Premarital Financial Planning Part 5: Structures, Setups & Division of Labor
Combining your lives means combining your finances in one sense or another. Learn some key conversations to have as you embark on pre-marital financial planning from Adam Kol, Couples Financial Coach.
As you near the end of this series, perhaps the biggest lingering questions are about implementation. How do you put into action the plan you built so that you can actually achieve your goals?
As a quick reminder, here’s a bit about me:
- I’m Adam Kol, The Couples Financial Coach. I help couples navigate sticky money situations together, whether they’re combining finances or not.
Today, we’re covering Key #5 – let’s get right to it.
Key 5: Structures, Setup, and Division of Labor
For most of us, structure is key. Here’s what I suggest:
Account Structure + Expense Sharing
You’re ready to choose the structure of your financial accounts. Ask yourselves what will best support your financial success, including the emotional and relational side.
Each account type has pros and cons.
Joint accounts foster financial transparency, making hiding and lying harder, promote accountability, and can be simpler logistically. But they can also lead to more disagreements, feeling restricted, and difficulty surprising each other.
Separate accounts offer more autonomy, make gift-giving easier, and can protect you from your partner’s decisions that you disagree with. But they make financial infidelity easier, can complicate logistics for joint or shared expenses and goals, and lower the chances for financial teamwork.
You can have a mix of the two, as well.
Discuss how you want to split any joint efforts, for example:
- Evenly, i.e., 50%-50%,
- Percentage-wise based on your (take-home) income where there is income inequality between you two, or
- Fixed dollar amounts for each of you, regardless of your incomes
I do not recommend assigning particular expenses to each person, i.e., I’ll cover the mortgage, and you cover gas and groceries. Those expenses vary, making this approach too unpredictable. Also, it may create weird incentives to spend more on something if you know you won’t have to pay for it or vice versa.
Overall, consider your worries or fears, but don’t let them run the show. Talk through different approaches, pick one to try, and agree to reevaluate things after ~6 months.
You and your partner need to check in regularly about your finances, both in terms of your expenses, progress toward goals, how you’re feeling, and whether anything should be adjusted. The easiest way to ensure this happens is to set up a regular “money date.” You can instead call it a money meeting or anything else you’d like; what matters is that you get together regularly, at a predetermined time, to focus on your money.
How often should these happen? Once you’ve gone through the steps laid out in the first four parts of this series, then I suggest monthly meetings as a baseline. Adjust as needed, but I wouldn’t wait more than three months between money conversations.
Plan for 30 or 60 dedicated minutes without other commitments or distractions. How long you’ll need depends on various factors, including how well you track and manage your finances outside of these meetings. If you’re feeling unsure, just start with 60 minutes, and reevaluate after 3-6 months.
How will you keep tabs on your income, expenses, assets, and debts?
Some people like to do it manually – I’m a spreadsheet guy myself. Others prefer to use more-sophisticated technology, which is also great! Financial tools built specifically for couples include Honeydue and Firstly. Personal Capital, Mint, and You Need a Budget are some of the most popular tools overall for money management. As long as it makes your life easier and your money management better, I’m all for it!
Roles & Responsibilities
You’ve probably realized through this process that there are many money-related aspects of our lives and many things to manage. Discuss and jot down the different money-related tasks, roles, responsibilities (and whatever else you want to call them!) to run your household, and decide who will handle which. Any approach could work, but if you’re not sure where to start, try each doing ~one-half. A couple of notes:
- It’s not necessary to split the financial tasks evenly. That may actually be impossible, as each person has different skills and preferences regarding different tasks.
- As money is just one aspect of your household, I suggest considering how you can include these tasks in creating an equitable split overall.
- No matter what you decide, each of you should get experience with each task. This way, (a) you feel empowered to ask questions or give input, and (b) even if your partner is unavailable, you’ll be able to pick things up without too much added stress.
Now, all that’s left is to live it!
I know, both first-hand and from my clients, that money can be a challenging and uncomfortable topic. This is true no matter how much you have and no matter how great the other parts of your relationship are.
The data on money and relationships isn’t pretty, but you need not become a statistic. Having the conversations and handling the items outlined above will not only minimize those odds, but will also help bring you two closer together and strengthen your bond.
You’ll find yourself being more intentional with your money, getting more value for what you work so hard to earn and save. And this will free up energy and space in your mind and life to be that much more present and focused on what really matters to you.
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