“For richer or poorer” is not just a poetic vow. When you wed your partner, your finances become inextricably linked. His debt becomes your debt. Her student loans could become your student loans.
Nor will these financial issues exist in a bubble outside of the rest of your relationship. Most people don’t know it, but money is actually the No. 1 factor in marital dissatisfaction. So, it doesn’t matter if you have the same love of hiking or she makes you laugh harder than anyone you ever met. At the end of the day, your financial issues will be your undoing—unless you take the steps to make sure they aren’t.
I firmly believe that if you want to ensure a happy marriage, you have to make sure your finances are both in order. With that in mind, here are the six most crucial things you have to ask your spouse before tying the knot:
1. How much can we each spend before we have to alert each other?
Even if you are each working and have your own separate bank accounts, it’s a good idea to make sure that you make a rule when it comes to big purchases. A lot of married people I know struggle with the idea that they have to “check in” with a partner before spending “[their] own” money. But when you join your lives together, you join your finances as well. It’s better to have a system in place than it is to create one as the result of a major blowup.
2. How will we handle the costs of children?
This doesn’t just mean talking about child care and extended paternity leave but also about potential costs like IVF. You should also consider things like private school versus public school; whether you will buy your children a car; whether you will shell out for orthodontic work or pay for them to go to college. Depending on how you were raised, you may each have very different expectations about what a parent is obligated to provide for their children, or what you want to provide. Sorting out these questions in advance can save your relationship significant strain.
3. Would you consider returning to school?
If your partner has career goals that have yet to be satisfied, they might want to return to school. This could become a significant financial burden for you. In some cases, partners end up divorced after having worked for years while supporting their collegiate partner. You have to consider scenarios like this before tying the knot—would you be comfortable working while your partner heads to law school, for example? How long would you be willing to be the sole breadwinner? Are there any other caveats?
4. What is our policy about helping out family?
If your partner loaned $500 to his brother, would that be a big deal? What if your partner’s mother is ill and needs thousands of dollars in medical care? How would you handle these financial pressures as a family, a team? Do you have limits on how much you can give or loan or a policy about discussing any such expenditures before committing financially?
5. When do you want to retire?
It might sound premature right now. But if you don’t plan for the future, you could be in serious trouble. Don’t just ask when your partner wants to retire but also in what style. Do they expect to travel? Do they want to buy a fishing boat or move to a warm climate? If so, what steps have they taken to make that goal a reality? What is required from you in order to effect that outcome? Are you comfortable with those things?
6. How should we spend our fun money?
Ideally, most people have a little “fun money” each month that they can use to enjoy experiences like concerts, traveling, etc. Make sure you understand what your partner would like to spend their fun money on and find out if your goals align. For example, your partner might rather save up money for big purchases, whereas you might rather spend money on experiences like travel. How much money do you think you can reasonably allocate for “fun” every month?
Ultimately, money is about more than just numbers on a bank statement. It reflects our values, our desires, and the way we want to live our lives. So make sure to talk about these issues before heading down the aisle. It can make all the difference.