There is an endless stream of expert advice on how important it is to talk money before you get married.
These financial conversations become even more important – and more complicated – if one or both of you are bringing a child (or children) into this new union.
Think about it. You have spent the last years only taking care of your family. You have developed habits for dining out, buying clothes, and enjoying entertainment.
Maybe you and your kids would go to the movies the first Friday of every month. You would all get popcorn, candy, and a drink. This was a tradition that you budgeted for every month. But now there are more of you. Will you all be able to continue the tradition, or will it be too costly?
Who will tell the children that, due to your decision to marry, you will no longer be doing their monthly tradition?
Personally speaking, I have two sons from a previous marriage. My husband has four kids from previous relationships. We also have a daughter together. I am a serial budgeter and planner. I track all of my spending and keep records.
My kids have modest wardrobes. They only get new clothes when they outgrow most of the ones they have. I love to cook, so we don't eat out a lot, but we indulge about once a month. My kids and I enjoy hiking, swimming, and playing basketball.
My husband’s financial habits are very different. With cooking being our only similarity, our work was cut out for us. He bought clothes whenever the wind blew, and loved doing expensive activities like taking the kids to a bounce house or a trampoline playground. He wanted to entertain the kids at any cost.
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Spending time with him and his kids, I was able to see these behaviors firsthand. It also opened a window for discussion. Because of my profession, he believed that my way would ensure a more stable future.
But there are still times when we bump heads about spending.
Recently, I talked to a friend about marital finances. She and her husband both brought a child into their marriage. As the only children in their respective homes, they were spoiled. When she and her spouse got married, both had full-time jobs.
They were comfortable financially. Soon came two more babies within two years, making my friend a stay-at-home mom by default. If she worked, her check would have been used almost entirely for daycare.
The decision for her to stay home made sense. But there was no discussion of how their marital finances would change with only one income. The older kids, who were accustomed to being only children, were now subjected to changes in spending habits, too.
Not discussing all of these details causes stress on the marriage and the family as a whole that could possibly be avoided with routine conversations about money and spending.
Geoff Williams of U.S. News & World Report writes that couples in such situations should ease into the process. “When you do move in, if you start merging your finances, you don't have to do everything at once. In fact, if you're able to avoid it, it's probably better not to do everything at once.”
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Williams spoke with Mitch Reiner, a certified financial planner. He says,
“I see problems when people try and throw everything into one pot and argue over who is contributing for what.”
“Of course, that won't work for everyone. Say if one partner is staying home to take care of all the children, for instance,” Williams writes. “But whether you're splitting expenses or combining your financial forces, if you have a lot of kids, and you have some other players in the mix, like an ex-spouse providing child support, it makes sense to join forces gradually and see what works and what doesn't.”
Talking about money isn’t always fun or easy, but it is important.
It took two and a half years for my husband to buy into my theory of bi-weekly meetings about our finances.
In an effort to communicate, we now schedule a meeting every paycheck to talk about what we need for the next one. We now set savings goals and are careful about what we promise others – including our children – about what we can do each month. The key is consistent conversations to keep all family members somewhat happy.
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