5 Money Conversations You Should Have Before You Get Married

by Emily Guy Birken · 7 comments

money conversations for married people
Engaged couples have so many things to talk about while planning their weddings: seating arrangements, their honeymoon destination, future kids… and money.

Money may not be the most romantic topic on the pre-wedding agenda, but it’s probably the most important. According to a 2012 study of over 4,500 married couples, fights about money are the biggest predictor of divorce — above fights about in-laws, kids, household chores, and sex.

Clearly, couples who get on the same financial page before the wedding are in a better position to enjoy years of married bliss. If you have not yet had the following conversations with your sweetheart, make sure you do before you say “I do.”

1. Your Money Beliefs

We tend to think of money as a simple matter of mathematics, but it’s actually a very emotional topic. People develop beliefs about money (also known as money scripts) in childhood, and those beliefs can be very difficult to change. If you and your future spouse have opposing money scripts, you may find yourselves regularly arguing simply because you do not agree on the nature and purpose of money.

Before you tie the knot, take the time to talk about your earliest memories regarding money. Not only can this sort of conversation help you to better understand how you each shaped your current views of money, but it can also help to bring you closer since you will be sharing some of your childhood emotional development.

money marriage conversations2. Your assets and liabilities

No one enjoys talking about retirement account balances, student loan debt, and credit card statements. But marrying without an understanding of where you each stand financially is a big mistake. Couples need to be completely transparent with each other about their financial situation. Finding out that your new spouse is up to his or her eyeballs in debt would be a terrible wedding night discovery.

3. How (or If) You Will Combine Your Finances

There are many different ways to merge financial lives, and it’s important to discuss how you plan to do so before the wedding. Not only may you and your sweetheart have completely different ideas of how married finances should work, but you need to hammer out the specifics that will work for you both even if you are generally on the same page.

4. Your Major Financial Goals

Though you might have a basic idea of each other’s goals — that she wants to stay home with the kids, for instance, and you hope to retire to the beach — it’s important to remember that you need to have regular conversations about your goals and how you plan to achieve them. A goal is a dream with a deadline as the saying goes, but without discussing your goals you will not be able to plan for them.

5. Who Will Handle Money Management

One person naturally emerges as the money manager in most couples, but that is not always the case. Figuring out ahead of time who will handle everything from bill payment and balancing the checkbook to shopping around and price negotiations can help you to assign those chores to the person who will be best at them or who has the time to do them. Getting on the same page with money management questions can help you avoid costly mistakes (like forgetting to pay bills) and major arguments.

Conversations Shouldn’t Stop Once You Get Married

I know this may sound like a buzzkill, but the work doesn’t stop just because you are married. Money is the biggest stressor in marriage and couples who start off great can still get into fights over money down the road. That’s because finances are relatively simple when both people are young, earning more and more money each year through promotions, and there are no kids involved. If you don’t want to let fights over money dominate the marriage, then heed my advice and follow these money moves that can strengthen any marriage. It can also help your bottom line.

1. Get on the same page. People get angry with their spouses when they have unmet expectations. If you expect that your spouse’s big bonus this year will make a nice contribution to a retirement fund, while your spouse is dreaming of blowing the whole enchilada on a vacation to Aruba, it’s likely to cause some friction. So how do you combat the problem of differing expectations? Talk to each other, regularly, about money.

Set aside some time to discuss both your short-term and long-term goals. Include what you’ll do on future vacations, how and where you want to retire, what your career plans are, and how you’ll handle any money emergencies. This may sound like another total buzzkill, but it can actually be fun. In particular, having a conversation about things you enjoy that cost money — my husband and I love to talk about our top 10 travel destinations — can help put you on the same page when it comes to money planning. Since we know that traveling together is one of our goals, my husband and I are in agreement about how to handle day-to-day finances so that we can save up for those goals.

2. Pool your resources. No matter how independent each of you may be when it comes to money, it’s important that you regard money as a shared resource, rather than mine/yours. This is especially true if there is an income gap between the spouses. Without some method of sharing money for bills, food, evenings out, childcare, etc, someone is likely to feel resentful about spending “their” money on a shared expense.

This doesn’t mean that every couple needs to have a joint checking account. Each couple will find their own system, whether they share cash in envelopes for expenses, each has their own accounts plus a joint checking account for bills, or put everything together under both names. No matter what system you choose, remember that your resources are for the good of the marriage.

3. But keep some independence. It’s important, however, to feel as though you have some financial independence since no couple will entirely understand each other’s spending habits. For example, if you choose to spend $30 on artisanal beer, and your non-beer-drinking spouse can’t taste the difference between that and Bud Lite, it could lead to a fight if every single penny is pooled. So allow yourself some “me” money that is yours to spend however you choose. Both you and your spouse will be happier knowing that you can treat yourself to small luxuries without it affecting the overall finances.

4. Delegate. In many marriages, one spouse is a money nerd and the other doesn’t bother to balance a checkbook. Even if the differences between your money skills are not that great, there is generally one person who ends up taking over the finances. And that’s often a good thing. When two people are both trying to handle one job, things can be overlooked, done twice, or otherwise mismanaged. So go ahead and delegate bill-paying and money management to the spouse who is better at it or prefers the job. It will ensure that things are done to the satisfaction of the person who is more on top of the finances.

5. Keep the lines of communication open. The problem with delegating, however, is that sometimes the non-money manager spouse feels out of the loop. So even if only one person is handling bills, make sure that both are involved in decision-making, problem-solving, and budgeting. So the non-money manager spouse should feel comfortable asking about finances at any time, and the money manager spouse should always keep all financial information transparent. This is also crucial so that if anything were to ever happen to the manager spouse, finances would not then become an additional source of stress during a sad time.

The Takeaway

Money may not seem like a particularly romantic topic of conversation, but ignoring money is not the path to wedded bliss. Make sure you and your sweetheart have these money conversations early (and often) to avoid romance-killing money conflicts. Don’t let money get in between you and your sweetheart. It’s better to keep talking about tough issues and face them together than let them fester and breed resentment.

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  • Caroline says:

    This is so true. We have always taken a view that what we have, we share. My husband does handle the day-to-day finances and manage the online banking, but I obviously have full access to the accounts and no specific constraints that we don’t share. We do each have a savings account that the other cannot access, but we both can see the records for those accounts very easily and they are used for things like saving up for a new car or renovations and so on, they aren’t ”secret” or anything along those lines. Any troubles we have – and we are on a very tight budget, not well-off or anything like that – are freely shared and we work out together how to get through them. My husband earns significantly more than I do, but the money is for the benefit of us, our kids and that’s that. I know several couples where this is a major issue, where squabbling over things like ”he got a new golf club / night out with the guys so I AM GOING TO HAVE A NEW BAG / DRESS” is a really serious thing that goes way beyond the small matter of who got what. It turns into bean-counting and vigilance to make sure ”I get my share”, kind of combative and in at least 2 cases, has ended the marriage.

  • Steven says:

    Very good points here. Far too many of mine friends have ended up in a battle royale because of finances, and I’ve been there too. When it comes to finances, do you think that couples in common law states should take a different approach when it comes to finances because when you marry the person you marry their debts?

  • Chella says:

    It is indeed true that finances may not be the most passionate topic to discuss on your pre-wedding agenda. However, it is regarded as the most valuable. Needless to say, couples who discuss such matter prior the wedding are more likely to delight in a better position to take pleasure in several years of happy marriage.

  • Devin says:

    Excellent topic! I do agree that couples need to be on the page in finance since this is the number one reason for divorce!

    My wife and I didn’t have this conversion before our wedding. Luck it turns out okay because we generally agree on the money issues.

  • Shane says:

    Excellent advice. I know a few couples that did not figure this out before getting married and had major marital issues.

    • Kim says:

      My husband and I did not figure out this before either and it sure did cause some issues. Thankfully, we were able to work it all out. Now, I tell all my friends getting married to discuss this first.

  • Jordan says:

    Some very important topics in this. You’d be surprised at how often couples who seem to agree on most things are actually opposites when it comes to how they handle money! Marriage is a big decision and will impact every part of your life – including your finances, so it’s very important to have these conversations.

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