Like Cinderella before midnight, in June 2015, when same-sex marriage was finally legalized in the U.S., many in our queer community tied the knot without knowing if our wedding shoes fit.
It wasn’t until these couples said, “I do,” that many asked, “And what about money, retirement, children, career and life goals?” Unlike in fairytales, happily ever after isn’t the end of the story.
If there’s anything we learned from The Knot’s 2016 LGBTQ Weddings Study, it’s that between June 2015 and June 2016, Prince Charming and Prince Charming’s marriage looked similar to Snow White’s.
By avoiding the money talk like a poisonous apple, are same-sex couples casting their marriage in a spell destined to “mirror mirror” their straight peers? Will money be a main cause of divorce?
By following these six steps, same-sex couples can make their marriage a fairytale.
1. Hope for Fairy God Mothers, Plan for Big Bad Wolves
It’s an unfortunate fact that in 28 states, queer people can be fired for being queer. While it’s legal for us to get married in all 50 states, those who live in these 28 states without LGBT workplace protections risk losing their jobs if they put a picture of their spouse on display.
This risk reaffirms the age-old advice of having an emergency savings account of enough cash to cover between three to six months’ worth of living expenses. When we were living paycheck to paycheck, this seemed impossible. What’s more impossible is surviving without a paycheck when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.
Even by putting just $10 of each paycheck into an emergency savings account, you’re replacing a house of straw with a house of bricks.
2. Be Transparent Like a Glass Slipper
Before two become one, make sure the math works. With escalating student loan and consumer debt, it’s important that each person knows the financial benefits and burdens they’ll adopt when they get hitched.
Not until we talked honestly about each of our financial situations did we have clarity on where we stood. When we learned that we had $51,000 in credit card debt between the two of us, it made sense why we were living in a friend’s basement apartment.
Both people should disclose the good, bad and ugly about their pre-marriage financial condition. This includes student loan debt, credit card debt, bankruptcies, liens and other financial infractions. This also includes credit scores and credit history, annual income and tax brackets. (You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) Don’t forget health and life insurance coverage, retirement and other savings.
With a clear picture of what each party brings to the marriage, both ensure they’re making wise decisions. The likelihood that either would terminate an engagement because of the other’s financial situation is low, but at least neither will feel they were deceptively given a poisonous apple.
The best scenario is that with clarity they can come up with a plan to fix their financial problems.
3. Whistle While You Work … Together
Successful marriages are a team effort. It’s helpful to divide and conquer in some parts of marriage. Money is not one of them. The best reason of all to talk about money is because couples that talk about it are often happier.
We’ve tried dividing and conquering our money management, but we’re never as successful as when we collaborate on it. Even just a 15-minute monthly meeting to assess income and expenses keeps both parties aware of their financial progress. As they make progress, they’ll see the value and the fun.
As Mary Poppins said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”
4. Learn From Your Past
Unlike the future of cars, it’s never good to put one’s finances completely on auto-pilot. All too often, most people avoid ensuring they’re staying within budget or their retirement contributions and investments are keeping up with their goals.
With our own finances, we usually feel these emotions of avoidance when we think we’re off track. When we know we’re off track, we feel compelled to make corrections.
As with many in the queer community, we were afraid that adjusting our financial plan meant we couldn’t maintain the appearance of having a fabulous life. Many of us grew up in a time and a place when it wasn’t OK to be queer. Therefore, we spend our adult lives making up for lost time and seeking validation through outward appearances.
The most memorable movies have great endings. Make sure you have one with frequent checks and balances on your financial progress.
5. Be Like Ohana
“Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” — Lilo and Stich
Family members, even same-sex partners, don’t need to have the same financial goals, but they do need to support each other.
If one partner tries to save money while the other spends, it won’t be long before a disagreement happens. Likewise, it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of one partner to achieve a mutually beneficial goal.
The fact that we can support each other’s financial goals has made all the difference in our ability to pay off our credit card debt and achieve our mutual and individual financial and life goals. Neither of us antagonizes the other.
6. Plan for a Visit From the Stork
Unlike our straight peers, having children in same-sex relationships is never a surprise. Building a family in a same-sex relationship can be exorbitant. Because the cost of having a child can range from free (foster adoption) to the hundreds of thousands (gestational surrogacy), it’s important to determine why you and your spouse want children. With this information and your budget, you can then determine how you want to have children. When planning a visit from the stork, it’s never wise to bury your head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.
With same-sex marriage being relatively new, many of us are only just now learning of the unique financial nuances of our same-sex marriages, such as employment protections and family planning. Our advice is to understand the nuances before walking down the aisle, otherwise you’ll just be happy for the moment.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.