You’ve been dating and are pretty convinced this could be the one. You get butterflies in your stomach as you think about your future together. Where will you live? What kind of family you will have? What adventures will you experience? How will you as a couple make decisions about money?
That’s right. Money.
According to a survey by Country Financial, 26 percent of respondents said it was tough going from handling finances as a single person to handling them as a couple. Not surprising, since in all the fun and emotion of dating, money conversations often get left out. After all, money isn’t the most romantic topic.
Truth be told, we didn’t talk about money before we were married. We had our first “a-ha” moment when I (Bethany) got the mail and opened Scott’s student loan bill. Even after 21 years of marriage, I remember it clearly.
“You have how much student loan debt?!”
I’ll spare you the details of the conversation that followed.
The reality, however, is that if your relationship proceeds to marriage, you will be making money decisions together every day. Decisions like:
- Regular or premium gasoline?
- Going out to eat or cooking at home?
- Name brand or generic products?
- Pay for parking or walk the extra block?
- Extra research or just buy what is in front of you?
But then there are the bigger money decisions — decisions that are a matter of more than just preference. They reflect your philosophy and feelings toward money. These feelings — some may even seem like convictions — run deep, personal, and can be great sources of conflict if not addressed appropriately.
Please, please, we beg you — don’t be like us. Don’t be like most couples. Avoid the pain and get on the transparency train!
Will these conversations be awkward? Possibly. But trust us, having the conversations now will save you a whole lot of headache later. Here are seven big conversations to have soon if your relationship is headed toward marriage.
1. A conversation on spending and saving
Saving, spending, how much and when? These conversations are crucial to have — now. Don’t wait. Chances are you and your beloved will have different points of view, so identifying these differences now, then labeling them and determining how you will compromise, will save you years of pain.
Did you know that 70 percent of all divorced couples cite money as the number one cause for calling it quits? One of the reasons is that we make money decisions each and every day. In each of these decisions, the question usually comes down to this: Am I going to save or spend the money? Based on your money personalities, you and your boyfriend or girlfriend may have very different answers.
Here are some questions to ask each other, followed by a potential compromise scenario:
- What percentage of our pay will we allocate for an emergency fund?
- What percentage of our pay will we allocate for our future (retirement)?
- Will we have “his” and “her” spending money?
- What is the dollar amount of a purchase that needs to be OK’d by each other?
- What dollar amount should be allocated to our weekly date night?
- What splurges or spends “must” you have?
- What do you hate to see money “wasted” on?
- How many vacations do you want to take in a year? Are they to see family, or for rest and fun?
Compromise scenario: You like your fancy, expensive coffee, but he thinks that is a waste of money and wants you to brew it at home. Is there a “right” or “wrong” answer here? Not necessarily. A compromise approach looks something like this: “I will get my fancy coffee three days a week instead of seven, and you don’t guilt me about it.”
2. A conversation on debt
Some people are mortgage-only, some are OK with credit cards, some are happy to chip away at school debt and/or defer saving for retirement. Be sure to understand each other’s point of view. Communicate openly and honestly. Compromise is key. Suggested questions and a compromise scenario:
- What debt do we both have right now?
- How do you feel about debt?
- What scares you about debt?
- Is having a mortgage OK with you?
- Is there an amount of debt you are comfortable with? What type: School? Consumer? All of the above?
- Are you OK with credit cards?
Compromise scenario: You are OK with $5000 of credit card debt, but she thinks paying interest is a waste of money and that a balance-free credit card is the only way to go. A compromise approach looks something like this: “If we have a balance on our credit card for more than four months, then we will each cut back on our expenses in order to pay it off.”
3. A conversation on giving
Believe it or not, money arguments over giving happen. Even generosity can generate conflict! We recently counseled a couple where she wants to give 10 percent of their gross income to their church, and he wants to give 20 percent. Rather than waiting for the “giving conversation” in marriage, why not have it now and get your relationship off to a great start? Suggested questions and a compromise scenario:
- What does the Bible say about giving?
- What percent of our income will we give to our church?
- What percent of our income will we give to charitable organizations?
- Will we give even when we’re struggling financially? What constitutes “struggling”?
- Who do you feel is important to give gifts to, and when? What about financial assistance to friends and family?
Compromise scenario: You have three charities that you want to donate to, and she has three as well. You don’t like one of her charities because you used to work there, and you don’t feel comfortable contributing to its cause. A compromise approach looks something like this: You agree to give to her charity for a year, but then you scale back 20 percent each year.
4. A conversation on income
Do you want to wake up one day resenting the amount of money your spouse brings home? We have talked to many spouses who feel this way. They try hinting, nagging, and suggesting job changes that need to be considered or ways to bring home more income. It usually backfires. Trying to show or tell your spouse how to make more money is like saying, “You’re not capable.” Tension and resentment start to build. To avoid this in your future marriage, be sure to be open, honest and straightforward about how much income and what kind of lifestyle you expect. Suggested questions and a compromise scenario:
- What income range is comfortable for you?
- Will we both work?
- Who will take care of our children?
- Will we both work after our children have left the home?
- Is ambition important to you? What about monetary success?
Compromise scenario: You don’t want someone else raising your children, so you want to be a stay-at-home mom. He doesn’t see how you as a family will be able to afford it. A compromise approach looks something like this: Start your marriage by living on one income; save the second income. Before you have children, save enough money so you won’t have to work. Commit to implementing a budget and stick to it.
5. A conversation on financial management
Should we get help, or should we take care of our finances ourselves? There is no right or wrong answer; it comes down to preferences. You don’t want to be caught off guard on this one. Usually there is one person in the relationship who feels more financially astute, but maybe one of you thinks it is best to get an advisor. Maybe one of you feels “lost” in planning for your future, but the other wants a clear roadmap. Maybe one likes to manage money and the other just doesn’t want to deal with it. Here are some questions to ask each other and a suggested compromise scenario:
- Who will pay the bills and track our finances?
- Will we use a financial advisor?
- Will everything be in the same “pot” or will we have “his” and “hers” spending money?
- How often will we review our finances?
- Will we invest, and at what risk level?
Compromise Scenario: You like to manage money and she doesn’t. You’re nervous that you’re going to be stuck with all the financial planning decisions and you don’t want that sole responsibility. A compromise approach looks something like this: “I will take care of the bills each month, but you will sit down with me once a quarter to go over our income and expenses. We will get a financial advisor to help us with our retirement, insurance, taxes and estate planning.
6. A conversation on where our money will go when we die
No dating conversation starts with, “Let’s talk about death.” The subject makes most of us feel fidgety, uneasy and a little depressed. But the reality is that you and your future spouse will eventually die. If you talk about it now before you are married, then regularly while you’re married, you will be shocked at how comfortable you get with the subject as the years go on. Some questions and a suggested compromise scenario:
- Where will we keep our important papers and account passwords?
- Will our money go to our children, charities, other?
- How much will we give to children and grandchildren?
- How will we determine who will inherit our property, businesses, etc.?
- Will we invest in long-term care insurance or rely on savings and/or our children to eventually take care of us?
Compromise Scenario: You think all of your inheritance should be given to your children; he thinks all should go to charity. A compromise approach looks something like this: 50 percent will be gifted to your children and 50 percent to charity.
7. A conversation on blended family finances
Here’s a “bonus” conversation that won’t apply to everyone but is necessary to have if one or both of you have been married before. Blended families can bring immense financial challenges, especially if your families come from different income brackets, are used to handling money differently, or have different spending patterns. You are used to making all of the decisions; that will change. As you probably know, good, thorough and open communication is one of the keys to a successful blended family. Here are some questions to ask each other and a suggested compromise scenario:
- How much and how often do you pay alimony? Child support?
- How is your money relationship with your ex?
- How do you handle money conflicts with him/her?
- Who pays for what when it comes to the kids?
- Do you give or loan money to adult children?
- How much will you give to the children for college?
- What will our house financial rules be? How will we handle allowances, chores, phone plans, summer jobs, etc.?
Compromise Scenario: You think all kids should have a job; he thinks their focus should be on grades. Agree that you will discuss each child and what is best for him/her. One of your children gets good grades and is involved with sports; working could indeed hinder that. At the same time, you may have another child who is an average student and has much more free time. Learning more responsibility would be in their best interest.
Remember: Money itself is not the root of all evil, but Satan finds cash a handy tool to divide husband and wife. Start these money conversations now before marriage to ensure that your differences won’t get in the way of a great, God-honoring future together.
Copyright 2020 Scott and Bethany Palmer. All rights reserved.