Why Investing in Financial Conversations Before Marriage Has The Best Returns
Discussing money with your partner may not be at the top of your to-do list. Still, couples owe it to themselves to prioritize financial conversations as early as possible in their relationships. Conversations about money can be uncomfortable (and rightfully so), but getting on the same page about your financial picture is essential for all couples. Studies continue to show that disagreements about money remain one of the leading causes of divorce, and one of the only ways to decrease those odds is to get to know your partner financially and create a plan that works for you both.
It wasn't until my late twenties that I became aware of the importance of personal finance as an individual. Even then, I was unprepared for what finances meant for me in marriage. While most of my friends were graduating from college and walking across the stage to receive their degrees, I was making my way across a murky downtown courthouse to finalize my divorce.
I spent my entire marriage avoiding financial conversations with my partner as a tactic to prevent arguments about money, and I had one big takeaway. Refusing to invest in financial discussions in your relationship or marriage will be the biggest financial risk you'll take.
When we finally sat down to discuss the most important money management topics–housing, utilities and child care–it was in a courtroom. No one gets married to get a divorce. Along those lines, nor should they allow something so preventive, like financial planning, to lead to constant disagreements about spending or saving money. It, unfortunately, happens more than we would like to believe. Eight years post-divorce, here's what I would have done differently.
I Would've Discussed Finances Early On
My ex-husband and I never discussed money while dating or married, and we paid the ultimate price. We entered into our marriage assuming all things would fall in place. It wasn't until our divorce that I realized how intertwined our finances were.
So how early is too early to discuss finances? There's never a wrong time to discuss money with your partner because this topic has different levels. A good rule of thumb is that money should be addressed before any joint decision is made.
If you're still struggling with ways to broach the topic, there are very subtle ways to pay attention to how your partner manages their money compared to you. Without going too deep into the big money conversation at the beginning of the relationship, you may want to observe their overall lifestyle, investment philosophy and, perhaps, even broach the topic of the gender pay gap.
I Would've Established Financial Goals
Saving money. Investing money. Paying off debt. Starting a business. You'll hear couples discuss their most common financial goals, but how do you determine what's a priority and what can wait?
At one part in my marriage, I wanted to go back to college; whereas, my ex-husband wanted to focus on his outstanding debt. Since we were married but operated separately financially, neither was willing to compromise and prioritize one goal over the other. Although both goals were admirable, we could only afford to focus on one goal at a time. Even if you and your partner have different goals, it's still essential to have a joint financial plan that maps out a healthy balance and prioritizes what's most beneficial for your marriage.
I Would've Taken Financial Inventory
I didn't realize my partner and I were financially incompatible until it was too late. As a couple, it's essential to sit down and take inventory of your finances. What does this mean? Both parties should be willing to assess their finances and engage in a transparent conversation about income, expenses, debt, credit, and habits. Together, you'll be able to create an intimate experience with your partner centered around money.
An intimate financial experience with your partner allows both parties to get close and familiar with financial expectations and obligations. This also opens the door to discuss other money management practices and protection measures (insurance plans, will preparation, estate planning and prenuptial agreements).
I Would've Created a Family Budget
This may seem small, but a predetermined family budget would've prevented a ton of our arguments about money. In this proposed budget, each person in the household is accountable for their financial role. An agreement to follow that budget guarantees that the financial role is honored. Creating a family budget allows each person to plan and prioritize the household's monthly income and expenses. This allows couples to candidly communicate throughout the month about money. Implementing a family budget also normalizes regular money talks in your marriage and the data doesn't lie: the more couples discuss money, the happier they are overall.
I Would've Scheduled Regular Money Talks
If you want to get closer to your partner, start talking about money. Communication is key in any relationship and that certainly applies to financial conversations. In fact, I believe money talks should now happen regularly before marriage.
Although we would like to believe that money shouldn't significantly impact our marriage, it does, In fact, it starts long before we walk down the aisle. Discussing money doesn't have to be complicated, and it should be done as often as possible.
Investing in financial conversations early has the best chance of a great return on your investment. Money shows up in almost everything we do. Maybe you're a spender, and your partner is a saver. Perhaps you want to prioritize investments, and your partner wants to pay off debt. Every relationship is different. Even if you have opposing financial views, it's possible to develop a financial system that honors both your financial styles. By doing so, you'll drastically decrease the chances of money being a dealbreaker in your marriage.