We’re engaged! Now What?

The past year has been an incredible time for gay and lesbian couples. Marriage equality has brought a wide array of possibilities that were once unimaginable to many of us. Now that we’ve won the right, we get to decide for ourselves whether marriage is something that we want. And, for many couples, the answer has resoundingly been “yes!”

According to the Williams Institute out of the UCLA law school, in 2013, the year that the Windsor ruling was issued, an estimated total of 230,000 same-sex couples were married, which equated to 21% of all same-sex couples. By June 2015, when Obergefell was decided, 390,000 same-sex couples were married, 38% of all same-sex couples. As of October 2015, 486,000 same-sex couples were married, or 45% of all same-sex couples.  Take a moment to let that sink in – 256,000 same-sex couples married in a little over two years.

I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing this kind of growth in my own life. Me and many of my friends have decided to take advantage of everything that marriage has to offer. It’s an opportunity to express your love and commit to someone who, at least in my circumstance, I feel tremendously lucky to share my life with. (See….I have feelings.)  It also allows you to express that commitment to others in a way that they understand and respect.

In addition to all of the emotional and social benefits, marriage provides many financial ones. Research scientist Jay Zagorsky found that married individuals almost double their wealth compared to those who stay single.  The list of benefits include increased access to lower cost credit, gifting, and better retirement options. Overall, as the Williams Institute points out, “substantial research shows that marriage has a wide range of effects on families including helping to promote social and economic stability that can improve well-being outcomes of families and children.”

While the ability to get married is a wonderful thing, I understand how nerve racking a change like this can be.  It’s a big step that takes thoughtful planning on many levels. And I feel grateful to be able to offer some expertise, at least on the financial side of things, to couples in order to start their marriage off on the right foot. The following are three pieces of advice that I think all couples should keep in mind when arranging their financial lives together.

Remember that Financial Planning is About Love and Commitment

One of the most important things you can do when preparing financially for marriage is to remind each other that your union is about love and commitment. And the planning that you do now will help keep you safe, secure, and happy in the long run.  

Keep in mind, though, that no matter how well you plan, there were will likely be financial arguments that arise. When this happens, return to the premise that you’re making these decisions to look out for each other.

Money is just a tool to live the life that you want. And taking the necessary steps to carve out a solid financial plan will allow you more time to focus on each other and why you’ve chosen to commit in this way in the first place.

Be Prepared to Get Financially Naked

I’ve already discussed some practical steps to take when you preparing for a wedding and three conversations that you must have before doing so.  In the latter post, I’ve brought up full disclosure and it’s worth mentioning again.

Before the big day (hopefully well before), you should set aside time to completely open up to your spouse about your full financial situation.  And I mean everything – how much money you make, your FICO score, student loan balance, credit card debt.  Come armed with paystubs, your most recent statements, and any other supporting documentation that you have.

And like getting naked in front of your spouse for the first time, revealing everything financially will likely raise some insecurities.  I’ve seen many instances where one spouse hides financial information (usually debt) from another spouse, only for it to become a bigger issue down the road. I’ve even had a client make up an elaborate lie just to hide the fact that she was getting an additional $2000 per month of social security income.

Don’t do this.

Resist the urge to underreport because of embarrassment or worry. This step is about building a strong financial foundation, and you want that foundation based on complete honesty. Zagorsky points out the key to financial success in a marriage is having it last. And it won’t last if you can’t talk about money openly and honestly with your spouse.

A minimum-stress, non-judgmental environment will make this process as pleasant as it can be. So be well rested and have block off time where you can just focus on the conversation. Balance sheets and cash-flow statements will help aid in the process. Writing the information down ensures that you get to remember everything and makes a quick reference guide for your spouse to keep track of everything.

Start Building Your Financial Foundation Now

Since you will now be considered one unit, it’s important to build your financial foundation together, even before you marry. This allows you to get on the same page financially and iron out any possible conflicts.

The pillars on your foundation should include five fundamental areas of personal finance: practical money management, insurance planning, estate planning, tax planning, and retirement planning. I’ve already covered some of the specifics of these topics for couples in previous posts and will delve deeper into how they apply to couples in future posts. However, here is an overview of the types of questions you should address in each topic.

  • Practical Money Management – How and who will manage your finances? Will you share accounts? How will you share the money management responsibilities? Should we get a prenuptial agreement? (I know, that last one is a doozy.)
  • Insurance Planning – Do you need to change insurance beneficiaries on your current policies? What family changes may lead to new policies (e.g,, are children a possibility)? Do you need to increase the benefits of your policies to cover additional joint assets?
  • Estate Planning – How will getting married affect your desires to leave money to family members? Should each person’s estate plan account for asset distributions to both families? Do you need to change the title of your property to protect yourselves from future creditors?
  • Tax Planning – Will filing jointly help or hurt you? Do you need to change your withholding to stave off any additional income tax? Are there tax deductions such as charitable contributions or the home ownership that you want to start thinking about?
  • Retirement Planning – What are your goals for your joint retirement? How can you efficiently use our retirement vehicles to get the most out of your savings? Are you saving enough to get where you want to be?

These types of questions will help you address your overall financial health as a unit and give you the comfort of knowing you’re doing what you can to protect your family.

Again, getting married is a wonderful and exciting thing. Make sure to give it the consideration necessary to keep your relationship financially happy and healthy.