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 moneyâincluding what you think they did well and what they could have done betterâand 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.”