It’s sad to say but most couples who are engaged to be married spend more time talking about the flavor of their wedding cake than they spend talking about money. The cake cutting ceremony takes about 10 minutes at the reception and money is something they’ll deal with every day for their entire married life.
So which of these is more important to talk about?
If you are getting married, you need to talk about money. Deep, honest, open discussions about all aspects of finances will improve your marriage and build a strong financial future. If you don’t have these discussions before the wedding, you’ll have them after the wedding when different attitudes and expectations become issues and cause problems.
A good place to start is to talk about your family background. Share how well your parents did (or did not) teach you about money. What was the best thing they taught you? What was the hardest lesson you had to learn about finances when you were growing up? Was money an issue in your childhood home? These discussions should open your mind to the ways you and your fiancée are alike and how you are different in your thoughts and attitudes about money. Hopefully you will also discover assumptions each of you have about money in marriage.
Discussing how you as a couple will manage the family finances is an important topic. Do you plan to have joint or separate bank accounts? If you decide to have separate accounts, why? Is there some unspoken barrier between you that you are not willing to share? How much can each of you spend without first discussing it? How will you both stay current with the state of the family finances on a regular basis?
Set aside some free time to brainstorm about what you would do with a million-dollar windfall. I am not suggesting you play the lottery in hopes of winning a million dollars. I m suggesting that daydreaming with no restrictions will often uncover the goals and dreams that are hidden in your heart. This brainstorming can help you set 5, 10 and 15 year goals for your financial future.
Debt is another topic that needs to be discussed in great detail. Share how much debt and what type of debt (credit cards, car loan, student loan, loans from relatives) you each have. Discovering your fiancée’s attitude toward debt can be obvious when you share your credit reports with each other. (Check out Annual CreditReport.com for a copy of each of your credit reports.) This is also the time to share whether or not you have cosigned any loans for someone. If you are getting into debt for the wedding or honeymoon, that is another topic that needs attention.
Unless you both own cars and never plan to replace them, cars is an additional topic for conversation. Will you buy or lease your vehicles and what is the long term cost of that decision? Do you consider a car a mode of transportation or a statement about your status and importance?
Decisions on the type of house you both want and what you have to do to buy it will require lots of consideration. How much will you have to save for a down payment? What is the financial impact on your budget of owning a home? Besides the mortgage payment there is insurance, taxes, furniture, upkeep, lawn care, appliances, and ongoing maintenance requirements that come with home ownership.
Nothing will improve your financial future faster than making plans to pay off the mortgage as quickly as possible. Since interest is charged on the outstanding mortgage balance, the quicker you can lower the mortgage balance, the less interest you’ll have to pay, which frees up money for other important goals such as retirement savings. You can save thousands and thousands of dollars by making plans to aggressively pay off your mortgage as quickly as possible.
Different attitudes about savings can sometimes be an area of contention in a marriage. Share how much you have saved, what you do to save money on a regular basis and what goals you have for the money you have saved. This is also the time to talk about an emergency fund. We recommend starting with $1,000 and building that to 1 month’s income, then 3 month’s income, then 6 month’s income, then 12 month’s income. This will help cushion you against those disasters that come to every marriage at some point.
And although giving is the final topic, it is the most important. If everything we have is a gift from God, then giving is a small way we can return to him some of the blessings he has bestowed on us.
Most couples have areas where they simply do not agree on finances—this may be their attitude toward saving, or giving, or debt, or anything else that deals with money in a marriage. These differences will come up at some point–either when they are tackled head on as a way to prepare for marriage or when they become an issue after the wedding. Talking about money now can save lots of grief later.
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” Genesis 2:24
For more information about this topic and a detailed list of questions for engaged couples to discuss, check out the Compass Catholic Ministries book God Marriage and Money, which is available in hardcopy and eBook formats.