If you’re getting married or committing to a more serious partnership, you’re no doubt excited – it’s a big step and one that can lead to a lifetime of happiness and companionship. You may be busy planning but make time to discuss some important financial and lifestyle issues with your soon-to-be spouse.
Of course, like all relationships, you'll likely figure out many things as you go along, adapting to each other’s preferences and habits. Nonetheless, to help get your new life off to a good start – and to avoid potential conflicts down the road – it’s worthwhile to get on the same page about financial/lifestyle matters before committing yourself to one another, especially if it's a legal commitment marriage.
You can set the stage for these conversations by agreeing on a time and place to have them – neither of you should try to “spring” these discussions on the other. And don’t expect to get everything resolved in a single talk – it may take a few sessions to cover all the necessary ground.
So, what subjects should you be discussing? Here are some of the key ones:
Feelings about money – This is a somewhat “softer” topic than other financial issues but important to discuss because deep-seated feelings about money can color an individual’s actions throughout life. Examples of questions to ask each other might include:
- How did your family treat money when you were growing up?
- What does money mean to you? Is it security? Freedom? Stress? Self-worth? Something else?
- What’s the most amount of money you’d spend on a car? Or a vacation? Or some other expense that's important to you?
- What would you be willing to go into debt for, and how much debt would you willingly incur?
Current financial situation – When entering a relationship, each person brings their own financial footprint – and it shouldn’t be a secret to the other partner. The subject of debt is of particular importance because your partner’s debt may also become yours, and vice versa.
- How much do you earn?
- How much do you spend?
- How much have you saved?
- What are your debts?
Sharing of finances – When it comes to sharing finances, there’s no one “right” answer for everyone – but there should be agreement on how things are handled. You’ll want to ask several questions:
- Will we combine income and expenses; or will each partner basically keep their income and pay their share of the expenses? Or will we do something in between?
- Which accounts will be joint; and which will be separate?
- Who will be responsible for paying which bills?
- When do we consult each other on financial decisions?
- How will we make financial decisions that affect us both?
Budgeting and spending – They aren’t glamorous subjects, but budgeting and spending decisions will be a part of everyday life for you and your partner. Some people fear that setting a budget will prove confining, but it can actually be liberating because, by allowing you to spend only the amounts you’ve determined are appropriate for your situation, your budget can free you to keep moving toward your financial goals. Some questions to think through:
- What does a budget look like for us?
- How often will we review our spending and saving?
- When do we consult each other on purchases?
Setting financial goals – Throughout your life together, you and your spouse will share some financial goals. Some will be long-term, such as enjoying a comfortable retirement, while others will be shorter-term, such as saving for a dream vacation. You can expect these to change over time, but it’s a helpful exercise to understand what's important to one another, how you each prioritize what you want to accomplish and how you might compromise together.
Children and work – You've hopefully already had the kids/no kids discussion. But depending on your unique situation, many financially related questions could be important to discuss. If you're planning on having kids, how will you address the higher expenses and childcare needs (e.g., will someone stay at home or reduce their workload either temporarily or permanently)? If one or both of you have children already, will you both be financially responsible for their care?
Need for professional help – You won't see this on most wedding checklists, but at some point, you and your spouse may benefit from working with financial, tax and/or legal professionals. And in certain situations, earlier is better; For example, if one or both of you have been married before, or one of you already has children, or either or both of you are bringing a lot of assets or debts into your new marriage. In any case, you should be open to getting the assistance you need from those professionals who can help you find opportunities and avoid pitfalls.
This may seem like a daunting list of discussion topics, but once you get going, you should find that it becomes easier to talk about them. By communicating clearly about your finances, right from the start, you’ll set a great precedent for the rest of your marriage.