Advice and the Advisor

Discuss money before saying, 'I do'

Stacy Francis, Special to

As engaged couples get caught up in the excitement of upcoming wedding bells, financial topics may not rank as high on the to-do list as planning the reception, ceremony and honeymoon. But it should. Having some dialogue about budgets, savings strategies and insurance policies before walking down the aisle will help to promote the "happily ever after" couples are hoping for.

Although conversations should be forthcoming and ongoing throughout a marriage, this first discussion should focus on organization. Schedule time on a Sunday afternoon at the kitchen table to discuss pertinent questions. For instance, will there be a joint checking account or separate ones? Will one person manage the budget and pay the bills?

Budgeting upfront is also essential. Draft a budget by putting expenses and financial goals onto paper. Keep it realistic so it won't require much effort to stick to it. Partners should be comfortable with each other's spending and investment habits.

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Consider an outsider's perspective
There are no right or wrong answers, but it's important for couples to find out what works best for them and to know they can talk openly about finances in a calm, nonthreatening manner. If couples don't see eye to eye, they should consider a marriage counselor, financial advisor or both to apply an outsider's perspective and find solutions.

A financial advisor can be especially helpful with savings strategies. If newlyweds want to have children, a post-wedding conversation within six months is a must. Having children is a big decision, both emotionally and financially. To that point, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently projected that it will cost $241,080 to raise a child born in 2012 to age 18 (excluding college tuition).

Savings talks should address retirement, too. Americans continue to live longer lives, with an average life expectancy of 76 for men and 81 for women, according to the World Health Organization.

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Insurance, for sure
Then there are policies. Insurance may not sound as fun as planning that Hawaiian escape, but selecting the right plan can help shield couples if they have a "for better or worse" situation, leaning toward the latter.

Life insurance is a must if couples have or expect to have children or if one spouse earns most or all of their income.

Newlyweds may want to consider additional life insurance beyond what's offered at work, even when they don't have dependents and both spouses have comparable salaries. Plus, working couples often raise their standard of living with a bigger home and nicer car. If one spouse passes away, will the survivor be equipped to handle that higher standard of living?

(Read more: Buying your first home? Read this first)

Next comes debt. One or both spouses may possess student loans and/or credit card debt. A surviving spouse probably won't be responsible for debt accumulated by their deceased loved one prior to their nuptials—although there can be complications here.

However, the estate of the deceased would, in fact, be required to pay off any debt. This inevitably leaves less money for the survivor. There's also the potential of accumulating debt as a couple; the surviving spouse may find it difficult to pay this off without life insurance.

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In addition, updating beneficiaries is critical. If either or both spouses bring existing life insurance policies into their union, they'll likely want to name their new spouse as the beneficiary; otherwise, death proceeds could go to an ex-spouse or parents.

Add disability insurance to the list, since it's designed to partially make up for lost wages if a worker is unable to earn due to an injury or long-term illness. Group disability coverage at work typically isn't sufficient and can be supplemented with a private policy.

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Health insurance is also critical. Couples should review individual health plans to determine if they want to be covered under one employer to save premium dollars or perhaps coordinate coverage between plans.

Another item is auto insurance. Insuring automobiles with a single company will yield a multicar discount, and married drivers usually qualify for lower rates. Other property and casualty insurance can also decrease premium costs.

Homeowners or renters insurance is important, too. As newlyweds start accumulating more expensive possessions, they'll want to be covered. For example, wedding rings may need to be insured by a separate rider.

All in all, pre- and postnuptial conversations can go a long way toward preserving a couple's nest egg as they jointly create a larger one for years to come.

—By Stacy Francis, Special to Stacy Francis is a certified financial planner and president and CEO of Francis Financial in New York.

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