Marriage is a great adventure, and like any adventure some thoughtful planning can really enhance the experience and provide the outcome you are looking for. With any adventure trip we put a lot of thought and effort into picking the destination, choosing activities, doing research and picking the right gear to make the best experience. So why not put the same energy into our financial planning efforts for our family? Some of the same principles apply to marriage as to that epic trip - being flexible, remembering why you are there, and knowing when to speak up and the times to just keep your mouth shut!
The following is a checklist to help you get organized as well as set a plan in motion, or if you are already started, to stay accountable. When my wife, Daniela, and I worked through all of this information it was a great exercise, it reinforced many of the things we already knew about each other and uncovered some surprises.
Where Are You Today?
Understanding where you stand financially is the foundation of any financial plan. It's important to take a full assessment of your current standing. Here's how...
Household Income Statement. This is a simple picture of how much money you make. Writing this down should also prompt conversation on the possibilities and expectations for the future.
- Spouse #1 Income
- Spouse #2 Income
- Other income
Household Balance Sheet. Do you know your Net Worth?
- Savings & checking accounts
- Retirement & long-term investments
- Real estate & all other assets
- Consumer debt, mortgages, student loans
- Other items
Subtract liabilities from your assets for your Net Worth. We like to track this number regularly to provide motivation and perspective on progress. It's also great for milestone tracking.
Household Insurance Coverage. Provide a breakdown of all the insurance you own.
- Health insurance - compare employer plans for cost and benefits.
- Life insurance - list employer and private policy coverage amounts and details.
- Disability insurance - are you enrolled in employer plans for both short & long-term benefits?
- Home, auto, & umbrella liability insurance - breakdown coverage amounts and cost.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Many couples come from different backgrounds and upbringings that have shaped how they feel about money, and they carry these thoughts and beliefs into the marriage. It's important to talk to your partner so you understand one another. I have tendency to be a spender, whereas my wife is a saver - I like to think we have been a balance on one another.
1. Discuss your views on money and where they came from. Revisit your family history and personal experiences. How did your parents manage their money and where did you learn the habits you exhibit today? Are you a saver, spender, etc?
2. Discuss your plans for housing now and in the future. The high cost of housing can create quite a bit compromise in deciding where you live - access to work & schools, the home of your dreams, proximity to family - a thoughtful plan can help ease your mind with some of the stress involved.
3. Discuss your idea of financial freedom. The beauty of this question is in the answer - if you ask 10 people you may get 10 different responses. It can mean anything from retiring early from the corporate grind, to moving to Costa Rica and opening a coffee shop, or simply working at something you love.
4. Set Goals for next 90 days, 12 months, 3 years. As human-beings we tend to have a hard time with our 'future self', thus making it easy to be impulsive with our choices. Breaking things down in the present and creating short-term goals and rewards can get you moving in the direction you want.
5. Set Goals for next 4-10 years, and beyond 10 years. Where do you see your 'future-self'? Take time to create mental imagery and set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely).
6. Set a BIG stretch goals & a BIG non-stretch goal. This is one of my favorites - allow your mind to run free and think big with your stretch goal. Follow it up with a meaningful big goal that is within reach. 1970 Chevelle anyone?
Things To Do Now
Tackle these items today. This list includes some of the first things we did when joining our finances..
1. Create a Realistic Budget. Target 50% to fixed expenses, 30% to lifestyle priorities, and 20% toward long-term investments. Working with a budget can create GUILT-FREE spending on the things you really want the most.
2. Eliminate Bad Debt. Pay-off all consumer debt and devise a plan to handle any student loans.
3. Fund Emergency Savings. You should have 3-6 months of living expenses in a dedicated savings account.
4. Revisit your Investment Strategy. Do you have an investment philosophy? Take time to understand why and how your money is invested in your retirement and investment accounts.
5. Update & Review Beneficiary Designations. Review retirement accounts and insurance policy beneficiaries for accuracy. Your spouse should be primary and you can add children as contingent beneficiaries.
6. Establish and/or update will, power of attorney and advanced health directives. Talk through each of your wishes and seek the help of a qualified estate attorney to implement your strategy.
7. Review your credit report and scores together. Annualcreditreport.com offers a free report from each credit bureau annually, and many other services will offer access to your credit score for free.
8. Devise a system for storing and organizing important information. Create an electronic vault to store important documents and account statements. Do the same in hard copy and store these items somewhere secure at home.
9. Combine auto & homeowners insurance and consider umbrella liability coverage. Combining coverage often offers considerable savings on your premiums. Make sure your valuable items such as engagement and wedding rings are covered.
Remember Your 'Why' and Stay Accountable
Don't forget why you are here in the first place. It's easy to get distracted or overwhelmed by life's challenges. They say every great adventure comes with some discomfort. Get in the spirit and find your motivation to get organized and create confidence around your money.
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*Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.