Updated: Sep 7
Financial stress is often a source of contention among newlyweds. Indeed, research suggests that money-related issues can be a significant factor in marital discord and divorce. As such, prudent financial management is a cornerstone of a stable marriage, particularly when money is tight. Drawing from trusted resources, this article will guide young couples in crafting a sustainable financial strategy.
Table of Contents
Setting Clear Financial Goals
Goal setting is the initial step toward financial control. Whether you aim to pay off debt, build a savings cushion, or make large purchases, identifying and prioritizing your goals will guide your financial decisions. Both partners must agree on these goals, as it promotes unity and a shared vision for your financial future.
The art of goal-setting transcends mere wishful thinking. It is a tangible process that requires the active participation of both individuals in the marriage. It helps to write it down using a structure such as the SMART goal-setting process.
Specific: I want to save money for a down payment on a house.
Measurable: The down payment required is $20,000.
Achievable: I can save $500 from my monthly income towards this goal.
Relevant: Owning a house is part of my long-term financial and personal goals.
Time-bound: I aim to reach my goal in 3 years.
So, the SMART goal is: "I will save $500 each month for the next 3 years to accumulate a $20,000 down payment for a house, aligning with my long-term goal of homeownership."
By employing this framework, you transform vague aspirations into actionable steps, enhancing the likelihood of achieving your objectives. Establishing mutual financial goals creates a sense of teamwork, aligning individual financial behaviors towards a unified objective.
Creating a Realistic Budget
Budgeting allows you to comprehend where your money is going. Budgets begin backward-looking, collecting past financial information and then tracking your income and expenses.
Use these numbers to create a spending plan that allocates funds to necessary expenses while contributing to your financial goals. Although budgets and spending plans are terms used interchangeably, they can have different meanings.
A"budget" can feel restrictive and focused on limits and constraints. A "spending plan" emphasizes that you have control over your finances and are making conscious decisions about where your money is going.
Creating a realistic budget (or spending plan) involves understanding your income and expenses and making conscious decisions about allocating your resources. Here are step-by-step instructions for establishing a realistic budget:
1. Identify Your Net Income
This is the total amount you bring home after taxes, retirement contributions, and other deductions. Include all sources, such as salaries, bonuses, dividends, and interest income.
2. Track Your Spending
Record every expense for at least a month. Divide your expenses into fixed (rent/mortgage, utilities, car payments) and variable costs (groceries, entertainment, personal care). Tools like apps or spreadsheets can help you keep track.
3. Categorize Your Expenses
Organize your spending into categories such as housing, food, transportation, and leisure. This will give you a clear picture of where your money is going.
4. Set Your Goals
What do you want to achieve financially? This could be saving for a house, paying off debt, or creating an emergency fund. Goals will guide your budgeting process.
5. Create Your Budget
Subtract your total expenses from your income. If the result is positive, you have a surplus, which you can allocate towards your financial goals. If negative, you'll need to cut back on spending.
6. Allocate Money for Each Category
Decide how much of your income you'll assign to each category based on your past spending habits and future goals.
7. Implement Your Budget
Begin following your budget. Keep track of all expenses and compare them with your planned allocations.
8. Review and Adjust Your Budget Regularly
Your income, expenses, and financial goals may change over time. Regularly reviewing your budget will allow you to make necessary adjustments.
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Understanding Debt Management
Many young couples face student loan debt, credit card debt, or even mortgage payments. The key is to understand and manage these debts efficiently.
The Avalanche and Snowball methods are two popular approaches to managing debt repayment, each with advantages and potential drawbacks.
The Avalanche method involves paying off debts with the highest interest rate first while maintaining minimum payments on other debts. Over time, this method can minimize the total interest paid and expedite debt repayment.
In contrast, the Snowball method prioritizes smaller debts, enabling you to pay off individual debts quicker and gain a sense of achievement. This method can provide motivational boosts, encouraging sustained debt repayment. However, the Snowball method may result in more interest paid over time compared to the Avalanche method, as higher-interest debts could linger for longer.
Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on what motivates you more - saving money on interest (Avalanche) or achieving quick wins (Snowball).
Related Reading: How to pay down debts with your spouse
Not all debt is created equal. Some debts, such as mortgages or student loans, may have relatively low-interest rates and potential tax advantages. Conversely, credit card debt often carries high-interest rates and should be prioritized for payment.
When borrowing, a good rule of thumb is determining whether the loan will help or hurt your future self or family.
Furthermore, it's important to maintain a good credit score, which can affect your ability to secure loans or determine the interest rates you receive on loans. Paying your bills on time is a simple way to maintain a healthy credit score.
Here are some additional steps to manage your debts effectively:
Create a Debt Payment Plan: List all your debts, their balances, and interest rates. Prioritize them based on the interest rate or balance, depending on your chosen strategy (snowball or avalanche).
Negotiate Lower Interest Rates: If you have a good credit score, it might be possible to negotiate a lower interest rate on some of your debts.
Automate Your Payments: Ensure timely payments and avoid late fees by setting up automatic payments.
Avoid Accumulating More Debt: Try to limit new debt while you are paying off your current ones. This may involve cutting unnecessary expenses or increasing your income.
For student loans specifically, additional options may be available, like income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs for individuals working in public service.
Building an Emergency Fund
An emergency fund can be a lifeline in case of unexpected expenses. Typically, it is recommended to have three to six months' worth of expenses saved. It may seem daunting, but small, consistent contributions can accumulate over time. This financial safety net can provide peace of mind and reduce dependency on credit during emergencies.
Related Reading: 5 Tips for How to Save Money: For Couples
Building an emergency fund is essential to financial security, providing a safety net in the face of unexpected expenses. Here are three strategies couples can utilize to start building their emergency fund:
One of the easiest ways to start saving is to automate your contributions to your emergency fund. Most banks offer automatic transfers between checking and savings accounts. You can set up a recurring transfer for each time you receive a paycheck. Over time, even small, regular contributions can add up.
Related Reading: Why Budgets Do NOT Work
Cut Back on Non-Essential Expenses
Review your budget and identify areas where you can reduce spending. This may include discretionary items like dining out, subscriptions, or entertainment. Redirect these savings to your emergency fund. Remember, the goal is not to deprive yourselves but to make conscious decisions about where your money goes.
Generate Extra Income
Consider ways to earn additional income if feasible. This could be through a side job, freelancing, or selling unneeded items. Any extra income can be put directly into your emergency fund.
Creating an emergency fund is a marathon, not a sprint. It's about consistent effort and making regular contributions, no matter how small. Even a small emergency fund can offer peace of mind and start you on the path to financial resilience.
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Prioritize Saving and Investing
Saving for emergencies and opportunities and investing for retirement is crucial for long-term financial health.
Savings products such as certificates of deposits and savings accounts are designed to preserve and protect your money. What is sacrificed for such safety is higher returns over time. On the other hand, investing, though it comes with risk, can help your money grow over time.
Related reading: How to save money and invest together
Striking the right balance between saving for emergencies and investing for retirement is vital, yet the answer varies for each couple based on their circumstances. Here are some factors to consider:
Emergency Fund Coverage
Generally, it's advisable to have three to six months' worth of living expenses in an accessible, low-risk account for emergencies. However, if your income is less stable or you have dependents, it might be prudent to save even more.
Age and Retirement Goals
The earlier you start investing for retirement, the more time you have for compound interest to work in your favor. Therefore, if you're young and have already built up an adequate emergency fund, it could be beneficial to put more toward retirement.
Risk Tolerance and Investment Knowledge
Investing for retirement involves some risk and requires a basic understanding of financial markets. Consult a financial professional to better understand what retirement products and investments are in your best interest.
Employer Matched Retirement Contributions
If your employer offers to match a percentage of your retirement contributions, it's typically advantageous to contribute at least enough to receive the full match. And if you have the means, consider contributing the IRS maximum, which is typically far more than the employer match.
High-interest debt, like credit card debt, should be paid off before aggressive investing. The interest on these debts can negate the returns from investments.
The ultimate goal is to have enough saved and invested to ensure financial security, both for short-term emergencies and long-term retirement. Consulting with a financial advisor can also help in making these decisions.
Ensure your financial advisor must adhere to the fiduciary standard and disclose conflicts of interest. You can find professionals that require both by using FPA PlannerSearch®.
Open and frequent communication about finances is crucial in a marriage. Discussing financial decisions can prevent misunderstandings and promote shared financial responsibility. Healthy financial communication can also reduce stress and foster a stronger bond between partners.
Consistent Financial Communication
Financial professionals often recommend money dates, which are scheduled, focused conversations between partners about their finances. This dedicated time allows couples to review their financial goals, track their progress, discuss any changes in income or expenses, and resolve any financial issues that may have come up.
Related Reading: What is a Money Date?
To conduct a money date, begin by setting a specific time and place that is quiet and free from distractions. Regular money dates should occur frequently early in a relationship.
Make an agenda that includes the topics you want to discuss, such as budgeting, saving, investing, and debt repayment. Establishing a safe space where both partners feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas about money is also crucial.
During the discussion, stay open, honest, and respectful. Remember, the objective is to work together as a team to improve your financial future.
Money and Marriage Quiz: 10 quick quiz questions with explanations to help you and your partner better understand how to manage money as a team.
Seeking Professional Guidance
If managing finances seems overwhelming, don't hesitate to seek professional advice. Certified Financial Planners (CFP) can provide expert guidance on managing your money effectively. They can help create personalized financial strategies based on your specific circumstances.
The fiduciary duty of a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is fundamental for investors because it ensures that the CFP acts in the client's best interest, placing their needs and objectives above their own. Moreover, it requires complete transparency, compelling the CFP to fully disclose potential conflicts of interest, fees, and commissions, thereby maintaining trust and integrity in the planner-client relationship.
FPA PlannerSearch: Set realistic financial goals and put them into action with the help of a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional who is a member of the Financial Planning Association.
Through implementing these strategies, young couples can navigate the financial seas with greater certainty and confidence, fostering a more financially secure and harmonious future.
Financial stability is built over time, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Each couple is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. The key lies in understanding your financial landscape, open communication, and consistent effort.
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