Money, money, money, mon-ayyy! Yes, it can be awkward, but marriage will be filled with plenty of money choices. Talking about money before you walk down the aisle will help you to build intimacy, set expectations, understand each other, and build trust. Many people are scared when they hear money plays a role in most divorces, but money is just numbers. Communication about money is what makes the difference.
Ideally, you’re having some serious money talks before you get engaged as part of the discernment process. If not, take the opportunity to do so now (perhaps as part of pre-Cana). The 6 questions below don’t need to be discussed in one sitting nor do they need to be done in a particular order. They’re not meant to be exhaustive and cover every money topic you should utter before saying, “I do.” Rather, these are the big ticket items that will lead to other money chats.
Start building a solid foundation of talking about money now and it will be that much easier in marriage. Remember not to have conversations when either of you are in a state of HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. I recommend talking over a delicious meal! If you’re nervous about bringing any of these topics up with your significant other or fiance, pray first. Then you could even show your SO this post to get the conversation started!
How much money do you make?
Chances are you can probably tell a good deal about how much your significant other makes from observation alone. You’ve heard your SO make comments about money and you’ve seen how he/she spends it. But that said, it’s best not to assume income. An often-referenced 2015 Fidelity study found that 43% of people don’t know how much their spouse makes! If you don’t know your spouse’s income, then how do you make a budget together? Making goals as a couple when you don’t know how much money is coming in every month is a recipe for confusion and disaster. Even if the breadwinner sets the budget/spending limits, that means their spouse is left out of the decision-making. (Side note: If you’re not transparent about your income, it’s likely you’re also not communicating clearly about other things.)
You or your future spouse’s income will play a significant role in what kind of lifestyle you can afford without going into debt. If you’re dating someone but aren’t engaged, I recommend waiting to talk about incomes until you’re dating this person exclusively for at least a month AND you feel that this is someone you could possibly marry. I will go so far as to say that it’s not a bad idea to wait until you say, “I love you.”
It’s normal to be nervous about broaching this subject with your SO. If you feel like it’s “time” to do so (remember, you have to be willing to share your income too), tell your significant other that there’s something money-related you want to talk about. It doesn’t have to be in advance or a formal affair. It could be over a home-cooked meal, on a walk, or at a restaurant. Here’s how the conversation might go:
You: This isn’t easy for me to bring up, but because I’m happy about where things are going in our relationship, I want to tell you a little bit more about my finances.
SO or Fiance: Ok.
You: I make $XXX per year.
Then see how the conversation unfolds. Let the other person know if talking about this makes you feel awkward (they probably feel the same) or insecure. This conversation has the power to bring you closer, understand each other better, and build trust, as long as both of you are open.
If your significant other says they don’t want to share their income just yet, let them know you understand that this can be an uncomfortable conversation and that your love for them won’t change based on how much money they make. Pray on it, especially if you feel like your girlfriend/boyfriend is not opening up to you in the way you want. Seek counsel from close friends and family. It could be that there is a financial faux-pas they’re embarrassed about, which brings us to question #2…..
Do you have any debt? If so, how much and what kind (credit cards, student loans, etc)?
Again, this can be uncomfortable, but it’s much better to talk about this while you’re dating than to marry someone and find out they’re $100,000 in debt.
Obviously a mortgage is a type of debt, but it’s no cause for concern as long as your boyfriend/girlfriend is making payments each month and is either living in the home or renting it out.
Now, if your SO has thousands of dollars of credit card debt or student loans, ask if they’re on a payment plan and when he/she expects to be debt-free.
Student loan debt is different from credit card debt because the money was borrowed to cover educational costs. Credit card debt can come from many things: medical bills, clothes, vacations, electronics, etc. I think it’s important to know why the debt was racked up. Were there extenuating circumstances? Is your SO still accumulating debt on non-essentials?
If your SO struggles with overspending, ask them if they’re seeing a counselor or talking to someone about it. Overspending can be an addiction, as evidenced by groups like Debtors Anonymous and Spenders Anonymous. Like any addiction, it can keep your SO from making a total, free, faithful, and fruitful commitment on your wedding day. This is not to scare anyone! Couples can work through this with the grace of God. If this is someone you or your SO struggle with now, it’s vital to talk about it before walking down the aisle.
Debt does not need to keep you from getting married – as long as you’re working to pay it off and your SO is aware and on board. Some expenses can even go down when you get married, like when a couple goes from living apart to living together. Now they’re making one rent/mortgage payment (versus 2 between both of them), paying one cable/internet bill, and paying into one heath insurance plan, among other things!
How comfortable are you with having debt?
It’s also important to know what your tolerance is regarding debt and what your future spouse’s is. If one of you wants to go back to school someday, are you comfortable taking out loans for that? What if someone wants to remodel a part of the house? How about starting a small business? You don’t need to anticipate every scenario; just get a general idea of their feelings about debt.
It’s OK if you’re not 100% on board about debt comfort. What’s more important is that you have a plan in place for how you’ll deal with the disagreement on the types and amount of debt.
Establish a protocol for what you’ll do when conflict arises in marriage. For example, you could pick a third-party (no friends or family) financial planner you can call upon to discuss these matters. You could also set up a system where you each have the floor to talk for 20 minutes about why you do/don’t want to take on a loan for a particular situation. Afterward, you can both take it to prayer for a few days and possibly meet with your spiritual director. Then, you can reconvene and make a decision together.
Do you believe spouses should make financial decisions jointly, even if one of them doesn’t contribute income?
Some couples never merge their finances and have separate bank accounts their entire marriage. I disagree with this practice because I see marriage as a sacrament, a total gift of self to one another. That includes one’s finances.
Unfortunately, some spouses can fall into feeling like their opinion on money matters doesn’t matter if they don’t bring in an income. For example, think of a stay-at-home mom. She’s taking care of the kiddies all day. Her husband is out of the house for about 10 hours a day, working and commuting. He comes home frustrated that his car is on its last legs and he’s considering leasing a new car instead of buying another used one. Is this a decision he should make without input from his wife? Absolutely not! His wife might feel like her opinion doesn’t matter because she’s not “bringing home the bacon” or she may not feel informed enough to help him make the decision. But her opinion does matter! A marriage where both spouses’ feelings are considered when making big financial purchases will breed trust.
Of course, it’s up to you, your fiance, and God to decide what you want your marriage to look like. Maybe you’re not interested in knowing the nitty gritty of your family’s finances and you trust your spouse to make most of the decisions. That’s OK, as long as your voice is always respected if and when you do chime in about something.
What’s your credit score?
It’s very simple nowadays to check your credit history and score. Pretty much all major credit cards allow you to check your credit score 24/7 when you log into your online account. You can also request your credit report (which is different from your credit scor ) from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies —TransUnion, Equifax, Experian —for free once per year. You can request them whenever you want, but I’d check each one at different times of the year so you can confirm everything on them is accurate.
What’s your money type?
Just like your love language or personality type, there’s a money type, which I talked about in a previous blog post. Take the quizzes separately and then compare. It’s a fun way to lighten the mood around money and will give you another window into how your significant other thinks.
You don’t need to have all money issues “figured out” right now. These questions are not meant to make you panic but to open the door to a habit of honest communication about money. New issues will crop up in marriage. You will always have each other to lean on. God will provide. God will bless your union with special graces when you get married. Rely on those.
Are there any other questions you think couples should discuss before their wedding day? If so, comment below or email me! To all dating/engaged couples who are reading this, I wish you a joyous, saintly future.