Are you ready to get married? These 10 Financial Questions Will Tell You

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Are you ready to get married? You and your love muffin may have all the emotional and spiritual success stars lined up. But if you don’t have a little financial glue, the chances of sticking together over the long-run aren’t great. Here are the 10 questions you both need to answer in order to know the time is right to tie the knot:

Note – My wife and I discussed only two or three of these questions before we hitched up. After 25 years, we still have a wonderful relationship and almost never disagree about money. How did we do it? Read the last “trump” question that overrides most of these 10 topics.

1. Do either of you have any debt?

These days, if you put two people in a room, it’s highly likely that at least one of them will have some debt. Don’t be alarmed if your partner has a little red ink on his or her collar. But you both need to be completely honest about how that person created the debt. What were the circumstances? What decisions did he or she make that resulted in this debt? Are they going to be repeated? Why not? What actions has he/she taken to get out of debt? Do you both feel the same about being in debt?

Please take time to discuss these issues now. Don’t try to cover up, The truth always comes out. And don’t wait and hope it will all work out. It won’t. People with vastly different views about debt need to get on the same page mucho mucho pronto before they take their relationship a step further.

The debt is a problem, but a flawed financial mind-set is far worse. If your lovie dovie hasn’t got a clue about money, make sure he’s open to learning. If so, lay out plans to get out of debt and just observe what action he takes. If he gets it together, that’s fine. But if he’s stuck in his free-spending, debt-creating ways, it may be time to put your wedding plans on hold.  At the very least, you might consider having separate accounts if you can’t find a way to get on the same page when it comes to spending and debt.

2. Decide if one person is going to be the main income earner.  Talk about how to maximize that potential.

You might decide that one person is going to be responsible for most of the income.  There is nothing wrong with that. But if that’s the case, are you both going to support that person’s ability to do well in his or her career?

A friend of mine has a son named Tom who married a wonderful woman. She was highly educated and had a great deal on the ball. In fact, she had wonderful career opportunities in Los Angeles. But Tom insisted that they live in the boonies. As a result, his wife Karen wasn’t able to maximize her financial potential and the family struggled.

There is nothing wrong with consciously making a decision to forego career advancement for other benefits. But decisions like these need to be made prior to the marriage, not after.

3. What are your long-term financial goals?ready to marry

It goes without saying that you should discuss what you want your financial lives to look like 5, 10, 20 years down the road. Of course you can’t guarantee any specific result. But you can certainly make decisions about the road you are going to follow.

Do you and Mr. Lovejoy have the same financial vision? There is only one way to find out. Talk about it now.

4. What is your plan to achieve those goals?

Very few people get this far so I’ll congratulate you for getting to question number 4.   It means that you’ve agreed on a joint vision for your financial future.  Now it’s time to discuss how are you going to get there.  What will it cost you to live? How are you going to make that money?

Of course everything changes down the road and you can’t possibly predict the future. But look at your current career path and project out what your earnings are going to be. Talk to others in your profession to estimate the amount of time you’ll spend at work, the difficulty finding work and the amount of money you can expect to make. Don’t leave this to chance. What reasonable amount of money can you expect to earn? Will it be enough to finance your future?

5. Are your financial plans realistic?

If you have a plan and your future spouse doesn’t (or his plan is unrealistic) just stop. When you get married, you take responsibility for him and he takes responsibility for you. And if you have children, you both take on individual and collective responsibility for those kids.

Before you make promises to each other, make sure you have a plan to keep them. It makes no sense to embark on that journey without a chance of succeeding.

6. Do you track your spending?

Do you know why spending is the key to your financial success? Because of all the forces that frame your financial future, you have more control over spending than anything else. The first step to control your spending is to track it. There are plenty of ways to do this. What’s most important is that you and your honey bunny do track it. Discuss this issue and make sure you both agree on the importance of doing this and the method you are going to use to do so.

7. How do you define risk?

You might define risk as not having enough money to retire. Your partner might define risk as not having enough money to go to Vegas this weekend. If so, you’ve got a problem. This step relates back to steps 3, 4 and 5. Ask each other how you define risk and make sure you able to find a way to work together. If you each define risk very differently you are going to find it very difficult to function well as a couple.

8. What is the worst thing that could happen to you financially as a couple?

This question speaks to vision and foresight. It lets each of you know what the other wants to insure against in the future – and what you will each commit to do on a daily basis to make sure that bleak event doesn’t occur.

9. What is the best thing that could happen to you financially as a couple?

This also speaks to your vision and future. It gives you a glimpse into the other’s dreams. Important information.

10. How do you feel about charitable giving?

If you are both givers, it’s all good. If neither of you feel the need to support charity, it’s your decision. But if one is a giver and the other is not, it’s going to create conflict. Make sure you are comfortable with each other’s attitude towards charitable giving to reduce this conflict.

TRUMP CARD QUESTION

11. What is your track record?

As I said at the start of this post, my wife and I didn’t talk about most of these questions when we got married. Somehow, we’ve thrived over the years as a couple. But even though we didn’t talk about most of these, there was one thing we each had that was the foundation for a very successful (thank G-d) marriage and relationship. That trump card was our track records.

Neither of us ever racked up any debt and both of us were successful in our respective careers. And we were rock-solid and on the same page as to our goals and priorities. Look at your partner’s track record. His successes. His failures. What he struggles with now and what he’s struggled with over the years. For better or for worse, people generally continue moving in the direction they are traveling towards.

If your partner has been successful, it’s a good sign that he’ll continue to do well. If your partner struggles with many financial problems, it is going to take enormous work on his part to first change his mind set and then his circumstances. This can absolutely be done but it takes work and commitment. Is he willing to do the work? If not, better delay that wedding.

Make sure you discuss any issues and see real progress towards the resolution before you meet under the canopy to trade vows.

What other issues do think need to be talked through before getting married?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah November 20, 2012 at 11:01 PM

Financial is often a sensitive issue among married couples. I agree, that before marriage, couples should practice discussing or sharing about the status of their finance with each other. Aside from future benefits, this could also help one decide of he/she is with a person that is willing to communicate.

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maria@moneyprinciple November 14, 2012 at 11:35 PM

Good questions! Before we got married we didn’t discuss any of these – which of course led to a crisis and later long, and let’s face it, sometimes stormy conversations. Much better to tackle those early on – before three kids, large house etc. :)

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Neal Frankle November 15, 2012 at 12:30 AM

Sounds like you lucked out us much as we did. I’m glad you both weathered the storms….

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Brian T November 14, 2012 at 6:23 AM

I’m in a similar situation. My gf has a great job, but I have debt from school as well as a low paying job. We want to make a go of it, but I feel I’m holding her back. I need to help myself get out of debt to help us.

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Neal Frankle November 14, 2012 at 6:42 AM

Brian…..don’t give up man. I am serious. If you are determined and are willing to make changes, you can make this work. The school debt is history- can’t do much about it. But can you get a better job? Get another job? Work on weekends? Do something extra-ordinary to solve the debt issue and demonstrate how committed you are.

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