Engaged to be married? The average age American men and women get married is 29 and 27 respectively.
By now, you’ve hopefully talked with your partner about the big things in life — if you want children, if both people will continue to work should children enter the picture and where you want to live. You might even think that since the two of you agree on the big things in life, you have a good shot at staying together.
But given that the divorce rate in America is somewhere between 40 and 50 percent, staying married (much less happily so) is probably a lot more complicated than that. In one survey, the second cited reason for divorce was finances.
If you want to avoid the emotional and financial stress of divorce, or just avoid fighting about money, it’s important you have some serious talks with your fiancé before your lives and finances become even more intertwined.
Talk about how you feel about saving and spending
Hopefully, you’ve already cleared the air about how much credit card debt and student loans each person is bringing into the marriage. If not, do it right now. And make sure you’re confident your partner is telling the truth. A recent survey asked people which number they’re most embarrassed to reveal:
- Credit card debt
- Credit score
- Bank balance
Credit card debt, followed by credit score, were the top two answers.
But your conversation shouldn’t end there. “You must talk about your money styles,” says Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum, founder of Couples Counseling Associates. “If one person is a spender and the other person is a saver, that needs to be clear to both parties.”
Don’t assume that your money style is obvious, and your partner is obviously OK with it since you’re getting married. “Once the honeymoon period ends, and the differences start to emerge, one partner may start thinking, ‘Oh my God. Did I marry the right person?’” Sara says.
It’s also important to talk about what you enjoy spending money on. “If one person likes spending money on gym shoes, and the other thinks that’s stupid and that going out to dinner is a better use of money, you start to become polarized from one another,” she says
A word of warning to all of you savers, and dining-out lovers – your money style isn’t necessarily the “right” one. “Just because someone has different values than you do doesn’t mean those values are less important than yours,” Sara says.
Don’t return the rings just because your partner guffaws at the idea of starting a rainy day account. “When couples are together for awhile, they start to influence one another,” Sara says. “A spender will learn to become a little more cautious.”
Decide how much money one partner can spend without consulting the other
Cohabitating couples often get conflicting advice on whether or not they should share one bank account, maintain separate bank accounts, or have separate accounts and one joint one. Sara thinks that decision matters less than another. “All couples must say, ‘Neither of us can spend more than x amount without consulting the other’,” she says.
That amount, of course, depends on your incomes. But both partners should be comfortable with the number, and both should stick to the same number, even if one person makes considerably less than the other.
Manage your money like it’s your job
Sara has counseled many troubled couples who are competent in the workplace, but have let their households and personal finances fall into disarray. “You are co-CEOs of the household,” she says. “You need to have meetings during which you decide who will handle specific chores, like bill paying and grocery shopping.”
She advises her clients to regularly consult a calendar together that lists when bills are due, and who’s responsible for paying them.
Feel uncomfortable putting on your business face, using your professional voice, and pulling out a calendar? Don’t. The longevity of your marriage depends on it.
How do you talk about money with your significant other?
- Should you get married if you or your partner is in debt?
- The couple’s money worksheet: How to have “the talk”