How to Handle These 5 Tricky Money Issues Now That You’re Engaged

Do yourselves a favor and talk about these topics before tying the knot.
by Jackie Lam
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Vector Source iStock

One five-letter word has the potential to put a strain on even the strongest relationship: money. This is even more true when you’re engaged and on the brink of starting a new life together (and possibly paying for a major party). Not seeing eye to eye on debt and saving can seriously throw a wrench in your wedding planning bliss—but with a little effort and a lot of honest discussion, you can find financial common ground. Start by tackling these five common money-related challenges with our smart advice on how to deal.

1. You have unequal amounts of debt.

With the average household credit card debt in the US nearly $16,000 and average student debt over $46,000, there’s a good chance that one or both of you owes some money. And whether it’s considered “good” debt—think student loans or a mortgage—or high-interest debt like credit cards, this imbalance can definitely cause tension, especially when one person is shouldering far more than the other.

How to Deal:

You’re partners now, so come up with a joint plan to tackle the debt, whether that means paying for it separately or together. If paying it off as a team isn’t the best approach for the two of you, come up with an agreement as to who should pay what and when—with specifics. Brainstorm together on ways you can cut back your monthly budget to clear up cash for extra payments, and start by focusing on the debt with the highest interest first (this will save you the most money in the long run). Setting deadlines and addressing the issue openly will help to hold you both accountable and get you back in the black ASAP.

Bright Idea:

Track your progress visually to keep you motivated. Go low-tech and draw a graph to color in as you pay down the debt, or go high-tech with a payment plan calculator like Undebt.it. You can even assign a small reward to each major milestone—like a movie night when you hit $1,000.

2. You don’t see eye to eye on your wedding budget.

Let’s face it: Getting married has the potential to become one of the biggest expenses of your lives. Tiffs can start over not only how much to spend on your wedding—and on what—but also how to spend your monetary gifts after the fact. (Not to mention the disagreements that can arise if contributing parents have opinions too.)

How to Deal:

Go on a money date, where you can have a relaxed conversation about finances and your wedding. Kick off the convo by each sharing a list of your top five wedding priorities (is photography your biggest splurge, or does the food matter most to you?), and then see where you can find compromise.

Bright Idea:

So long as you’ve got a healthy credit report, open a rewards credit card designated only for wedding-related purchases. This way, you can earn extra rewards on all of your spending (points to put toward your honeymoon, anyone?). Just keep an eye on your budget: Set an email or text alert for any time the balance exceeds a certain amount.

3. You make wildly different salaries.

Even if it doesn’t seem that way now, a disparity in earnings between you and your significant other could potentially lead to feelings of resentment down the line. Power dynamics may also become an issue, say, if the partner making less feels like they need to ask permission before making certain purchases.

How to Deal:

If you haven’t already, work out an arrangement as to how you’ll divvy up bills when you get hitched. Will the bigger breadwinner contribute more to housing costs and shared bills? Or will you split them evenly? Some couples decide it makes sense to each contribute a set percentage of their income toward living expenses. While you’re on the topic, it’s a good time to talk about where you’ll keep your money—be it in a joint bank account, separate accounts, or a combo of the two. Discuss the pros and cons of each to figure out what works for your relationship.

Bright Idea:

If your heads are spinning from trying to keep track of who owes what, enlist an app like Splitwise that can help you divide bills and even send email reminders for payments.

4. You’re not on the same page about long-term money goals.

While milestones like buying a house, having a baby or retirement may feel like light-years away, they can still cause problems now if you’re both not on board. A common dilemma couples face? When one of you is gung ho about saving now, while the other is just too overwhelmed by immediate money concerns to focus on the long game.

How to Deal:

Sit down and talk about your priorities—then find your strengths and help each other. Try to address the most pressing needs first. For example, if you’ve got your retirement accounts up and running, but your partner doesn’t even know where to start, offer your help. Then you can adjust your monthly budget accordingly. Once one major money goal is met, agree to switch to something else for a few months, like building up your emergency fund or saving for a future vacation. That way, both of you feel like your needs are being met.

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5. One of you wants a prenup.

We know it’s not the most romantic topic, but if either of you has property, an inheritance or a business you want to protect, or you just don’t want to get tangled up in one another’s debt, you may be considering a prenuptial agreement. While a prenup can help protect what’s yours and clear up potential disagreements in the case of divorce, it could also be a source of conflict. After all, who wants to think about what will happen if the relationship doesn’t last?

How to Deal:

What not to do: Leave a contract out on the table for him or her to find, or broach the topic for the first time in a lawyer’s office. There’s no doubt this is a difficult thing to bring up, but it’s essential to have a candid conversation early on. Concentrate on how a prenup can help you remain financially independent, which will allow you to better focus on your marriage.

Bright Idea: 

If one of you owns a business and just wishes to protect that asset without getting a prenup, talk to a financial consultant about your options. They may suggest setting up a Domestic (if your state allows them) or Foreign Asset Protection Trust.* Put simply, this allows you to transfer ownership of the company into the trust, which could help protect it in the event of divorce.

*Disclaimer: Consider consulting a financial professional before making any major money decisions.

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The Knot and Ally present We’re in This, Together—a sponsored content series featuring smart money-saving tips and advice to help achieve your future goals and start your marriage off strong. Learn how Ally’s digital financial services can help you do it right.

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