IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO ask your special someone to walk down the aisle and to the ends of earth with you, just about every financial expert and a lot of long-time married couples will tell you first: Talk about money before marrying. You may think you’re a perfect match, but one of the biggest compatibility tests for couples is merging finances. And, sure, it may feel like talking about money will kill your romance, but – and not to sound like your mother – is it really that special of a relationship if discussing credit cards and spending habits could actually kill it? So somewhere between proposing and saying, “I do,” here are some key questions you and your significant other should be asking each other.
How much debt do you have? Definitely a romance buzz-killer, but you’re going to be marrying this person and sharing their life. You should ask this question, and if you have a lot of debt, you should absolutely volunteer this information.”In an age where student loans over $100,000 are not uncommon, the debt discussion is crucial. Entering a marriage with hidden debt can be a disaster and starts a marriage off with a lot of mistrust,” says Anthony Criscuolo, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
What’s your credit score? Yes, the questions just get more fun. Still, you should ask this one, says Jon Ulin, managing principal at Ulin & Co. Wealth Management, a branch of LPL Financial in Boca Raton, Fla. And if things look really bleak and you believe your future spouse has a money problem, consider asking your beloved to get some financial counseling, Ulin suggests. “If you feel that your future spouse will never become fiscally responsible and may end up crashing your own credit score, savings and retirement plans, you may want to put off getting married to this person,” Ulin says. “I’m not saying that money is more important than love, but more often than not, how couples deal with money can lead to arguments and divorce if not handled effectively. When preparing to get married, you shouldn’t assume or overlook anything.”
What about our children? If you’re thinking of becoming parents, and you haven’t broken up over the debt and credit score questions, this is a good one to ask. “Most couples address the ‘when’ and ‘how many’ when it comes to discussing children, but kids are expensive and talking about the financial impact should also be considered,” Criscuolo says. “Do both spouses want to pay for private schooling? Who will pay for college or grad school? Will one spouse stop working to take care of the kids?” While we’re at it, what’s a fair allowance? And are we going to buy a TV for the kid’s bedroom the first time he asks? How much money will our daughter get when the Tooth Fairy visits? OK, it is possible to go into overkill. Still, these can be fun questions to get a sense of where your partner stands, and if you’re going into a marriage in which one or both of you already have kids, a lot of these questions are vital.
If you’re really concerned, or you’re not enjoying these money discussions with your Romeo or Juliet, Galena Rhoades, a psychologist and a senior researcher at the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, suggests couples “practice communicating about money,” zeroing in on “an issue that you will face together, like deciding whether to buy a house.”
What about our parents? Easy to forget, but the type of spender or saver you want to marry probably picked up a lot of tips from his or her parents. “We see a huge influence on how our parents spent or saved and how we spend or save,” says Rick Bee, a professor who teaches a course on stewardship and money at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. “It’s important to examine how you were raised and how you tend to spend and make changes now if change is needed.”
Who is paying what? Angela Thompson, an assistant professor of sociology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, says you should also come up with answers to questions like: “How will money be handled in your household? Joint checking account? Separate checking accounts or a combination of the two? Who is in charge of paying bills and preparing taxes? Is it fair to have one person be responsible for paying the bills for the rest of your married life? On the other hand, what if one person is really organized and the other isn’t? By default, does the organized person have to be the one to pay the bills?”
And if you haven’t already, Thompson says, this is the time to ask yourself a few questions. For instance, if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend with a gambling or shopping problem, is that a problem for you, and how are you prepared to live with that? Some other good questions, offers Rhoades: “What kind of lifestyle do you see us living, and how much will it cost? What is your approach to saving and investing? Meaning, how important is saving for retirement? Our children’s college? Are you a risk-taker?” The point of asking a lot of questions isn’t to map out your entire marriage, but to see if you both truly are financially compatible, or if you’re actually two future clients for divorce lawyers. In fact, if you’re marrying, Ulin suggests that in the months before you say, “I do,” the most important person you should consult with as a couple isn’t the wedding planner – it’s a financial planner.