If you haven’t already seen the romantic comedy The Heartbreak Kid, you can at least benefit from a retelling of the scene in which Ben Stiller learns that his new wife of only one week has a considerable amount of debt due to a past cocaine problem. While this example may be obviously extreme, it paints a clear picture: You don’t want to wake up a week into your marriage and learn of your new debt-by-spouse for the first time. Even with love on your side, vowing to stay with your partner even “for poorer” is best kept when debt isn’t sprung on you after the fact.
Before you pen your names in ink on your marriage license, sit down with your partner and have a tell-all about your relationship with money. You owe it to yourselves and each other to disclose financial assets owned (such as properties, stocks and other investments) and debts owed (such as student loans and credit-card balances). This may not be the most comfortable conversation you have with your future spouse, but it is one of the most crucial—preferably before or at the same time you begin planning your wedding. If you or your future spouse have debts, the fact of the matter is that you will have to bear the burden together once you are married.
How well you understand yourself and your partner is vital to how well you can financially and emotionally safeguard your marriage. Conversations regarding money don't have to be something you dread if you follow a few simple principles.
First, set aside a time to discuss how money makes you feel at a time of day that is most comfortable for you and your fiancé. Here are some questions to get your conversations started:
On spending: How do you budget your finances now? What processes or habits are good to bring to your marriage?
On education: Did you have to pay your own way in school? Did you have to take out loans?
On family: How does your own family of origin handle money? Did your parents ever have to support you or lend you money after you’d moved out? Did you ever have to support your family or lend them money? How do you feel about having children? Do you plan to stay home or alter your work hours when you have children?
On your wedding: Will either of your families be contributing to your wedding? If they are contributing to the wedding, how much are they willing to contribute? What are each of your views on the type of wedding and amount you want to spend for your wedding, additional wedding-related events and your honeymoon?
You can adapt these questions as you see fit. Most importantly; you are asking questions to learn more about what each of you are bringing to your marriage so that you will have a greater understanding of what each of you can do to meet your financial goals as a couple.
CREATE NEW GOALS
Incorporate a joint budgeting system together and decide how often to discuss and review your finances whether it be weekly, every few days or even for a few minutes each day and make a pact to save your "money talk" conversations for those pre-set times.
Next, create new goals as a couple and align it with each of your individual plans for the next year. By giving your best effort to meet your financial goals, and putting attention into how and where you choose to spend, the better your chances are for creating the future you desire.
When you have a saver paired with a spender, the trick is to channel each toward compromise and an appreciation of each other’s perspective. Although it is completely normal to have different personalities when it comes to spending, if you are not seeing eye to eye in regards to budgeting for your future or you and your spouse find yourselves struggling with similar, not-so effective budgeting habits or you simply just don’t know where to start, consider bringing another person into the equation who can speak into the situation.
Whether it be a financial advisor, a lawyer, your wedding planner; talking to a skilled professional about your spending habits and visions of your future together will help arm you with the necessary tools to muddle through any "disconnects" so you can better discuss the money you want or need to set aside for your future years together.
Your engagement is a great time to use money as a way to bring you closer together. Celebrate the time and attention you have dedicated to staying within your budget by allocating a certain amount of "fun" money each of you can spend as you wish. You can use the money for yourself or pool it together for a little weekend getaway, upgrading your honeymoon destination or by adding something frivolous to your Wedding Day that you hadn’t originally budgeted.
Rewarding yourselves along the way to your long-term goals is a great way to recognize the effort you have each put forth to take control of your finances, instead of letting money issues control you.
For more information, an excellent resource for issues on money and marriage is www.MoneyTalkMatters.com, which offers a wide selection of articles on debt and merging your finances.