Spring is a beautiful time of year, one of new life and new beginnings. It is also the start of the wedding season. My wife and I were wed almost two years ago, and I clearly remember how new and exciting those first few months together were. While your first few months together will be filled with many wonderful experiences, there may be some challenges along the way.
Perhaps the biggest challenge you will face concerns your finances. In fact, the single greatest cause of divorce in the US stems from financial difficulties. Because of this, it is important to start your married life on the right foot.
Start with a plan
One of the first things you will need to do is to decide whether or not to combine your finances. My wife and I combined our finances, but that may not be the best answer for everyone, at least not right away. Regardless of whether you combine your finances or not, you should always manage your finances together. The two of you can decide exactly how you want to do this, but it is highly recommended to share in the responsibility so both people know exactly what is going on.
Know how much you earn and how much you owe
Once you have decided how you will handle your finances, you and your spouse will need to have a clear picture of how much the two of you earn and how much you owe. Start with your recent paychecks and other sources of income (keep in mind your taxes may change slightly). Then, list all your recurring bills and expenses. An accurate list will help you both understand your key expenses and hopefully prevent surprises from jumping up and biting you!
Make a budget and decide how to pay bills
Now that you have a plan on how to handle your money together and a definitive list of all income and expenses, it is time to make a budget. Your budget will probably need some adjustments the first few months of living together, so remember to be flexible. When your budget is in place, you will need to decide how you will pay the bills. Will one person handle the majority of the bills, or will both people be responsible? Many people set up a joint e-mail account dedicated to handling e-mail reminders and electronic bill statements. This is a good way to keep all bills and important reminders in one place.
Create financial goals
Now that the two of you are on your way to financial harmony, you should start working on some financial goals. As newlyweds, there are likely many things you will want to do in the near future: buy a house, have children, travel, buy a new vehicle, and many other things. These all take money, and a lot of it! The only way you will achieve these financial milestones is to create a goal to achieve them. This will take a clear objective, a plan, a time frame, and a collaborative effort from you and your spouse.
Marriage can often be very similar to finances: It is not always easy, but it does not have to be hard either. When you are married, you are two people working as one. And your finances should be the same way.
Patrick is the author of Cash Money Life, a blog about personal finance, career management, and self-improvement. He served in the United States Air Force, has traveled to over 35 countries, and is a fantasy baseball champion. He is an active lender at Prosper.