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The hardest part of getting married? For many, it’s merging finances

Kelly Dilworth

Recently, my fiance and I opened our first joint bank account. It took more time — and was more emotionally charged — than I
anticipated.

After spending more than an hour filling out forms and going over our options with a personal banker, we drove to a local eatery — which was my suggestion; he would have rather saved the cash and eaten in — and hashed out a blueprint for how we’ll manage our money.

By the time we left the restaurant, I was drained. We’re both planners, and so we had talked about these issues before. But this was harder. It was the real deal.

Frequently arguing about money is one of the strongest predictors of divorce, according to a 2009 study by Utah State University professor Jeffrey Dew. “Compared with disagreements over other topics, financial disagreements last longer, are more salient to couples, and generate more negative conflict tactics, such as yelling or hitting, especially among husbands,” wrote Dew.

So far, my fiance and I have managed to avoid squabbling over our divergent spending habits (he’s an habitual saver; I’m a frequent small potatoes spender); but that’s because we don’t yet depend on each other’s good judgment to keep us out of financial ruin.

For most people, getting married is a financially savvy move, according to the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project.
However, it’s also risky. Women are more likely than men to end a failed marriage financially worse off (sometimes devastatingly so) and, as my own parents found, divorce can toss even the most solvent couple into debt.

As we drove home from the restaurant, I thumbed through the crumpled receipts that lined the bottom of my purse. I had long before agreed to start saving them to budget for joint expenses and was trying to get into the habit of saying “yes” each time a store clerk asked me if I wanted one. Would I be able to sustain that habit for the long haul, I wondered, and actually learn to save the receipts, rather than let them die at the bottom of my purse?

There was something else eating at me, too. My fiance and I are doing our best to research our financial options and talk our way through disagreements about how to spend. But what if we make the wrong decisions? What if we pool our finances completely and then later regret it? Or we put our savings toward his student loan debt, only to wind up with one partner unemployed and desperately in need of a bigger emergency stash?

There’s no shortage of advice online for what you should do once you marry: Don’t co-sign for a joint credit card if you can avoid it. Keep independent accounts for personal spending. Build up your emergency fund and then pay down your high-interest loans. But there’s not enough talk about the messiness that goes with it.

Later that night, as I crawled into bed, I realized something else. I had promised my fiance I’d give him the receipt for my wedding dress so he could enter it into the budget that we carefully drew up together the month before. I don’t have a clue where I put that damn receipt.

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