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The term “for richer or for poorer” is taking on new significance as many couples prepare for a spring or summer marriage.

Many people enter marriage with previously acquired property, investment portfolios, debt, and even major financial obligations from a prior marriage.

About $60 billion will be spent on 2.5 million weddings this year, so engaged couples might want to put financial planning, ranging from checking accounts to babies, on their to-do list in advance of the ceremony. Steve Pybrum, author of Money and Marriage: Making It Work Together, advises engaged couples to discuss financial issues at least six months before they get married.

“It doesn’t mean a spender can’t marry a saver, because they can actually complement each other,” says a spokeswoman for the nationwide Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

Share goals and tasks
The next step is to write down your agreed-upon goals. Be as specific as possible, such as the amount necessary to have in savings before going house hunting, or the type of investments that will be made.

Decide whether to keep separate or joint checking and savings accounts. Many couples are opting for separate accounts, with each partner taking responsibility for certain expenses. If you decide on a joint account, consider setting a limit on how much either person can withdraw without consulting the other.

Head off financial disagreements by scheduling a monthly money meeting, suggests Kathleen Gurney, chief executive officer of Financial Psychology Corp. in Sarasota, Florida.

Trade off financial tasks each month—perhaps one person balances the checkbook and the other writes the checks, she suggests. Keep both partners involved in the finances, even if one is better suited to handle them, she adds.

Agree on a budget
Newlyweds should set up a budget. Begin by determining your combined income from salaries, part-time jobs, and investment or dividend income. Be aware that research has found that married men earn up to 50 percent more than single men. A possible reason, according to Kate Antonovics, an economics professor at the University of California in San Diego: married men may work harder and be more assertive about asking for raises because their income affects the well-being of a spouse and children.

Include such fixed expenses as mortgage or rent, car payment, insurance premiums, and child support. Add in variable expenses, like utilities, groceries, clothing, entertainment, house and car repairs, and doctor or dentist visits. Set aside an amount for savings and don’t skip putting it aside.

If your income doesn’t cover your expenses, it’s time to budget more realistically.

Negotiating prenuptials
With 43 percent of all weddings being the second marriage for at least one person involved, according to the Stepfamily Association of America, you could find it wise to enter into a prenuptial agreement.

While there are some who believe that a prenuptial agreement requires the parties to negotiate their divorce before the wedding vows are exchanged, the agreement could spell out who would inherit a specific family heirloom, or how the couple would keep possessions in their own name.

Special considerations
The number of unmarried adults living together in the United States has grown to 11 million, a 72 percent increase in the past decade. If you are among this group, you need to follow up your emotional commitment with a legal one.

A living-together or domestic-partnership agreement spells out how you wish to handle your assets while you live as a couple and if you part.

Older couples are discovering that the legalities and logistics of caring for each other and planning for incapacity and death present special challenges. To safeguard your partner and yourself, have in place a durable health-care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney, and a will or revocable living trust.

FINANCIAL DISAGREEMENT HELP Here’s online help to head off financial disagreements with your spouse or significant other: Living together and don’t want to tie the knot? Lobbies on behalf of unmarried couples for health care and other benefits. Considering a prenuptial agreement? The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has advice on this and related family-law subjects.
—Research by Barbara Betts

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