Saying “I Do?” Ask These 5 Basic Money Questions First!
Are you about to walk down the aisle? Are you dreaming of lace and tulle and raspberry champagne frosting? What an exciting time for you!
One question, though. Have you had the talk with your soon-to-be spouse?
The *whispers* money talk?
If you haven’t, you might want to figure your shit out ASAP because your spouse’s money issues can have a drastic impact on you, your credit history, and your happily ever after.
I know so many couples who never talked finances before they tied the knot. And five or ten years later financial topics still cause stress and heartache in their relationships.
Here’s the thing. All of this strife could have been avoided if these couples had just sat down and been open and honest with one another from the start.
When my (now) husband and I initially moved in together we split all of our finances 50-50. This worked for us at the time as we made practically the same amount each month and so no one was shouldering more of the financial load than the other.
Once we got engaged, we went to the bank and opened up joint checking accounts together, got a credit card together, all those things you do when you’re ready to marry someone financially and not just romantically. We put all our money in one pot and that’s how we pay all bills and life expenses. His goals are my goals. If one of us wants something (his Trans Am) we worked together to find away to make it happen.
Maybe we’re all in the minority here, but we never, ever kept money secrets from one another. If we wanted to buy something we ran it by the other person. I knew about his student loan debt, he knew that I was still in grad school and paying for it out of pocket.
THERE WERE NO SECRETS.
And yet, I talk to so many people who tell me they hide money from their spouse or they won’t admit how much that new purse actually cost.
And that is hurting them! Every time you lie to your spouse about something you spent money on you’re putting another little crack in your relationship. And eventually those teeny tiny cracks open up into a huge canyon that pits the two of you against one another.
So don’t do it!
So here are some easy guidelines for communicating with your spouse about money. Preferably, you would have done this BEFORE you got married. But if you’re just getting your money house in order, there is no time like the present.
1) Disclose all debts
This should be super obvious, right? It’s not.
Debts include things like, student loans, medical debt, and consumer debt. But it could also be stuff like the fact that you co-signed on your little sister’s car loan or gave your BFF $2,000 so he could chase his dream of playing professional World of Warcraft.
DISCLOSE ALL OF IT.
It’s tempting to feel embarrassed if you’ve racked up consumer debt into the thousands of dollars. But your spouse deserves to know what they’re getting into when they marry you. How terrible would you feel when you two wanted to buy a house together and you found out that they had shit credit because of a $30,000 balance on their credit cards?
(Yes, I know that’s the plot of a How I Met Your Mother episode. But it happens! Seriously.)
2) Discuss your long-term goals
Maybe you want to buy a house but your spouse thinks owning a house is stupid and is perfectly fine with renting.
Maybe you want to have six kids and send them all to super-expensive private school.
Maybe you want to retire in 10 years and are saving 50% of your income to make that happen while your spouse is heading to Vegas with his bros and spending all his discretionary income on cigars and blackjack.
The point is, neither of you are mind readers. And, yes, theoretically, you’ve had a lot of these talks throughout the course of your relationship together. But laying them out in black and white ahead of the wedding can be a real eye-opening experience.
3) Put together some money “rules”
I think I’ve mentioned this before but my husband and I have a rule where we run all purchases above $100 by the other person. This rule works for us and while it has caused one or two fights in the Ikea parking lot, it’s generally been a good thing for our marriage.
We have some other money rules in our house, but they’re smaller in scope. My husband really enjoys going out to lunch with his co-workers during the week. But that is an expensive habit. We talked about the effect it has on our budget and came up with a compromise. He can eat out 3 days a week and bring a homemade lunch 2 days a week. He still gets to eat out with his friends, but we save a bit more money each month.
4) Schedule regular “State of the Finances” chats
We tend to do this once a year, usually around tax time. We’ll look at the following:
- What we brought in this year in terms of income.
- How much our net worth has either grown or shrunk
- Where we spent money (and if those expenditures were worth it to us!)
- What our goals are for the upcoming year
- This is also where we might adjust some of our SmartyPig goals
This check-in is HUGELY rewarding for us. It makes sure we’re still on the same page financially and often grows into a larger conversation about our relationship and our goals for our life together.
The first few times you do this, particularly when your financial house is in disarray, this can be a stressful conversation to have. But, I’m telling you, it’s so rewarding you guys. Just try it.
5) Keep your communication open and honest
Look, relationships need tending. They’re not set it and forget it types of things. If you change your mind about something that you two had previously agreed on, it’s okay to re-open that line of communication with one another.
Maybe you initially thought you’d be okay with one inexpensive vacation each year while you throw all your money at student loan debt. But suddenly, you’re really feeling like you could use a week on a beach and you want to reallocate money to that.
That’s OK. Your spouse isn’t going to know that you want to readjust some of your goals if you do not tell them.
Instead, you’ll sit on that idea of a beach vacation and start to take umbrage at all of the money that you’re tossing at those never ending student loans. Then one day you’ll just explode into a shower of anger and resentment over something stupid like whether or not you want Mexican or Chinese for dinner and BOOM! relationship problems.
Don’t do that. Please don’t do that. Just talk to one another. Maybe once you do, you’ll find that the beach vacation isn’t in the cards this year. But if you work together, you can afford it next year and then you can have something to look forward to together.
So what do you think of my tips? Do you do any of this in your relationships? Did you skip any of these conversations and have to deal with the fallout?
Sound off in the comments!