Being newly married with a new home exposes the many responsibilities that you may not have thought about on your life’s journey.
[NOTE: This first appeared on Medium.com on May 163, 2022, as I was testing a new platform]
Doing chores and being responsible was the bane of your existence when you were a teenager living under your parent’s roof. Little did you know that those chores were not just a way for your parents to solicit help and maybe give you an allowance, but it was to build a foundation of responsibility and character into the fiber of your being. Plus, running a household is hard work and all members of a family are expected to chip in and do their part.
If you are newly married and/or a new homeowner, there are the basic things that you were probably taught prior to leaving the nest. Things like doing your laundry and separating that laundry in at least three basic piles of colors, whites, and reds. You may have also been responsible for getting the trash out for the garbage truck on a weekly basis and maybe you were fortunate enough to discuss setting a budget to pay for your car payment, insurance, gas, and cell phone.
Now that you are out of the house and out from your parent’s care, what are the many things that you should be aware of that may not have been taught or that may have been overlooked while you were growing up? These are the items that were done but you weren’t necessarily responsible for them so you may not be aware of as you begin to take responsibility of your own home.
This article is not a comprehensive list, and I may update it over the weeks and months as I incorporate any feedback through comments and suggestions. Here are a few things that I want to share as I think about passing on some thoughts to my son and new daughter-in-law as they embark on their new life together. I want to focus on three main areas:
- Homeownership and Maintenance
- Financial and Important Items
- Relationship and Spousal Health
Homeownership and Maintenance
- Emergency Fund — Begin to build up an emergency fund so you are not caught off guard and immediately put in a financial hardship. You should save at least $1,000 to take on the unexpected water heater going out, broken faucet or toilet, etc. You will want to build this up over time to begin thinking about the larger items such as a new roof every 15–20 years, new washer and dryer, dishwasher, new Heater/AC, etc.
- Adulting, Chores, and Responsibilities — Begin to discuss how things are going to be taken care of within the house. Are you going to divide all responsibilities evenly such as a His and Hers laundry? Or maybe one spouse likes to do laundry and one likes to do dishes and manage the dishwasher. The takeaway here is to have an open discussion and be sure to compromise. When I was first married, my new wife hated that I left soda/pop cans piling up on the end table. My position was I would get to it when I get to it. Believe it or not, that was something super simple that caused a little bit of drama in the first few months of our marriage.
Inside the Home
- Furnace AC Air Filter — 90 days. A general rule of thumb is to change your furnace filter every 90 days. But check it to see if it requires changing monthly. Some systems have the thicker filters that only require every 6 months.
- Furnace Humidifier Switch — Seasonal. Check to see if your unit has a humidifier. If you have one, you may need to close the airflow when you switch to AC and open it back up when you switch back to heating your home.
- Humidifier Filter — 3 months or seasonal. If your furnace has a humidifier, check your filter. This is more difficult to gauge when you should either clean or replace your filter as it depends on how much it gets used. For our home, we put in a new filter when we switch the heater on.
- Dishwasher Filter — Every 6 months. Did you know that your dishwasher has a filter? Check your manual and clean out your filter every 6 months as it collects and traps food.
- Change Your Sheets — Weekly. The Medicine World Council recommends changing your bed sheets once a week.
- Fire Extinguishers — 10 Years. Ensure you have a fire extinguisher in your house. The typical shelf life on a fire extinguisher lasts 10-12 years. You may want to purchase multiple, but definitely ensure you have one near your stove. We chose the First Alert 4-pack.
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms — Twice a year. It is extremely important that you have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms throughout your house. If you have traditional alarms, you will want to replace the battery twice a year. I’m a fan of the First Alert alarms. They also have additional options such as one with a built-in 10-year internal battery and one that is hardwired with battery back-up.
- Water Shutoff — Know where your main water shutoff is in the house just in case you have a water pipe that bursts. If the only one you have is external to your house, consider having a plumber install one inside that is easy to access.
- Dryer Lint Filter — Clean your lint filter after every load.
- Washer and Dryer Maintenance — Yearly. Have your washer and dryer serviced every year. Especially focus on your dryer vent as the build-up of lint (that you cannot see) over time could cause a house fire. This is more common than you may realize, and it is one of the most overlooked items. Check out this quick video on the second leading cause of home fires. Don’t overload your washer and dryer so you can extend the life of your appliances (general rule is 3/4 full for a top load or front load; do not cram your clothes).
- Septic Tanks — 2 Years. If you have a septic tank, you will want to have it checked every 2-to-3 years. You may also want to consider adding something like RID-X, or comparable, Septic Treatment to a monthly routine. RID-X is something you would flush down your toilet to add bacteria to your septic system which helps breakdown the solid waste. If you maintain your septic tank, it should last 15–25+ years.
- Water Softener — Monthly. If you have a septic tank, you most likely are on a well with a water softener. You will need to change the filter monthly, and you will want to check the water softener tablet levels.
Outside the Home
- Sprinkler System — Before the first freeze, ensure you have turned off the water to your sprinkler system and have the water blown out of the pipes.
- Faucets — Ensure you have the water turned off and consider putting a Styrofoam cover over the faucets to help prevent the water from freezing inside the home. Do NOT leave your hose hooked up and the water turned on. The water in the hose will eventually burst the hose and could cause greater damage to a running faucet that will also freeze (and may burst the pipe in the house).
- AC Outside Unit — Twice Seasonal. Outside of your home, your air conditioner has a unit that should be reviewed and cleaned probably twice a year. Look to remove any twigs, leaves, and with a light spray from your hose, rinse the outside unit. If your outside unit doesn’t get cleaned, there is a higher likelihood that it could freeze up and seize working.
- Security System — You may want to look at adding a lighting and security system. I’ve been a fan of Ring since they were founded and have used their Ring Doorbells plus Floodlight which provides motion detection and recording. They have also expanded their line to include water sensors that could be used near your water heater or under your sink. Ring is super simple to setup and both spouses can have access to the app with their own logins/passwords.
- Gutters — Seasonal. If you don’t have gutter guards, you will want to clean out your gutters at least once (after the leaves have fallen). It’s also a good idea to recheck in the early Spring. If you don’t remove the leaves and if you live in an area where you get a lot of snow, you could get excess ice buildup that could ruin your gutter flashing and create wood rot in your roof.
Financial and Important Items
- Budget — You should sit down together and create a reasonable budget that works for your new formed family. I’m personally not supportive of separate accounts which seems to be more and more popular. My general position is that you are a couple and life partner, and not just roommates with benefits. Money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States and around the world. I also think it opens up the opportunity for secrets. The way my wife and I dealt with some individuality when we first got married is that we gave each other a budget of $100 per month to spend however we wanted, no questions asked. She could buy her 200th pair of shoes and I was able to buy whatever new gadget I wanted.
- Paying Bills — Along with budgeting, you should decide how the bills will be paid. Is one spouse good with deadlines, reminders, and ensuring bills get paid on-time? You should also discuss the strategy in how those bills will get paid. For my wife and I, I was that person. I wrote a check for each and every bill, reconciled the books, and shared the results with my wife. Now, we have devised a strategy where the mortgage is sent via electronic check out of our checking account and all of the other monthly expenses (i.e., TV, Netflix, Gas, Water, Electricity, Garbage, etc.) are automatically put on the credit card. Then, every month the credit card gets paid off.
- Homeowner’s Insurance — If you have a mortgage, every year your mortgage lender will want a verification that you have a policy to cover your home in the event of fire, etc.
- Passports — If you have a passport, go ahead and put an expiration date in your calendar. I would also put another one about 9 months before the expiration date so you can begin working to renew the passport.
- Wills, Executors, and Beneficiaries — This is the talk that nobody wants to talk about, but it is critically important. You should create a will and discuss who are the beneficiaries. Since you are married, if one of you passes away, the spouse is automatically the beneficiary. But what happens if both of you die (i.e., plane crash or auto accident)? Over time you will be accumulating assets and things of importance or items that have sentimental value to your family. You need to outline who gets what of your possessions. Also, you will want to identify an executor. This is the person responsible for selling, distributing, etc. your assets per your wishes. The best gift you can give your surviving family members is a detailed list of your wishes. The last thing you want to happen is for your family to fight or for the government to decide what happens to your assets and belongings. Create a Will! Do it now.
- DNRs and POAs — The DNR, or do-not-resuscitate order, is your explicit wish and desire in the event you are on a life support system. It takes the guess work out of any decisions for your family members. Imagine if you were in a car accident, brain dead, but are on a life support system. How long do you want to be on that? A week? A month? A year? Forever? Additionally, you will want to have a Medical and Financial POA, Power-of-Attorney, and identify someone that can make these big decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to.
- House Title — In many cases, one spouse will buy the couple’s first house prior to the big wedding day. That spouse may have gotten the mortgage based on their income and credit rating and close on the house as an individual. Once you are married, you may want to keep the financing under that spouse; however, you will want to look at having the other spouse added to the Title of the property.
- Auto Insurance — You are most likely still on your parent’s auto insurance policy. You will need to look at getting your own policy with both spouses and there could be the option of a multi-policy discount (i.e., both cars, house, etc.).
- Health Insurance — You will want to review your health insurance options and decide if both of you go on a primary insurance plan and using the other spouse’s health insurance as secondary (or potentially dropping or not selecting all together).
- Retirement Planning — You MUST begin thinking about your retirement right now. It may seem like it is 40-to-50 years away; however, it will be here sooner than expected. The greatest asset you have is time and the compounding of monies/interest. I suggest at minimum of 15% combined gross income to save with a goal of getting to 25%. I would also like to suggest that you look at splitting that as 75% pre-tax and 25% after-tax accounts. Definitely take advantage of any corporate or company match that is offered. NOTE — These are my general rules of thumb. I didn’t do the 75/25 split and I’m finding that having 100% to a pre-tax account wasn’t the most optimal way of managing my money (i.e., I personally want to retire earlier than 59.5 years old).
- Manuals — Keep all of your manuals and guides. Create an alphabetical filing system so they are easily found (i.e., maybe put in the “R” section the manual for your refrigerator, “L” for lawnmower, etc.).
- Important Receipts — Along with the manuals, save your receipts. You may also want to consider photocopying the receipt for two reasons: 1) receipt ink seems to fade over time, and 2) receipts may be irregular in size and get lost easily. You could also use an app like TurboScan, that is available on iOS and Android, to digitally scan your receipts and important documents and then store them as a PDF in one of the cloud drives like OneDrive.
- Passwords —In this technological age, you have passwords for everything. Stop writing your passwords down, stop reusing familiar passwords, and stop with the simple passwords. You will want to create complex passwords and store them in something like a Digital Password Manager. There are several out there. I use LastPass. LastPass also allows you to store notes and documents. This is where I’ve started storing my driver’s license, a picture of my license plate, my COVID Vaccination Card, etc. My wife also knows my Master Password so in the event that I pass away unexpectedly, she can get the passwords to all of our joint accounts; especially the financial ones (see paying bills above). Additional note of thought. If your spouse passes away, do NOT get rid of their cell phone. You may need it since many websites require 2-factor authentication (you know that little code that gets texted to you)? Yes, my wife also knows my cell phone PIN.
- Fire Safe/Box — Get a Fire Safe/Box to store your important items such as birth certificates, marriage license, passports, etc.
Relationship and Spousal Health
- Discovery — Get to know your spouse even better now that you are life partners. Make it a priority for the two of you to read The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. Do you truly know your spouse and how they like “love” expressed? Do they prefer Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, or Receiving Gifts? As an example, I prefer Quality Time while my wife prefers Acts of Service.
- Dates and Reminders — Put in your calendar important dates and give yourself a 3-to-4-week reminder. Dates such as anniversary, spousal birthday, in-law birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Days, and Valentine’s Day are some of the most important ones. Why do I suggest setting a reminder a month in advance? Because you will want and need it. As an example, for Valentine’s Day, restaurants get booked up a month in advance. You don’t want to wait last minute to try and book a reservation with the love of your life to find out they are all booked (BTW — Mother’s Day is the busiest holiday for restaurants).
- Holidays — Begin to think about the holidays, especially Christmas and Thanksgiving. Work with both sets of in-laws to get times and expectations squared away. As an example, your family may do the big Christmas dinner on Christmas Day while your in-laws do the dinner on Christmas Eve but exchange gifts in the morning. It is important to try and identify and integrate family traditions into your planning; especially if you aren’t or can’t host both families. You want to reduce the likelihood of conflicts, hurt feelings, and other considerations (i.e., other adult siblings and their family expectations).
- Dating — Continue to date each other. Don’t let your job and the hustle get in the way of you growing closer together. Do everything you can to ensure you do not drift apart. Remember that your dreams are now her dreams, and her dreams are now your dreams. Continue to invest in each other and cheer each other on. Even when you have kids, put yourselves above your kids. One day, the kids will be gone, and you don’t want to wake up realizing you don’t know the person sleeping next to you.
- Friends — Continue to invest time in your friends. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you need to abandon them. Yes, you have different priorities and different responsibilities now. But a successful marriage finds a balance that includes your well-being which allows for friendships. If you find another couple where the both of you like the both of them, definitely find ways to grow that friendship. It’s amazing when you have great friends that are invested in each other, and you guys can do life together.
- Pets — My general recommendation is to wait on getting pets; especially a dog… AND definitely not a puppy. A puppy is a 2-year high maintenance animal when you should be spending time getting to know each other, doing trips, etc. You should definitely discuss pets if one or both of you want them. You may have grown up around cats all your life and love cats; however, your spouse may be allergic to them. For the first two years, maybe you guys should just get a goldfish.
Hopefully these items have given you something useful to think about and I hope that it reduces overall stress and reduces any potential issues as you begin this most wonderful chapter in your lives.
I’ll update it based on comments and feedback, but I think this is a good start to some items you may not have thought about as newly married and being a new homeowner.
If you have any other ideas or suggestions that I may have missed, please leave a comment so I can incorporate it into the article.