On the first date, you discuss splitting the bill. Soon, you’re planning your first vacation together. Before you know it, you’re engaged and planning a wedding.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to have the money talk.
Financial things to talk about before getting married
Yes, talking about money can be heavy, but it’s important to have these conversations now. To help you cover your bases, here are some key financial topics you and your partner should discuss prior to marriage.
1. Money mindsets and overall beliefs
- What are your biggest financial successes or setbacks?
- What are some lessons you’ve learned about managing money?
- What do you believe about money and the role it plays in your life?
You might be tempted to dive right into the numbers and net worth side of money conversations. But before that, you should understand each other’s beliefs and viewpoints about money: how they value money compared to other pursuits in life, and what motivates them when it comes to money.
“You get a lot more information about your partner and how they think about money by asking them about their financial successes and setbacks,” says Jacquette Timmons, a financial behaviorist and author of “Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate.”
Talking about past financial problems can reveal how easily they own up to and learn from money mistakes, Timmons adds. Hearing about your partner’s successes can also show how they work toward money goals and how much they value they place on financial success.
2. Your financial backgrounds
- What kind of financial behavior did you see modeled growing up? How did money impact your parent’s relationships?
- How did your family’s class or economic status affect your money beliefs?
- How are our financial histories similar and different?
“Learning about your partners’ families’ views on money can be a way to understand about your partner’s current beliefs about money,” says Dr. Kristy Archuleta, associate professor in financial planning at the University of Georgia.
Many financial beliefs, or money scripts, are learned and developed in childhood and carried over into adulthood. So sharing and hearing your familial financial histories and your formative experiences with money can point out the underlying patterns at play.
This might happen slowly, Dr. Archuleta says, as you each might have some internalized money beliefs or views that you aren’t fully aware of. Even so, you can build a foundation of mutual understanding about your financial backgrounds, she says, and “gain clarity on why the other does what they do with their money.”
3. Life and financial goals
- What are our shared major life goals? Does this include starting a family?
- How do these goals impact our lives, our careers or incomes, and our finances?
- What financial actions will we need to take to support our shared goals?
In addition to understanding your financial pasts, it’s also important to look ahead to your shared future. “Asking questions about your partners’ life goals and dreams is helpful in understanding what is important to them and more than likely has financial implications,” Dr. Archuleta says.
In these conversations, you can talk through your big financial priorities — and how to make these dreams a reality. This was key before getting married for Riley Adams, a certified public accountant and founder of personal finance blog Young and the Invested.
Adams and his wife wed in 2017, and after talking through their dreams and goals, they agreed to save up to buy a home and start college funds for their future children. On top of this, “We prioritize rewarding experiences,” Adams says, like shooting “to take one international trip per year.”
4. Debts and credit history
- What kinds of debts do you have, and what are the details for those accounts?
- Do you make minimum payments, or are you working to pay debt down faster?
- What is your credit history and score like?
Most couples will have talked about their debt or credit in general terms; stating that you do or do not have student debt, for instance, or whether your credit is excellent or just average.
Eventually, however, you have to achieve what Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing” likes to call “full-frontal financial nudity” — or full and complete money disclosures. “At that time, you share everything: debts, savings, investments, goals, money baggage, or financial anxieties.”
As Lowry suggests, this should include a full inventory of all debts you each owe: the types of debt, the balances on each account, and even the interest rates you’re paying. From there, you can talk about how you have each been managing and repaying debts — and if or how that might need to change in the future.
It’s also a good idea to cover your credit history and score, as this affects your ability to get joint credit down the line. When working with premarital couples, Dr. Archuleta often advises them to pull their credit reports and review them together. This matters because your credit score relates to things you might be doing together soon, like getting approved for an apartment, a home loan, or a new car loan.
5. Spending and savings habits
- How much are you earning, and what portion of that are you saving?
- Do you keep and follow a budget? What do you think is worth spending, and what isn’t?
- How much do you already have in savings, and what is your net worth?
In addition to discussing any debts you have, becoming “financially naked” also includes disclosing income, savings, and assets you each have. Cover savings goals you’re already working on, as well as things you’d love to save for in the future.
Talking through day-to-day money management can also help you see where you’re aligned and where you’ll need to compromise. Share your budget and the process you use to make spending decisions. See if you each consider yourselves more a saver or a spender, and how that will affect your dynamic as a couple.
6. Managing money together
- Do we want to fully combine finances or keep some accounts or funds separate?
- How will we share the responsibilities and tasks of managing household finances?
- What are your feelings on prenuptial agreements, and what might you want it to include?
“Another important conversation is whether you will pool your money, keep it separate, or do a combination of both,” says Dr. Archuleta. While many couples opt to fully combine their finances, a “what’s mine is ours” mentality doesn’t work for every couple.
Walk through your views and feelings about sharing finances or keeping them more personal and separate. Then you can start getting into the specifics of what money or debt will be shared and what will be separate, and how you’ll each share in the financial responsibilities of your household.
A prenuptial agreement can also be a part of the conversations about how to co-mingle money, as a way to legally back up decisions you make about combining your finances (or not). “As my attorney told me, ‘Everyone has a prenup. Most people just don’t know what it is,’” says Lowry, who became pro-prenup as she prepared for her own marriage in 2018.
“If you don’t create your own prenup, it just defaults to the laws of your state, and most couples getting married never familiarize themselves with those laws,” she points out. A prenup allows you to have more say over how current or future assets may be combined or kept separate in a way that feels fair to each partner.
7. Other financial obligations
- Do you have financial obligations outside of yourself, such as supporting a child or running a business?
- Could your parents, siblings, or other family members need financial assistance from you in the future?
The whole picture of a person’s financial situation and obligations can’t always be captured by their personal net worth. That’s why you should also disclose and discuss other financial responsibilities you each may have or feel you have.
“Once you get married, you two are your own family and need to be each other’s top priorities,” Lowry says. “That doesn’t mean you cut off other family members, but you do have to discuss it with your spouse and respect his or her opinions on the matter.”
This is especially important if either person already has children. But you should also cover whether you are financially supporting your parent(s) or expect to in the future. Finally, don’t forget to bring up any outside obligation or circumstance that could affect your finances, like owning a business.
Did you know? According to WeddingWire’s 2019 Newlywed Report, 54% of couples have discussed finances by the time they get engaged.
How to talk about money with your partner
If talking about money this openly feels difficult, that’s perfectly normal. “Easing into the topic is important because we are not taught how to talk about money to other people, including our families and closest friends,” Dr. Archuleta says.
How you talk about money matters as much as what you discuss. Here are some tips our experts shared on how to make these money conversations feel easier, lighter, and more natural.
- Don’t rush it. Set your own pace and take breaks as needed. “This doesn’t have to happen all at once, though, especially if one or both of you get tense and start to fight with each other,” Lowry says.
- Observe your partner’s money behaviors. While it’s important to have money conversations, Timmons points out that you can learn just as much by simply observing your partner’s money management and behavior. As you do, take note of what questions this brings to mind and find time to talk about those and learn more.
- Be curious and suspend judgment. Instead of getting judgmental or defensive about money, give each other the benefit of the doubt. “You may not agree with how your partner behaves with money or their beliefs about money, but their experiences are their experiences,” says Timmons.
- Assume you won’t always agree. Recognize that this is going to be challenging, Timmons says. Don’t expect your partner to agree with you on everything. Instead, look for common ground and seek to be flexible and make compromises.
- Look for natural “ins” to money discussions. Timmons recommends writing your questions down and waiting for a natural time to bring it up. You can use pop culture as a way to initiate a conversation, Timmons says. “If you see an interesting situation between a couple on a TV show or a movie, you can ask, ‘What did you think about that?’ as a springboard into the conversation.”
- Work toward full honesty and transparency. A good approach, suggests Timmons, is agreeing that “any question can be put on the table, but you are not allowed to ask a question that you are not also willing to answer.”
- Set guidelines around money talk. Agreeing on some boundaries about financial discussions can keep them respectful and manageable. This includes implementing what Dr. Archuleta calls a “fair fighting rule” that there be “no name-calling, no raising of voices, and listening when the other person is talking.” But it could also be setting time limits on financial discussions, or banning money talk on dates.
- Get to what’s behind the money discomfort. “Pay attention to your money discussions and take note of topics or circumstances that lead to escalation or more heated exchanges,” Dr. Archuleta advises. These could be “indicative of deeper issues in your relationship or your own feelings that will have an impact on your ability to have a deeper, meaningful relationship with your partner.” Explore why you feel this way and how you can work on any related issues, as well.
- Consider couples therapy or professional help. “If couples have difficulty sticking to parameters around money conversations or find themselves in constant intense conversations that are difficult to navigate, then it may be time to bring in a third party like a financial therapist who works with couples,” Dr. Archuleta recommends.
The bottom line: Start the money conversations now
Yes, talking about money can be challenging. Just remember: As you progress through these discussions and learn more about each other’s approaches with money, you’re setting a financial foundation for the rest of your lives.