Getting married is a whirlwind. You're down on one knee in one moment, and you're saying "I do" in the next. After the celebratory rice has settled, the stress of the transition often comes into the picture. Many couples don't even know where to start, some think they do, but forget key details, and others put it all off for another day... or year.
I've met with plenty of newlyweds like myself and given them this same checklist in my talks with them. Maybe you've just gotten engaged, you're newly married, or even not-so-newly wed, this list is a great starting point for having the right conversations in your marriage:
- Talk: Set aside a specific time that you can both talk about everything without any distractions around. Turn off the TV, clear off all the crud off your kitchen table that no one hardly ever eats food on anyways, and have an intentional conversation. One of you should not be doing all the talking, thinking, or planning. I can guarantee that the spouse or spouse-to-be that offers the least input, will be the one who becomes the most frustrated down the road.
- The Identity Scramble (Sorry, Bride): The obvious first step is to change/update all of the following bits of information. The reason that I say sorry to the bride is because this process is a little more arduous for her (if she is changing her name). It's important to note that not every couple decides to change all of the following, and that's okay.
- Social Security Information/Card (Bride)
- Driver's License (Bride)
- Vehicle registration
- Passport (Bride)
- Address change
- Utilities (phone, cable, electric, water, etc.)
- Voter Registration
- Emergency contact info
- Update Beneficiary Information: Remember when you started that retirement plan at work? Remember when you listed your mom as your primary beneficiary? Change it. You may need to contact your HR person, or contact the investment company directly. It should be an easy and painless process. Granted, your spouse could legally contest the money being distributed to your mom, but who wants their passing to be followed by a legal battle between their mom and their spouse? Do this with every account and policy that needs to be updated.
- Budget: You may have had a budget before you got married, but it has to change and be updated after you get married. After I got married, I found that my clothing budget magically increased quite a bit. Who would have thought? If only someone had compiled an easy-to-read guide to getting started with budgeting, updated for the 21st century... ohh well.
- Wills: Each newlywed couple needs to get a will for themselves. This isn't nearly as important before you have children, but it's important to get the ball rolling on this before it gets put on the back-burner. I've met with plenty of couples in their mid-to-late thirties or even forties with a small litter of kids that "just never got around to it." Yes, there are services online that offer a fill-in-the-blank type will, but I always recommend seeing an attorney in person, if you can. An attorney can help you to create a will that will have state-specific provisions that an online service may miss. They will also be able to help you to craft a will that could potentially last 30 or 40 years. Also, if you don't have children yet but are planning on it in the future, your attorney can go ahead and add provisions in the event you have children, often removing the need to have to go back and revise after you have children. You can also look forward to the conversation of "who takes care of the kids if we die?" Good luck with that one. Really.
- Life Insurance: "Till death do us part." Sorry for the Debbie-downer intro, but a lot of people overlook this important step. You probably moved a lot of things in together when you got married: a couch, a dresser, a dog, some decorations you pretend to like, a mortgage, etc. Do you have shared debt? Do you have a mortgage? Will your spouse be negatively financially impacted if something were to happen to you? Life insurance ensures that your family is taken care of financially if something were to happen to you. There's nothing more romantic than associating your death with a hefty death benefit payable to your spouse *cue the hiding of knives around the house*. But really, a lack of life insurance can turn a horrible event into something that's even more devastating for our loved ones that rely on what we bring into the household. Many young, healthy couples are surprised to see how affordable a sizable amount of life insurance really is.
- Health Insurance: This is a no-brainer, and is now required by law. For health insurance, make sure you look into several options to see what will be the most cost-effective and have all the features your family needs. Some options to look into are:
- If you're 26 or younger, and your parents will still have you, it may be the best to just stay on your parent's plan. In some cases, it may not cost them anything extra, and it allows you to stay covered until you become a mega-earner by the time you turn 26 (good luck).
- If offered, look into getting added to your spouse's employer plan. Often, this route is much cheaper than it would be if you tried to get insurance outside of their group plan.
- If both employed and covered by insurance, compare the costs of switching one or both of you to one plan, or if it's better for you both to stay separate.
- Look into government-subsidized insurance through the online marketplace if you think your income level would qualify you. Here is a good place to start if you're not sure if you're eligible.
- As always, there's the ability to look for plans on the open, independent marketplace.
- Disability Insurance: This is the one that is most often over-looked by couples. Disability insurance is not for everyone, and is sometimes tough to get if you only earn a certain amount, or if you have not had a steady income for a long period of time. Disability insurance is definitely a key part of the financial picture for families. "If you’re in your 20s, you have more than a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before you retire, according to the Social Security Administration. By contrast, for a 25-year-old male, the probability of dying before age 65 is 1 in 6, according to Life Happens, a consumer education organization. For a 25-year-old woman, the chances of dying before 65 are 1 in 9" (Nerd Wallet).
- Retirement: This isn't something to put off for later in life. I can't stress enough the importance of starting as early as possible in regard to saving for retirement. The simple principle of compound interest is an extremely powerful thing, and the single most important factor in the equation? Investment amount? Rate of return? Nope. It's TIME. The longer an investment has to grow at a compounded rate of return, the more exponentially it grows. The peanuts you may be putting aside on a regular basis today will certainly not seem so small 45 years from now. Some important retirement points:
- If your employer has a retirement plan and offers a match, make sure that you are putting aside enough to get all of their match. I don't care who you talk to, that's free money on the table. Nowhere else can you get a 100% return on each dollar invested with that kind of assurance, or even 50% if they do a partial match. Take your free raise. Take it.
- Consider a Roth IRA outside of your employer retirement plan. If you are getting all of your employer match, and your budget still allows for extra retirement savings, consider the Roth. The Roth IRA is a powerful tool for tax-free income at retirement, and there's a reason that the government places income restrictions on who is able to contribute. Check the IRS website for income restrictions and to determine if you and your spouse are eligible.
The above list is not totally comprehensive. Each individual couple is unique in their needs and financial considerations. There are many additional areas of planning that apply to specific people, but I tried to make this list as universal as possible. Every single point in this list needs to be talked about, and reviewed at least once every year between every married couple.