Conflict about money is the second biggest reason for divorce; only infidelity causes more trouble. Therefore, the budget for your wedding is not the most important money conversation to have before the big day.
The best way to avoid money issues, is to talk about your finances as early as possible. It is a conversation that definitely has to take place before you get married, and probably even before you decide to tie the knot – if you are financially incompatible, your marriage has almost no chance of surviving.
What should we discuss?
- The bank accounts and investments you both have and how you manage them.
- The debt you both have, and your beliefs about debt. Some people want to avoid debt at all cost, while others believe that debt is fine as long as you can afford the repayment. A good way to start this conversation, is for both of you to get a copy of your credit health reports. Make sure that all the information on the reports is correct and identify the red flags, such as late payments or old accounts that are still open. If one or both of you are heavily indebted and in arrears, look into debt consolidation loans.
- The obligations you both have, such as alimony or child support for a previous spouse and/or children, or paying for a parent’s medical aid or funeral policy.
- Your beliefs about money. Do you believe, for instance, in paying other people to make your life easier, or will you rather iron your own laundry and use the money you save for something else?
- Your money personalities, for example, are you a natural saver and investor, or an impulse buyer and big spender? There are many online quizzes that can help make this a fun exercise.
- How you expect money to be handled in your marriage: who will pay for what, will you have a shared bank account, it is okay for each of you to save separately, and so on.
- Your long-term financial goals as individuals and as a couple, eg, will one of you stay at home to raise the children and when would you like to retire.
- Your stance on supporting friends and extended family members. Supporting elderly parents is one thing, but constantly bailing your brother or cousin or friend out of trouble is something else entirely.
- Your stance on accepting money and lavish gifts, especially from your parents. Daddy buying his “little girl” a car can either be a generous gift or the cause of huge resentment and conflict.
This might seem like a daunting list, and the potential for conflict is certainly clear. However, these are conversations you must have, and it is far better to talk about such topics when you are both relaxed, instead of fighting about them in the midst of a financial crisis.
Money conversations should be a regular feature of your marriage. Schedule a money date once a month or, if your finances are under control and you are both comfortable with the situation, twice a year might be all you need. Things change, and you need regular money discussions to remain on top of them.
In addition to talking about money, here are a few more money management tips for couples:
1. Draw up and stick to a household budget.
If you have children or other dependents under your roof, make them part of your financial planning and tracking.
2. Make big financial decisions together.
Taking on debt, buying a new car, investing in a rental property – whatever the decision, the two of you have to make it together and agree wholeheartedly that it fits in with your long-term financial goals and your current status.
3. Never spend in secret.
Hiding accounts or lying about big purchases can be toxic to the relationship and can lead to bigger emotional issues down the line, notably a breakdown in trust, when the partner who was deceived finds out.
4. Give each other enough space.
Much as you shouldn’t keep secrets, it is also not necessary to account for every cent you spend. A good way to do this, is to agree on a monthly amount that both of you can spend as you please, no questions asked.
5. Ask for help if you need it.
For some couples this might be a financial planner, for others a church minister or a couple’s therapist.
In a marriage, your money is never yours alone. One person’s financial decisions almost always have an impact on the other person, especially when you have children or other dependants to look after. Therefore, it is important to start off on a clean financial slate.