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A new year means many newly engaged (congrats!) couples planning for their dream wedding. Or perhaps 2020 was the year you said, “I do” (also congrats!), and now you’re looking for ways to make the most of your combined incomes. Whether the big day is months away or you’re wearing the newlywed title with pride, these tips will help you navigate the less-than-romantic, but oh-so-important topic of finances.

  1. Start early. We don’t mean to put a damper on your wedding bliss, but one survey found that nearly 50% of married Americans argue about money, and another survey identified money issues as the leading cause of divorce. That’s why it’s important to have money conversations—which admittedly may be difficult or uncomfortable—early on to identify any issues that need to be addressed, as well as to set money-spending expectations, goals and a budget. Start with your personal and shared dreams—if you want to buy a new boat, vacation together in Italy or another big goal, talk about it! These personal and shared dreams will start your financial discussions off on a positive note and are your gateway to bigger money discussions. After all, those dreams need milestones and steps along the way to reach them.
  2. Make note of any wedding costs. Whether you’re planning for the big day or still relishing all the special moments from your celebration, the truth is…weddings can be PRICEY! If you’re still planning for the big day, be sure to do your research on what big ticket items cost (typically the reception venue, photographer, band/DJ and big day attire cost the most) and know your limits for what you are willing to spend. If your big day is behind you, make sure to work any remaining wedding debts into your budget, and consider consolidating any debt financed through a wedding vendor into a lower rate loan to reduce the amount you pay over time.
  3. Identify decisions to be made. Will you combine accounts or keep them separate? Do you need to adjust tax withholdings, life insurance, car insurance, health insurance or beneficiaries listed on accounts? While you don’t need to make all of these decisions right away, add them to a list of items to tackle in a month’s time to make the most of potential money-saving opportunities (like multi-car discounts for having your auto insurance with one company versus separate).
  4. Outline your income and expenses. Identifying sources of income is usually pretty easy, as the number of full-time, part-time and side-hustle jobs are typically short. It’s the work needed to list all your expenses that can be draining—both emotionally and physically. Make note of your fixed and flexible expenses and start looking at anything that may be duplicated, such as insurance policies, subscription services, memberships, phone plans, etc. Take time to also go through at least the last three months of account statements to identify any purchases that may not be accounted for otherwise (such as daily trips to the local convenience store or weekly online shopping adventures). Treat this as a fact-finding mission, rather than an opportunity to point out each other’s money-spending challenges.
  5. Create a budget. Even if you plan to keep your accounts separate (or have some combined accounts and some individual accounts), you still need a combined budget. Make sure you identify ALL existing accounts, including checking, savings, retirement, loans and credit cards (through financial institutions and stores). Check out this handy budgeting worksheet and these helpful budgeting tips to guide you along the way.
  6. Plan frequent budget tune-up sessions. While the first round may have left you exhausted and less-than-excited for any future budgeting dates, be sure to schedule check-ins along the way (monthly is best, or at least quarterly) to make sure you’re staying on course.
  7. Celebrate! We know budgeting can stir up some tough conversations, and maybe even some surprising revelations about your loved one. That’s why it’s important to have a romantic celebration such as a fancy homecooked dinner by candlelight, snuggling up on the couch to watch a movie on your favorite streaming service, stargazing in your backyard, etc. planned shortly after you complete the hard work of budgeting.

Looking for more budgeting tips? Check out our monthly budget tips for more resources.