Before you jump into that proverbial land of marital bliss, it is time to have some conversations with your spouse to be about money. Seriously. The #1 reason that marriages end in divorce today is, you guessed it, money problems.
Whether it be the lack of communication about personal or joint finances, personal spending habits, the lack of sufficient income to support the desired lifestyle, or individual financial situations that stem from each person’s life before their relationship with one another, financial issues are the crux of the majority of marital problems.
Pre-marriage financial counseling sessions can cover topics such as financial goals, debt, and setting a joint budget among other topics commonly resulting in financial stress and tension before you happen upon them without warning or preparation. Perhaps even more importantly, pre-marriage financial counseling can help couples learn what questions on financial matters to ask. It can also help both partners learn how to ask the sometimes uncomfortable questions about current and past financial behaviors and issues.
Premarital questions on financial matters
- Combine or separate? There is not right or wrong answer here. Some couples maintain separate bank accounts, have designated certain expenses that each are responsible for, and pretty much operate under the mantra “what he/she does with his/her money is his/her own business.” Others prefer to function with joint accounts with one or both partners overseeing all financial obligations.
- Short term and long term financial goals? As you prepare to start your life together, you will need to establish your priorities as a couple, as opposed to as individuals. Your monthly budget is a way of discovering what is most important to you. Are you willing to cut back on dining out so that you can afford to stay at the on-site resort during your next vacation? Or are you perfectly happy staying at the budget-friendly motel off-site so that you can have your weekly dinner date at your favorite pricey restaurant?What’s the bigger priority – ensuring your budget includes weekly shopping trips for the newest clothes and gadgets, or saving up for your first home, paying your cell phone bills, and have hot water? What about those longer-term goals such as paying for your future children’s needs and wants (preschool tuition, new bikes, clothes to cover their ever-growing bodies), the cost of higher education, etcetera? Do you plan on paying their way 100%, just covering tuition, or making them earn their own way through college with scholarships and jobs?
- What are you going to talk about your budget? Just because one or both of you have taken on the responsibility of handling financial matters within your relationship, you still need to get together and talk about it. It doesn’t need to be a 3-hour long professional-level budget meeting (we all know that would never be sustainable!). However, a quick update or touch-base with each other on how you are doing with sticking to your monthly budget, any significant progress or road blocks with relation to your short & long-term goals, etc. will go a long way towards solidifying your financial relationship and situation.
- What are your savings plans? While many new couples today don’t believe that having a savings plan is necessary, especially with many living from paycheck to paycheck as it already is when just starting out, savings is a very important part of your financial plan. Nobody is invincible, and if you think that you or your significant other have a perfectly secure job and that nothing could happen, think again. There is a very good chance that one or both of you will be impacted by job loss at some point in your careers at least once. It’s important to have about 3-6 months of savings tucked away for when the inevitable occurs.Budget it into your monthly budget, and take that money outfirst, before anything else, so that you do not cave to the urge to spend it with the mindset of “oh we will just add a little extra in next month.” That almost never happens, and when you need the savings the most, both you and your partner will be very glad you planned wisely.
Remember, you are in for the biggest year of changes in your life (well, until you have kids – that is a whole other story!). You and your partner are two very unique individuals who will be navigating life as a couple, both with different cleaning habits, sleeping habits, food preferences, familial relationships, and personal hygiene habits that could and often do drive each other absolutely nuts during that first year. Discussing finances before you walk down the aisle removes one more of those fun “surprises” you’re about to encounter.