While that pre-wedding engagement period can be filled with romantic notions and starry eyes, it's also a good time to get some practical discussions started. Money causes problems in more marriages than most anything else, say all the experts — along with anyone who's been married for even a little while. The best way to be prepared when money issues arise is to start talking about finances before you get married. Be up-front about everything, including your debt, savings, income, and spending and saving habits.
Once you've got that out of the way, talk about how you'll manage money as a couple. Will you have a joint checking account, separate accounts or both? At what spending level does a purchase need to be discussed: $100, $500 or more? Who will handle the bill-paying, and how much will each contribute if you have separate accounts?
Getting the often awkward money talk started before the wedding will help your first year of marriage go more smoothly. And our list of the 10 biggest expenses a couple can look forward to in the first year — presented here in no real order — offers a great set of topics for kicking off what will be an ongoing financial conversation with your spouse. So, let's get started.
The first thing the two of you may find yourselves planning and paying for together is the honeymoon. While there's no average amount people spend on this once-in-a-lifetime vacation — there are just too many options out there to get an average — most couples do set a budget for the honeymoon as they begin to think about where to go.
Once you've set your spending limit, ask some questions to find out what each of you likes — and where you have common ground. Do you and your intended want a relaxing, tropical getaway, or maybe a romantic inn nearby, or are you going to slough off the coil and travel the world for six months? Whatever your desires — and your budget — look around online for ideas and deals. Or, consider a honeymoon registry, which gives your wedding guests a way to help pay for your trip.
Keep in mind some of the incidental costs as well, from fun items like special lingerie to more mundane, though essential, things like the cost of a visa if you're going to a country that requires one. If you can stick to your budget and plan a trip that both of you will remember for the rest of your lives, you've taken a huge step toward not letting money be a problem in your marriage.
House or Apartment
As you start your life together, it's completely natural to want to settle into a new place that belongs to both of you. The question is, house or apartment? It's a question only the two of you can decide, but if you're on the young side or not settled in your jobs, you may want to choose an apartment, or at least a rental house, at first. It's a way of keeping your options open later, when you're more settled or have a growing family. And speaking of filling the nest, if you have the resources and are more settled, perhaps thinking of kids in the near future, then buying a house may be your best choice.
Whether you rent or buy, housing costs will consume about 34 percent of your monthly budget. This can include related costs such as utilities, cable, Internet, phone and home maintenance and repairs [source: BLS]. Be sure to factor in the additional costs of a deposit on a rental or a down payment if you buy.
It used to be a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. On your 16th birthday, you made the ritual trip to the DMV to get your license, hoping you wouldn't have to parallel park or, worse, that you wouldn't hit something with the license examiner in the car. That time may be passing. Studies show that young people between the ages of 16 and 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than their counterparts in 2001, and the trend seems to be continuing [source: Dutzik].
Whether you have your license and commute into the city from the suburbs or you live in a big-city apartment surrounded by public transit options and never bothered to get your driver's license, transportation is still the second-largest household budget item at 17.6 percent [source: BLS]. When you consider car maintenance and gas, or even transit tickets, it's easy to see how this is such a large chunk of your budget.
If transportation costs are going to be a problem, talk with your future spouse about ways to save in this often expensive and essential budget category.
Marriage is a big, grown-up step, and a time when many people give up some of their youthful habits and possessions. It's a time when you can finally admit that the futon you slept on all through college is no longer comfortable or that the bookcase you made of concrete blocks and plywood really is as ugly as your mother keeps telling you. Even if the furniture you're each bringing to your marriage is much nicer than a futon and concrete blocks, most newlyweds want to pick things out together, things that are theirs.
The first step is to talk about the things you already own and want to keep. Then, make a list of furniture you'd like to have, maybe new bedroom furniture or living room furnishings. If you're buying a house, you may need furniture for nearly every room. And don't forget accessories such as end tables, lamps and rugs.
The next step is to prioritize your wants and needs, then create a budget and timeline for purchases. Look around online to get an idea of how much furniture costs and to pick out styles and colors you both like and that suit your lifestyle. Furniture is generally a long-term investment. Don't rush into it; get pieces as you can afford them. Look for sales and enjoy the process.
It's easy to overlook the little things that are so necessary around the house, things in your parents' kitchen or toolshed that you just took for granted. But the cost of these items can add up. Many things you'll need to set up housekeeping may be on your wedding gift registry — kitchen items, dishes, glassware and tools. Once you know what you've already got, walk through the house and think about what else you might need for every room. Consider some of these items as you're making your list:
- Cleaning products and equipment, including broom, mop, vacuum cleaner, bathroom cleaner, furniture polish, glass cleaner, dishwasher detergent, a washer and dryer and laundry detergent.
- Linens, including sheets, pillowcases, blankets, a comforter, bath towels, washcloths and dish towels. Consider how many of these you need for yourselves, plus any guests you might have.
- General items such as a basic tool kit, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with batteries and an iron and ironing board.
These seemingly simple items are easy to overlook, but they are essential to a smoothly running household.
As with so many things in a household budget, the cost of seasonal items can vary widely depending on what part of the country you live in, whether or not you have a yard and the level of commitment you have to holiday entertaining, decorating and gift-giving. Basic outdoor equipment and tools you'll need if you have any kind of lawn include a mower, a rake, a wheelbarrow, a shovel and pruners — and maybe a snowblower if you live in cooler regions. Larger or more expensive items that you might need every once in a while or might not have room to store, such as a leaf blower, can be rented.
Next, think about whether and how you will decorate or entertain for all the various holidays each year, and include the cost of holiday décor in your household budget. Newlyweds can have fun choosing ornaments and decorations together. Build a collection slowly, with items bought on your honeymoon or other travels. You'll be able to decorate with not only the things you love, but also the things that hold special memories as well.
There are two categories of savings that everyone, not just newlyweds, should have: an emergency fund and retirement savings. It may be hard to save if you're young and just starting your career and married life. However, if your car breaks down, you have a medical emergency or you lose your job, you'll be glad to have that rainy day fund established.
Experts recommend saving 5 to 10 percent of your income every month, with an emergency fund that's easy to access and has six months of living expenses in it. And while retirement may seem like a lifetime away, the major advantage to setting up a retirement plan now is compound interest. Even if you are only able to put a little money into a retirement account now, doing so regularly means your money will grow faster, giving you more options as you reach retirement age. If your company offers a 401(k) or similar plan, maximize your contributions, especially if your employer matches them. If not, consider setting up an individual IRA through an investment company.
Now that you're married, it's time to think about other grown-up, if less sexy, things — like insurance and wills. If you don't have health insurance, the Affordable Care Act has made it easier for individuals to get it — and you'll pay a penalty if you don't. If one or both of you have access to health insurance through your employer, take a look at the plans. You may be able to save money by moving one of you to the other's plan. Read the policy information carefully, though, especially if one of you has a preexisting condition or if you're planning to get pregnant.
If you're young, both of you are working and you aren't planning to have kids — at least any time soon — you may want to put off getting life insurance. It becomes essential if you have children and/or a non-working spouse. If you think you need life insurance, there are many factors to consider, including income and expenses — both monthly and major — such as college tuition and health care. Talk to professionals who can help you calculate the amount of life insurance you need to ensure your family's quality of life in the event of the unthinkable. If you have life insurance already, be sure to change your beneficiary designations to include your new spouse.
Now is also the time to write or rewrite your will, naming your spouse as your beneficiary. Talk with an attorney who can help you draft a will to be sure your and your loved one are both taken care of.
Groceries and Food
As you gaze into each other's eyes during this first year of marriage, it's easy to believe that you can live solely on love, but at some point, you'll find yourself wondering what's in the fridge for dinner. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend nearly 13 percent of their household budgets on food, with approximately 60 percent of that spent on groceries and 40 percent dropped in restaurants [source: BLS].
This is not a category of spending you can ignore. We all have to eat, but you can try to keep costs down this first year of marriage. This is a great time to explore new recipes or share old family recipes with your new spouse, and you'll have the added benefit of learning to cook together.
If you have a yard, consider a home garden. Planting just a few vegetables will not only help you save money on food, but also taste great and be good for you. If you're in an apartment or don't have space or time for a garden, look for a community garden or farmers market nearby. As the farm-to-table movement grows, they're springing up all over the place.
Last, but certainly not least, is entertainment. While you may be able to bask endlessly in each other's company for days, weeks or months that first year, eventually you're going to spend some money on entertainment, even if all you do is reconnect the cable that you forgot all about in your honeymoon haze.
Set an entertainment budget and try to stay within it — this is one of the budget categories that's tough to stay within for many people. According to research, Americans spend 5 percent of their household budgets on entertainment [source: BLS].
Having trouble deciding how to spend your time and money? Take turns choosing, and when it's your turn, pick something you think the other person will enjoy. You might learn to like something new, and you'll have the satisfaction of seeing surprise, happiness and love on your spouse's face.
You don't need to be a teenage millionaire to have a trust fund. Learn more about trusts and how to use them at HowStuffWorks.
Author's Note: 10 Biggest Expenses in a Couple's First Year
While it has been many years since my first year of marriage, I remember trying so hard to save money on food that all I cooked was spaghetti — it didn't help that it was also my favorite food and the only thing I knew how to cook. It was months before I learned that it wasn't my husband's favorite food — or even in his top 100. He took over the cooking, but we planned meals as a pair, trying to save while spending time together discussing recipes.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). "Consumer Expenditures — 2013." Sept. 9, 2014. (Oct. 23, 2014) http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm
- Dutzik, Tony and Phineas Baxandall. "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future." Spring 2013. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/A%20New%20Direction%20vUS.pdf
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- Schipani, Denise. "By Now You Know a Great Deal About Wedding Planning. But Do You Have a Financial Plan?" Bridal Guide. (Oct. 23, 2014) http://www.bridalguide.com/planning/the-newlywed-financial-planner
- Seto, Lori. "Honeymoon Budget: 25 Ways to Honeymoon for Less." The Knot. (Oct. 23, 2014) http://wedding.theknot.com/honeymoons/honeymoon-planning/articles/25-ways-to-honeymoon-on-a-budget.aspx?MsdVisit=1
- Wedding Wire. "How to Pick a Honeymoon Destination." Oct. 3, 2013 (Oct. 22, 2014) http://www.weddingwire.com/honeymoons/ideas/how-to-pick-a-honeymoon-destination
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- Yardcare.com. "Tools for a Good Lawn Care Program." (Oct. 23, 2014) http://www.yardcare.com/maintain/reducing-the-lawn-maintenance/tools-for-a-good-lawn-care-program/