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Say ‘I do’ to open financial communication with your spouse

By Jason Alderman

Not to sound like Dear Abby, but the key to maintaining any sound relationship, whether friendship, business or marriage, is open and honest communication. This becomes doubly important when finances are involved – ask any divorce lawyer.

Whether you've just returned from your honeymoon or are about to walk down the aisle, sit down – right away – and have a heart-to-heart conversation about your respective financial histories, savings philosophies and long-range investment and retirement plans. The last thing you want to discover unexpectedly is that your new spouse is deeply in debt or a shopaholic.

Here are a few topics all couples should discuss:

Put your cards on the table. If you've got student loans or credit card debt, bring it up now. Before planning an elaborate, expensive wedding, think about how much stronger a financial foundation you'll lay if you first lower your debt load.

Align your goals. Nobody expects their spouse to share identical views on everything, but if you have diametrically opposed life philosophies, you could be headed for trouble if you don't clear the air. Discuss issues like:

  • Home ownership. Decide how important this is to you as a couple so you can start planning and saving. If one partner has other, stronger priorities, you'll need to sort that out so you can work together as a team.
  • Education. If one or both of you want to continue or return to college, factor those costs into your budget. It may mean you both work part-time, one spouse supports the other through school, or you take out student loans together.
  • Starting a family. Some people want kids right away; others prefer to wait. Make sure you agree on when (or if) you want to start a family – and begin saving right away. Consider affordability issues around stay-at-home parenting and/or childcare.
  • Retirement. It may seem premature to be discussing retirement, but it helps to be on the same page so you can plan accordingly. For example, if you both want to retire at age 55, you'll probably need to begin an aggressive savings plan in your 20s.
  • Consider consulting a financial professional for your family's particular situation.

Be prepared to compromise. Many people wait until later in life to marry or remarry, so they're often set in their ways and have difficulty compromising, especially about finances. Set basic ground rules for things like agreeing on major purchases, savings strategies and budgeting.

Share financial duties. Many couples opt to have one person manage all the finances, from balancing the checkbook to choosing retirement investments. It's not like choosing who does the dishes, however: You both need to take an active role in all major financial decisions. Worst case – what if something happened to one of you? The other should be able to step in and run the show.

Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management site sponsored by Visa Inc., features a practical guide to marriage-related finances, covering issues such as prenuptial agreements, reviewing and adjusting banking, credit and insurance accounts, developing a livable budget, tax implications, and setting long-term financial goals (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/marriage.)

Don't let your marriage get off on the wrong foot – bring the same level of trust and openness to your finances as you do to the many other aspects of your new life together.


Jason Alderman directs Visa Inc.'s financial education programs. To sign up for a free monthly personal finance e-Newsletter, go to www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter.




This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how tax laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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