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Getting married brings a tsunami of change. That’s probably no surprise. But the changes to a couple’s financial situation can bring unpleasant surprises if money and financial priorities aren’t talked about before they say, “I do.” If you’re about to walk down the aisle, it’s important to talk about you and your partner’s spending habits, any debts, financial philosophies, values, and lifestyle desires.

It might not be your favorite pre-nuptial conversation, but it may be one of the most important for preventing marital discord down the road and for building a strong financial foundation for the relationship.

When to talk about money

Managing finances as a single person can be stressful and daunting, so it’s understandable if talking about the combined finances of two people isn’t the first thing that jumps to mind when you think of romance and true love! But we know good communication is key to a strong, lasting relationship. So, when should you have the “money talk” with your soon-to-be-spouse?

Ideally, you would talk about each of your financial philosophies, goals, and habits before the proposal—after all, if they don’t align, the marriage could be in trouble before it starts—but later is better than never. Since many couples pay for their own weddings, the budgeting and planning for the big day (or elopement!) is a perfect opening to start the money conversation.

You can even break up topics like debt, saving, income, budgeting, etc. over several conversations to keep it from feeling overwhelming. And to give you time to examine your own habits, expectations, and philosophies on each. Other tips for having a successful money talk include being open and honest, not hiding debts, knowing what’s most important to you, and planning to continue the conversation throughout the marriage as life, income, etc. change.

Setting up a joint checking account or keeping accounts separate

This is probably the first financial decision you’ll make together as a couple (once you’ve decided how to pay for the wedding): do you want shared banking accounts, separate accounts, or a combination of joint and separate? There isn’t one right answer, only a right answer that fits you both.

Sharing all accounts can help with accountability and ease of tracking your family budget. However, it requires complete transparency about spending habits and who is paying for which debts.

A combination of joint and individual accounts allows you to pay for shared expenses, like mortgage/rent, utilities, insurance, groceries, etc., from the shared account while also giving you individual accounts for personal spending. This might be more appealing for couples who are used to financial independence and freedom or are marrying later in life.

Regardless of which accounts you share or keep separate, you need to decide how to pay off debt brought to the marriage. If you have student loans but your partner doesn’t, will those payments come only from your paycheck, or is your spouse willing to contribute to pay off the debt sooner?

Whichever arrangement you choose, it should allow you to pursue joint goals and responsibilities while also allowing flexibility for different spending habits with your disposable income.

Creating a budget together

This is really square one of implementing what you’ve already talked about regarding lifestyle and financial priorities. Budgeting is how you achieve those priorities.

look at your combined cash flow—this is your combined income and fixed expenses (those that don’t change from month to month, like debt obligations, housing, insurance, etc.). Match up your income and these expenses. Next, look at variable expenses like groceries, gas, memberships, etc. and see how your habits will change in married life and how you can save money. Eliminate overlapping bills or shrink them by selecting family plans for things like gym memberships, cell phone plans, and streaming services.

From here, you will be able to see where you can save money, how you will need to change spending habits, and what you want to save for next in life. Part of this is deciding how to make big, medium, and small purchases. Will you share the decision at a certain dollar amount?

Budgeting and saving for emergencies and unforeseen expenses will set you up to be financially secure, together.

Paying bills

Finally, it’s time to decide who will be responsible for tracking and paying each bill. Perhaps one of you will handle the day-to-day living expenses while the other pays the mortgage. However you split the task, it’s to your advantage to both be involved in your family financial decisions and responsibilities. This will help avoid misaligned spending or confusion over the budget. It’s also a good idea to share relevant access data like account numbers, passwords, and billing dates so that one of you could easily pay all the bills if the other fell ill or passed away.

All of this planning ahead will help prevent unintended future difficulties and put you on the road to financial and marital success!