Nothing kills a romantic mood like money. Having too little of it or arguing about it can create the kind of stress that leads to Splitsville. But many engaged couples who avoid this touchy subject later regret it.
Tough as it is to talk about money, doing so long before you say "I do" will put your marriage on a solid financial foundation. "By talking about money and having a plan, you are not planning for your marriage to fail, but rather addressing the No. 1 killer of marriages: money problems," says Maksim Netrebov, a financial planner with WealthyIQ.
Here are four steps to get the pre-marriage money conversation going, and five financial topics to discuss when you want to delve deeper.
4 Ways to Start the 'Money Talk'
Admit That It's Awkward
Start by acknowledging to your partner that talking about money can feel awkward, but it builds a stronger foundation for your relationship and future.
When Planning a Time, Think HALT
Give yourself the advantage of a time and place where you can relax. "Plan a quiet evening to talk about money over coffee," says Lee Gimpel, director of development at LifeWise Strategies. "Think of the acronym HALT. Don't try to have this conversation when someone is hungry, angry, lonely, or tired."
Talk About Finances in General Terms (at First)
First get comfortable talking about finances in more general terms, Gimpel says. For example, share memories. Remember the first time you each bought something with your own money. What did you buy? How did you get the money? What does financial security mean to each of you?
Discuss your expectations on lifestyle. Some people want a new car every few years, a house of a certain size, and certain types of vacations. When would you both like to retire, and what do you want those years to look like? What are your fears and goals? Be clear about what your partner desires.
Cover the Basics of Merging (or Separating) Money
Couples must decide how they'll treat their money. Will they split all the expenses down the middle? Or will both partners commit to putting money into a joint account, but keep aside some money for discretionary use? Or lastly, will all money be put into a single pot?
"When the couple has only joint money, they will start questioning and resenting the other person for any spending the other partner does not deem necessary."
"Traditionally, many people went with option No. 3 because they thought that was what they were supposed to do," Netrebov says. "When the couple has only joint money, they will start questioning and resenting the other person for any spending the other partner does not deem necessary."
With the first two choices, the couple at least is forced to come up with a plan to discuss spending and expenses, and responsibilities.
5 Topics That Will Deepen Your Financial Discussion
Student Loans, Credit Cards, and Other Debt
You're both bringing love into the relationship, but what else? "Many couples don't discuss before marriage the debt they are bringing with them: credit cards, student loans, unpaid medical bills," says Linda Kerns, a divorce attorney with the Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns. "This impacts a couple's ability to get a joint mortgage for a home, and some couples know nothing about their partner's finances."
Your Money Personalities
Just like you had a wishlist of character traits in your ideal mate, their money personality matters, too. What is your partner's money philosophy, are they a spender or saver, and how did their parents and grandparents handle money?
Credit Reports and Scores
Get naked — financially. "Each of you should pull a credit report and walk through the reports together looking at scores," says Todd Huettner, president of Huettner Capital. "Similar scores can highlight common attitudes toward risk and finances, including saving, borrowing, managing debt, and paying bills on time."
"Vastly different scores are definitely something to discuss," he adds. "If you both have low scores, now is the time to look at how you can improve your finances together."
Your Current Finances
Talking about the past is great, but don't dismiss the present. You should each discuss how much you earn, what your assets are, and any obligations like child or spousal support from previous relationships, for example, notes Kevin Gallegos, a vice president for Freedom Financial Network.
You each should discuss how much you earn, what your assets are, and any obligations like child or spousal support from previous relationships.
Huettner recommends each person complete a personal financial statement. "You can find these online, and they include income, assets, and debts," he says. "You may already know much of this information, but this is a way to approach a tough subject, fill in any gaps, and prepare for the next step: creating a budget."
As the two become one, making a budget is a necessity because much in the partners' lives will change. "Not creating a simple budget is the single biggest mistake people make," Huettner says. "You don't create a budget because you are tight on money, you create a budget no matter how much money you make so you can make spending, saving, and investing decisions with good information."
Finally, Huettner says, "Don't worry about being uncomfortable. Think about this as a process. You are just completing a process to help your marriage, and each step is something you have to do like breathing. Just do it."
Readers, did you and your partner discuss money before you got married? What other financial topics should couples talk about? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
This article first appeared in DealNews.