Back in the day, marriage really was a sort of financial transaction. The bride’s family would give her away with an economic incentive known as the dowry, or the groom’s family would offer something up to “buy” a bride to provide kids and run the household.
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Thankfully, marriage today is generally a consensual union between two people who want to have a life together. But marriage still carries its own set of financial benefits and downsides, with Dr. Seth Myers of “Psychology Today” noting that money troubles can put stress on a relationship and contribute to divorce.
Here are eight financial pros and cons of marriage, and what you can do to maximize benefits and minimize the pitfalls.
1. You Can Build Wealth
It’s easier to build up money when you live with someone else, since you’re combining income and assets while sharing expenses. In order to maximize this plus, you’ve got to build and budget and make sure you and your spouse are on the same page.
Speak to each openly about money, bills and everything else when it comes to saving and spending. Create a budget together, and set some ground rules you can both live by. For instance, set a dollar limit for purchases made without the other spouse’s input, and give up whatever unnecessary spending you both can agree to.
2. The Wedding Will Cost You
Weddings can be quite expensive. Online wedding portal, The Knot conducted a survey and found that the average wedding costs just over $31,000, with events held in large urban areas going over that figure because of higher expenses.
Whether you’re okay with a small wedding, a quick trip to city hall or the big wedding of your dreams, you need to plan accordingly and be aware of the pros and cons of each approach. If you do decide you want a more expensive wedding, save up first!
Don’t put yourself into debt over a wedding, as that is not the best way to start off your marriage, financially speaking.
3. You’ll Be More Accountable
When you’re living on your own, there is no one to explain your $4 a day coffee habit or late bill payment to. But when you’re with another person, you’re also responsible for what happens to them if you don’t have savings when there’s an emergency or the bills aren’t paid on time.
This can make you more responsible when it comes to how you handle your money, leading to better decisions and more careful spending habits. Take a look at your current finances and budget in terms of how it affects you and your spouse, and make changes as needed.
4. Money Naturally Causes Stress
Money can cause stress in any relationship, particularly romantic ones, and it’s made worse when you have two people with different habits. According to an article in the Boston Globe, it’s not uncommon for couples who marry to be opposite when it comes to spending habits, such as a saver and a spender.
You can lessen money stress by being open and honest with your partner about financial goals. Tell him or her how you feel about where you’re both at financially and what issues you see in spending habits.
Listen to what your spouse has to say about this topic as well. Once everything is out in the open, you can work together to come to an arrangement that makes you both happy while moving you toward your shared economic goals. For instance, if you’re a saver and your spouse is a spender, think about taking over the finances and giving your spouse an allowance.
They may feel guilty about being looser with money and welcome your willingness to take on the responsibility. If you’re the spender, ask your spouse about taking financial control if you’re not sure you can change your habits enough on your own.
5. Your Taxes May Go Up…Or Not
Income taxes are a mixed bag when it comes to marriage. The tax on your combined income may be higher than it would have been if you were taxed separately, something that often occurs if your incomes are similar or both fixed at the higher or lower end of the bracket.
But if your incomes are very different, you may actually benefit from the two being combined, as the higher earner’s income will be pulled down into a lower tax bracket by the other spouse’s smaller income. There is not much you can do about taxes other than making sure you’re getting any credits or deductions you qualify for when you file.
6. You Can Still Get An IRA Even If You’re Not Working
You usually must have earned income to invest an individual retirement account and take advantage of the tax savings while growing your nest egg. But there’s a special exception for married people that allows a working spouse to make contributions on behalf of a non-working one.
So, even if you or your spouse decides to be a stay at home parent or becomes unemployed, there is still a way to contribute towards retirement.
7. You Can Access Your Spouse’s Benefits
If you can’t get health insurance on your own, you still may be able to get coverage through your spouse’s employer. There will be an additional cost to add coverage for you, but it’s still usually less than what you’d pay if you had to buy directly from the insurance company yourself.
You may also be able to get spousal Social Security benefits, which is a huge benefit for people who were stay at home parents or didn’t work enough to earn a decent benefit amount. You can claim spousal benefits once your spouse turns 62 and files for their own.
The benefit amount you’ll get depends on what your spouse gets and whether you file at your full retirement age, but it may be around 50 percent of what your spouse receives.
8. You Might Get Automatic Legal Protection If Your Spouse Dies
Estate planning is something you can do at just about any age, but while it’s important, many people put it off or don’t update their plan as often as they should. If your spouse suddenly dies without a will, living trust or any measures in place, you still may receive assets that were completely owned by your spouse under state law.
This is because many states have intestacy laws, which are rules that lay out what happens to a person’s assets if they die without a proper will or trust, that include special provisions for spouses.
The key to taking advantage of marriage pros and avoiding the cons as much as you can is maintaining clear and honest communication with your spouse. Make sure your marriage foundation is solid by working together with your spouse as a team and being open, even if it isn’t always easy to do so.