Two days after my wedding, my father-in-law, Dave, broached a subject no one wants to think about during the honeymoon: finances. While Adam and I were enjoying newlywed life, Dave reminded us that marriage has a practical side, too. (Read his advice in How to live happily ever after.)
Almost a year later, we’ve found talking seriously about our goals and how to achieve them is a rewarding experience. We’re building a future we both love, and have grown closer through the honest sharing of our dreams – and our finances.
While Dave’s advice is great, we realized it required tailoring to our specific needs. As echoes of our parents’ baby boom generation, Adam and I face a tougher job market and a more uncertain future than they did at our age. We need a budget that can accommodate worst-case scenarios like unemployment.
We’ve used Dave’s advice to plan for both our fantasies and some equally important realities.
Step 1: List your short- and long-term goals
After seven years together, we’d talked about dreams a lot. But the merger of finances that comes with marriage motivated us to determine what matters most. We share these three main ambitions:
- Have jobs we enjoy
- See the world
- Give back
Broadly defining the values you share helps you home in on short- and long-term goals. With these three points in mind, we established specific objectives:
- Short-term: Starting our careers. Adam just finished teacher’s college, and I am going back to school for further training. Adam might have to commute, so we’ll probably need a car. Saving for tuition and a car, plus budgeting extra in case Adam does not get a job right away, are our main financial priorities right now.
- Long-term: Travelling and volunteering are things we hope for once we have stable careers. Also, as both our professions generally begin with contract positions, it’s likely we’ll have to move for new jobs.
It’s also important to think about what you don’t want. For example, we don’t want children. This makes our budget more flexible and travelling more feasible. Also, because we anticipate travelling and working on contract, owning a home is not a realistic option for now.
Step 2: Decide how you’ll use your money
Not only are you sharing a future, you’re also sharing assets. Disagreements about finances can strain a marriage, so it’s important to determine how you will save and spend money.
We’re compromising by sharing some savings and responsibilities, and keeping some separate.
- Joint savings: This is for the big goals we share. We used some savings to set up our home, and now aim for a car. We paid Adam’s tuition out of this account, too, so one priority when Adam gets a job is to pay ourselves back.
- Separate chequing accounts: Though most earnings go towards things we share – like rent and groceries – it puts less pressure on our relationship if we have some financial freedom as individuals.
Of course, this won’t work for everyone – or at every stage of your marriage. While Adam’s in school I’m contributing more to savings and paying our bills. That’s okay, because when I go back to school, Adam will carry most of the financial burden.
Step 3: Don’t be careless with your goals
We always tell each other about major purchases and plans, and keep track of current and projected income and expenses.
A lot of our future is unpredictable. We’re protecting ourselves against unforeseen expenses or job loss by consistently saving a percentage of our paycheques. Though we hope Adam will get a good pension as a teacher, we nevertheless plan to start contributing to an RRSP once we have steady incomes. And while we won’t have children to look out for, we need to protect each other, so we’re looking into investing in a life insurance policy.
Though it can feel tedious compared to the excitement of the wedding and getting your gown, veil and wedding shoes, but developing a financial plan is essential to marital bliss. By adapting Dave’s advice to our lifestyle, we look forward to a marriage, working life and retirement as fulfilling as his!
Talking with an advisor can help ensure you’re on track to meet your financial and retirement planning goals. Don’t have an advisor? Visit Sun Life Financial Advisor Match to help you find one in your area.