In the spirit of Halloween, I want to share something I did earlier this year that scared the candy corn out of me, something that chilled my bones and chattered my teeth, something that made my stomach flip like stepping off a cliff ledge…
…I got married.
Jokes aside, after the streamers come down and the wedding party goes home, you and your partner are officially married. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Ok, now what?” It turns out I wasn’t alone in asking this question. A number of us at Merriman got married in 2022. During one of our regular meetings, we talked about the adjustment period that occurs as couples move from dating to marriage. And while I recommend couples discuss finances prior to getting married, it doesn’t always sink in or hit home until you and your spouse are trying to plan a clearer picture for your future as a married couple.
Life is short and moves at a brisk pace. The average age for couples to get married in the US has jumped up from early to mid-20s to late 20s and early 30s. Many of the young couples I meet come to me in a panic because they feel they are behind on retirement savings, late in buying a house, or overdue in thinking about their children’s education expenses. Sitting across the table, they unfurl a scroll’s worth of goals they want to tackle simultaneously. Here’s what I tell them:
- You are not “behind.” There is still plenty of time to achieve your financial goals. I’m also guilty of entertaining the fallacy that one night I’ll go to sleep at 35 years old and wake up at 65. Your income will increase. You will experience promotions and fits and starts in your career. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your current financial situation will last from now until retirement.
- It’s okay to divide and conquer. My partner and I would like to buy a house in the next few years. One of the biggest obstacles we face — aside from astronomical housing prices in Western Washington — is that my MBA program created substantial student loan debt. Compared to my partner, my ability to save for a house is hampered by monthly student loan payments. After we got married, we had a conversation about the nature of our finances. It’s no longer “my money” and “his money” but “our money” and how we plan to allocate where it goes. When we had the chat about how to buy a house, we decided each spouse had a job that would bring us closer to our goal. His job became focused on putting cash away for a down payment. My job became focused on paying down as much student debt as I can. These conversations are critical because they reduce the risk of emotional tensions getting in the way of clearly seeing the end goal. There is no longer the pressure of feeling as if one spouse is doing more than the other to get us closer to buying a house.
- Set a target date. Setting a mutually agreed upon date for meeting your financial goals is important because it provides a light at the end of the tunnel. Say that you have a goal for a home down payment that’s three years in the future. If the goal requires a lifestyle adjustment where you eat out less or skip a vacation, you at least know it’s temporary. There’s an end date in sight. If you’re diligent, the lifestyle adjustments will stick even after you meet your goal, leaving more cash in your wallet.
- Track your progress. When I worked for Disney, I was responsible for the Shanghai Disney Resort’s onboarding orientation program, an operational beast that moved thousands of employees through the onboarding process. I had a manager who constantly reminded me, “What isn’t measured isn’t managed.” Put another way, if you’re not tracking your progress, then you have no way of knowing whether you are on track to meet your goals. I love using an app called You Need a Budget that shows our progress. Furthermore, you lose any bragging rights to your successes if you don’t know what successes you have achieved. Imagine a friend asking how saving for a house is going. Excitedly, you tell them, “Great! We saved up some amount of cash and will start maybe sometime, I don’t know, looking. We’ll see.” Way to go…?
- Life will get in the way. You both are a unit now. When life hits one spouse, it hits you both. Dishwashers break. People are laid off. Babies are born. When this happens, lean into it. If your progress becomes derailed, talk about solving the issue — whether it’s allocating money to the extenuating circumstance or adjusting your goal’s timeline — and recommit to the new game plan. It’s extremely easy to become demoralized or despondent, but if you go into this knowing life will get in the way, it allows you to focus your mind and energy on getting back on track.
At the risk of sounding like a marriage counselor, the advice provided here is to help the shift from thinking as two separate individuals to thinking as two halves of a whole unit. The reality of getting married is that, while you may not feel any different, your commitments to each other ultimately demand a higher level of communication to identify how — together — you will meet your goals. You undoubtedly will have disagreements and competing priorities, but your financial plan necessitates coming to an agreement on how and where to focus your financial resources. Start having that conversation right now.
The advisors at Merriman can help you identify, plan, and keep you on track for your financial goals. Feel free to reach out to us to schedule an initial consultation.
Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.