Money may not be the most romantic topic of conversation for couples sampling wedding cake and planning honeymoon adventures, but the way a couple approaches it can be a strong predictor of a marriage’s long-term success. Several studies have actually found that money is a top cause of stress in relationships.
But finances don’t have to cause friction for you and your soon-to-be spouse. A survey conducted by MONEY Magazine found that individuals who trust their partner with finances reported feeling more secure and having fewer arguments. Learning how to talk about money before you get married can be key to developing that financial confidence in your own relationship.
How do I talk about money before getting married, you ask? As you prepare to tie the knot, consider these five money questions to ask before marriage:
1. Do we understand our debt, assets and expenses?
One helpful way to talk about money before marriage is to sit down as a couple and take inventory of all the debt and assets you’re each bringing into your long-term commitment. This includes everything from student loans and mortgages to savings and retirement accounts. You may also want to get into the nitty gritty of your salaries and monthly expenses. Putting all of the details into a spreadsheet or an app that helps you manage your money can allow you to see your full financial picture.
While using this exercise as a way to talk about money before marriage may feel like a lot of work, it will come in handy when it’s time to make financial decisions, such as deciding what percentage of your joint income should go toward building an emergency fund, saving for retirement and paying down debt, explains financial expert Ginita Wall, co-founder of the nonprofit Women’s Institute for Financial Education.
“If one person in the relationship is maxing out her 401(k) contributions but eventually learns her husband is putting nothing toward retirement, it could become an issue,” she says. “An open dialogue that ensures that there will be no surprises about money, or any other topics for that matter, is important for a great relationship.”
2. Will we have joint or separate bank accounts?
Another way to talk about money before marriage is to consider whether you want to combine bank accounts, keep them separate or do a combination of both. The decision depends on each person’s preferences and the needs of the couple.
Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, a relationship therapist based in New York City, believes that having one joint account, but also guilt-free separate accounts for spending, can be helpful for many couples.
Keeping a joint account, she says, can provide a clear window into a family’s complete financial situation so the couple can make financial decisions accordingly. “This demonstrates that the couple is working together toward long-term financial goals,” she says.
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The guilt-free separate accounts, on the other hand, give both individuals “freedom to make small purchases as needed,” Weil adds.
As you’re addressing this money question to ask before marriage, know that in some cases, couples could benefit from keeping their investments separate.
“If two people have wildly different investment styles,” Wall says, “they just might decide to invest their money in their own ways.”
3. How has money impacted our upbringing?
When deciding how to talk about money before you get married, consider having an open discussion about how your parents handled money—including what you think they did well and what they could have done better—and how this has influenced your financial expectations and goals, Weil says. This is a valuable, but often overlooked, component of how to talk about money before you get married.
In many cases, an adult’s upbringing shapes his or her financial goals.
“If you grew up vacationing at the shore, chances are you might aspire to own a shore house as an adult,” Weil says. “This can become problematic if your spouse would much rather have a mountain house. Talk about where your goals originate from and then work toward making compromises.”
Individuals who trust their partner with finances reported feeling more secure and having fewer arguments.
4. How could our financial dynamic shift over time?
Your financial situation today may be significantly different from your financial situation tomorrow. While it’s impossible to predict exactly what the future holds for your finances and lifestyle, there are ways to talk about money before marriage to lay the groundwork for decisions you may ultimately face. If you plan to have children, for example, you may want to discuss how career and financial priorities may shift. Will both spouses maintain their working arrangements? Will someone pick up more work or scale back?
Weil says other money questions to ask before marriage that could impact your long-term financial plans include:
- Will you save for your children’s college education?
- Do you plan to take care of aging parents?
- How will you respond to family members who ask for financial support?
- What measures do you want to put in place for disability and life insurance?
- If there are children from a previous relationship, who will be responsible for their college or wedding expenses?
While the answers to these types of questions are personal and will vary from couple to couple, Weil says the most important rule is ensuring couples address them early on so there’s a clear understanding of how to handle each situation when it arises.
5. When will we sit down to regularly talk finances?
While determining how to talk about money before you get married is an important milestone, ongoing communication is necessary. Weil believes it’s constructive to have a weekly money dialogue, while other experts, like Wall, say sitting down for a casual money meeting once a month is a good rule of thumb.
Choose a meeting frequency that works for you and stay committed to your schedule. This signals to your partner that your finances are important and that you’re willing to set aside the time to talk about joint objectives, Wall says.
When it’s time to meet, run through any financial concerns that may have popped up since your last conversation, as well as any financial goals or factors that could have an impact on financial planning for young families.
When differences arise during these talks, Weil suggests trying to walk in the other person’s shoes to understand his or her perspective. Being mindful and polite, as well as listening, are among the best ways to talk about money before marriage and beyond.
“An open dialogue that ensures that there will be no surprises about money, or any other topics for that matter, is important for a great relationship.”
Why talk money before saying ‘I do’
Money can carry a lot of emotions, and Wall says that a lot of financial arguments aren’t actually about money.
“It’s often about equality, being respected, being listened to or being loved,” she says.
If the same types of arguments seem to resurface, it could indicate underlying issues about power and cooperation that couples should handle together, Wall explains.
While every marriage is bound to have some financial conflict now and then, starting a partnership off with these money questions to ask before marriage could help you get off on the right foot. Learning how to talk about money before you get married can also help align your financial hopes and dreams for your happily ever after.