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You tell your new husband everything-your hopes, fears, and dreams. But there may be a conversation you've both been skirting: the one about money. Learning to share every detail about your 401(k) or charge card might take some getting used to, but trust us, it's well worth it. To help you discuss the past and plan for the future-all while maintaining engagement bliss-we called in the pros. Their simple tips are, well, right on the money.
Related: Five Things to Consider Before You Buy a House
1. Create a Vision
Does your "happily ever after" involve jetting off for a Jamaican vacation, or landing a mortgage ASAP? Whatever the dream, it's important to map out your future together. Write down a list of your short-term goals (a car, a new sectional couch) and long-term ones (a four-bedroom home in a nice neighborhood, a comfortably padded 401(k)). "You don't have to have every single detail figured out," says Bell, "but prioritizing will give you a better sense of how to budget and save."
Another important aspect: kids. Chances are you've already agreed on whether or not you want children, but you'll also want to address child-care and education costs. With the average price tag of raising little Alice coming in around $234,000-not including college!-it's never too soon to start planning.
2. Get on the Same Page
You work hard for your money, so it can be tough switching from a "mine" to "ours" mind-set. But it's really important. Problem is, many spouses have differing views about spending and saving (in fact, research shows that fiscal opposites attract). Maybe the cash-flow woes his family faced growing up are the reason he insists on buying generic everything-down to the puffed-rice cereal. "This piece of the puzzle can help you better understand each other's decisions," she says.
Another way to sidestep conflict is to create a "discretionary" budget for each spouse to spend as desired, whether that's on Apple stock or the newest Tory Burch bag.
See also: Ten Things You Should Know About the First Year of Marriage
3. Lay Debts out on the Table
If you haven't fessed up about your former credit-card habit, now's the time to come clean. Although your spouse isn't responsible for those shopping sprees, they can drag down your credit score as a couple. So make a plan: Decide whether you're going to tackle that debt individually or together. If the interest rate is high-more than 10 percent-joining forces is a smart move. Not sure how to start chipping away? See a financial pro, who can help you weigh options and offer smart strategies.
While you're discussing details, resist the temptation to feel guilty or angry about having debt in the relationship. "Playing the blame game is destructive," says Tessina. "It eats away at trust and creates a sense of resentment." Instead, she says, concentrate on the financially free future that you're creating together.
4. Decide How You'll Share Finances
A few decades ago, couples combined their net worth as soon as they traded I do's. Today, it's not as simple: Research shows that roughly half of married people have individual accounts. Some couples choose to contribute an equal percentage of their income to it (each person gives, say, 60 percent of her paycheck), while others prefer to deposit a flat sum each month.
For big-ticket items, like a down payment, vacation, or new car, set up a joint savings or investment account. "Use direct deposit to distribute a portion of your paycheck," advises Bell. "If you don't see it, you won't be tempted to spend it."
5. Work out the Details
Now that you've figured out how much you want to put toward your debts and goals, you can hammer out a budget together. Next, decide who's responsible for what duties: It's generally easier to have the more detail-oriented spouse take over paying bills and monitoring the cash flow.
To keep each other in the loop, schedule a check-in every week. "Consider it a bona fide business meeting, where you can catch up on bills and discuss long-term plans," says Tessina. That means allotting time to chat, setting an agenda to stay on topic, and turning off that episode of Revenge in the background. "You can make it something to look forward to," adds Tessina. "Discuss finances over pancakes on a Saturday morning, or meet for lunch in a restaurant." Who says you can't have a little fun while plotting your financial future together?
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