Love and Money: 5 Things to Know Before Saying 'I Do' (Part 2 of a 3-Part Series)

May 15, 2015

Connect Member

Certified financial planner, certified divorce financial analyst and estate planning specialist

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the sunset falls later each day. It can only mean one thing: Wedding season is upon us! Planning a wedding is no joke, and there are thousands (millions?) of things to consider before you walk down the aisle. I can almost guarantee that financial planning is the last thing on your bridal checklist. However, talking money with your soon-to-be spouse is crucial. Just in the past week, I’ve talked with three women who cited disagreements over finances as primary contributors to their marital stress.

Here are five things to think about before you tie the knot:

1. Have You Talked About Spending, Really?

Maybe he jokes that you spend too much. Maybe your pet name is “tightwad.” Maybe you don’t talk about it at all — you’ve got your bank account, and he’s got his. You both have jobs, so what does it matter?  When you decide to consciously couple, it’s important to get a good understanding of how you each handle your money.

This doesn’t mean that one of you has to change dramatically, but it does mean that you both need to get comfortable with how the expenses stack up. While this may not be a primary concern at the moment, you two will be linked to each other for credit reports, mortgages, loans, and other big financial responsibilities in the future. This money talk doesn’t have to be a massive sit-down event, and you don’t have to turn into a hawk or a nag.  Instead, talk about it when the timing is right — before you’re under pressure with a massive purchase or late on a bill! — and leave room for compromise. The important thing is to understand each other’s view on spending, so you aren’t shocked down the road.

2. What’s the Game Plan for Starting a Family?

You both want three kids, and you already have the names picked out. Hypothetical children are super easy to raise, but when you’re starting a family for real, things start to get a little bit more challenging!  I’ll dive into this deeper in my next article in this series, but it’s an important discussion point for your relationship. Have you always dreamed of killing it in your career as a working mama, but your fiancé envisions you as a stay-at-home mom? It’s good to start talking about these things before you start trying to expand your family. Often, we forget to disclose our expectations and assumptions about future events, and assume we are all on the same page.

3. Do You Have Anything You’d Like to Keep as Yours?

One of my clients is the beneficiary of a large trust fund that was established long ago. Her family has been very careful with the money and has done a fantastic job of growing the fund while still being able to pay for important things like tuition, weddings, and down payments.  When you have assets that are intended to pass down the family line, it’s important to consider how you’ll keep them separate without causing a rift between you and your partner.

This isn’t about anticipating a divorce; it’s about transparency and honesty about your goals and plans. If you have assets you’d like to keep separate, try to make it clear from the beginning and set expectations for how the money will be spent. Some women may opt for a premarital agreement, which many believe is the antithesis of romance. Remember that these “unromantic” discussions and documents aren’t about having a way out of the relationship or suspecting someone to be a gold digger. It’s about smart planning and honesty, and setting up guideposts to reach your future goals, together.

4. Whose Debt Is It Anyway?

Again, not the conversation you’d like to be having when you’re already making hundreds of decisions each day and fielding daily phone calls from your mom about the seating chart.  Debt can be an icky topic, but it’s good to get clear on it. Is the love of your life strapped with law school loans that cost a chunk of change each month? Does he expect you to go halves on all of the expenses, including the loans, or are those coming exclusively out of his salary?  Be aware of what each of you have on the liability side to avoid surprises both when it comes to budgeting and applying for credit.

5. Who Will Handle Your Finances?

Delegation is a great way to get things done — except when it comes to knowledge about your finances. I’ve met too many women in the past year alone who have said something to the effect of, “I don’t really deal with this stuff. He usually handles it,” when referring to their finances. Again, this isn’t about starting a power struggle or getting an MBA to be able to decipher your stock options. It’s about staying involved and being transparent. Know what you have, separately and together, and understand where your money is going each month. You don’t have to scrutinize each holding in your spouse’s 401(k), just get comfortable with the basics of what your family has together, and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

I know. I know. I sound like a Debbie Downer here. The truth is that most marriages aren’t wrought with massive financial disconnects and secrecy. I am heartened to see the number of couples walking into my office who both know what’s going on, ask great questions, and are clear on their goals. Thinking about some of the hard issues when times are good can get you off to a great start.

Emily Boothroyd is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.