Perhaps she calls you “her sweeitie” and you call her “lover.” Maybe you don’t have cutesy names for each other, but if you’re planning to get married, hopefully you know each other very well.
This encompasses a little more than favorite restaurants, medical allergies, and middle names. There should be some serious discussions about life goals, passions, and philosophies. And then there’s money. Here are ten questions, thanks to Erin Burt of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, to initiate more than a five-minute conversation. She provided the questions and I’m providing my interpretation.
Each one of these questions deserves a blog post for itself.
1. Where would you like to be in five or ten years? This is more than just physical location, but where you want to live is important, too. As far as location goes, there should probably be some agreement if there are specific places to live — or flexibility. Aside from this, what are your goals? If one wants to go back to school or to take a risk and open a business, is the other willing to support that?
2. What are our assets and liabilities? You may not know about your friends’ financial positions unless they happen to post their details online. In most cases, you’ll probably need to sit down and talk about what you owe. The article suggests prenuptial agreements, but that’s a personal decision. It could be a good idea in cases where there is a wide disparity between incomes, net worth, or future earning possibilities.
3. Should we keep our finances separate or combine them? I think there is more power when two financial forces join as one — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — but that’s just my opinion. There are valid reasons for keeping finances separate.
If you’re struggling to come up with a solution in this area, you may consider what I would do: combine almost everything, in proportion to each person’s means to contribute, for all living expenses but keep some “mad money” so you can surprise the other with gifts.
You can do this without hiding money from your partner.
4. What about our investments? Once again, the power of combined accounts works in the favor of the couple as a whole in terms of growth. Fewer separate accounts and higher balances mean fewer fees. It also forces you to discuss risk tolerance and investment goals.
5. How will we handle daily spending decisions? To budget or not to budget, that is the question. The author is strongly pro-budget. Budgets can be helpful, especially for those for whom spending may be an issue. Personally, I don’t keep a line-by-line budget for myself. This type of organization is stifling to me, but I’d be willing to give it a try in a relationship as long as it is flexible and not strict.
6. Who will be responsible for paying the bills and preparing the taxes? I think it’s best to have just one person in charge, just to keep things simple. This will help to avoid paying a bill twice. But who should do it? Perhaps the person who is more efficient with keeping track of statements and records. You could also “outsource” bill organization to a company like Paytrust and avoid all the paperwork.
7. What is your tolerance for financial risk? The article provides a link to a risk tolerance questionnaire and suggests that if the two in the couple fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, compromising may be the only option.
8. What are our insurance options? For a marriage in which both spouses work, chances are one has health benefits costing less or offering better options than the other. So it is worth it to compare plans and decide whether one should be added to the other’s plan or to continue on separate plans. This is also a good time to change beneficiary options.
9. How does your credit report look? It’s time for each part of the couple to familiarize with the other’s credit history. Use this as a chance to make sure there are no errors on the reports, retrievable from annualcreditreport.com. If you plan on buying a house as a couple, this step will make sure there are no surprises.
10. How will we tackle existing debt? This probably should have been included in question number 2 above. I believe debts incurred before joining together in marriage should almost always be handled by the individuals and should not be included in the merging of finances above, but there are bound to be exceptions.
Proper communication is one of the most important ways to keep a relationship healthy, and it doesn’t stop with talking about money-related issues. Monsy is simply another topic about which people in love should not be afraid to be open and honest.
Discussing these issues also doesn’t guarantee a smooth — or successful — marriage, but it couldn’t hurt.
Published or updated May 9, 2007.