Key takeaways: 

  • Money issues are the primary source of conflict and arguments in marriages. 
  • You can avoid much of this conflict by committing to discuss finances with your partner, starting before you marry. 

More than a third of couples get engaged between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, according to the wedding planning magazine The Knot. That means we’re at the tail end of engagement season and many couples will soon be in the throes of planning their nuptials. While they may deliberate on everything from dresses and décor to honeymoon destinations and DJs, there is one topic they may not discuss: money. 

Yet, according to nearly every survey on the topic, disagreements about money are the No. 1 source of conflict between married people. To avoid this major cause of stress, start conversations about finances early. Getting started before tying the knot will go a long way in creating a happier marriage. 

Here’s what to learn from your intended, and how to get those money discussions under way. 

  • Overall financial picture. Understand your partner’s current financial situation. For most people, it’s a process – versus one short conversation – of getting used to discussing these matters. 
    • What do each of you earn from your jobs? Understand take-home pay for each person, and what type of deductions each person has. 
    • Do you both contribute consistently and regularly to retirement savings? 
    • How much debt do each of you carry? What type? At what interest rates? 
    • What are your total assets? 
    • Does either person have any child or spousal support payments from previous relationships? 
  • Employment. What is each person’s employment situation? Do you have steady jobs? Are you looking for another position or anticipating you will soon?  
  • Credit use. Talk about how you each use credit. Learn how many, and what type of credit cards each person has. Do you both believe in charging only as much as you can and paying that off every month? Or are you making minimum payments and racking up interest and late fees? Making a commitment and putting a plan in place for paying off any existing credit card debt is a good first step. 
  • Credit profile. Do you both review your credit reports regularly? What do they look like? What are your credit scores? If one of you has poor credit, is there a plan in place to improve it, and prevent getting into that same  again? 
  • Day-to-day financial management. It’s a good idea to discuss, up front, who will be responsible for what. Some couples maintain a joint account and individual accounts. They determine an amount to contribute to the joint account and pay regular household bills from that account. There are no right or wrong answers here. Whatever system you choose, choose it together and make sure both partners know where all accounts reside. 
  • Budgeting. Do you both budget now? Can you commit to doing so as a couple? Budgets are just spending plans to help you do the things you want to do. So, this is the time to start having those discussions on short-term and long-term goals, because those goals will drive the budget. If one of you wants to return to school and embark on a new career, while the other thinks they should be focusing exclusively on work to build savings before starting a family, there may be a conflict. Start talking through these goals so you can prioritize your time and your money. 
  • Saving. What is each person’s philosophy on saving? How much savings has each person accumulated? Discuss what level of savings each person can commit to once married. Each couple will differ, but a good baseline is to save 10% of net income – more, if possible, less if necessary – from each paycheck received, with a commitment that part of it will go toward building up an emergency fund.  
  • Potential red flags. There is no perfect way to discuss, or handle, finances in marriage. What works for one couple won’t work for another. But if your partner is unwilling to discuss or share the above information before marriage, that is a warning sign.  

It’s important to enter marriage being comfortable with regular financial conversations. No matter how you plan to handle money in your marriage, each person’s financial situation will impact the other’s. The more you talk and the more open you are, the easier it will get. 

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