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Congratulations — you just got married! You and your spouse are starting a new chapter in your lives, and with that comes a shift in the way you handle your finances.
For some, your new household will have two incomes rather than just your own. That change can raise some questions: How do we save together? Do we need a joint checking account? How can we get the most out of our dual-income household?
Having two incomes instead of one can alter your financial planning, but it doesn’t have to be a hassle. Here’s a look at how you and your partner can reach your goals — together.
It’s possible you’ve had the money conversation with your spouse before tying the knot; if not, have that talk early on so the two of you can get on the same page without the unspoken tension.
“It seems like it happens — more often than not — that you’ve got one saver and one spender,” says June Keister, SVP, Everyday Banking, Checking and Deposits at Citizens Bank, “but you have to both agree to a budget.”
Part of setting a budget is establishing your goals as a couple. Do you need to pay down your student loan or credit card debt? Are you hoping to buy a house in the next few years? Do you want to save for traveling the world? Is your top priority saving for your children’s education? Set those joint goals (short term and long term) at the start so you can establish an action plan on how to manage your money.
Once you have your goals ironed out, it’s time to determine how you can work together to achieve them.
Part of that process is deciding if (or how) you’ll use a checking account. Some couples put everything into joint accounts, while others might use a combination of joint and individual checking accounts. Regardless of how the accounts are structured, you should establish a monthly budget. This would include monthly recurring bills, as well as any specific savings goals you may have, together or individually.
While checking accounts are generally used for paying bills, individual savings accounts for each savings goal can make it easier to manage and monitor progress toward your objectives. Perhaps the two of you want to take a Caribbean vacation in a few years or you want to focus on paying down student debt — you could have a specific savings account dedicated to each goal so you can easily visualize how close you are to reaching your goal, and reevaluate if you need to save more or stay the course. The same goes for individual goals the two of you have. Keister says she nicknames all of her accounts (ex. “2018 Aruba Vacation” and “June Fun Money”) so she can keep track of the progress she’s making on her own accounts, as well as the joint ones.
“Having these accounts broken out can really help you see if you are on track, and can also help you refrain from overspending,” says Keister. “If money is in my checking account, I’m more likely to spend it. If it’s in a savings account with a clear purpose, I’ll likely leave it alone.”
The key is setting and agreeing on your monthly budget, and holding each other accountable to remain on track.
Some financial institutions have goal-based savings accounts and programs that offer incentives if you meet specific savings achievements.
The plan you set at the beginning of your marriage is not cast in stone. It’s important to regularly check on the progress the two of you are making to determine if you’re on track or if you need to make changes. Perhaps the two of you made great progress paying down your student loan debt since you last revisited your plan; does that mean there’s more room in the budget for something fun?
“I think it’s important to revisit your plan with some frequency,” Keister says. “Your life can take many unexpected twists and turns, and it’s important to incorporate them. It also is a great time to have conversation around whether any of your goals have changed, or if you’d like to add new ones.”
Having a stated plan around your finances — and discussing it regularly — can really help a couple become financially fit.
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