One of the main topics experts advise us to discuss before getting married is finances. I married my husband Lee when I was 34. I had been divorced for four years and had two sons. I believe our early discussions on money and finance were some of the most uncomfortable we have ever had. Both of us had unrealistic expectations; he had never been married before and used phrases like “I give you permission,” which were not the right words to use with me. I reminded him that I earned money and didn’t need his “permission.” I also was not excited about discussing how I spent the money I earned.
Having an honest conversation about finances with your future spouse can save you lots of anxiety and arguments in the future. Just like planning for a romantic date night, I encourage you to plan the environment for your financial discussion. Set aside an hour or two of unhurried time when you aren’t too stressed or tired in an environment that allows you to talk privately without interruption.
Here are a few financial topics I suggest you discuss before saying “I do”.
DEBT AND INCOME
Going into your marriage, you need to know the financial condition of your future spouse. What is his or her income? Does he or she have debts for things like a car, home, credit cards, or student loans? Good or bad, make a list of all income and debts, along with details such as balance, interest rate, payment terms, and to whom any debt is owed. Are these debts paid in time? What is each person’s credit score? Discussing debt and how each person views it can give you a clearer picture of what your financial future may look like.
SPENDING AND BUDGETING
What are your expectations regarding how you and your spouse will spend money once you are married? How do your spending habits match or differ? What is each of you willing to change or compromise on? What are your non-negotiable financial expectations? Consider setting an allowance or spending limit for each spouse, an amount each spouse is free to spend without having to discuss the expenditure in advance.
Does either of you currently have any savings, investment, or retirement accounts? Would you classify yourself as a saver or a spender? Do you get anxious if you have less than a certain amount of money in the bank? Do you have any fears regarding money? Do you have an emergency fund set aside for unforeseen events? Do you have the same beliefs on setting aside money, investing, and planning for your retirement?
Marriage should be an until-death-do-you-part commitment. It’s no longer about what’s “mine” or “yours”; it’s about what is “ours”. Because of this, I generally encourage couples to combine their bank accounts. There usually is one spouse who is better at managing finances than the other. With my husband and I, on a day-to-day basis, I ensure all the bills are paid and the checkbook is balanced. However, when anything new comes up or decisions must be made about any financial matter, we discuss it – and then I execute the plan we agreed upon.
How does each of you feel about generosity and giving to others? Are you someone who would give away your last dollar to someone on the side of the road, or are you tightfisted? Agreeing on when to give and when to hold onto your money is an important compromise.
Being married for 30 years does not eliminate tough financial conversations, but it seems they are more infrequent and much less heated than they were when we were newlyweds. As you get to know your spouse and his or her money triggers, it becomes easier to listen and work together to make financial decisions you both can live with. The resulting peace in your marriage and home is well worth it.