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7 Money Discussions Before You Say "I Do"

We all know that divorce rates are quite high and many of the key drivers for splits cited by separating couples stem from disagreements over money. In fact, a study published in 2009 by Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University showed a very clear positive correlation between the frequency of financial disagreements among married couples and the likelihood of their divorce.  

Some topics may not seem to have a financial theme at first, but often morph in that direction the deeper you dig. Let’s look at some tough conversations you should have with your fiancé’ before the big day.

1.) If you both want kids, which spouse will be willing to stay home in the preschool years if it makes more sense financially than paying for childcare?

  • Said a different way, is putting your career (or your spouse’s) on hold simply not an option?

2.) If having biological kids isn’t possible or can only happen with alternative methods such as IVF or surrogacy, what will your plan be?

  • According to a 2012-2013 report in the Adoptive Families Magazine, the average cost of an adoption was nearly $40,000.
  • Per a 2013 bankrate.com article, gestational surrogacy costs north of $100,000.
  • These figures might be deal breakers for one of you and viewed only as a minor deterrent for the other. It’s worth discussing the what-if, particularly if you and/or your spouse are of the age when having biological children gets more difficult.

3.) What are each of your attitudes toward financial risk taking?

  • With retirement investing
  • With real estate
  • With job and career decisions
  • With the use of debt

4.) What are your major long-term spending preferences?

  • Would you prefer to allocate more of your financial resources to a nice house/car, or more to experiences like travel, eating, out, etc?
  • Will you prioritize retirement savings over children’s education expenses or vice versa?
  • How important is charitable gifting?
  • If you plan on having kids, do you want them to go to private or public school?
  • Action Step – Create a list of major spending categories. Separate from one another, rank them in order of priority and exchange with your fiancé. If major differences exist, try creating a joint ranking system together that you both feel good about.

5.) How will you manage your budget and who will be responsible for paying the bills?

  • Some couples find it easier to run all expenses through a joint account while others like to keep things separate.
  • Barring a few exceptions, we typically recommend a shared budget with each spouse getting an equal “discretionary monthly spending allowance” with cash over two completely siloed spending plans.
  • Here are some things we have noted working with married couples:
    • When kids are in the picture, segregated budgets become impractical.
    • If a spouse is self-employed, multiple spending budgets with multiple bank accounts becomes a business necessity. This does not mean the non-business owner spouse should be left out of those business spending decisions.
  • Joint accounts support more transparency and open lines of communication with respect to money. The monthly cash spending allowance can be a good way to maintain some financial autonomy (and privacy for things like gifts and surprises) while still working together towards common goals with the bulk of your household financial resources.

6.) If you and/or your spouse have debts, how will they be handled? As a team or separately?

  • This is a GREAT conversation to discuss with an attorney. Debt assumed by your spouse before marriage can have a major impact on you and that impact can vary significantly depending on its type:
    • Is it government student loan debt?
    • Is it back-taxes? If so, Federal, state, or local?
    • Is it commercial debt? If so, is the debt secured by property or no? Can it be attached to new property acquired in the marriage?

7.) Are inheritances or large financial gifts/support in the picture for either of you?

  • If so, make sure you have an attorney explain the pros and cons of commingling communal money with this separate money. Aside from protecting the recipient spouse in the event of divorce, there could be some financial reasons for keeping the money separate. For example, separate property that has remained segregated from your communal assets might be more difficult to grab by creditors coming after debts incurred (either before marriage or during) by the non-recipient spouse.

In the coming months, we will be putting together a step-by-step program (boot camp) for newly engaged couples to complete before their wedding day. If you think this could be useful for you or someone you know, feel free to provide your email here to richard@ffgwealth.com and we will reach out when the program is ready.

Richard Davey