Three Pre-Marriage, Must-ask Money Questions

Career Blog

A few decades ago, when I was a reporter and the Internet came in a bulky card catalog version, I wrote an article for a New York newspaper entitled, Deal Breakers, Things to Clarify Before Saying ‘I Do’. The five key topics to cover were, according to several psychologists: family, kids, religion, sex and money.

It seems little has changed and I’m proud to say the advice steered me away from a few train-wreck relationships and into a healthy marriage.

Recently I received a question from a reader who was stumped for both ways to start and topics to cover in the financial portion of the conversation. While not exhaustive, the following topics will help jumpstart the discussion.

  1. Tell me about your past…debt. You may elect to spare each other the details of your former lovers, but when it comes to debt, details are critical. It’s important of course not to judge each other for prior actions, but knowing how much, how long, and the cause of the financial obligations can provide significant insight into your mate’s decision-making processes. Having a series of student loans because you put yourself through med school is a lot different than the broke guy who just has to have the next iPhone.
  2. What will we save for? Having a shared goal can bring couples together. The secret is to have something long-term i.e. that 401(k) and something mid/near-term like the next great vacation or special something you’ve had your eye on. Try to balance fun and practical.
  3. What will we spend on? Everyone needs to indulge in “frivolous” spending, but the big-ticket items should be agreed in advance. For example, if travel and education are your go-to items embrace them. Sure, they might seem “nerdy” to others, but collecting experiences through shared adventures and knowing that you’re setting your kids up for success can make watching that 529 grow more exciting than a sports car.  Couples should find their thing(s) and enjoy.

Bonus points: What will we give? If you live in this time and this country, you’ve already won the lottery. Giving back…even a little can also strengthen a relationship by making you appreciate what you have. Couple should discuss their favorite charities, why it’s important to them, and then give what they can. You might even learn something new about your partner.

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Be sure to check out my latest book The Introvert’s Guide to Job Hunting and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi

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