I'll be honest. I feel as though I cannot write a weekly blog sharing the joy of all things weddings and not discuss the whole 'financial planning of a life together' thing as well. Kind of an important topic wouldn't you think? Well most couples get caught up in the excitement of wedding planning, few couples spend time planning for their marriage. What matters right now is you are beginning your new life with your partner and all the joy and life experiences you have ahead. So today I'm not exactly talking all things weddings…I'm talking all things healthy marriage. And one of the biggest stressors of marriages is finances.
Just as promised, I went to the pros for a little more insight on this one. I sat down with financial expert, Shannon Cushman to ask her what steps we can all take to move forward into a healthy, contributing partnership. Shannon has been working over ten years in finance and as a busy working mom of four, she and her husband understand the importance of planning for not only your future but the future of those you love. Being that the average cost of a Canadian wedding is $23,330 (2012 Globe and Mail) we're not exactly planning for a small expense here, either. I wanted to hear Shannon's thoughts on planning ahead and what couple can do (couples in any situation, engaged or not) to be financially healthy and on the right track.
1) Is there any particular 'Golden Rule' of finances and planning for your future that you always embark on those you work with?
There is no specific rule, and that is exactly the first thing I teach people! Every situation is unique, every couple is unique and most of all, we all have different goals in life. The most important thing is talking to your partner early on in the relationship about money, finances, goals, etc. and making sure that you are on common ground when it comes to financial matters. If you aren’t, find out what you can start doing as a team to work towards this. Many times that does involve sitting down with a qualified financial professional. This will help you understand your unique situation- not what you heard from a friend or saw on television about money.
2) What would you suggest as the first steps in financial planning for someone who hasn't yet begun this process?
The first steps are to asses all of your assets and liabilities, basically what do you have and what do you owe. This gives you an idea of a term you may hear a lot in the past- “net worth”. As you build a life together, the goal is for your net worth to grow. When we are young it is normal to have a negative NW, however as we get older, own a home, pay down student debts, our NW grows.
3) What can anyone start doing today for a better financial well being in 6 months?
Saving, Saving, Saving! Starting a regular, automatic savings plan (even just $25 a pay period) into a separate account that you cannot debit out of can grower faster than you think. Also, and very important- go online and view your credit report. Equifax is the most commonly used company and you can get a copy of your report for around $15. Now, really check it out – are there any errors? Has something been reported wrong that could stop you from getting a new car, house, even job in some cases? Finally, make sure you DO have established credit . If you do not, it is time to get a small credit card and start establishing. No credit can be just as hard as bad credit when trying to get approved for something – and you don’t want mom to have to co-sign forever. Just keep in mind, it's okay to still live your life! Treat yourself, reward an accomplishment, celebrate the small victories. It's all about balance.
4) What consequences should couples be aware if one individual has less than ideal credit? How much does this hurt the stronger ones?
Every situation is different, and there are varying degrees of 'bad'. When there is a large variance in credit scores, the person with the stronger credit is going to have to be prepared to be the primary applicant in most cases. They will perhaps need to co-sign for their spouse for such credit as a car loan or school tuition and will probably be required to have most of the couples credit cards in his/her name. Ideally the person with the weaker credit should work hard at re-establishing better credit in order for both to contribute to carrying an equal amount of the credit. If one person is always doing the borrowing it could actually hurt their score as it may appear they are over-utilizing credit, credit seeking, and using large amounts of revolving credit.
5) What steps can be taken to merge finances together and when is the most acceptable time for couples to do this?
Every couple is different and the best time is when both people are ready, comfortable and don’t feel any pressure to do this. Many couples now like to have one joint account for “bills”, “house stuff” etc. then each their own account for some spending money. There are many different ways to merge your finances, and it can be something you do in small steps or all at once – there is no right or wrong way to do it. Just ensure that you and your partner have had important discussions first and feel confident you are on the same page with managing your finances. This is not the conversation you want to have after you have merged everything!
Meeting up with Shannon really makes me think about my goals and next steps. Engaged or not, the topic of money seems to light a fire under a lot of us! Most people can use a financial health check from time to time, especially to re-evaluate our goals and the goals of our partner. Just remember, all situations are unique and just as Shannon pointed out, it is important to be completely open when discussing finances with those we love, but it is absolutely essential to have professional guidance as well. If you would like to talk to Shannon, I have included her professional contact information below. Shannon is a hard working mother and wife and I must say this really comes through when discussing money and goals with her. She makes people feel comfortable and so positive when looking towards their future. I don't often shed such opinion on rather personal topics but I highly encourage you to really think about the importance of planning for your future and the resources available through hard working, dedicated professionals.
Let me know what you thought of today's article. I hope this has helped couples (and individuals alike) understand the importance of meeting with a professional to fully discuss and understand your needs. I can give you all the DIY and budget friendly tips in the world, but at the end of the day, we are all different with different needs. But one thing remains the same; we all deserve the wedding of our dreams and while it may be a lot for one day, it is your day.