Confession…I’m a sucker for reality TV dating shows. I’m currently binge-watching Love is Blind and Joe Millionaire. However, there is one thing that irks me every time I watch these types of shows. You rarely see them talk about or ask questions about each other's finances and money habits. Money is a topic that the two of you must discuss if you want to have a successful marriage.
Money is the third leading cause of divorce, according to a recent survey by Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. I have been married for 21 years, and trust me, you both need to be on the same page when it comes to financial goals and money habits. If one person is a saver, and the other is a spender, you will constantly fight about money.
Talking about money can be taboo for some people. Or maybe you are the one with bad money habits, and you do not want your partner to know. Regardless, as soon as you know that the person you are dating is the one, you must start talking about your finances. Set your marriage up to win by communicating about money now. Let's dive into eight money questions you need to know about your partner before you say ‘I do.’
One question I am not including is, how much money do you make? Although that should be discussed, it's not that important. You shouldn't be with someone based on how much money they make or don't make. What is important is what they do with the money they have. How they spend, save, invest, and give back. So from the very beginning, start to observe your partner's money habits so that when you talk about money, you can bring up concerns you may have.
Nothing related to money and your partner's money habits is a deal-breaker. You both just need to have open communication and be honest about your finances so that you will not fight about money once you are married.
Question 1: How much debt do you have?
This question is huge. You need to know precisely how much debt each of you holds. This includes credit cards, student loans, car loans, and your mortgage. Do either of you owe money to friends or family? Your debt is a good indicator of your spending habits.
If you have no debt, but your partner has loads of credit card debt, that is a good indicator that they love to shop. Their money habits most likely will not change, and they will continue to rack up more debt while married. But if you know their habits before marriage, it gives you both time to evaluate them. You may agree that the debt needs to be paid before engagement. Or that spending habits change before marriage. Some may find this upsetting or unreasonable, but you both need to be on the same page about finances; otherwise, it will be a constant source of arguments.
Student loans can take years to pay off. If the two of you have a goal of buying a home, the student loan debt may make that goal unachievable until it is paid off. Having too much debt can cause you not to qualify for a home loan. No matter how much you love your partner, their debt, over time, may make you bitter.
Question 2: What is your credit and FICO score?
If you are talking about marriage and kids, typically, the idea of buying a home is in your future plan. However, if one or both of you have bad credit, purchasing a home can be challenging. You will not qualify for a reasonable interest rate. Due to inflation, the Feds are raising interest rates. So now more than ever, you need to have excellent credit to get a low-interest rate on a home loan.
You need to know if your spouse has a history of late payments, has filed for bankruptcy, or has any other negative information on their credit report before you walk into the mortgage lender's office. Buying a home is stressful. And having the lender tell you you don’t qualify for a home loan is a fight waiting to happen if you haven’t discussed your credit scores together first.
Question 3: How much savings do you have?
Your savings account can be a good indicator of money habits. Even if money is tight, you can still save. Ten or twenty dollars a week is better than nothing. You don’t automatically become a saver just because you are married. So a partner with zero dollars in their savings account should be a money habit red flag. Anything the two of you want to do or accomplish after marriage will require money. So start now to buy fewer wants and save money so that when the time comes to take that exotic vacation, you can do so without having the financial stress of paying it off over the next year.
Have you thought about what you would do if either of you got seriously ill? No one wants to think about the worst, but we vowed to be there ‘in sickness and in health.’ Having savings you can live off of for six months or more is ideal. That way, we can be there for our partner without stressing how the bills will get paid.
Would you be able to pay your bills if one partner lost their job? If the answer is no, again, you need savings you can live off of until they find another job.
Question 4: Do you have a 401K or some other type of retirement account?
I know when you are just getting married, retirement seems so far away. But the years do fly by, and once you have kids, time goes by even faster. Everyone should have the goal of retiring at some point. You must be investing in a retirement account to do so. An inheritance or winning the lottery should not be your retirement plan.
My husband and I have the goal of him retiring at 55. I am 40, and he is 45. Our friends, who are all about the same age as us, are shocked when they hear this. To them, it seems impossible. Why? Because they never started saving for retirement. They think they will live off of social security. I don’t want our lifestyle to change, and social security will not cut it.
Both of you need to come up with an agreed-upon amount that you will invest each month towards retirement. Typically people contribute 10-15% of their pre-tax income to their retirement account. Your future self will thank your younger self for making this commitment.
Question 5: What are your financial goals?
You need to know what each other’s financial goals are. For example, if one of you wants to save money for a down payment to buy a house, and the other wants to travel the world before having kids will only cause friction. Likewise, if one partner has a goal to pay off all debt, but the other keeps buying on credit, that will only cause fights.
You have to remember you are a team. Teammates work together towards a common goal. So you must sit down and find out what goals you have. The closer your goals align the tighter your team will be.
Question 6: Will we keep our finances separate or combine them?
This is something you will have to figure out as a couple, and your strategy may change the longer you are married. I know successful couples who keep their finances apart and ones that combine them. One way isn't necessarily better than the other.
If you keep everything separate, as long as how you divide the bills is fair, it should work out fine. Just make sure you have clear financial goals and work together to achieve those.
Money should never be secret. So if your spouse questions you about a purchase or anything about your separate finances, just be honest and keep them informed about how you're doing.
If you choose to combine your money you need to choose who will be responsible to pay the bills. The one who pays the bills should be communicating regularly to the other spouse how the finances are going. Let your partner know if something needs to change to reach your financial goals or any other concerns you may have.
However, you decide to set up your finances communication is key.
Question 7: What do you like to spend money on?
Don’t let me answer this question. I’ll say assets. But that's no fun. And not the correct answer. As a couple, you need to balance spending and savings. I have a hard time spending money, and I love to see our retirement accounts grow. I live a very simple life, and I don't want many things. And because I know we can afford whatever we wish, I have lost any desire to buy things to impress other people.
But you need to spend money, have fun, and stay connected as a couple! Now that my son is older and is a good traveler, we have been taking more vacations. It feels good to get away and spend our hard-earned money on quality family time.
So sit down and have a friendly conversation on what you would like to spend your money on together. Maybe the two of you enjoy trying new restaurants. Are the two of you Disney-obsessed adults? Season passes could be a top priority for you. If you like to get out into nature, maybe top-of-the-line camping gear is what you desire.
Whatever you like to do as a couple, make sure you leave some room in the budget to do it. Making memories and bonding are worth far more than a number on a spreadsheet.
Question 8: How much do you give back?
If finances are tight, giving might not seem possible. However, I have learned over the years that when you give with the right motive, the money you give always comes back to you.
Some people are part of a church, and they either tithe or regularly donate to the organization. Others may give to a non-profit that they align with. While others like to give money directly to people they see in need on the street. For example, a very successful author friend handed out $100 bills to random people she met on the street last Christmas. The amount of joy it brought her was more significant than any present she received from her family.
The amount we give does not matter—a few dollars or hundreds. The motive behind the giving is what brings us joy and blessings. So find a way as a couple to give back. And if money is truly tight, then volunteering your time will bring joy and satisfaction to your life.
This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding finances and marriage. Start the conversations now so that your marriage will have a solid financial foundation.