If you Google “money and marriage,” most of the top results are articles and studies that offer desperate couples advice on reducing arguments and full-blown fights over financial issues. Money is a touchy subject for so many people, and for a relationship on track to marriage, money is a particularly important topic as you get closer to combining incomes, assets, expenses, debts, and tax filings.
6 Crucial Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged
If you’re on the verge of proposing to your current partner (or expecting a proposal in the near future), here are some questions to ask each other before popping the question:
1. How much debt do we have?
Debt is one of the biggest concerns in any long-term relationship as you increasingly share more expenses and navigate through the minefield of legal obligations for other people’s debts.
For instance, while most spouses are not responsible for student loan debts (unless one spouse co-signed for their partner’s loans at any point in the relationship), “community property states” complicate matters because debt is viewed as owed by the “community” (the married couple), even if one spouse had nothing to do with the loan.
So, what debts does your future spouse have? Do they have any loans for bad credit? What credit cards, student loans, and other consumer credit debt do they have? These are the questions you should ask right from the start.
If you live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, then you live in a community property state and might be liable for your spouse’s debts once you’re married to them.Do you know all of your partner's dark financial secrets? Ask these questions before the wedding.Click To Tweet
2. What does our income/asset situation look like?
It’s amazing how many people can be in relationships for so many months or years without discussing seemingly basic financial matters such as income and assets. It’s important to know approximately how much money each earns per year, in addition to calculating your net worth because these figures offer a realistic glimpse into your financial situation and might determine how feasible it would be to get engaged.
For instance, if your potential fiancé has a considerable amount of credit card and student loan debt, but their annual income is significantly higher than your own, then the idea of marrying them shouldn’t be tossed on the backburner if your only concern is their debt because their income and/or assets will help them pay off the debt (assuming they’re financially responsible).
Calculating your collective income and assets can also help you decide how you might file taxes after marriage (jointly or separately), divide up expenses (if one spouse earns significantly more, will they cover more expenses or split 50/50?), and pay for child-related expenses (or decide if one spouse will quit their day job to be a stay-at-home parent, if you decide to have kids).
3. Are they a spender or a saver?
The old adage for relationships says “opposites attract”. But, when it comes to finances, this is often untrue. If you grew up in an extremely frugal family and your future spouse grew up in a family that spent money lavishly without much concern for racking up debt or finding ways to trim expenses, do you think you two could overcome the gap between the financial attitudes you grew up with?
On the flip side, are you more of an impulsive spender while your partner seems overly stingy when it comes to getting the best deals on everything you consider buying? It’s not impossible to make things work out if you and your partner happen to be on opposite ends of the personal finance spectrum, but it could be a potential area of conflict in the future if you get frustrated with each other for their attitude towards money.
4. Do we share the same financial goals?
What happens if you want to buy a home someday, but your partner thinks that renting forever is the best option for your lifestyle? Does one of you prioritize saving for long-term goals like retirement while the other person wants to enjoy living in the moment by dining out more frequently or upgrading your lifestyle in other ways?
If you don’t share the same short and long-term goals, you could possibly run into some roadblocks after you’re married and ensnared in a much trickier web of financial and legal obligations. Don’t let rose-colored lenses about your future together lead you to shrug off your financial goals in favor of a “we’ll figure it out later” mentality. Instead, it is crucial to collaborate on a realistic strategy for attaining your personal and collective goals well before you need to make these decisions.
5. How easy is it to reach compromises together?
This question isn’t, strictly speaking, a financial one, but rather a general question about your personalities and approaches to conflict management. Whenever you have arguments, do they (or you) blow up and follow up with the cold shoulder treatment? Or, are you both willing to calmly sit down and communicate your problems in order to reach a compromise?
The ability to compromise is absolutely critical for financial management in a married relationship (especially if you have different views on money in general). If either of you is reluctant to compromise, then this could be problematic for resolving larger issues like following through on savings plans, repaying debts, handling budget changes, and dealing with other money-related matters later on in your relationship.
As with your financial goals, it’s important not to shrug off this issue as “it’ll get better later” or “we’ll figure it out if it happens” – instead, work on achieving compromises in both personal and financial arguments to strive for a better future together with minimal conflict.
6. Can we afford a wedding in the near future?
Perhaps you and your partner have near-perfect alignment when it comes to your views on money management and long-term financial goals, but could your current situation afford the cost of marriage? The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $26,720, and while there are ways to save on this (e.g., inviting fewer guests, renting attire, finding free venues, etc.), the cost of weddings is still pretty hefty for younger couples to manage without significant assistance from family and friends.
Unless you have a pressing reason to get married sooner rather than later (such as qualifying for company-subsidized health insurance for an otherwise uninsured spouse), you might want to postpone the engagement and marriage process until you’re on a more financially stable footing.
Getting engaged is one of the most exciting events in a person’s life. Rather than putting a damper on this special occasion, realistically examining your financial situation and mentality towards money could help prevent problems and conflict from cropping up in the future. After all, money remains the #1 reason why couples fight, so don’t let avoidable problems harm your relationship by tackling them before they become serious issues.
Did I miss any? What are the key questions to ask before you get engaged?