To avoid future tension, many couples choose to talk about money early on in their relationships. Sharing your goals as a couple, including your financial goals and circumstances, can set you up for success down the road. But, exactly what questions should you ask to instigate these honest conversations? Read on to learn 12 questions to ask each other before saying I do.
How should we divide our living expenses?
For years you have managed your finances and made all your financial decisions on your own. Now that you’re tying the knot, you may have to share the responsibilities with your soon-to-be spouse. You’ll need to decide if you’re going to split your expenses equally, if you want to take full responsibility for a few expenses, or if you want to share expenses proportionally to your income.
When it comes to your expenses, you’ll want to be on the same page as your spouse. Try to assign clear expense responsibilities so no one gets confused when the bills arrive.
Keep in mind, there is no right way to divvy up your living expenses. However, if one partner earns a higher income than the other, you may want to consider giving the higher earner more financial responsibilities so it doesn’t place a financial burden on the partner who makes less. Being transparent about your salary and what you can afford will help ensure you and your spouse live within your means.
You may also want to consider using a budgeting tool to help you manage your expenses. For example, using a budgeting tool like Qube can help you create positive spending habits and will help you stick to your budget.
Should we maintain separate or joint banking accounts?
If you have a career and you earn money and pay your bills, you may want to keep your independence by maintaining a separate bank account. However, it might be wise to consider opening a joint account where you and your partner can save for some of your financial goals or big expenses. For example, if you’re saving for a down payment on a home, you may want to create a joint account so you can each contribute and watch your home fund grow.
You don’t have to combine all your finances once you get married. Every couple has a different philosophy on how they choose to manage their money. Determine what works for you and spouse and what makes each of you feel comfortable.
How much should we save each month?
Understanding how much your partner wants to save each month also means understanding how much you will spend each month. This honest conversation should include conversations about both numbers as well as percentages. Does your partner want to save for something big in the future such as a home purchase or retirement? What are the goals associated with savings?
Keep in mind, this amount may be a percentage of your income rather than a dollar figure. This means you also need to chat about your income. If you’re choosing a percentage of your income to save, you may need to discuss your lifestyle choices to ensure they make sense in comparison to the amount you’re saving. For instance, let’s say you and your partner want to save 50% of your income, yet you spend almost 80% every month on bills. In this case, you may need to make some adjustments so you can increase your savings percentage while decreasing your bills.
Do you know your credit score and your total revolving debt balance?
Your partner’s credit score and debt can have a substantial impact on your financial well-being. Your credit impacts everything from purchasing a home to buying a new car to applying for a new credit card with fancy rewards. Discovering you’re not approved for a mortgage or an auto loan because your partner has a poor credit score can be a hard pill to swallow.
That’s why it’s important to know this information upfront. Knowing your partner’s debt balance and credit score can help you better understand their financial situation and the financial barriers you will have to overcome as a married couple.
Each year, you and your partner can request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®. You can do this by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or calling the toll-free number at 1-877-322-8228. You may also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service so you can keep tabs on your credit activity. By monitoring your credit score you can also look out for errors or address potential identity theft.
Once you know how much debt your partner has, it may be wise to create a list of all your revolving debt balances as a couple. You’ll want to include the balance amount, interest rates, and credentials for each account. If you’re keeping this information on your computer, make sure it’s encrypted so no one can access your accounts.
By creating a running total of your debt balance, you and your partner can prioritize your debts and monitor your progress toward debt freedom. After all, paying off debt is challenging but watching your accounts dwindle can motivate you to keep going.
Do you have an emergency fund?
Are you living paycheck to paycheck or do you have a little money stashed away for a rainy day? If you or your partner spend every dollar you earn, you may need to reevaluate your spending habits. You must have an emergency fund to pay for unexpected expenses. For instance, what would you do if your furnace went out and you needed a new one? Would you have the cash to cover a new furnace or would you have to put it on credit?
According to Bankrate, 60% of Americans couldn’t cover a $1,000 unexpected expense. If you’re a part of this percentage of Americans, it’s time that you and your partner get serious about putting money in an emergency fund, so you don’t have a substantial financial setback.
What are your career goals?
If you and your partner have ambitious career goals, you should discuss these goals before getting married. For example, if your partner received a job offer that required you to move across the country, what would you do? Are you willing to leave your career behind, so they can pursue theirs?
On the other hand, if your partner isn’t sure of what they want to do and decides to job hop, it may impact your financial stability. Do you think you would be able to support you and your partner while they find a career they’re passionate about?
As a married couple, you can no longer make career and financial decisions alone. You must decide what’s in the best interest of both of you. So, if a move across the country is a better long-term play, you may have to sacrifice a job you enjoy for the betterment of your marriage. Understanding your partner’s career goals can help you navigate future career decisions.
If you won the lottery, what would you do with your prize?
Let’s say you and your partner won $10 million, what would you do with it? This question is more about your partner’s maturity than how they would spend the funds. If your partner’s first response is to blow winning on a new boat or a trip around the world, this may be a red flag. By wanting to spend your money frivolously, you put your marriage in danger of blowing the money quickly.
While there’s no correct answer to this question, you may want to consider putting money away, investing, or paying off debt. Using the money for your long-term financial well-being will help you become more financially secure.
What are your top financial priorities?
Do you love spending money on travel? Or, perhaps, do you enjoy spending your hard-earned dough on a day of luxury at the spa? Maybe your priority is to drive a nice car. While treating yourselves to nice things is great, you should be sure that your financial goals are aligned with each other.
Addressing your spending priorities may help elevate future conflict. For example, if your partner has always dreamed about owning a home but you plan to spend your money on big vacations, you should have a conversation about how to make a compromise financially. You may want to prioritize purchasing a home but ensure that the mortgage is small enough that you can still travel often while making mortgage payments.
Do you think we should fund our children’s college?
Saving and planning for your future children’s college, is a big financial goal. It’s a great way to get your kids off to a strong financial start because many jobs will pay higher salaries for graduates, and if you cover the cost, they will likely graduate with little to no debt.
However, your partner may think that saving and paying for your child’s college is important and you may disagree about how much, if any, of the expense you should cover. You may want to consider the likelihood that your future children will attend college, how many children you will have, and how much of the expense you would like to cover.
Additionally, saving for college can make a huge dent in your budget. You may want to have a conversation about if this expense will take priority over other saving and spending goals.
If you could wave a magic wand, what would your ideal financial life look like?
While you and your partner don’t have to have the same vision for your future, it should be close. For example, let’s say you want to retire early and travel the U.S. in a van and your partner wants to work until 70 and live a life of luxury. These goals don’t align. Therefore, you’ll have to come to a common ground if you want to share your life.
On the other hand, if you both want to retire around age 65 and take time to travel, it may be easier to create a financial plan for your future, since your goals are the same. Having an idea of your partner’s goals and aspirations can help you develop the perfect financial road map for your marriage.
What are the biggest obstacles that you feel hold you back from reaching your financial goals?
This question can be very telling about a person’s financial habits. For example, you may learn from asking this question that your partner spends a lot of money on dining or snacking out, or that they don’t see the importance of making every credit card payment in full and on time. These financial habits could escalate in the future and cause hiccups or issues in your financial situation.
Additionally, this could be a great question to learn about your partner’s good habits. Some people keep a zero-dollar budget or do not carry a balance on their credit cards. You may be able to learn from each other about how to establish positive financial habits so that you can move forward cohesively.
What is your spending personality?
Your personality also permeates your spending habits. When it comes to personal finance, there are several spending personalities that you can discuss with your partner. While these aren’t formal titles nor is it an exhaustive list, here are a few examples of what your spending personality might be.
The Emotional Spender
The emotional spender may not shop all the time, but they buy things for what they see as justifiable reasons. This person gets so excited about birthdays, promotions, and other things that they see them as a reason to celebrate. They often justify their spending on these events. This person might also be a person who goes shopping as an antidepressant after receiving bad news.
The Savvy Spender
The savvy spender knows exactly where every cent goes in their budget. They likely know exactly what is in their budget and believe that their budget reflects their values. They may be the frugal one in a friend group and are not likely invested in the latest trends and are conservative with their investments.
The Guilty Spender
This person may seem like a saver or a savvy spender but spending any unnecessary money brings feelings of guilt. They might cut costs on necessities such as keeping the house very cold in the winter to avoid spending money on heating costs. This person likely believes that money could run out at any time, and their attitude towards money reflects this belief.
No matter what your money personality is, your partner must be aware of your spending habits. This can you collaborate on a better financial plan that is suitable for your financial needs and spending personalities.
The Bottom Line
By asking healthy, money-focused questions early on in a relationship, you can discover what your partner’s values and goals are. This will help to get on the same page and avoid turbulence down the road because you will be able to agree on a financial plan together.
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