Today, nearly one out of every three Americans (approximately 100 million people) lives in a blended family. Yet even though remarriage and blended families have become something of the new norm, they nevertheless present unique and often difficult financial challenges.

Not only are there often heightened tensions between current and ex-spouses (as well as children of first and subsequent marriages), but expenses almost invariably escalate as well. From monthly food and clothing bills to multiple cars, larger homes, and increased educational expenses, remarriage can dramatically impact both short-term cash flow and your ability to save for long-term goals like retirement.

Couples who are remarrying also tend to have more established – and sometimes wildly dissimilar – financial habits and histories. One of you may be coming into the marriage debt-laden while the other brings extensive assets to the table. One or both of you may have child support commitments from a previous marriage. And your credit histories may be on opposite ends of the spectrum.

When it comes to deciding whether to pool your assets and accounts or keep them separate, there’s really no right or wrong approach. There ARE, however, some critical steps you should take to help make the financial transition a little easier.

5 Keys to Financial Harmony

Communication – perhaps more than any other factor, open and honest communication will be the difference between financial smooth sailing and turbulent waters. Both you and your spouse need to sit down and candidly discuss not only the assets and liabilities you’re each bringing to the marriage, but also any long-term plans regarding the dispo­sition of assets along with financial obligations to ex-spouses and children from previous relationships.

Compromise – make sure that you both can find common ground as it relates to spending and savings behaviors. This is particularly important when you come to the relationship with very different financial values and behaviors. Try to create a monthly budget and savings plan that you both can live with and then stick to it.

Crisis planning – frequently, remarriage equates to more purchases, more people, more challenges, and therefore more opportunities for an unexpected financial crisis to occur. That’s why it’s important to make an extra effort to build a robust short-term emergency fund, to provide your new family with a financial buffer to better deal with the unforeseen.

Contingency planning – a new family may also necessitate a complete rethinking of your life insur­ance strategy along with your beneficiary designa­tions on both insurance policies as well as retirement assets. How do you want your assets distributed between your current family and any children from previous marriages? Do you want to obtain additional insurance to provide for your new spouse or help fund education expenses should you die or become incapacitated? These are important questions which you’ll want to sit down and explore with your finan­cial advisor sooner rather than later.

Collections – don’t make the common mistake of assuming that your tax situation will remain the same. Additional family income and changing de­ductions and expenses could change your bracket and tax rate. This is especially important if either you or your spouse are self-employed and paying quarterly estimated taxes. Sit down with both your tax attorney and your financial advisor to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

However you decide to manage your new family finances – whether totally co-mingling income, assets, and liabilities or opting for a “his, hers and ours” three-bucket strategy, the most important thing is to ensure that both you and your new spouse are working together towards achieving common goals with extensive communication and absolute transparency. After all, marriage isn’t just a legal commitment; it’s a financial one as well.