When the wedding festivities are over and the honeymoon is just a sun-kissed memory, you’ll find that life still has many expenses. Most people know the importance of keeping a tight budget for the wedding, given how expensive weddings can be. However, it is also valuable to figure out how your new life together will be funded and where each of you are in your journey toward being debt-free.
The following tips can help you and your new spouse avoid going into credit card debt, which can be expensive and difficult to pay off.
Establish Your Income and Credit History
One thing that can be strange at first is simply talking together about money management. After all, we rarely share the facts about our income and assets with anyone outside our families. Your new spouse has just become your closest family member, so a heart-to-heart meeting about the sources of income and history of money in your lives is invaluable.
If you discover that you are in a slightly more favorable financial position, make certain you are expressing love and caring and not being judgmental towards your spouse. The last thing you want early in your marriage is to create feelings of shame around important financial conversations.
Note Your Fixed Monthly Costs
Once your joint monthly income is determined, move on to the fixed costs for each month and ask these questions:
- Do you have a car payment?
- Do you have student loan payments or other loans?
- How much is your rent or mortgage payment?
- How much are your total utility charges?
- What are your monthly insurance premiums?
Calculate the total monthly amount of fixed costs by documenting the payment data from automatic payments and regular monthly charges to figure out what the total amount is. Get the most recent statements and balances for more accurate figures. Consider using a spreadsheet to track this information on a monthly basis and share the document with each other. This total amount of fixed expenses is a goal, since it must be paid monthly. Over time, you can decide if certain expenses are worth it to you or if they can be eliminated or reduced. The money saved can be put into a savings or retirement account.
Consider How Connected You Want Your Finances to Be
One important aspect of choosing to be debt-free is still making a choice: Are you going to have separate finances or joint finances? A lot has been discussed on the subject, but there are a variety of reasons why keeping separate accounts could make sense. You should establish some ground rules on how separate accounts will work for your joint financial plan.
Some people choose not to combine their finances in order to preserve some privacy with what they do with their money. There can be misunderstandings if you aren’t sure who is responsible for certain expenses and how much money each person will have left over. Sharing your complete financial picture might be a good exercise while trying to stay out of credit card debt, even if you ultimately decide it isn’t the best idea for you to completely share your finances.
Make a Plan to Reduce Expenses and Increase Income
Couples facing credit card debt should begin with reasonable amounts for their expenditures. Avoid the temptation to use your credit cards to buy something now, while planning to pay it off sometime in the future. Credit card debt can quickly spiral out of control when the interest rates are high enough to make it difficult to pay back the money quickly. Once you’ve made an accurate accounting of your finances, determine how you can decrease expenses and simultaneously increase your monthly household income.
Sometimes only one of these two options are available, but either option may feel like a sacrifice. Taking on a shift on a Saturday in order to make sure you can afford the rent can be sobering at first. Later on, luxuries can be added back to your lifestyle and work hours can be reduced as you find more imaginative and helpful ways to cut expenses or increase income.
Keep Track of Your Progress to Financial Success
Track your finances on a tracking application like Mint.com, which can really help you see how your money is spent and the impact of any hypothetical changes to your financial plan. As you review your progress each month, it will be easier to identify which luxuries cost more than expected and which luxuries are sustainable expenses. When you see savings begin to increase instead of accumulate more credit card debt, it will feel so good. In fact, it can be a bit addicting to see your savings balance go up every month!
Choose a Challenge to Work on Together
Once you’ve had some initial success, it can be difficult to keep up the momentum and stay out of debt. However, there are many challenges that can temporarily change your financial routine and remind you why you have chosen to make smart money decisions. Try to use only cash for a month, choose to not to eat out for a few weeks, or give yourself daily spending caps.
The financial challenge that works with your schedule and still gives you a way for you both to connect with your financial plan is a good option to start with. Apply any money saved through the challenge toward outstanding credit card balances (pay off the highest interest rate cards first) or into a savings account as an emergency fund.