I think the financial conversation needs to take place prior to the " I Do's". Starting off a new marriage with revelations about debt, income and bad spending habits can cause undue stress during what should be the most wonderful time of your life. If you have the "money talk" prior to the nuptials, it will not only help budget for the wedding/honeymoon costs, it will also prevent any post-wedding surprises.
Once the rings are exchanged (and after the honeymoon) I would strongly suggest sitting down and itemizing all assets, investments and also share information about debt as well (credit card balances, school loans, car loans, etc.) You are a couple who has merged your lives as one, you need to know the intricate details of every area of each other's lives. One of the biggest roadblocks we see is a lack of communication about finances, which seems to get worse as the years go on. Make it a point to establish your level of expectation from the beginning regarding communication. It will help significantly as time goes on.
Once you have an overall view of where you stand financially as a couple, I would offer these following tips:
1. Watch the Debt -- Work hard to pay off all or most of the credit card debt and reduce the number of credit cards in general. Always try to pay with cash, especially for large items. If you have school loans, no need to rush to pay those off. The interest rates are low and the interest is tax-deductible. Focus on the high interest credit card debt first.
2. Create a Budget -- I would advise coming up with a realistic budget and hold one another accountable to it. Make sure to include such items as eating out, getting your nails done or a haircut, pet expenses, etc.These items add up, so include them. If one spouse makes more than the other, I would suggest saving a percentage of the income rather than picking a dollar amount. If you are finding you have an overage (or are running short) every month, adjust accordingly. Emergency expenses will arise, you have to be prepared to have flexibility in your budget.
3. Compromise on Risk -- Men and women are very different when it comes to investing. Men are more likely to be the risk takers, where women tend to have a more conservative approach. Rather than argue about the difference in how you're "wired" as individuals, sit and discuss your investment goals and time frames. If one of you is an avid risk taker, I would recommend agreeing on a dollar amount that can be "gambled" with.
4. Have a Plan -- One of the biggest mistakes that we see is that people do not plan for their future until it's too late. It is never too soon for couples to sit down and discuss their financial goals. Whether you plan on buying a new car, a new home, start a family, you need to know how these things are going to impact you financially. The financial decisions that you make affect all areas of your lives. Make sure you have a plan that you both agree on and stick to. It is better to have a plan in place that can be modified as time goes on than to not have a plan at all.
5. Check In -- No matter what investments choices you decide to make, "check in" with one another on your overall financial plan at least once a year, more often at the beginning of your marriage. Open communication is key, especially concerning finances. Differences over finances is one of the number one reasons for divorce. Keep talking... period!
The most common challenge of all when it comes to finances is where to start. Regardless of if you are a newlywed, divorcee or retiree, knowing what to do as a very first step is difficult. Talking about money is by far one of the hardest topics to find comfort in discussing. Find a financial professional that you can sit down with, talk through your financial goals and design a road map that will guide you to where you want to go. It's never too soon to start thinking about a well designed and successful retirement!