Financial advice can be hard to find for young newlyweds. My wife and I got married young and didn’t have a lot financially (we were still full-time college students). Managing our money as a young couple wasn’t always easy. We didn’t really know what we should be doing, nor did we necessarily have the means.
I remember seeking out professional advice early on in our marriage. I was looking for simple steps to implement once starting my career. Here’s what I learned:
1. Combine your finances
After your honeymoon, combine your financial life. Start with your bank accounts. Decide which bank you will use and have joint ownership of the accounts. Don’t use this as an opportunity to maintain separate, private accounts. You can still have autonomy on some of your spending decisions (more on that later) without having to keep secrets.
Other items you can combine include a joint credit card, certain investment accounts, insurances, and a budget.
2. Start these two types of investment accounts
Depending on when you are getting married, you may or may not have the ability to invest a lot of money. That’s okay—the goal with this step is twofold:
- Develop the habit of saving and investing.
- Build up your liquid assets for future goals.
You should open two types of investment accounts: a Roth IRA and a non-qualified investment account.
The Roth IRA is probably the best account for retirement saving. Starting young—even if it’s only $50 a month—is big. You can make a goal to eventually maximize your annual contribution (currently $6,000 per year per person).
A non-qualified investment account just means it’s not a retirement account. I think young people with competing goals (e.g., saving for a house, kids, future college expenses, retirement) will find value in this. Funds in a non-qualified investment are liquid and can be withdrawn without penalties. As a newlywed couple, building up a nest egg in this type of account can be beneficial.
Again, don’t worry about the amount of savings. Starting with any amount is better than not saving at all. If this is you, check out Betterment as a place to start these investment accounts.
3. Get life insurance
Now that your financial life is combined with another person, get a life insurance policy on each of you. A life insurance policy pays the surviving spouse a death benefit if one of you passes away while the policy is active.
Since you are combining your lives, including finances, you will start making financial moves that will be negatively impacted by the untimely death of one of you. This includes any joint debt (even a future large mortgage) and possibly the addition of kids.
While some will advise you to wait until you need it (like waiting until you have kids), a term life insurance policy is so inexpensive while you are young; I recommend getting them right away.
4. Don’t expect your parents’ lifestyle right away
If you are like me and get married young, it’s tempting to think your lifestyle should match that of your parents, even though you are at the start of your career and at the lower end of your earnings lifecycle. Falling for this type of thinking means you will stretch your budget and rely too much on credit to fund your lifestyle.
It’s okay to rent for a while. My wife and I didn’t purchase our first home until four years into our marriage. Even then, we were only able to purchase it because it was the literal bottom of the housing crash.
When you do get a house, you don’t need to furnish every room right away. Maybe watch less HGTV if this is too much of a temptation!
Ask your parents about their first years of being married. What were their finances like? What sacrifices did they make to get to where they are today?
5. Don’t let budgeting be a source of tension
Creating a budget together is a good habit to cultivate early on in marriage. However, budgeting can cause anxiety, tension, and arguments. This is especially true if one person is the “budgeter” in the relationship. Often, the budgeter will question his/her spouse’s purchases. This leads to abandoning the budget altogether since it’s doing more marital harm than financial good.
Here’s a solution: provide a line item in your budget for each of you with 100% discretion. This spending money can be used for anything—no questions asked! Instead of letting the budget be a source of guilt and shame, this allows it to empower your financial decisions.
Money is a cause of marital stress
Why are finances such an important thing to get right in your marriage?
According to a 2018 survey, money is a leading cause of marital arguments and the number two cause of divorce. Financial literacy is important, but even more important is the ability to communicate and work together on your finances. Managing money can be simple, but it is rarely easy. That’s because money also comes with all kinds of emotional baggage.
If you are a newlywed, congratulations on this next chapter of your life! My hope is that you can start off your marriage with the right financial habits.