Tying the knot? Five things you must do before the “I do”

Wealth planning

Put wealth management on your list along with a caterer, flowers and shopping for a dress.


Planning to walk down the aisle this year? No doubt you’re making all kinds of critical decisions for your wedding day.

But even more important than your color scheme or caterer are the decisions you and your future spouse make now about marriage and money.

“Money issues” were cited among the top three motivators for marriage breakups in a survey of financial analysts specializing in divorce.

So, whether it’s your first time or you’ve made a trip to the altar before, here are some money tips to help you get off on the right foot.

1. Talk about financial values

What financial goals does each of you have, short-term and long-term? Donating regularly to a charity, religious congregation or important cause may be a priority for one of you, while the other dreams of buying into a high-end neighborhood and taking a luxury vacation every year. Write down your priorities separately, then compare lists and discuss where your goals overlap and where you can compromise.

“Many marriages don’t survive the wealth-planning and building phases because only one, or neither, of the spouses is totally committed to a shared wealth management plan,” says Angie O’Leary, head of Wealth Planning at RBC Wealth Management–U.S.

2. Assess your individual financial situations

Before you combine your money, get your own house in order. How much do you have in monthly income and your savings account (if you have one)? What’s the total on your credit card or student loan debt? What are your monthly expenses and how will they change once you are married? Do you have an emergency fund in place?

Especially with so many young people coming out of school with a lot of debt, it’s important to decide together how you’ll deal with it,” O’Leary says. Is it going to be the individual’s debt or the couple’s debt?”

3. Make a savings plan

It takes discipline to postpone gratification to get to a more certain future. This could be especially tough for millennials, who on average spend about two percent more than they earn, according to the Moody’s Analytics.

“‘The Millennial Marriage Survival Guide,’ should it ever be written, should start with: Save a minimum of 10 percent of every dollar you earn in a long-term, untouchable account,” O’Leary says. “You can get more detailed if you like, such as maxing out your 401(k) plan at work if you have one, or maxing out your traditional IRA or Roth IRA, but it is the conceptual commitment that matters most.”

4. Be transparent

Particularly if you’re getting remarried, or have a long financial history as a single adult, you must be willing to open the books and share all the details with your intended. No one wants to start a life together with an unhappy revelation about past financial troubles or debt. O’Leary advises couples to have a regular money date” where they talk openly about finances once or twice a month.

It’s like exercise. Once you establish a routine it gets much easier,” O’Leary says. Never leave even a dollar in secret. I’ve seen too many situations where secrets—large or small—come back to haunt a couple. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

5. Have the tough conversations

The two most financially devastating life events are divorce and unexpected death. Even when you’re first starting out, it’s important to think about protecting your assets, particularly if you come into a marriage with substantial resources.

Most people understandably don’t want to think about those unfortunate circumstances coming to pass, so they don’t talk about them. But doing so—whether by having a will or trust drawn up or a prenuptial agreement in place—can be lifesaving in a worst-case scenario.

At least have a financial and health care power of attorney filled out, so someone else can make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to. We’re all mortal and we never know what can happen,” O’Leary says.

What if this is your second marriage and you’ve covered this ground before? At first glance, things may appear a bit easier.

Sometimes, however, money matters are more complicated for older, more mature people getting remarried.

“People getting married at older ages have pre-existing personal finances in place, fine-tuned to each spouse’s personal lifestyle preferences,” O’Leary says. “Abandoning the freedom, and privacy, of your personal financial situation can be difficult, but is important if a marriage is to succeed.”

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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