Getting married can be a whirlwind—then, all of the sudden, it’s over. You’re left with an average wedding debt of about $35,000, which means you’ll need to start work on your finances right away—together.
Joining your finances can require some upfront work and discomfort, but the long-term benefit is a smoother financial life for you and your spouse. Here are some essential steps to take as you move forward in your financial journey together.
Pay Off Your Debt
Old advice, but it’s more relevant than ever. Why? Of the 2.4 million couples who get married every year, the average total wedding tab can add up to an entire year’s income. You might have had help. You might have had family contributions. But there’s also a good chance you find yourselves in debt.
There are two main ways to get out of debt:
- Avalanche method: Pay off debts starting with the one with the highest interest rate. This slowly builds an “avalanche” effect where you start to have more and more free money to pay off lower-interest debt.
- Snowball method: Pay off your debt starting the with smallest and work toward the largest. It helps you practice discipline and cuts down on your obligations as you quickly get rid of one monthly payment after another.
Create Your First Budget
The first step in co-managing your finances is to set aside time for a budget meeting. This won’t sound fun, but you’d be surprised at how much fun it can be to determine your financial strategy together.
Why is a budget so important? If faced with a financial emergency, most Americans wouldn’t be able to put together $1,000. You can avoid joining this scary statistic by setting up a budget that includes your regular bills, debt payments, savings and entertainment spending. The budget is the first step toward living within your means and paying off your debt.
Make a Decision on Your Bank Accounts
One joint account and two separate accounts? One joint account with a common budget? Now’s the time to decide how you’ll divide your bank accounts, as putting it off will only make it more difficult when it’s finally time to get your finances in order.
Your key question here is how you’ll use the accounts. Some couples use a joint bank account for all of their needs, while other couples decide to live off of one person’s income and invest the rest. What you ultimately choose will likely depend on your specific strategy, but make sure you explore the avenues available to you right away—and try to have the conversation early in the marriage.
You’ll also want to think about consolidating credit cards. For example, if you both enjoy travel, you might decide to put both of your major purchases on the same credit card to utilize its travel rewards points. Or, if you prefer different rewards, you might split up the credit cards so you can each handle a portion of the budget. The key is to do it mindfully and not sit around and wait for something to happen.
Save, But Don’t Splash
When you get married, it’s very tempting to make a big splash. That might mean buying a new car or home. But don’t move so quickly. Try to wait at least a year so you can consider what you need and research your options.
This is time to put money aside. You have dreams and goals, whether that’s raising a family or taking a big vacation. Now’s the time to get started on those goals by creating a savings plan, getting rid of debt and defining a credit card plan.
A new marriage takes work, but if you get the money decisions out of the way, you’re free to focus on the more important things in life.