The burden of a mortgage, credit card bills, and other family expenses can be draining for couples. Studies show finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship, and money problems tops the list of reasons for divorce. Frequent and effective communication can help keep marriages intact, and that’s especially true when it comes to managing money.

Follow these six tips to get your finances on track so you can spend less time stressing about money and more time enjoying your partner’s company.

Maintain transparency

Many married couples decide to combine bank accounts while others prefer to keep their money separate. Regardless of what you decide, spending should be transparent. As a married couple, you’re more than just roommates sharing expenses. Technology enables you to keep everything in one place, making it even easier to communicate spending with one another. And don’t be afraid to talk about more than just dollars and cents – share your long-term financial goals so you can save accordingly.

Understand your spending habits

People typically fall into one of two categories when it comes to how they manage money –  spenders and savers. It’s OK to identify who is better at saving and spending in your marriage. While still preserving transparency, allow the “saver” to be the primary manager of home-based expenses. The saver can keep the spender in check and create a budget to better manage funds. Together, build categories like “grocery spending,” or “recreational spending” and agree on how much to allot for each category. Just remember to maintain a balance – the saver can keep the spender accountable, and the spender can suggest activities that are worth splurging on.

Have regular budget chats

Plan ahead and set aside time to have “money talks” when you won’t be distracted or interrupted – like on Sunday afternoons, or after the kids go to bed. These are generally short “checkups” where a couple can look at their spending in relation to their plan and discuss any upcoming expenses. Make sure to schedule these on a regular basis, such as every time you or your partner gets paid. These conversations can help make things less stressful if an unexpected emergency comes up.

Set guidelines

Agree on how much spending freedom you’re both comfortable with. Identify a threshold amount for how much each of you can spend on bigger purchases. For example, it may be okay to come home with a pair of $80 shoes, but not an $800 home theater system. Without guidelines, one partner may feel frustrated about a big purchase, while the person doing the spending is in the dark about why the purchase was wrong. This threshold allows you to be proactive, thereby minimizing the chance of an unexpected incident or argument later on.

Save, Save, Save

It’s easy to use your debt as an excuse not to save. Make a list of small, doable goals – this can be as simple as putting aside $25 from each paycheck into a savings account. You could start by trying to save $1,000 for an emergency fund and then add to it on a regular basis. If you have a hard time leaving saved money alone, ask your bank to put restrictions on your savings account to prevent withdrawals. Just don’t forget to acknowledge saving successes as they happen.

Get financially fit

Admitting you need financial help can be awkward and embarrassing, but financial trainers are equipped to help you set a budget, work on your spending habits, or even moderate tough talks about money. These services are usually very affordable and the return on investment is high – on its own, the reduced stress in your relationship is worth far more than the price. Though you may be tempted to seek out advice from friends or family, those close to you may not provide the honest, objective advice you need to hear. A small investment in strengthening your financial health with the help of a trainer can pay off later on and help you and your partner avoid “learning it the hard way.”

If you and your partner are facing mounting financial difficulties, it’s important to make a concentrated effort to properly manage money together. From holding a bi-weekly budget meeting with your spouse to agreeing on ways to monitor spending, or even bringing a professional into the picture, you can work together to get your finances on track in no time.

 Personal Finance

5 Financial Tips for Planning a Wedding

Wedding expenses can add up quickly. The price of a wedding in the U.S. reached an all-time high last year, with the average couple spending more than $35,000on the celebration. For young couples with less to spend, it can be even more difficult. And, while you might have one budget in mind, your partner’s idea may be very different.

The costs associated with preparing for the big day – from hiring a photographer right down to the floral arrangement – can be a source of tension for many couples. Here are five financial tips to consider before you say, “I do.”

1. Discuss divvying up wedding expenses

Decide early on how much you and your significant other are committed to spending. If your families are chipping in, have a meeting with them to figure out exactly what their budgets look like, too. While you may have some general ideas in mind – like one party pays for the venue and the other handles the catering – it’s also important to look at the big picture and establish an approximate total budget at the onset of planning. This will help you decide which areas of the wedding you want to splurge on and the parts on which you can tighten the belt.

2. Set aside “just in case” money

Your life doesn’t take a break just because you’re planning one of its biggest events. If an unexpected emergency arises, you’ll want to have some money set aside – especially as wedding expenses rack up. The costs of an unplanned medical issue, work stoppage or family emergency can be difficult to manage in the best of times. To avoid having to dip into your wedding budget to cover the costs, set aside emergency funds.

3. Make a plan of action for bill paying

Wedding planning brings with it all kinds of bills, from hiring numerous vendors to putting down security deposits and even just paying off your own credit card. Create a spreadsheet or calendar and decide on a plan ahead of time to make sure you meet payment deadlines. Designate one day each week to handle bill paying together, which can make the task go by faster and help prevent any surprise expenses. Couples who frequently argue about finances early on in their relationship are proven to be at a greater risk of divorce – so developing a system to manage wedding costs is good practice for handling financial obligations well down the road.

4. Keep each other in check

Make note of your spending strengths and weaknesses, and ask your fiancé to do the same so you can keep each other at budget. If you want to know when your significant other spends more than $100 on an item, make that clear. Conversely, if you can’t resist overspending when you’re out with friends, you might want to ask your partner to hold you accountable. Transparency around your spending will help pave the way for clearer communication on many other relationship issues, too.

5. Plan for post-wedding expenses

After months or years of planning, there’s no better feeling than finally enjoying your wedding day. But you don’t want your first few years as a married couple to be financially stressful because you blew the bank on one night, no matter how important it was. Whether it’s planning for a honeymoon abroad or bringing a little one into the picture, make sure you and your spouse are clear on what big expenses you need to save for after your wedding. It’s hard to start saving for these big life events before your wedding even takes place if you don’t talk about it first.

Planning a wedding can be a stressful experience. The key to working out wedding finances is to stay organized, make responsible decisions and maintain open lines of communication with your fiancé and any others who are helping with wedding costs. Nobody wants rain on their wedding day, and that includes the dark cloud of debt. Follow these tips to walk down the aisle with a bright future ahead.


4 Retirement Planning Tips for Recent College Grads

Today’s college graduates face some major hurdles on the road to retirement. For many, planning for retirement isn’t even on their radar – and with looming student loan payments, it’s hard to motivate college grads to start thinking about putting money aside that they won’t spend for decades.

A 2015 study called Money Matters on Campus found that 12 percent of college freshmen don’t even check their account balances because it makes them nervous, and, on average, they could correctly answer only two of six financial literacy questions on topics like emergency funds, student loan debt and late credit payments. It’s no surprise that preparing for retirement remains a topic most college grads aren’t nearly ready to discuss.

Often, the first big expense out of college is repaying student loans. In fact, the average graduate pays $351 a month in student loans, a pretty hefty price to afford on a starting salary. These payments, along with unavoidable expenses like rent, utilities and car insurance, can leave young adults feeling hopeless and with little motivation to invest in retirement.

However, now is the time for young 20-somethings to start saving, and there’s a lot to learn. Here are four tips for recent college grads to save now and worry less later:

1. Keep spending on track. It can’t be stressed enough – tracking all spending in one place is vital. While new technologies allow for quick and simple payments without having to carry around cash, they also make it all too easy to not feel the effects of spending. Budgets often fall through because young adults try to manage their rent separately from their retirement savings – or they’re just not tracking anything at all.

Start by plugging larger monthly payments into your phone as they come in, then work down to the smaller expenses, like groceries. Keeping track of the big and little payments seems tedious at first, but it homes in on where to cut down and when to save up. Downloading a budgeting app – and checking it often – can also help to avoid making impulsive spending decisions.

2. Start paying off debt ASAP. Being in charge of car insurance, phone bills and rent payments for the first time can be overwhelming, especially for grads who feel like they’re already drowning in student debt. Although they may feel financially strained, in reality, young adults often have fewer commitments than they will down the road when they might think about investing in a home, traveling or starting a family.

To help manage debt, use a debt roll-down system – make minimum payments on all but the smallest debt and put as much focus on it as you can until it’s paid off. Your 35-year-old self will thank you.

3. Always opt to enroll. Many employers offer a 401(k) retirement plan, which means employees don’t have to pay any income taxes on what they contribute to it, delaying the need to pay taxes until funds are withdrawn for retirement. Even if it means starting small, build that retirement fund now. Retirement may seem far away, but every year of work counts.

The trick to making compound interest work – aka “interest on interest” that makes money grow faster than simple interest alone – is time (something you can’t get later). While it’s tempting to tinker with retirement savings as it adds up, leave it alone. You never know what life events may break the bank, so start saving the moment you land a post-grad job and continue to throughout your career.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If college grads aren’t confident in their long-term budgeting skills, financial training is a solid investment that can truly pay off. Talk to an objective, experienced third party who isn’t going to try to sell you insurance or investments. Be aware that the tempting, “free” financial advisors at a local bank might earn commission on selling investments that may not provide benefit in the long run.

Think of this type of help as a personal trainer for your wallet. Taking a “trial and error” approach isn’t the best way to plan a financial future. Monthly advice costs about as much as a night out with friends, and you’ll wake up with saved cash, not a hangover.

One of the most overlooked parts of moving from a college bubble to adulthood is budgeting for retirement, but financial responsibility should be top of mind for recent grads. The best thing young adults can do for their financial stability is make an effort to learn and start saving early. Facing retirement now is likely to pay off much more later.