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Five steps to financial bliss
Wedding bells will be chiming across Canada this month and for many, the joyful ring will also be accompanied by a ka-ching sound, as couples spend an average of $14,281 on nuptial expenses, according to a recent survey. The study also revealed that for 23 per cent of would-be couples, debt concerns are a barrier that keep them from skipping down the aisle to wedded bliss.
These numbers highlight the fact that for those preparing to say “I do,” balancing the pull of heartstrings and purse strings can be quite tricky. What steps can you take to ensure that while love may be blind, you are not blind-sided by the financial implications of your decisions? Here are five tips for the love-birds out there.
• Leave royal weddings to fairy tales.
Let’s face it – we’re all fascinated by royal weddings, as the interest in the 2011 marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton revealed. But your wedding doesn’t need to be extravagant to be beautiful.
Couples may give in to the temptation to spend lots of money on a wedding that leaves them in a weakened financial position even before they start their life together. Resist that urge. Options for cutting down on your wedding costs include having a smaller, more intimate ceremony; choosing an off-season date; having family and guests support you with financial gifts; and taking care of some of the event logistics yourself.
• Get financially intimate.
You may have knowledge on several areas of your partner’s life, but what is your level of financial intimacy? Most couples get into marriage without ever discussing their financial dreams.
In her book Financial Bliss: A Couples Guide to Merging Money Styles and Building a Rich Life Together, Bambi Holzer suggests that couples go on a “financial date” focussed exclusively on getting to know each other’s money values and priorities. This is also an opportunity to discover any debts and obligations each partner is bringing into the relationship.
The key here is open, honest communication that uncovers areas of agreement, disagreement, and compromise. Couples can use a money autobiography questionnaire as a basis for this exploration, such as the one found at worthliving.com
• Discuss the state of your financial union.
Another suggestion from Holzer’s book is that couples hold an annual financial “State of the Union” meeting to agree on future plans and review how they did in the past year. December or January is a good time for this discussion.
Holzer suggests using the meeting for items such as assessing your net worth, going over your spending patterns, and establishing a budget (talk to your financial advisor if you need help with your budget). Before your annual meeting, gather key financial documents so you have the information needed to make sound decisions.
This is the time to discuss how you will approach issues such as savings, RRSPs, RESPs, and insurance needs. After your meeting, book an appointment with your financial advisor to get his or her expert opinion and advice on the issues you discussed. Use this meeting with your financial planner to initiate the steps you need to take as a couple to realize your financial goals for the coming year.
• Keep scores as a couple.
No, I don’t mean keep a grudge list, but rather scores of your spending behaviour. Assuming you established a budget in step three, it’s advisable to keep a record of your actual spending so you and your spouse can compare it against your targets.
Your spending record is simply a document on which you note all daily expenses, according to category. Totaling your expenses in each category at the end of the month will give both of you a quick snapshot of areas in which you are going over budget. Keeping a spending record doesn’t mean you don’t trust your spouse. It’s simply a way to help you maintain accountability, especially in those early months and years of marriage.
• Don’t cheat on your spouse.
There’s no faster way to destroy your financial (and marital) intimacy than through “green lies,” which could range from hiding a purchase to covering up a bank account or income source. Research consistently reveals that financial disagreements rank up high with sexual infidelity as a leading cause of divorce. Yet more than 30 per cent of partners cheat financially on their spouse, according to one study.
One way to reduce financial cover-ups is to allocate an agreed amount to each partner for personal purchases and making a commitment to report any expenses above this figure. That way, each partner can have some independence within the bounds of your collective financial commitment.
As you think about the financial commitments of tying the knot, remember that love’s a threesome – in addition to “I” and “you,” there is now also “us.” Keeping this principle in mind will help you on your way to financial bliss.
Kathy McGarrigle is Chief Operating Officer for Coast Capital Savings, Canada’s largest credit union by membership size.