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5 Things to Do, Before "I Do"

As you begin your life together, an important first step is to establish a budget.
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Planning a wedding can be overwhelming, with dozens of important decisions to be made before the big day. Most couples spend more time on things like picking out a china pattern than they do talking about their finances. If you're about to tie the knot, it's a good idea to have an open and honest discussion about money with your fiancé so you can start your marriage off on the right foot.

The divorce rate for the US continues to grow. According to a survey from the American Institute of CPAs, financial matters are the most common source of conflict among American couples. Unexpected expenses, mounting debt, problems stemming from inadequate savings, and inability to prioritize "needs" versus "wants" are just a few spending issues that can put stress on a relationship. Do you know how your philosophy on saving vs spending differs from your partner? Do you know if he or she has good or bad financial habits? Answering these questions now can help prevent stressful moments down the road. Here are five financial things to do before saying "I Do":

1. Establish A Budget:
As you begin your life together, an important first step is to establish a budget. Taking complete inventory of your combined monthly income and expenses will give you a clear idea of your total financial picture. Be sure to be up front about the amount of debt you'll each be bringing to the marriage including student loans, credit cards, car loans, etc., since they will soon be your joint responsibility. You may even want to consider ordering credit reports for yourselves in order to avoid any surprises.

2. Determine Who Will Pay the Bills:
Once you have a handle on your cash flow, determine who will pay the bills, and establish ground rules for purchasing big-ticket items. You'll need to decide whether to combine your checking accounts or keep them separate. You may even find it best to develop a hybrid solution: maintain a joint account to pay for rent, utilities, groceries, and other monthly expenses, and individual accounts for personal, discretionary spending. Every couple is different, so choose the option that works best for you.

3. Look Toward the Future Together:
With your budget in place, it's time to talk about your financial future together. Where do you see yourselves in 10, 20, 30 years? Are children in your future? Do you have an emergency fund in place? Is it time to start saving for a down payment on a house? Have you already set up retirement accounts? By planning for your future now you will be much more likely to achieve the goals you and your partner feel are important to your family.

4. Set Aside Time to Meet Monthly:
Make plans to revisit your finances on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis. Regularly setting aside time to talk about your financial situation can help to strengthen your relationship and keep you focused on your goals. This meeting doesn't have to be boring or dull. If it is you will be less likely to keep it up. Instead brainstorm ideas that will help to make it fun. Get creative!

There are many resources available to help you track your spending and progress toward your goals. Also, if you or your partner doesn't understand investing or you would like to learn more about your finances there are many classes, books, and webinars on a variety of subjects.

5. Ask for Help:
Don't be afraid to ask for assistance. A financial planner can provide clear and objective advice to help you work toward your goals. This is especially true for more complicated financial matters. For instance, if you have children prior to your marriage, a financial planner can explain options for protecting them. A popular example of this is putting together a prenuptial agreement. Financial planners or estate attorneys can help you navigate trickier topics such as trust funds, life insurance policies, creating a will, and more.

These five tips will help you begin your new life with a strong financial foundation. It's important to be honest about money and to keep working on it like you would any other area of your marriage. Communication is key! Talk about where you are now and where you want to go. By following these steps, you and your partner will be on your way to a bright future!

Heather Castle is a VP Investments with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, member SPIC and New York Stock Exchange. Learn more at heathercastle.net.

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