For couples getting married, the act of saying “I do” can be a huge relief. Not only does it mean the start of their life together – it’s also the end of worrying about planning and executing that gigantic wedding party!

Unfortunately, honeymoons end. And soon after their return, those newlyweds will need to deal with some not-so-romantic practicalities.  Chief among them is how to handle their finances.

If anything, money issues between mates are even more complicated today than they were just a few generations ago. For the parents or grandparents of today’s couples, there wasn’t much to discuss: The husbands made the money, the wives spent it. Virtually all assets were jointly owned, since individual retirement accounts had not been invented. Divorce was rare, and estate planning by spouses generally consisted of simple wills that left everything outright to one another.

Today, all that has changed. Both partners are likely to work, and there is a real probability that the bride out-earns her husband. Young people are generally marrying later, often bringing assets -- as well as significant debt -- into the partnership. Given the frequency of divorce, newlyweds may wonder if pooling all their resources makes sense.

These cultural and economic changes are forcing new partners to make many important decisions, ideally long before they apply for a marriage license. Whether you’ve just gotten married or plan to tie the knot soon, here’s a good list of financial topics to start considering.

  • What are our financial goals as a couple? Start your money conversations with the big stuff. Deciding what you want for your lives together — be it children, retirement at 55, or world travel — provides a unifying, positive approach to your finances and will make the day-to-day decisions less divisive.   
  • Who will handle the household bills and accounts? It’s not unusual for one person to enjoy doing the day-to-day management, while the other does not. For efficiency — not to mention household harmony — it often works best if one spouse takes the responsibility. But you still must be accountable to each other. On a regular basis, jointly review how the money flows in and out of the household.
  • How much financial togetherness do we want in our marriage? To answer this question, there first must be full disclosure of everything each of you owns and owes. What holdings should be merged in order to pursue your shared financial goals?  What holdings do you want to keep separate to allow some autonomy and independence for each spouse? Put your decisions in writing, like any well-governed partnership.  
  • Who pays for what? This question can be harder — thornier, even — than the “who owns what?” inquiry. There are no easy answers, particularly when newlyweds have very different incomes or obligations from their former lives. Some couples decide that all household income and expense should be “ours” regardless of source or amount, while others assign specific bills to one partner or the other, to be paid out of separate funds. Couples may decide to contribute to common bills equally or in different proportions, depending on respective income. The key is to be specific and clear from the outset in order to avoid those later instances of “money infidelity,” where one spouse starts keeping secrets about spending or debt.