The pandemic wedding boom is in full bloom, but for many young couples the financial picture has never been cloudier


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Talking about their sex lives often easier for couples than talking about finances

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Nicholas Sokic, Special to Financial Post The most important thing is to have conversations about finances well before your actual wedding. Photo by Getty Images

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In an ongoing series, the Financial Post explores personal finance questions tied to life’s big milestones, from getting married to retirement.

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For many couples, an addition to the extremely long list of pandemic-related problems is an understandable delay in their wedding celebrations. But, even though vaccination rates have cleared the fog, the future financial picture has never been cloudier. So the question remains, what should young couples be doing to make their financial transition as smooth as possible?

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First the most important thing is to have these sorts of conversations well before your actual wedding. And the first topic should come down to, “How are we going to pay for stuff?” Of course, the answer for every couple will be different.

In personal finance author Kelley Keehn’s experience, many couples have been cohabitating that maybe would not have if not for the pandemic, or they’ve been together for some time without ever talking about money. Her advice is obviously to talk about what money means to each person, but to do so in a gentle manner, knowing that it won’t be solved in a single conversation.

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“If you drill down to what the person answers, it’s usually freedom or security. And the reason I always ask couples to start with that very innocent question is because it’s going to reveal so much,” said Keehn. “If somebody says that money means security… they’re probably more risk adverse. They want to save more, the person where [the answer is] freedom they want to spend. And then I think you can build from there.”

It’s unfortunate that we can talk about our sex lives, but we can’t talk about our financial lives when we come together as couples

personal finance author Kelley Keehn

That conversation should include discussing everything from an emergency savings plan to what to do with any debts. Not to mention long-term goals like further education, a home, kids, travel and more. Once couples are able to understand where each person is coming from with their money, including any attitudes or fears around it, they can work on setting financial goals.

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For example, one person in the relationship wanting to pursue a master’s and the other wanting to raise children would of course require compromise, but Keehn stresses that having an honest conversation around these goals is the starting block for making it all work. She even recommends bringing in outside help if necessary.

“That might mean separately going in meeting with a financial planner, it might mean separately meeting with a non-profit credit counsellor or insolvency trustee,” said Keehn. “It’s rarely super clean. Where both couples come to the table, no one has said it’s super easy… It’s unfortunate that we can talk about our sex lives, but we can’t talk about our financial lives when we come together as couples. It’s not possible for a lot of people, and that’s where you need to get some help.”

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It also doesn’t hurt for part of that wide-ranging conversation to include planning for the possibility of job losses, burnout and other seemingly collective pandemic experiences. That’s a whole other hurdle apart from the individual financial priorities of those in the relationship.

“I think that combining finances can be difficult, not only if people have different values, but the other challenge I have seen is if one has more savings than the other coming into the relationship, or if incomes are significantly different,” said Jason Heath, the managing director at Objective Financial Partners Inc. “Some people will combine everything into joint accounts. Others will keep money separate and will have their own bank accounts, but maybe contributes equally to expenses, some contribute proportionally based on income.”

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While there’s no foolproof path forward for financial planning, Heath does recommend simple ways to save on taxes. Whether you’re common-law or married, you’ll save more contributing to the higher-income spouses’ RRSP than your own. That also applies to any tax credits you may receive on things like donations or medical expenses. It also makes more sense to contribute to whoever has the best company plan or pension in order to maximize matching contributions from an employer.

As well, once you are married and if you’re planning on buying a home or having kids in the future, he recommends taking a closer look at insurance, powers of attorney and estate planning in particular for a more holistic view of your finances. When it comes to homes and even weddings themselves, pricey as they are, Heath sees post-pandemic potential for young couples.

“I think there’s just a real opportunity for young couples to do things differently from weddings to where they live to where they work, and maybe put themselves in a better long-term financial position,” said Heath.

At the end of the day, his advice for new couples isn’t radically different from the advice for an individual.

“Life doesn’t necessarily work out the way that you expected financially or otherwise,” said Heath. “I think it’s good to sort of hope for the best and plan for the worst. And when you do that, it can make a negative financial surprise a lot easier to handle.”

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