Are You Financially Ready for Married Life?

The Big Day is approaching, and it’s going to be perfect. You have planned out every detail—from the dress, to the rings, the cake, the honeymoon and everything in between. It is going to be an amazing day, the best day of your life. But when that day is over, are you ready for the rest of your life with your spouse?

No matter how wonderful the wedding, marriages are made, or fail, from what happens after (and before) the Big Day. Marriage is a lot of work, and those first few years can be key to having a lasting marriage. And when it comes to making marriage work, and last, you need to be sure that you and your spouse are both financially ready for married life. Each of you have to be willing to work, and often change, to truly make it work. But before I offer a few tips, let’s first talk about what this is NOT.

I am NOT talking about improving your credit score, having a better job to support your future spouse and family or saving money for the wedding, the ring or the house of your dreams.

Nope. I’m not talking about ANY of those things. Why not? Because at their core, they don’t answer the question of whether you are truly financially ready for married life. Sure, those things are all important, and they all can make life easier in the long run.

But my tips apply, even if your credit could be better, you need a better job or you want to save more money. (So, don’t be using this article as your excuse.)

With that said, to ensure you are financially ready for married life, here are a few questions to ask and answer:

1. Communication. It all starts with communication. This is the biggest key for success, period. And financial communication is no different. When you successfully communicate with your spouse-to-be, you can make anything work. Communication is why it doesn’t completely matter what your credit score is, what your job is or what you have saved. The big thing is to make sure you communicate it all to your beloved. It might be embarrassing, but if you are truly committed, then you have to communicate these things. Quite honestly, if you nail this one tip, everything else I offer will probably work out well. One of the first things to talk on is, “How much are we going to spend on the wedding, and how much will we leave to start our life with?”

2. Pre-marriage financial counseling. When it’s time for your wedding, many couples will get pre-marriage counseling from the minister, often as a requirement for them to perform your service. How about you also talk to someone for pre-marriage “financial counseling” as well? You can choose from folks like a tax attorney or certified public accountant, or your financial advisors. The goal here is to have an impartial person who can listen to everyone’s financial situation and help guide you to a successful marriage before you start combining assets. Which leads us to our next tip…

3. To combine or not to combine (that is a deep question). You do NOT have to combine your assets in a marriage. It’s not required, and in many cases, there are huge tax advantages to maintaining separate accountants. You really need to communicate on this (there’s that word again), because one size does NOT fit all. Just because your best friend and her husband combined everything into one account doesn’t mean it will work for you. You should consider questions like, who is the most responsible with finances? Who has the higher salary? Who has the higher debt? Do we buy a house together? Do we want to save for private school? And on it goes. Personally, I am a fan of three bank accounts, one for you, one for me and one for us, but that might not work best for you. Consider your circumstances, and then make it work for you both.

4. Ensure you have complementary career goals. Are you a “nine-to-five” worker and not a minute more, but your partner is an entrepreneur? Or maybe you have a demanding job that requires late hours and his job requires early morning starts. Perhaps you are both doctors who are constantly on call? Beyond spending quality time together, your career goals will affect you both financially. If you want to make your dream business work as an entrepreneur, you better make sure your spouse is supportive of the hours it may take away from the home. Heck, in many entrepreneurial situations, one spouse is carrying the financial load while the other is growing the business. Whatever the situation, it is vital to have career alignment. You both don’t have to want the same thing, but you both do need to be committed to supporting each other.

5. Prenuptial agreements, anyone? You knew this had to make the list, right? But let’s be honest, we cannot have a real discussion on our financial picture without considering this as well. To make sure we are on the same page, a prenuptial agreement (or “prenup”) is an agreement that details the financial consequences of ending a marriage. From a financial clarity point of view, it’s hard to argue against these, and a prenup can make a divorce financially easy to resolve. But part of why many won’t even consider a prenup is they don’t want to consider the possibility of their marriage ending. They also aren’t just for “rich folks.” A prenup considers property, debt, salary, potential payments after divorce and so on. Take it from someone who knows, a prenup greatly eases the burden of a marriage ending. My suggestion is to do the prenup now, while you are basking in the glow of your future life together, and then put it away and live your life.

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but a successful marriage goes well beyond, and years after, your dream wedding ceremony. To make it work, you need to consider the financial realities that can make or break your relationship. Consider the tips offered and really ask yourself, “Am I financially ready for married life?”

Calvin Harris Jr. is an award-winning chief financial officer. He has been quoted and/or interviewed by Black Enterprise, Reader’s Digest, US News & World Report and AMEX Open Forum, among others.