Getting married is about creating one thing out of two. It’s about merging two people and two families; two sets of dishes and two Netflix profiles. It’s also about merging two bank accounts.

Maybe the merging of bank accounts isn’t the most romantic aspect of matrimony, but ignore it at your own peril. Money remains one of the top reasons for divorce; that’s why identifying financial problems early is key to a long-lasting partnership.

Here’s how my husband and I managed to bridge that gap. Read on for our story, as well as tips on how to make your marriage a union of not just love, but also financial trust and security.

To Merge or Not to Merge?

My husband and I decided to merge our finances almost a year after we got engaged. At the time, we were 6 months away from getting married. We’d already been living together for a year and had been raising our dog, Lyra, together.

Some people are more traditional and wait until after the Big Day to mix bank accounts. No matter what you decide to do, have a clear and frank discussion about your finances beforehand. Everyone manages money their own way, and it’s important to discuss those differences before an issue arises.

If you tend to be frugal, you may not want to join your account with someone who has an overspending problem. If you’re a little looser with the purse strings, you may have trouble merging with someone who’s neurotically thrifty.

That’s not to say you can’t work out any significant differences before they become a marriage-threatening issue. The key is to be honest, forthright and willing to compromise.

Thoughts on Budgeting

Marriage generally means saving on expenses. Insurance is usually cheaper for one spouse than it is for the other, and living together is essentially the same money-saver as getting a roommate. But how much you save depends on how well you budget.

Whether you’re a budget-conscious planner or a carefree money manager, discuss your varying styles. I’m the former in my marriage. It took several long discussions to understand how my husband checked his finances and why he didn’t want to conform to the budget I had laid out for us.

It’s easy to assume that your way is the right way, especially if you don’t understand your partner’s system (or lack thereof). That’s why it’s better to discuss this before it turns into an issue. Chances are, your partner’s habits aren’t worse — just different.

Life Insurance

When I got married, I immediately called my insurance agent to ask if life insurance was necessary. He said if we didn’t have a home or a child, it wasn’t important. I was curious because buying life insurance in your 20s is cheaper than waiting, but it also makes no sense to pay for a policy you don’t need.

It’s easy to assume you won’t need life insurance until you’re middle-aged, but there’s no point in avoiding the discussion. The whole point of insurance is security, and if your spouse feels strongly about starting a plan you should listen. Feeling secure, financially and otherwise, in a marriage is crucial.

Health Insurance

My husband and I only recently got on the same healthcare plan. For the first year of our marriage, it just didn’t make fiscal sense for either of us to switch over to the other’s plan.

Most employers offer health insurance coverage for employees and their spouses, but buying a family plan can double or triple your premium. Often it’s cheaper for each spouse to be on their own employer’s plan, which was the case for my husband, Sam, and me.

Compare the premiums, deductibles and copays to see what’s best for your situation. You also want to remember that you may have to find a new doctor if you switch insurance companies.

Auto Insurance

It’s usually better to combine auto policies once you’re married. Most companies will give you a discount for tying the knot and for having multiple cars on the same account. Shop around first; you never know which company will offer the best rate.

Retirement

When my husband and I merged our finances, we talked about our goals for retirement. We decided to increase our 401k savings rate to 10%, the recommended minimum. We contributed enough to get the match from our employers, and we also opened a Roth IRA for my husband to diversify our portfolio.

Aligning goals is key to any retirement discussion. A retirement nest egg is built over decades of hard work, and partners in a strong marriage will make sure that hard work is going toward the same dream.

If you aren’t sure you’re saving enough for retirement, consult a financial advisor. They can give you specific actions to take, and even help to iron out differences in strategy between you and your partner.

Written by Zina Kumok, who blogs at Debt Free After Three

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