10 Money Topics To Discuss Before Getting Married

Money Questions Before Marriage

In a recent survey, 43% of people didn’t know the salary range of their spouse. That’s a lot of people out there who are out of the loop! Inspired by this survey, we’ve put together the ten topics you should talk about with your significant other before you get married. Ideally, you’ll be asking these questions even before you’re engaged, in the natural course of getting to know each other and deepening your relationship.

We know that money is not easy to talk about. Conversations can get emotional and escalate quickly. Below you’ll see the questions you probably want to ask, but they are not always constructive or can lead to an argument, unless you and your partner are completely comfortable talking about money. Instead, you’ll also see the questions you should ask and how to have a strong conversation with your partner about finances.

You can walk away from these conversations much happier after having an open and honest conversation, and your relationship will strengthen as you get on the same page.

By the way, if you’re getting married, check out our free Ultimate Guide to Wedding Insurance.

DOWNLOAD THIS GUIDE AS A PDF

Table of Contents

1: Income and Assets
2: Credit Card Debt
3: Student Loans
4: Money Management
5: Upbringing
6: Merging Accounts
7: Respectful Spending
8: Goals
9: How Much Is Enough
10: Kids and Bread Winner Status

1: Income and Assets

Work On Money Together

What you want to ask:

  • How much do you make?
  • How much is in your checking, saving, retirement and investing accounts?
  • Do you have a trust fund?
  • Are you the heir to a fortune?

But you think you’ll come off: Like a gold digger / impolite / nosy

Your true intentions: The reason you’re wanting to ask these questions is not because you’re a gold digger (hopefully!) but because you know that a serious relationship and especially marriage requires financial transparency. You need to know what each of you earns, spends and saves. You need to know if and how you each plan financially for the future. You need to know if there is family money, in case one of you wants a prenup.

Solution: Start a conversation that will uncover you partner’s financial habits – HOW do they save, WHAT are their strategies? As you talk more about your approach to managing money, you can more naturally ask the questions of HOW MUCH they have. And be ready to share your side too!

So you can ask these instead:

  • How have you been approaching saving money?
  • Have you started putting away for retirement, and if so, what’s your strategy?
  • Do you invest in the market, and if so, what kind of stocks/bonds/mutual funds do you hold? Who manages your investments?
  • Has your family provided any financial help to you in recent years?

Back to Top

 2: Credit Card Debt

What you want to ask:

  • Do you live beyond your means?
  • Are you knee deep in credit card debt?
  • Have you paid mountains of interest?
  • Do you expect me to help you pay it off when we’re married, even though I had nothing to do with it?

But you think you’ll come off: Judgmental / insensitive

Your true intentions: You want to start your partnership off with no secrets, but let’s face it – credit card debt is about as fun as a colonoscopy. If you have credit card debt, you’re probably not that happy about it. If you’re wondering whether your partner has credit card debt, you’re worried the answer is Yes. It’s a topic that stirs up strong feelings – sometimes shame and embarrassment about getting into debt, sometimes pride about paying it off, sometimes fear of others finding out. Remember, this is your partner, and you need to tell them honestly about your financial past and find out where they stand.

Solution: Ask questions that hone in on each other’s purchasing habits. By asking WHY questions, you can uncover the reasons for any credit card debt that they have. There may be more to the story than you realize. You should also find out how active they are in managing their credit score. Take any feelings of insecurity or judgment out of it. Stay open-minded and supportive.

So you can ask these instead:

  • How do you prefer to pay for purchases (credit / debit / cash), and why?
  • Do you ever carry a balance on your credit card(s)? Why or why not?
  • If you have credit card debt, how are you tackling it?
  • Do you keep track of your credit score? Do you know what your score is?

Back to Top

 3: Student Loans

Student Loans

What you want to ask:

  • How much debt did you rack up by getting your college / masters / PhD degree?
  • Will you make any money once you graduate?
  • Do you expect me to help you pay off $50,000 in student loans when we’re married, even though we didn’t know each other when you made the decision to go back to school?

But you think you’ll come off: Like a nag / worried / resentful / unwilling to help

Your true intentions: It’s normal to be apprehensive about paying off your own loans, and it’s normal to wonder about your partner’s student loan situation. You want a plan to pay off your debt, and you want to know how your partner is planning to attack their debt. You want to discuss if you will attack the debt together or separately. Most higher education carries a heavy price tag. If you have a college degree or higher but no student loans, you’ve been very fortunate. Perhaps your family helped, perhaps you saved up enough money on your own to pay for school, perhaps you got scholarship money, perhaps your employer paid for your degree. Unfortunately, most people have to take out some amount of student loans to pay for school. A lot of people have to take out tens of thousands of dollars, or even over a hundred thousand.

Solution: Talk tactically about how you, your partner, or you together, can pay off your debt. Ask questions that help you form a plan. Many financial experts will say that you are responsible for the debt you bring into a relationship, but many couples choose to attack the debt together. Remember that student loans are different from credit card debt. You’re making an investment in your future when you get a degree, since you expect to earn a higher income and higher level job position as a result of your additional education. While credit card debt can set off red flags – and you should understand what caused it – student debt can be viewed in a more positive light.

So you can ask these instead:

  • Did you have to take out any student loans?
  • How do you feel about your student debt?
  • Do you know what interest rate your student loans are at?
  • What’s your approach to paying off your student loans?

Back to Top

 4: Money Management

What you want to ask:

  • Are you on top of your money or a hot mess?
  • I don’t enjoy managing money. Can you do everything, please?

But you think you’ll come off: Controlling / disinterested

Your true intentions: You and your partner may approach the management of your finances very differently or very similarly, but you won’t know if you don’t talk about it. You want to understand each other’s habits and what you each enjoy about money management. You may be someone who keeps very close track of your finances – you check Mint.com daily and know exactly how much you’re spending in each life category; you have an Excel spreadsheet projecting out your monthly budget for the next 12 months; you monitor your net worth and get a rush when you see it inch up each month. Your partner may be the complete opposite – they don’t track their spending categories or savings rate; they don’t keep a budget; they don’t think about their net worth. However, this doesn’t mean they’re “bad” with money.

Solution: Have a conversation about your habits – HOW do you keep track, WHY don’t you keep track. Find out what each of you like and dislike about day to day money management. Tell each other about what you’ve found works well for you. Don’t judge!

So you can ask these instead:

  • How do you keep track of how much you spend and save and also how your accounts fluctuate over time?
  • How often do you check your accounts?
  • Do you keep a budget? Why or why not?
  • Are there certain things that you like or dislike doing when it comes to money management?
  • Why are your tried and true tips?

Back to Top

 5: Upbringing

What you want to ask:

  • Did growing up poor / rich mess you up?
  • Were you raised by wolves and that’s why you don’t know anything about managing money?
  • Why do you sound like your mother / father every time we argue about money?

But you think you’ll come off: Blunt / confrontational / judgmental

Your true intentions: You see that you and your partner were raised differently. You’re worried that you come from different worlds but need to find a common language. Maybe one family was well-off and the other struggled financially but were “rich in love.” Maybe your parents taught you how money works from an early age by paying you to mow the lawn, and your partner didn’t get any financial education from their parents. Maybe your parents taught you that talking about money is impolite but you partner and their parents talk about it all the time and it makes you uncomfortable.

Solution: Find out where your partner is coming from so you can truly understand what they act the way they do when it comes to managing money. Our financial upbringing has a big impact on how we function with money as adults. Think about the financial acumen of the people who raised you (parents or other), the way that money was discussed – or never mentioned – in your house when you were growing up, how much money your family had compared to your peers and how that made you feel, what your parents taught you about money directly or indirectly. These all affect you today, and your partner may be affected in a completely different way by the circumstances of their financial upbringing.

So you can ask these instead:

  • How did your parents manage money when you were growing up? For example, did they split responsibilities, did they keep track of expenses, did they have a monthly meeting to discuss their money, did they use a financial advisor?
  • Do you remember if your parents ever argued about money?
  • How did you feel about your family’s money situation when you were growing up?
  • What did you learn from your parents about money?
  • How did the way you grew up impact the way you manage money as an adult?

Back to Top

DOWNLOAD THIS GUIDE AS A PDF

6: Merging Accounts

Talking About Money

What you want to ask:

  • If we combine our money into a joint account, am I going to regret it one day?
  • Why should we combine our money when I’ve saved five times as much as you?
  • How can you possibly think that having separate accounts is healthy in a marriage?

But you think you’ll come off: Distrustful / greedy / close-minded

Your true intentions: You’re not sure if combing your money, keeping it separate, or a combination of both is the right approach for you and your partner. Maybe you’re trying to be realistic that divorce rates are high and you never know what could happen. You’ve heard stories of crazy people who bail town with their spouse’s cash. Maybe you don’t feel right about merging your hard-earned savings with the relatively low savings of your partner.

Solution: It’s not advisable to merge checking, savings, and investment accounts until you’ve built a SIGNIFICANT level of trust in the relationship. Hopefully, by the time you’re engaged or about to get married, you’re at that level. Many successfully married couples can’t imagine having separate accounts – they join all their assets and never think about yours, mine or ours. On the other hand, there are successfully married couples who keep their money separate and each contribute a certain share to the household – they think this system works well for them, particularly if they can’t agree on a way to manage their money together or if one of them comes from significantly more wealth than the other. Many happy couples have a hybrid system where they have one or more joint accounts from which to pay their household expenses, but they also keep their own “fun money” accounts for gifts for each other and treats for themselves.

So you can ask these instead:

  • Did your parents combine their money or keep it separate and did it work for them?
  • Which arrangement – joint, separate or hybrid – makes you most comfortable and why?
  • Can we try the separate or hybrid approach on a trial basis and then make a decision about joining everything?

Back to Top

 7: Respectful Spending

What you want to ask:

  • Why did you buy that expensive drone without talking to me first?
  • Why do you always get annoyed when I spend money that I work hard to earn on things that make me happy?

But you think you’ll come off: Like a parent / controlling / confrontational

Your true intentions: You notice that one or both of you makes significant purchases without consulting the other, which can lead to hurt feelings and arguments. You want to figure out a way to make both of you happy. There could be complications – for example, your partner makes a lot more than you and you feel uncomfortable asking them to curb their spending when you’re contributing much less to the household.

Solution: Sit down together and define “significant purchase.” You should literally agree on a dollar amount that will be your spend threshold at which you want your partner to check in with you before they spend that much. Is it $200? $100? $50? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer does not depend on your income or savings. We’ve seen well-off couples answer “$50” and couples in debt who answer “$150.” The trouble starts when you have different views on what a significant purchase is – different spend threshold numbers – but you don’t realize this or don’t communicate about this. One of you doesn’t think twice about spending $100 without consulting your partner, while the other thinks that anything over $50 should be discussed. You argue because you haven’t figured out the simple fact that you have a fundamental misalignment in your views.

So you can ask these instead:

  • What’s your spend threshold number – the dollar amount at which you want me to check in with you before buying something? You should both say your number at the same time.
  • Our numbers are different, so do you want to meet in the middle or agree to respect each other’s number?

Back to Top

 8: Goals

Goal to Travel

What you want to ask:

  • The business your started after quitting your job isn’t earning any money – what are you doing to me?
  • I don’t want to live in a small apartment our entire life so why aren’t you helping me save more for a house?

But you think you’ll come off: Like a nag / not supportive / pushy

Your true intentions: You have a vision for your life, dreams and goals. Perhaps you want to retire at 45, or buy a farm and leave the city, or have your own business. You thought your partner wanted the same things but the way they’re spending their time today is not helping to reach those goals. You may be really worried about the state of affairs, which can lead you to lash out and pick fights with your partner.

Solution: Being emotional or worrying isn’t going to solve anything. Talk about your life vision – what are your big goals? Now, work backwards and talk about the concrete steps you need to take today and over the coming weeks, months and years in order to achieve your dreams. The focus here is specifically on money. For example, if you want to retire at 50, how much money will you need and what does that say about how much you need to start saving and investing today in order to get there? If you want to have your own business, are you going to quit your job and start working on your idea or will you work on your idea nights and weekends, until you’ve reached enough success to quit your day job? If you want to travel to 30 countries by the time you’re 30, how many trips per year will you do and how much money do you need to have for each trip? Life goals are intrinsically tied with the way you manage your money. You want to have a plan, and to have a plan, you need to be on the same page about your life vision.

So you can ask these instead:

  • What are your short term and long term goals in life? Make these specific by naming specific dollar amounts, the age you want to be when you reach that goal, or any other concrete metric.
  • What do we need to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year to achieve these goals? Again, be specific with concrete steps, dollar amounts, timelines and metrics.

Back to Top

9: How Much Is Enough

What you want to ask:

  • I know you’re making bank, but don’t you care that we never see each other because you’re working 14 hour days?
  • How can you possibly be satisfied with your current income and title?
  • Why do you always fight me on buying the nice things that others have?

But you think you’ll come off: Not supportive / demanding / materialistic

Your true intentions: Maybe you’ve noticed that you and your partner seem to be on different pages about work and life balance, or how much money is enough to live on, or how much you want to be making in five years. Perhaps you always compare yourself to others and are feeling insecure about your household money when you see your friends’ house and cars.

Solution: It’s easy to find things to argue or worry about, or to get a case of “keeping up with the Joneses.” The work-driven culture in the U.S. certainly tells us that we must work, work, work, so that we can make more money and rise up though the ranks, or start your own business so you can become a millionaire. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of work, eat, sleep and forget to ask the question of whether working toward more money is what the two of you want. On the other hand, let’s say that you are struggling financially and dream of getting to a point where you don’t have to worry about money anymore. Do you know what your magic number is in terms of annual income? A good use of your time is to have a conversation about this question, “How much is enough?” How much annual income is enough for the kind of lifestyle you want for yourselves today and in the future?

So you can ask these instead:

  • What kind of lifestyle do you want to have in 5, 10 and 20 years?
  • How much do we need to earn annually in order to have that lifestyle?
  • Will you or I prioritize work in the short term, over quality time with the family, so that we can reach our lifestyle goals in the long term?

Back to Top

 10: Kids and Bread Winner Status

Taking Care of Kids

What you want to ask:

  • You honestly expect me to stay home with our future kids even though I have a masters degree?
  • Do you think you have more say in our financial decisions just because you make more than me?
  • Why can’t you see that it’s better for one of us to stay home with the kids since we lose less money that way than paying for child care?

But you think you’ll come off: Unreasonable / selfish / unwilling to pull your weight

Your true intentions: Perhaps you’ve always imagined that you would have a dual income household, or maybe you always expected one of you to stay home to raise the kids or to work part-time when the kids are young. You come into a relationship with certain preconceived notions, and so does your partner. When you don’t see eye to eye, or don’t discuss it, you can fall into arguments driven by your underlying concerns.

Solution: Ok, so “bread winner” is kind of an old-fashioned term, but it’s still very relevant in the 21st century. For many women, having a career is very important, especially once they’ve invested time and money in higher education, and they resent a man’s expectation that they will be a stay-at-home mom. Other women – and men, for that matter – are happy to take on the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent on a part-time or full-time basis while their partner takes on the responsibilities of earning the majority of the household income. Many couples decide that one of them will stay home to raise the kids for a few years or longer, even when the parent that stays at home has a masters degree or even a PhD. Other couples prioritize both partners’ careers and carve out money for day care or a nanny. Some people are surprised when they discover their priorities change after having kids, and they need to adjust their plans, perhaps stopping work or working more than they expected they would want to do. It’s important to remember that just because you contribute differently to the household if one of you stays home, you are still equals.

So you can ask these instead:

  • When you imagine the future with kids, do you expect one of us to stay home?
  • How do you feel about one of us making all the money or a lot more money than the other?
  • If we both want to work full time, how much will child care cost and how much do we need to start saving for it now?

Back to Top

DOWNLOAD THIS GUIDE AS A PDF

We want to hear from you! Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *