Ask anyone who’s merged two families into a new family unit and they’ll tell you it’s a bit of a challenge. In addition to learning how to adjust to new roles and rules, blended families face the complicated task of combining their finances. Keep these seven tips in mind to enhance the financial compatibility of your new blended family.
1. Look at the entire picture. To make the most of your shared finances, take the time to understand all aspects of your separate and combined financial resources and obligations. Hopefully you and your spouse fully disclosed your assets and debts before your vows were exchanged. It’s also important to look at the new financial responsibilities for your household so you can formulate a collaborative plan of action.
2. Create new guidelines. This means having some rules of the road as you make decisions. As a new couple, it’s up to you to determine how you will divide and conquer your bills, deal with alimony or child support challenges, dole out allowance, and so forth. You’ll also want to figure out whether you want to maintain separate bank accounts and agreeing on who pays for what and how much of your income goes to the kids.
3. Make a blended budget. After you know what you have to work with and understand your individual needs and expectations, it’s time to put together a budget. Your new budget will help your family stay within their means, provided that you review the numbers at the end of the month. Keep in mind your budget isn’t set in stone – it’s a document you should update as circumstances change.
4. Include the kids. Make sure your children on both sides of the family understand your new financial philosophy. Provide clear expectations for every child, whether they are with you full- or part-time.
5. Find a balance. Share what you hope to change about your past financial habits and what you’d like to carry forward into your new family. You and your spouse may have very different ideas about how much is necessary or appropriate to spend on food, clothing, entertainment, education and so on. You don’t have to agree about everything, but you can make an effort to understand one another’s viewpoint and look for common ground. You’ll avoid unpleasant surprises by hammering out the details right from the start. Check in with one another regularly to assess how your financial guidelines are working.
6. Protect your assets. It’s not always best to combine every aspect of your finances in a blended marriage. You may want to pass on assets or family heirlooms that you brought into the marriage to your children. Consider working with a financial advisor who can help you determine how to ensure your children receive the inheritance that you wish – whether it’s through beneficiaries or a trust. Regardless, it’s important to update life insurance beneficiaries and establish or update your will to provide specific instructions for dividing your estate.
7. Invest in your future together. This may be the most important step you take as a newly married couple. Ask your financial advisor to help you sort through finances that may be complicated by a previous divorce or alimony payments. Together you can explore opportunities to save for the future and protect the financial security of your new blended family.