Among the major life milestones, marriage is one of the most profound when it comes to the impact on your finances. True, becoming a parent may feel heavier because kids are so expensive -- but you get to decide most money questions for them. A spouse? They're your partner -- a partner who comes with their own baggage, ideas, debts, assets, and lifestyle, which you have to adapt to. And vice versa, of course.
In this Motley Fool Answers podcast, cohosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp invite recently married financial planner Sean Gates to provide his best advice for getting your joint affairs in alignment. Among the topics covered are communication, setting joint goals, budgeting, and the most common pitfalls that can hit happy couples -- ones that often arise out of spouses acting with the best of intentions. But first, it's a wide-ranging "What's Up, Bro?" segment that touches on the surprisingly unimpressive results you'd get from excellent market timing, geriatric student loan debt, and the most common reasons people underprioritize saving for retirement.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Feb. 11, 2019.
Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers! I'm joined, as always, by Robert Brokamp, personal finance expert here at The Motley Fool.
Robert Brokamp: Hello!
Southwick: First is a series of episodes we're going to do this year that are going to tackle major life events with the help of a Motley Fool financial planner. So helping us today, who's going to kick it all off, is Sean Gates and "mawage."
Sean Gates: Mawage!
Southwick: All that and more on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.
Southwick: What's up, Bro?
Brokamp: I've got three things for you, Alison. First of all, No. 1, the surprisingly small benefits of successful market timing. Now, we regularly tell our members they shouldn't try to market time. We occasionally cite studies...
Southwick: We did it like two episodes ago.
Brokamp: ...but that won't stop us from reminding you again, especially when a new study comes out. And this one is courtesy of investment management firm Albert Bridge Capital, based in London.
Here's the setup. Imagine you're 25 years old and you're going to invest $1,000 into the stock market every year for the next 30 years. And you are so good that you pick the absolute best day to invest in each and every year. Now they estimate that the odds of that happening are one in 1,240 followed by 69 zeros. In other words, not very likely, but hey, you are that good. So if you had done this for the past 30 years, you've reached age 55. Investing that thousand dollars every year you would have $155,000. Not bad, but what if you were the complete opposite? What if instead you invested on the very worst day every year for the last 30 years? How much would you have? You invested $30,000. Would you have $50,000? Would you have $75,000? You would actually have $122,000.
Southwick: So it's a difference of about $30,000?
Brokamp: A difference of about $30,000 comparing the best to the worst. Of course, having that extra $30,000 would be better. But still, the person who did the absolute worst market timing every single year still turned $30,000 into $122,000. Pretty good.
No. 2. Over 60 and crushed by student loan debt. That's the headline from a recent Wall Street Journal article with some pretty astonishing stats. The 60-and-older crowd owes $86 billion in student loans. It's either debt they took on for their kids or they went back to school themselves. Especially during the Great Recession people thought, "I lost my job. I'm going to go back to school." But that's up 161% from 2010. It's the biggest increase of any age group.
And because many are struggling to pay this debt, the federal government is actually taking some it from their benefits. In 2015, 40,000 people, age 65 or older, had their Social Security or tax refunds garnished because they were defaulting on student loan debt, and that's up 362% from the previous decade. The total debt owned by the 60-and-older crowd, and that includes credit cards, auto loans, and things like that, is up 84% since 2010.
I always have mixed feelings about stuff like this. These types of articles usually bring in individual stories. You see the individual stories and you can't help but think, "Man, you made some bad decisions." They talked about a guy who after his restaurant failed in New York City, he went to the New York Institute of Art and still owes $30,000 a decade later. He is now 66 years old. He only lives off Social Security and because of all this he has limited his food budget to $7 a day. Then they told a story of another guy who's 65 and retired a year ago. He still owns student loans, but also $40,000 in credit card debt.
Whenever I hear these stories, I think, "I don't know why you thought you should retire." Maybe they have health issues. They didn't say that in the article and if you have health issues I have great sympathy for that. But I do wonder why sometimes these people decide to retire in these circumstances.
On the other hand, it does tell other stories of people with all this debt. One guy said, "It was hard to say no to my daughter. She got her heart set on a school and she worked hard to get there." I totally understand that. I feel a lot of sympathy for that.
I bring this up, particularly now, because this is the time of year when millions of kids and their families are finding out which schools they're going to get accepted to, the Brokamp family included.
Southwick: You guys, too, yeah!
Brokamp: So we've got a couple of weeks to wait all this out. But basically we're all making decisions that could affect our finances for decades. So please do all you can to get a college degree with as little debt as possible. The classic rule of thumb is to borrow no more than what you can reasonably expect to earn in your first year of college. The other lesson of this is if you have any debt, work as hard as you can to have it paid off before you retire.
And No. 3 is why people do and don't save for retirement. We all know that the average person hasn't been doing a good-enough job, so what are the other priorities of these nonsavers or undersavers?
A recent survey might have some answers. It was conducted by AARP along with the Ad Council Saving for Retirement Campaign and examined the habits and aspirations of moderate-income working adults ages 40 to 59. Some of the key results:
Only 47% identified retirement as among their top three financial priorities. Obviously they have something else that they think is more important. When asked to identify their No. 1 priority, what was it? Paying down debt. Again, the debt is causing trouble.
When nonsavers and undersavers were asked what's preventing them from saving more, the No. 1 response was "I did not have enough left over after basic expenses," and the second most common was "Unexpected expenses came up," which brings us back to previous episodes and the emergency fund. What happens if you don't have an emergency fund is you can't save for retirement or you go into debt, because you have to turn to credit cards. Getting an emergency fund is important there.
Now when respondents were asked what helped them save for retirement -- these are people who are doing a good job -- the most common response was "I increased my contribution rate to my employer-sponsored retirement plan so that I could take full advantage of the company match." And study after study has shown that the match has a big influence on saving behavior.
So if you are an employer, you work in an HR department, you own a company and you want to help your employees save more, if you boost the match or even stretch it -- you give the same amount of money, but instead of saying you only have to contribute 6% to get that full match, if you move it up to 8-10% -- people will start to save more.
Southwick: And there's no benefit to a company offering a 401(k) match, right? They only do it as an added benefit.
Brokamp: It's just for an added benefit. Some research from a recent survey by the Callan Group, which is a benefits consulting group, showed that last year about 78% of companies were boosting their match, and they expect it to continue this year, too. That's good news.
The second most common response to the question about what helped people save for retirement was, "I got a raise, bonus, or extra income and put all or some of it into my retirement savings account." That reminds us of a story [of a] listener [that] David G. sent us earlier last year. Folks may remember. He was the guy who was in the military and he learned very early on that whenever he got a raise, he put half of it toward saving more to retirement. He was allowed to spend the other half. By the time he reached age 55, he had a savings rate of 42% and he's on solid ground.
And then the last bit from this survey is it asked adults what the greater likelihood is in your life that you will save enough for retirement or something else? For example, what's more likely? That you'll save enough for retirement or you'll run a marathon? 30% said it's more likely they'll run a marathon. Thirty percent said it's more likely they'll get a personal robot assistant than be able to save enough for retirement.
Southwick: You're not going to be able to afford a personal robot assistant.
Brokamp: I know. Forty percent said it's more likely an astronaut will walk on Mars than they'll save enough. Thirty-seven percent said it's more likely that disco will come back in style...
Southwick: Why does everybody beat up on disco? It's fun!
Brokamp: It's the best!
Southwick: It's fun music, people! Just leave it alone!
Brokamp: And my favorite is 28% said it's more likely that Bigfoot will be confirmed real than they will be able to save enough to retire.
Southwick: What percent believes in Bigfoot?
Brokamp: Twenty-eight percent believe there's a greater chance that they'll find a Bigfoot than they have a chance of retiring comfortably.
Southwick: Oh, that's sad!
Brokamp: It is sad! Now I'm a person who has a kid who's obsessed with Bigfoot, so I certainly hope they discover a Sasquatch before I pass away.
Southwick: Really? Why do you care about this Samsquance?
Brokamp: [laughs] I don't know. I just love the stuff. The bottom line is we don't know if there's a Bigfoot, but I do know this. If you save as much as you can, you may not to be able to retire when you want and exactly how you want, but you will increase the chances that you'll be able to retire eventually.
A year ago, I mentioned the study from the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled, The Power of Working Longer. It found that those who delay retirement from age 62 to age 70 can increase their retirement income by 40% to as much as 100% just by delaying. But part of that is because you have more years to save. So the more you save now, no matter how much it is, the more you'll be able to boost your income and/or move up your retirement date. And that, Alison, is what's up.
Southwick: So I did write, in my intro to this section, "Mawage! Mawage is what bwings us togethah tuh-day!"
Brokamp: Anyone know what that's from?
Southwick: Of course! Everyone who's listening knows what it's from, and if they don't...
Brokamp: I hope so.
Southwick: ...then they need to watch The Princess Bride or read the book, because that is also how he talks in the book.
Brokamp: Oh, really? I read the book, but...
Southwick: So yes, it's the second Tuesday of the month, and every second Tuesday of the month going forward we're inviting a financial planner from Motley Fool Wealth Management -- a sister company of The Motley Fool -- to talk us through a major life event, like having a baby, buying a house, and having a loved one pass away. Aw!
Today we're going to talk about marriage, and joining us is Sean Gates, one of the most romantic men I know.
Brokamp: [Laughs] Or maybe the most newly married financial planner. One of those two.
Gates: Both can be true.
Southwick: Sean, you're going to walk us through some lessons that people should heed when getting married when it comes to their finances, both from your personal experience and also your experience as a financial planner.
Southwick: Let's kick it off! What's the first piece of advice that you want to talk about, if so?
Gates: The first piece of advice that you can often read about that held true for me -- because you always wonder how much of that stuff is true -- the first one that held true for me was very much like financial planning, you should have conversations about one another's goals, especially short-term, medium, and long-term goals.
Why this is important is No. 1, you start to understand each other better. What you want to accomplish. Make sure that you have some commonalities and that the differences you might have aren't too stark that it could cause some friction down the road. More importantly, common goals that people have are finance-related, and you want to make sure that you can continue along the path toward your goals.
For example, I'm very much an adherent to the FIRE community, the "financial independence, retire early" movement. Ever since I was 24, I have been working diligently to try and retire in my working career and have money for the rest of my life at age 40. Marriage created an interesting dynamic in that my wife does not share that same goal directly, so she'll be comfortable working until normal retirement age.
I think one of the lessons that I learned early on is that I was very clear with her that this is a goal for me and understood it and then we got married, but what then revealed itself was I didn't relay how serious I was about it. I am going to be successful at this goal one way or another.
Southwick: If I have to live in a broom closet at The Motley Fool for my retirement.
Brokamp: And practically speaking, at least when you and I first knew each other, you were saving well over half your income to accomplish this goal.
Gates: Correct, and I still am. That kind of ties into this whole thing, because she's a good saver, no question, but I'm on the abnormal end...
Brokamp: In so many ways.
Gates: Good ways.
Brokamp: So many good ways.
Gates: And it's a common thing in the FIRE community that you tell someone you're going to do this and they're like, "Oh, yeah, sure. You aren't married, so things will change." Or "You haven't had kids, and things will change." But I've been so dedicated to this cause that it's going to happen, so I'm going to drag my wife along kicking and screaming.
Southwick: Maybe we need to swap out our expert for this episode. Can we do that? Can I call an audible on this one? You're out, kid. I'm sorry!
Gates: I'm out.
Southwick: All right, fine. Keep talking. We're stuck with you. You're very deliberate about how you approach money, right? Like this is a commitment. You know exactly how you're going to achieve your goal of retirement by 40.
But I think a lot of people don't have a good grasp on their temperament when it comes to money, or they just think it's easy to assume "These are my habits with money. I assume everyone's the same way. I don't even have a good grasp on -- I'm going to marry a man who doesn't like to buy a new sweater every week? I didn't even know that was a thing."
Gates: That's why I think I'm advocating that having these conversations around goals can start to develop that understanding of your own temperament with money and then your partner's temperament with money and just find common ground. It's a good practice to have.
Southwick: For the record, I do have a problem with wanting to buy a new sweater every week, and my husband has given me the space to do that, just like I give him the space to buy robot parts and other things like that.
Gates: That's actually in here.
Southwick: Robot parts? It's a line item. What's your next piece of advice?
Gates: The next piece of advice that you read about that is very good advice is to be upfront. Be clear about your financial details. Going through, line by line, and saying here's how much in student loans I have. Here's my budget that I have had as a single person and might have going forward. Here's my credit card debt. All of that stuff is very good to do because it gives you full visibility into what you're getting into. You need to know that. It also creates a sense of honesty early on, which is critical, and I think everyone would agree.
But I think further, you can actually start to understand your partner's values. This was a really stark shift for me, and a little bit of this is because my partner is not an American citizen, but the definition of family in India is, in my opinion, a little bit different than in America. So I have a very small family. I have a good relationship with my siblings, but it's not a very close relationship. And in India you have that same relationship with extended members of your family. Your cousins are often called your sisters or your brothers and you treat everyone in a tight-knit community.
I knew this going into the marriage, and it's actually one of the things I love about my wife, but I should have seen coming that it creates its own set of interesting knock-on effects, which is there have been times, already, in our short marriage where -- and there are pros and cons -- we might have to spend money that I didn't think we would have had to spend, had I not thought this through. So having to host guests in a city because they just happen to be in town and can then see everyone. We have to put them up in a hotel. That might be $500 for that month that you weren't planning on spending. It creeps up and there's a whole bunch of those.
But I think the broader point is that as you go through the details of your financial situation, try and glean the values of your partner so that you can try and anticipate some of these unknown expenses and get comfortable with them.
Southwick: Is there any sort of checklist or framework or anywhere people can do that running list of checking out your financial details? This feels like this is something where you need to sit down with a checklist. OK, student aid. Do you have it? Yes? No? Check. It'd be easy to be like, "Oh, I'm fine," and then you're like, "Oh, yes, I have my $50,000 worth of credit card debt."
Gates: Totally. I think one of the things we want to go through is our resources to help people, and one that I listed, that I think is critical, which gets to your point, is the automated budgeting tools. You guys have talked about those. I've talked about those a number of times. Things like Mint or Personal Capital. Any kind of automated budgeting software. You need a budget.
Those budgeting apps are extremely helpful because in those moments you can actually be like, "OK, what's my net worth?" The net worth is the financial snapshot that I think explains the possible debts, income, and all that good stuff. That's the place to go and you don't have to remember. I mean, if I put you on the spot and said, "Tell me all of your stuff," you might have just forgotten about a thing and I'm not going to hold you accountable for it, whereas if you have these tools, it's all there for you. You just pull it up. I think that's great.
Brokamp: I might also recommend the Fooly Wed Game, which you could find if you google it. We talked about this two years ago on the podcast. It's basically 10 questions about money that each person does separately and then you compare results. How much money do we need to be happy? How much can you spend without having to ask the other spouse? Prioritize these various things -- retirement, house, things like that -- in order of what's important to you, and then you'll find out how much you're on the same page.
Gates: That's awesome! That sounds like a great resource!
Southwick: We have a few of them at The Fool. What's your next piece of advice?
Gates: I think the last one, and this is becoming more and more common, is I would say lean into the prenuptial agreement conversation.
Brokamp: Ooh, that's a toughie!
Southwick: Really! Controversial take with Sean Gates. Really!
Gates: And I should say I'm not holding myself out to a higher standard. We failed at this. We did not have an explicit prenuptial agreement conversation, but we had a quasi-conversation about what things would look like if the marriage didn't go as well as we had hoped.
I think there's a couple of problems with that. No. 1, you typically don't want to have that conversation in the swoon phase of a relationship because it just puts a damper on things, but I think it sets you up to have a potential later conversation and this is something people don't talk about nearly as much, which is if you don't do a prenuptial, you're not a bad person. You can actually enact a postnuptial agreement.
It's very similar to a prenuptial agreement. It has a lot of the same kind of information that you would go over what you want your assets to be disposed of after you separate and all of that stuff. But if you've structured yourself to have prenuptial agreement conversations, you can have that postnuptial agreement conversation after having learned about each other in the day-to-day finance of your lives.
You've gotten married. You've spent six months or 12 months with each other. You understand each other's spending habits better. And it sets you up to enact a good postnuptial agreement instead of being unsure about what you would put in a prenuptial because you haven't gotten married yet. You don't know enough to put it together and not hurt one another's feelings potentially.
Brokamp: I think that's true. Many of the things you find out about a person when it comes to money you don't find out until you get married.
Southwick: That's so awkward! "Now that I really know you financially, I would like a postnuptial agreement, please..."
Brokamp: Nuptial. [laughs]
Southwick: "...because I just have some feelings. Love you!"
Gates: We just need mawage. It should just be called the "mawage agreement."
Southwick: The mawage agreement. Let's move on to some mistakes that maybe you have experienced or maybe in your experience as a financial planner have noticed other people often making.
Gates: The first one is letting one person in the relationship be the "finance" person. This I run into all the time where I'll be speaking to folks who are going to retire. Let's say they're retired and they're now 20 years into retirement. I'll get a call from the "finance" person and they'll say, "I haven't needed a money manager in the past because I've been dealing with the finances, but now I'm worried that I'm going to die and my wife or husband won't know what to do."
I'm like, "Well, that's not an ideal position to find yourself in. Your partner should know more about the finances that you don't need to hire a third party to get abreast of the situation. You still might be warranted to have a manager involved, but you don't want to just throw this on someone else and have them have to talk to a third party to get that information." I think keeping each other honest in the finances is important.
Brokamp: We recently had some family friends in their 80s. The husband handled all the money, had a stroke, and the wife is just totally lost. Doesn't know how to write checks. Doesn't even know where to find the checks. Doesn't know how to put gas in the car because that was something the husband always did. She's totally lost and he's not in any capacity to help her. So certainly it would have been much better for her to be more involved before this point.
Gates: I would say one further knock-on effect, there, is that sometimes the parents will assume that the kids will step in and help, but a lot of the times the kids are worse off than the parents in terms of knowledge of finances because families typically don't talk about finances or they have a completely different idea of what the money should do for the familial wealth. I think as a couple, you should be cohesive about it early on and as quickly as you can.
Southwick: Bro, didn't you used to do the "State of the Union" address for your family?
Southwick: How do you recommend they go about staying on the same page?
Gates: Something like an annual check-in. In financial planning you'll do quarterly or annual check-ins with the clients. I think very similarly with husband and wife just have a time-based system where you review your finances together and you just talk about everything that happened over the course of the year.
Brokamp: Way back when, in 2000, both my wife and I worked at The Fool, and we cowrote an article called "A Couple's Financial Manifesto," and it was one of the most popular articles for that year. I went back and read it recently, because this was quite a while ago, and we were doing it monthly.
We don't do it anymore, because we have a pretty good sense of each other's financial habits and what our priorities are, but doing that in the beginning is very helpful.
Gates: And I think as you go through that process, a more frequent check-in is probably going to help build the processes in place, and then you can fall off and go slower.
Southwick: What's another mistake to avoid?
Gates: The other mistake that I see people make is -- this might be more generational -- but combining finances too aggressively. One of the things that I hear most frequently when I'm talking with married couples is that one of the things from a financial perspective that has benefited their peace of mind and comfort with one another is having some sort of selfish budget, where there's $1,000 that they're not necessarily going to account for, for the month that they can spend on whatever they want. That way you don't have to get permission from your spouse or partner to go spend on something that you want. I think that's a really nice feature to have.
Southwick: And one last mistake?
Gates: This one is a little bit controversial, as well, but this would be letting the more emotional person be the finance person. In my experience -- and I've been doing this for 10-plus years now -- men in the relationship tend to be the investment managers. They control the retirement accounts, the stock picking, and all of that stuff. Women tend to control the day-to-day finances. They'll do the budgeting. What are we going to spend this month? It's not always, but this is a commonality that I've seen.
And what's also true, anecdotally, is that men tend to be more emotional with money. Men are often worse at the investment side of the equation. So I sometimes will recommend to folks that they consider flipping roles. What's nice about this is that the other partner can learn the skill set of the other. It's just getting that education.
But there's actually good research. Fidelity did a fairly massive study where it showed that women tended to outperform men with their accounts by about 0.4, so about 40 basis points. It doesn't sound like a lot, but over time compounded it can be quite significant. It's just a good thing to try and make sure that the right person is doing the right job for your family.
Southwick: We found in our relationship that I do have a better track record, mostly because I don't fiddle with it.
Southwick: I buy stuff and then I don't come back ever again, whereas Ron likes to fiddle with it. He likes to buy and sell and buy and sell. When I say buy and sell, I mean six months later or maybe a year later, whereas I'm still holding on to the very first stocks I ever bought like seven years ago. He has a love of it as a hobbyist investor that I don't, which is where I probably get my outperformance.
Gates: There's a number of ways that you could look at it. Another way is that women tend to be more self-aware of what they don't know. Where their expertise lies. Whereas men tend to be more overconfident. I'm sure people will take offense to some of this, but I think that leads to your point, which is that you don't claim to be an expert on investing, so you're just going to invest normally. Invest in the index funds, the common wisdom, and then just forget about it, and you'll end up doing better.
Brokamp: Coincidentally, CreditCard.com just released its latest financial infidelity poll, and one of the findings is that 44% of those who are living with a romantic partner believe they're better money managers than their partners, whereas 12% think they're worse. Men are more likely to say they're better at it, that they're better than their partners, and women are more likely to say they're worse. Men are definitely more confident about money.
For other fun facts, 19% of U.S. adults who are in some sort of live-in relationship [that's 29 million people] are hiding some sort of a checking, savings, or credit card account.
Southwick: Nineteen percent of people are hiding money from their...
Brokamp: Yup. And 20% of all the survey respondents feel that a partner hiding a secret bank account is worse than physically cheating, 45% disagree that it's worse, and 35% feel it's about the same.
Southwick: It's not great!
Brokamp: It's not great!
Southwick: It's not good!
Brokamp: It's not great! Millennials apparently are the sneakiest. They're twice as likely to be hiding money than everyone else.
Gates: I have six hidden checking accounts.
Southwick: Checking! So boring!
Gates: I'm good at it.
Southwick: "I just love to write checks!" You talked already about some recommendations for trackers going through and looking at your spending. What other recommendations do you have for our listeners for other resources?
Gates: It sounds like Bro has set me up with...
Brokamp: The Fooly Wed Game.
Gates: The Fooly Wed Game. That sounds awesome! Actually, I was trying to prepare for this podcast and there aren't a ton of great resources for this, especially online. There's usually just message boards and things like that which are hard to get to the heart of the issue.
There are a couple of good books that I would recommend. One that is recommended by a colleague of ours, Chris Harris, that he'll set up with newlyweds is called the Prenuptials for Lovers book.
Brokamp: Prenuptials for lovers!
Southwick: Do you have it pulled up so you can see the subtitle? The subtitle is, A Romantic Guide to Prenuptial Agreements. That's a pretty awesome title!
Gates: When I polled people, I got quite a few hits for that. I think that one's good. Then I found another one that I thought was relevant. It's actually written by some attorneys. It's called, I Do, You Do...but Just Sign Here. This book is a little bit more specific, because it talks about both prenuptials and postnuptials -- which, again, you should pay attention to postnuptials because I think there's a taboo around prenuptials and it's not an irrevocable decision. If you don't have a prenuptial, you're not screwed.
Southwick: As a financial planner, do you ever find yourself in between a couple? Like where you're trying to help reconcile two sides or playing marriage money counselor?
Gates: Not as often. That type of finance is more personal. I think a financial counselor might be someone that gets involved in real time in between a marriage. What I will often find myself in the position of is being the survivor of a divorce. Like one of the couple will have said, "We loved your work. I'm going to continue with you," whereas the other's like, "I hated you. I'm going to move on to a different advisor." I think it speaks to how different people in 30-year marriages -- where someone leaves you that you thought you knew well, and it was because they didn't like what you were doing the whole time.
Southwick: You get dumped, too!
Gates: I get dumped, too!
Southwick: An interesting threesome you've got going there.
Brokamp: I'll just add one more thing and this will be a common theme through a lot of these life events and that is many life events involve you needing to update your estate plan. Chances are while you were single and you had to fill out your beneficiary forms for your 401(k), life insurance, or anything like that, you left your mom and dad because you weren't married. You definitely want to update that. Once you're married, you want to update your will and all those types of things, and especially once you have kids.
Gates: One final inside-baseball tip, an in-the-weeds financial tip.
Southwick: Yes, let's end on that!
Brokamp: End on a weedy note.
Gates: Early on in a marriage -- I just happened to find myself in that situation and this happens with other life events -- you should look to your accountant from a tax perspective on whether or not it makes sense to file married, filing separately. I find in our situation there's a dramatic effect on the amount of tax liability we would face if we filed married, filing separately versus married, filing jointly. The only reason I know that is because I'm steeped in finance, it's all I do. But if I wasn't a financial advisor, I would have just assumed I should file married, filing jointly and we would have missed out on $10,000 worth of tax liability extra that we would have paid in that arrangement.
Not always true. Married, filing jointly is the standard, but just be aware of it because it could help your situation.
Brokamp: And it's important to know that as far as the IRS is concerned, if you got married at any point during the year, you were married for the whole year, even if you got married on December 31st.
Gates: And part of the reason that you want to look at this early in a marriage...A colleague of mine got married. The wife was a teacher and she had the potential for loan forgiveness. Loan forgiveness and income-based free payment plans are specific to the income, so if she's filing single, her income is going to look very different than if you pool them together, so in order to not lose some of those program benefits, they could file married, filing separately. It just happens that when you are coming into a relationship, you had your own individual finances and it might make sense, given the path that you are on, to continue to have your own individual taxes for a time and other life events.
Southwick: Hey, Sean, thank you for joining us for our first episode of Tackling Life Events!
Gates: Thanks so much for having me!
Southwick: This is great! Maybe we'll have you back in 10 years and we'll see if that prenup really did come in handy. Is that too dark? That's too dark, isn't it? See how many of the in-laws are living with you.
Gates: Could've been way darker.
Southwick: Well, our sister company, Motley Fool Wealth Management, is a registered investment advisor that can help put your financial plan and investing needs in the context of your big life transitions. You can find podcast notes and resources, and even book a no-obligation appointment with the one and only Sean Gates. Is that true?
Gates: That is true!
Southwick: Or other planners by visiting FoolWealth.com/radio. Please consider the risks, costs, and suitability of investments before choosing any investment professionals. All investments involve risks and may lose money. Motley Fool Wealth Management does not guarantee the results of any of its advice or account management. Sean, would you like to stick around for a game?
Southwick: All right, let's do it!
Southwick: Bro loves a good tradition, so let's see how much you two know about wedding traditions from around the world. Aw, Valentine's Day is so soon! Here we go! France! People who want to class up their wedding with some French traditions, get ready for this. The new couple may be ready for bed, but the party isn't over until they are witnessed eating all of the leftover alcohol and food that has been collected by the guests and placed into what kind of pot? Let me know when you have your answer.
Brokamp: I'm ready. Are you ready?
Brokamp: Chamber pot.
Southwick: What do you say, Sean?
Gates: That's what I was going to say.
Southwick: You're right, a chamber pot! By the way, it is typically an unused, new chamber pot.
Brokamp: Well, that's nice!
Southwick: Yes. And the tradition has evolved so that more commonly it's just a soup of chocolate floating in champagne.
Brokamp: In a chamber pot.
Gates: If it's a second marriage is it an unused chamber pot?
Southwick: You want a new one. Put that on the registry. The ritual is meant to supply the bride and groom with the energy they need for the wedding night, of course.
Southwick: Now we're French. Germany! A people known for their passionate displays of love.
Southwick: In a tradition known as Baumstamm sägen, the couple will symbolize their future life of facing obstacles together. They have to join forces to do what to a log in front of the wedding guests?
Brokamp: Do they beat it until a present comes out just like they do at Christmas in...was it Spain?
Gates: I would have said saw.
Southwick: Yes, they saw it in half. All right, let's go to Borneo to an ancient tradition. If you're a member of the Tidong tribe, for three days after your wedding you share a house with your spouse and both of you are forbidden to do what?
Brokamp: Take a shower.
Gates: Saw a log?
Southwick: The answer is go to the bathroom.
Southwick: Yes. Neither one, nor two. Technically you're not allowed to leave the house, so this custom requires constant supervision by your family and a restricted diet and is said to bring the couple good luck in their marriage.
Brokamp: Oh, my goodness gracious!
Southwick: Doesn't it sound awful? China! The Tujia people of China have a super-fun tradition. It's customary for the bride to do what every day for an hour one month before the wedding?
Brokamp: Give us a hint.
Southwick: Uh...uh...I don't know. Just make a guess.
Gates: I would have said fast.
Brokamp: Play The Fooly Wed Game. I don't know.
Southwick: Crying. You're supposed to cry. As the wedding draws closer, eventually her mom joins in and then all of the women in the family, sisters, cousins, aunts, they join in the crying every day. It comes from a sad tradition of young girls crying because they are forced to go into an arranged marriage.
Brokamp: That's horrible!
Southwick: It's actually more like a song. It's a song that young girls learn in this tribe and then when they get married they go through this. According to tradition, every bride had to cry at her wedding, otherwise the bride's neighbors would look down upon her as a poorly cultivated girl.
Gates: I like how there's always disappointment.
Brokamp: That's true.
Gates: Across cultures it's just...
Southwick: It's always disappointment and shame. All right, the final stop. India! Oh, pickles! It turns out you've got Mars in the first, second, fourth, seventh, eighth or twelfth house of your lunar chart, it means you're what's called a Manglik. If you want to have a happy marriage, you better marry what?
Brokamp: Sean Gates.
Gates: I don't know. My wife is going to shame me now that I don't know the answer.
Southwick: This is also a controversial one.
Gates: Can you repeat the question one more time?
Southwick: If you are under the influence of Mars according to your lunar chart, you are called a Manglik. And if you want to have a happy marriage, you have to marry what first?
Gates: The god?
Southwick: OK, I might give that to you. The answer is a tree, but I would have also accepted a pot or a statue of Vishnu.
Gates: Oh, yeah!
Brokamp: I was going to say that.
Southwick: According to superstition, your husband is going to die early because of Mars' influence on you. Thankfully this only applies to first husbands, so if you marry a tree first, all of the bad luck goes to the tree. This is pretty controversial. Apparently about six or seven years ago a Bollywood power couple was hit with some backlash when rumors spread that the woman did the tree wedding thing to get all the bad superstition out of the way.
Anyway, it's a tradition that's associated with the caste system, so har har, she married a tree that represents systematic oppression of millions of people over thousands of years. Not so funny anymore, is it? No! So there you go! Oh, you guys did pretty well!
Brokamp: Sure! Yeah! It's all right, OK?
Gates: Do the French people go to Borneo for you to taunt them?
Brokamp: With their chamber pot. See what we've got? You can't use it!
Southwick: That's just mean! That would be a French person. All right. Sean, thank you so much for joining us today and always! I appreciate it!
Gates: So happy to be here!
Southwick: Well, that's the show! It's edited matrimonial-lingly by Rick Engdahl. Our email is Answers@Fool.com. And remember, if you're looking for podcast notes and resources or if you even want to book a no-obligation appointment with the one and only Sean Gates or another planner with Motley Fool Wealth, you can visit FoolWealth.com/radio. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody!