Money is one of the most common sources of marital friction, and a major cause of divorce. Unfortunately, most people avoid talking about money until they’re in the more advanced stages of their relationship, or even worse, until they’re married.
Don’t put off talking about money because it feels awkward or uncomfortable. There are few things that are more difficult to overcome in a marriage than having fundamentally different habits, desires, and beliefs surrounding money.
If you’re unsure about how to start the conversation, here are some of the most important things to discuss with your partner before you decide to get married.
1) What is their basic orientation toward money?
Most people basically fall into one of three groups in regards to how they use money:
– People who want to spend lavishly
– People who want to save
– People who want to save everything (penny pinchers)
Finding out which category your partner falls into will tell you a lot about how compatible you’ll be. Have an honest conversation about which category the two of you fit into, and whether it’s realistic that either of you could change your spending and/or saving habits when you’re married.
2) Do they have a lot of debt?
If your partner is in debt, talk about where it came from and what kind of plan they have for paying it down. In some cases, debt results from unfortunate events that are beyond our control, like unexpected medical bills. In other cases, it can be a sign of much more troubling issues like a lack of impulse control or poor decision making.
3) Are you going to have joint bank accounts or will you keep your income separate?
Many people assume that once they’re married they will merge their assets and bank accounts with their spouses’, but this isn’t always the case. Whether you have joint bank accounts or not can also affect which partner is responsible for any debt incurred in relation to that account. Don’t wait until you’re married to find this out.
4) If you have children, will one of you stay home with the kids?
If you do agree that one of you should stay home with the kids, that means a significant reduction in household income. Figure out now if that’s feasible, and if you’ll both be happy at that income level.
5) Make sure there is no gambling addiction.
Don’t assume you already know the answer to this. People with gambling addictions are often very good at hiding it. Gambling is one of the most destructive addictions from a personal and relationship perspective.
6) Make sure there is no outstanding IRS debt.
Going along with point number 2 above, just because they don’t have other forms of debt (like credit cards or car payments), don’t assume they’re clear. Find out if they have tax payment problems.
7) Do they have a job? Do they even want one?
If your partner doesn’t have a job, have an honest discussion about why, and find out whether they’re taking any steps to find one – like sending out resumes or applications. A lack of financial contribution by one partner can become a source of resentment.
Make sure to have a serious talk about money with your partner, and have it as soon as possible. Laws regarding personal finance for married couples can be confusing, including who is responsible for debt incurred by either partner before and after marriage. If you have any questions, Hoppes & Cutrer can give you the answers you need to move forward with confidence.