with the taking on of additional responsibilities like home and children. Money and financial goals must therefore also evolve over time.
Schedule a time once a month for budgeting, once a quarter to check up on goals, or once a year to see where you are and what you have achieved. Enlist the help of a financial advisor and learn good financial habits to be applied consistently over a lifetime.
When you come to the end of your story you can look back and be proud of all that you have achieved – together.
About the Author - Lauren Heekes
Lauren is currently a registered member of the National Credit Regulator. Prior to that, she worked as a Financial and Technical consultant for McGregor-BFA (Now INET-BFA). McGregor-BFA provided Financial Advice, Trading and Market related data as well as Investment management software to various Asset Managers, University Business Schools and Investment entities. Thereafter experience was advanced to the Property Market working as a Project Manager for Propertyi. But it was actually her career at the IEB in Adult Education that inspired a passion of hers to educate consumers about responsible ways of managing their financial lives and the long term advantages of doing so. It is her belief that financial education should be taught from an early age. By doing so we can create a country that is truly economically stable with consumers that are driven not only by work ethics, but by becoming Financially Independent.
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