I spent the majority of my twenties and the early part of my thirties scratching and clawing my way out of student loan debt, establishing my financial priorities, and aligning my spending with my values. So, when I started dating and being receptive to sharing my life with someone, I knew, for sure, that I needed a spouse that held similar financial beliefs to my own. I was not trying to go back into anybody’s debt.
The air on the other side of debt was too fresh and too clean. Too breezy. Six months after meeting my husband, he started hinting about “putting five on it” and long-term commitment. While the feelings were mutual, I did not allow my feelings to override my common sense. Before getting married, my husband and I had several in-depth conversations about all aspects of our future married life: no area was spared examination—especially our respective financial realities.
I can say that I am grateful that we started communicating about money while we dated because even now, as newlyweds, despite our transparency prior to being engaged, I am still learning the nuances and subtleties of my husband’s financial framework and he is learning more about mine.
I share this story to say that whether you are engaged, newlyweds, or a seasoned married couple, it is better to know about each other financially before marriage, but also to remind you that it is never too late to develop, repair, and expand your financial intimacy. Below are some key questions that you should begin to discuss with your lover. If you need the support of a financial counselor to facilitate the process, invest in one; the health of your marriage is worth it.
When asking the following questions, always be sure that you monitor your body language and your tone of voice, and choose an appropriate time to embark on these conversations. Since financial intimacy necessitates financial vulnerability and disclosure, emotions can begin to run high. It is also helpful that you both keep accurate notes either electronically or by hand so you can refer to them later.
Childhood Money Memories
- How was money handled throughout your childhood? Who handled money?
- What role did you play in the family with respect to borrowing and lending?
- What was your most vivid memory around money when growing up?
- How was the topic of money discussed?
Financial Systems and Structures
- Do you want joint or separate accounts or a combination?
- Will there be a prenup?
- If there is a disparity in income, how will expenses be shared? Equally? Based on a percentage of income?
- What systems will we have in place for a layoff?
- How much is sufficient for an “emergency fund”?
- How often should we have money meetings?
- Have you started saving for retirement? How much? What percentage of your
income goes into your 401(K) or Tax Deferred Annuity?
- Are you eligible for a pension?
- How will obligations from previous relationships play into our current financial commitments? (spousal support, child support)
- Have you had to file for bankruptcy? If so, what were the events surrounding that choice?
- What is your credit score?
- How much do you earn?
- How much do you have in assets?
- How much debt do you have?
- What was your biggest financial failure?
- What was your biggest financial success?
- Do you gamble? Recreationally? Or, have a history of chronic gambling issues?
Financial Identity and Goals
- If you had to classify yourself, would you identify as a “saver” or a “spender”?
- What kind of lifestyle do you want to live? (jet-setting, minimalist, nomadic, suburban) and how much money will that cost?
- Do either of us not want to work full-time or at all once married?
- What does “wealth” mean to you?
- At what age do you want to retire?
- Do you want children? If yes, how will we pay for college? Are we considering sending them to private school K-12? How will we pay for that?
- What role does gender play in dividing financial responsibilities?
- Do you keep a budget?
- What are you stress triggers when it comes to money?
- Are you a spender or a saver?
- What is your investment style: conservative, moderate, or risk-taking?
- Do you want to own or rent?
- Do you have any desire to be self-employed?
- How will we handle family members that want to live with us or borrow money?
- What are our beliefs about tithing and/or charitable contributions?
- Should we invest in a financial counselor or financial adviser?
This list of questions is by no means exhaustive. Since you know your relationship better than anyone else, it is important that you use your observations and concerns to create questions that will allay your anxiety or misgivings and bring about more financial intimacy and transparency with your spouse.
If after answering these questions, you find that you and your soon-to-be-betrothed or lifelong partner appear financially incompatible, it is important that respect prevail and you open yourself to third-party intervention from your religious institutions, your financial institutions, or from couples whose financial acumen you respect.
BMWK, do you know the answers to these questions from your future spouse?