If your relationship is getting serious, it’s time to shine a light on those bank accounts. Here are a few tips for how to talk about money before marriage.

So you’ve met Prince or Princess Charming and maybe even have a ring on your finger. Nothing could destroy your feelings of elation as you plan for your big day with the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.

Well, almost nothing. It’s hard to admit, but money dictates a large portion of what the rest of your life will look like. Before making such a big commitment, it makes sense to sit down and have a real conversation with your partner about personal finances. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.

Here’s how my husband and I had the conversation about money before marriage and what we talked about.

We Eased in With Life Goals

When my now-husband and I sat down for The Talk, the thought of asking each other how much we made and what our debt looked like felt confrontational. Instead, we eased into things by talking about our life goals.

“Do you want kids?”

This one question opens up a Pandora’s box of financial information. If you do want children, will one parent stay at home? Will you buy a house in the suburbs for their education? How will you handle daily costs like diapers and food? Should they get an allowance? Do you want to pay for their college?

The answers to these questions will reveal if your partner is a planner, and uncover some of their feelings about debt, and entitlement. This can be a springboard for deeper conversations about existing debt, salary and regular money management. Not on the same page about having kids? Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those things you can compromise on.

“What does your ideal retirement look like?”

When my husband and I had this conversation, I discovered he wanted to stay close to family, while I wanted to travel, especially to places that didn’t experience winter. We arrived at the conclusion that we’ll likely be snowbirds.

Knowing each other’s goals is important, but it’s also important to ask, “How are we going to get there?” As you explore the “how,” you’ll glean insights into how your partner views savings, investing and pursuing long-term goals.

Figuring out how we would pay for our snowbird years was initially an overwhelming task. When we first met, we were both petrified of investing. That’s a pretty common viewpoint for those of us who went through the recession as young(ish) adults.

But I’ve gradually realized that the market is one of a few ways we might be able to secure enough money to live our dream. Because we initially shared opinions on investing, it was easier to get my husband on board, and we now have a viable plan to fund our golden years.

We Made Sure to Hit on These Key Points

Whether you ease in with life goals, or immediately start digging into the numbers, you’ll want to be sure to hit on these crucial topics:

Salary. If you’ve never talked about it before, it can seem like a prying question. It is an important one, though. Knowing each other’s salary allows you to budget together realistically, and achieve goals as money-savvy teammates. This conversation allowed my husband and I to figure out how each of us would go back to school while the other worked, funding each other’s education.

Debt. Any debt needs to be aired out in broad daylight. When you marry someone, their lifestyle will be affected by your monthly payments. Luckily for us, there was only a small amount of credit card debt, and a couple of car notes. We were able to squash the credit card debt when we worked together, and decided that while car notes aren’t desirable, they are something we’re comfortable with as they allow us to work in a city with limited public transport.

Assets. Assets can include real estate, retirement funds or other investments. Knowing these not only gives you an accurate picture of what you’re walking into, but also gives you an idea of your partner’s savings habits. For those who marry early in their financial journey, there may not be a lot to talk about here, which was the case for us. But if your finances are more mature, this may be a lengthy conversation.

Other Financial Obligations. Does your partner pay alimony or child support, or have other regular financial obligations to someone outside of your future, nuclear family? Knowing this will help you budget, and make educated decisions about how to combine your finances if at all. Starting a blended family? Get educated about taxes, income and child support.

Joint Accounts. While many people choose to operate exclusively under joint accounts after marriage, there’s no commandment dictating you must conform. We decided we would not combine finances, which is not a popular decision, but popularity doesn’t matter: He and I are the only two people who have to like the way our marital finances function. You can opt to keep your finances completely separate, merge them so they’re completely joint, or maintain separate accounts while both contributing to a joint account for monthly, household expenses. Want to see what a combination of joint and separate bank accounts looks like? Check out this real-life example from a writer over at Couple Money.

We Kept Talking Past the Wedding

After you’re married, you’ll want to keep the lines of financial communication open. My husband and I both have variable incomes, so we have to check in with each other about our earnings regularly.

Teamwork allowed us to eliminate that credit card debt. My incessant wanderlust is met only when we work together as a team to save for our travels and retirement funding is a carefully coordinated endeavor.

Having these conversations keeps us on course. The transparency helps us achieve our goals and avoid financial ruin. But it all started with that first money talk.

You can talk about money before marriage too. As intimidating as it might be, it sets the groundwork for many years of happy money management as a married couple.

Written by Brynne Conroy, who blogs at Femme Frugality

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