I’m guessing I’m not the first to tell you that money is one of the most common things couples fight about. Many divorces are attributed to money trouble. You don’t want that to be you. I don’t want that to be you. Before you talk about tying the knot, ask each other these questions:
1. What are our money personalities? How will they work together?
Are you a spender or a saver? Do you find budget spreadsheets satisfying or suffocating? In your view, is debt a tool to build wealth or a tool of the devil?
You’re going to learn these things about each other eventually. You might as well learn them now in casual conversation rather than in a blow-up fight.
Remember, there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ personality when it comes to money, and couples with opposite views on money can be very happily married. The secret is to communicate about it before it becomes a problem.
2. How do we see ourselves approaching money as a couple?
Do you want to continue to keep your money totally separate, or will everything be shared between you? Who will be responsible for paying the bills? How do you plan to make financial decisions as a couple? If you earn more money than your future spouse, will that earn you the right to make more of the financial decisions, or will you have an equal say in decision-making?
These questions get to the nuts and bolts of how you see your relationship working and also speak to the greater questions of how you want to approach finances and share your resources. Listen well to each other's answers and try to get a sense of how your day-to-day marriage will work.
3. What's our current financial picture?
How much debt do you both bring into the relationship? Where did it come from? What’s your plan to pay it off? If you get married, do you see it as becoming a joint responsibility, or will it remain the responsibility of the person who incurred the debt? How much savings (including retirement funds) do you both have, and whose will it be if you get married? What will your joint earnings be, and will it be adequate to pay your joint bills?
It’s time. Lay it all out on the table. It’s crucial that you’re both completely honest. As you have this conversation, try hard to avoid harsh words and being judgmental about past decisions. The point is not to shame or embarrass anyone but to decide how to move forward together.
4. What is your family's financial situation?
You don't need to get into the gory details of your families' financial life, but as the two of you consider becoming family, it's important to have a general sense of what you're getting into. Does your significant other help support their parents or siblings from time to time? Do their parents help support them? Is there an expectation in your future in-law's family that mom and dad will move in with you during retirement?
Discussing family histories and approaches to money will help you gain a greater understanding of where your future spouse is coming from and will also help you get a sense of what the expectations will be of you and your relationship.
5. What kind of wedding do we want and how do we plan to pay for it?
Knowing each other's expectations for the big day is key, and you don't need me to tell you that weddings can get expensive. What kind of wedding (and engagement ring) did you both have in mind, and how do you plan to pay for it?
6. What are our goals as individuals and as a couple?
What is it you’re trying to accomplish? What do you want to spend your lives working toward together? Do you align on these things, and are you willing to make the financial sacrifices necessary to achieve these goals?
Love is grand, but if your goal is to have a big house and three kids and be a stay-at-home dad, and hers is to travel every year and have as few financial responsibilities as possible, you need to talk. If you don’t have a clue what each other’s goals are, you really need to talk. Knowing what your goals are and agreeing on a plan to get there is a must-do - before the ring and invitations.
Money will play a big role in your marriage, and it's worth taking the time and braving the awkward conversations to get a sense of how you and your future spouse will work together to achieve your personal and financial dreams.