Money questions for couples should be addressed early in marriage. Have the money conversation with your spouse before it becomes a problem and become closer together
I originally wrote this as a checklist of money questions for newlyweds but so many couples have never had a direct conversation about money that I think anyone can use the seven questions here.
Nearly half of all marriages fall into divorce and money is named as the #1 cause of friction among couples.
Money can be a sensitive subject, even taboo for many couples. We usually avoid talking about financial goals and spending until there’s a problem. By that time, the conversation starts as a blame game and both sides put up their defenses.
Talking about money early, as a way to plan your future together, can be a bonding exercise rather than something that tears you apart.
How to Address Money Questions for Couples
The money questions for couples should be addressed by both sides in a way that it does not resort to misunderstandings. It's important that both people agree and disagree harmoniously on the financial aspects involved in marriage. It would also be nice if both you and your partner do not hide anything from each other, well of course, aside from fancy surprises. If you have properties or accumulated financial assets even before the marriage, you may as well share its fundamentals to your spouse. For what is marriage if you don't entirely trust your spouse, isn't it?
Aside from discussing financial assets and properties, also take into consideration discussing about existing debts and having a concrete plan on how to clear those debts in a timely manner. It should not go as far as complicating your current financial situation and current income-generating endeavors.
You never really have to be the best financial soul mates that always agree with each financial decision but of course, you have to be in harmony with each other. That is the most important thing to maintain in marriage. Also, your varying money situations and circumstances will help you work with financial goals better and more seamlessly.
1) Should we combine finances, manage them separately or a little of both?
Most couples assume they will combine finances but it’s not entirely necessary. If you find you are just too incompatible financially, this might be a way of heading off future problems.
You’ll still need to coordinate budgets so you each pay your half of the relationship. There will also still be financial goals you’ll want to plan together. Even if you plan your retirement saving separately, you’ll want to make sure each is saving enough that the burden won’t fall on the spouse later in life.
If you combine finances completely, consider each having one separate savings account that can be totally discretionary. It’s a nice way to give each partner a little more control over their own spending.
2) What is our credit situation?
Look at each other’s credit scores and credit history. Is there a pattern of missed payments and defaults?
Lenders will usually look at the higher score when a couple applies for a loan but a very low score or bad credit history can doom an application. Above 680 FICO is called ‘prime’ credit and generally considered good credit. A credit score from 580 to 680 isn’t necessarily bad credit but it might make getting affordable rates more difficult.
None of this should be done judgmentally or as a comparison of who has managed their money better. It does need to be done though and can help avoid some of the biggest financial blow-ups couples face.
3) What are the debts we are each bringing to the marriage?
This one can be tricky, especially if you weren’t expecting it.
Each partner needs to be completely honest about their types of debt as well as the amounts. You might decide that the tens of thousands in student debt isn’t an issue but the $15,000 in credit card debt could be a sign of chronic overspending.
Beyond the type and amounts of debt, make sure you look at the interest rate on each. This isn’t just as a part of open communication about money but your first step in planning how to pay off your debt as a couple.
4) What is the most one of us can spend without consulting the other?
Asking this money question will save you at least a couple of arguments a year, I guarantee it.
This is just as much a fault of the store salespeople as it is couples. A favorite trick of sales people is to shame a customer into buying something by asking them if they need to ask their husband/wife permission to do everything. Don’t fall for this trick.
Understand that your idea of a ‘big purchase’ might be different from your spouse’s so setting a spending limit can help keep you both on the same page.
5) What are your savings goals, what does retirement look like to you?
Few people even ask this of themselves, let alone their partner.
Our retirement goals directly affect how much we save and our perspective on saving. If your spouse has much more modest retirement goals than you, they might not be very motivated to sacrifice spending now to save money for later.
More than just aligning your savings though, this question will bring you closer together with shared goals and dreams. It doesn’t just have to be about retirement. Make plans for a home, dream vacations and other financial goals.
6) How much do we need to save to reach those goals?
This is where those financial goals run head first into reality.
Having shared financial goals means you can save for them together, making it easier to reach those goals. If you’re saving for dramatically different goals, is it realistic that either of you can reach them?
This is also where, both as a couple and individually, you need to look at your spending habits and savings goals honestly. Does your current spending and budget allow you to save enough for your future goals?
7) What do we do with extra money or savings beyond these long-term goals?
This is an important question most couples miss. They work hard and budget to meet their savings goals and end up having extra money beyond what they planned on saving.
If you don’t talk about what’s going to be done with this extra money, it’s inevitable it will cause an argument and resentment. One partner will end up spending the extra money, usually thinking it’s no big deal, and the other will feel used.
Consider splitting extra money up into separate accounts you can each use for your own additional spending or creating other financial goals for the money.
8) Will we be saving and investing in joint accounts for these goals or separately?
This one relates to the first question of combining or separating finances but needs its own question.
There is nothing to say you can’t separate financial accounts but there are some things that should be planned jointly. Shared expenses are going to follow you through retirement and each partner needs to be saving for their part. You also want to make sure one partner isn’t constantly paying for all travelling or other bucket-list expenses in retirement.
9) Who will be responsible for the family’s financial planning?
There are different levels of responsibility and planning on which a couple can agree.
- If your goals align closely and each is saving for their share, one person might be fine with managing all the financial planning.
- Maybe one person manages the long-term planning while the other manages current bills and spending
However you decide to split up the financial planning, each partner should know they can always be honest and direct with the other about money.
Asking these money questions for couples ahead of time, as a relationship-building exercise rather than after it’s a problem, will help you avoid the vast majority of money issues facing couples. Don’t be scared to have the money conversation, especially before you start that long-term relationship. Revisit some of these money questions for couples every few years to make sure your financial goals are still as united as you are.
Read the Entire Money Questions for Couples Series:
- 9 Ways to Make Ends Meet You Haven’t Tried
- Should You Marry Someone Bad with Money?
- How to Talk about Money with Your Family
About the Author
Joseph Hogue is a financial expert and investment analyst. After serving in the Marine Corps, he started his career investing in real estate before becoming an investment analyst for some of the largest private investors. He's appeared on Bloomberg and on CNBC as an investment expert and has published ten books in personal finance. Now he helps investors reach their financial goals and invest in the stock market with some of the same advice he used when working for the rich.