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By Lindsey Conrad Nabors

As soon as the groom pops the question, the bride is usually ready to dive into wedding planning. Are there things a newly engaged couple should be thinking about financially, even months before they say “I Do”? One of the quickest ways to put a strain on a new marriage is to not be on the same page about money. That’s why it’s so important for couples to sit down and talk before they get married about their financial dreams, goals and guidelines. They need to be honest with one another about their current financial situations and decide how they’ll handle any debt they bring into the marriage. They should also talk about their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to spending and saving money. These discussions will help the couple get on the same page financially before they even say “I Do”.

After the wedding (or sometimes before) comes the purchase of the couple’s first home. What advice would you offer a couple as they think about making this investment? And do you have an opinion on whether or not a couple should or should not make this purchase before they actually get married? I always recommend waiting a minimum of one year after you’re married to buy a house. Newlyweds have a lot of transitions in their lives. Job and income situations can change from year to year at that point in life, so locking into a mortgage probably isn’t a smart idea. I understand telling a newly-married couple not to buy a house isn’t popular advice. But it’s okay to rent during the first year to make sure they are where they want to be and have a good idea of what they are looking for. They should use this time to get settled in and enjoy being married without a mortgage payment. Buying a house isn’t cheap, and neither is maintaining one. That’s why they truly need to be ready before taking that first big step.

Separate checking accounts is not uncommon. Is this the modern way of doing things today? It’s vital for couples to have one primary bank account that they use together. When they have separate accounts, it’s too easy to start thinking, “This is my money, and that is your money”—when, really, it’s their money together. So I recommend that once a couple is married, they head to the bank and open an account together.

What advice or tips can you give a couple with their money in terms of budgeting? Couples need to create a budget together. I know—it’s the dreaded B-word. But a budget is really not that bad. A lot of people actually find freedom with their money when they budget, because it gives them permission to spend where they want. With a budget, you’re simply making a plan for your money so you know where it’s going instead of wondering where it went. It’s pretty simple. Each month, before the month begins, sit down and list your income for the upcoming month. Then list all of your expenses—car maintenance, food, rent and so on—until your income minus your outgo equals zero. That’s a zero-based budget. If couples want to be on the same page about money, creating a budget together is the best way to do that. I like to encourage couples, when making their bud- get, to give each spouse some “fun money.” When one spouse feels like they have no freedom with their money, it can be hard to stick to the budget.

Is the saying “What’s mine is yours” true in terms of money and even debt when a couple gets married? The popular “that’s yours and this is mine” mindset is destructive in a relationship. In a marriage, there should be no such thing as “my” money or “your” money; it’s “our” money. There shouldn’t be “my” debt or “your” debt; it’s “our” debt. It doesn’t matter who brings in the paycheck, or who makes more than the other. When the paycheck hits the bank account, couples have to look at it as “our” money. They have to look at it as “our” debt and work together to pay it off. When they make that shift, they’ll start to feel even more unified.

What are the top 3 best financial practices a couple can implement during their first year of marriage? 1. Set tangible goals. Where do they want to be financially in a month, year, five years? Write it down and figure out how much is needed to save each month to reach this goal, which will help when sticking to the budget. 2. Get out of debt and stay out of debt. Debt steals the very thing that helps people win with money: their income. It’s hard for anyone to save and make a difference when half of their income is going to car loans, student loans and credit cards. Imagine what your lives would be like with no payments. Where could you go? What could you do? It’s pretty amazing to think about! 3. Don’t copy your parents’ lifestyles. Most of us want to live the same lifestyle we did with our parents, but it took them 20 years to get there. One of the worst mistakes couples can make is to overstretch themselves with a mortgage and car loans that weigh them down. Be patient and save up cash for these purchases. By building a solid financial foundation, you’re setting yourselves up for long-term success.

Find out more in Rachel’s book, “Love Your Life, Not Theirs” available at rachelcruze.com.

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