Photo: Marc Royce
Many women struggle with the same root problem: how to mesh love and money. That's why it pays to have a clear strategy.
1. Every woman needs her own savings in addition to a shared account. If you're married and don't earn income, you can still build your own savings. After paying the bills and putting away for retirement, I think you should be entitled to an equal share of any household income left over at the end of each month. Yes, it's household income, not your husband's. That's an important distinction many couples fail to honor. Just because one of you earns the paycheck doesn't mean that person should lord over how the money is handled. Use your portion to fund a high-yield savings account. (Check out EmigrantDirect.com or INGDirect.com .)
2. Every woman also needs one credit card in her name only. If you become divorced or widowed, an individual credit history will enable you to get a loan and open utility accounts without leaving a deposit, and may even help you land a job (some employers check applicants' credit during the hiring process).
3. Debts you had prior to marriage are yours alone —unless you actively merge them. When you wed, don't automatically rush to combine everything. You can help each other out by chipping away at your loans without becoming officially responsible for each other's.
4. Be pragmatic about the assets you bring into a marriage. Think long and hard, for example, about adding your husband to the title of your great-aunt's lake house that you inherited. Should you ever separate, it would be tragic to lose your family treasure. This is doubly important in remarriages, as you may have property you want to leave to your children from an earlier relationship. Work with a qualified estate lawyer to make sure you have the right documents set up to protect you.
5. After you marry, every asset either of you acquires is jointly held. That's why you both need to be in sync on your long-term financial goals, from paying off the mortgage to putting away for retirement. Ideally, you should talk about all this before you wed. If you don't, you can end up deeply frustrated and financially spent. Discussing money with the man you hope to spend the rest of your life with doesn't mean you don't love him. It means you love him and yourself.
From the August 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine