Research shows that money troubles are responsible for almost half of all divorces, with stress caused by financial woes overwhelming even the strongest relationship. However, it’s not always a shortage of money that causes relationship tension. Disparate attitudes towards money, spending, bank accounts and property ownership can lead to unnecessary tension in a marriage.
Before tying the knot, take time to sit down with your fiancé and ask each other the hard questions.
- Your upbringing
- Financial success
- Money management
- Financial obligations
- Fun money
Some questions to ask: How much debt do you have? Have you ever been insolvent? What is your attitude towards debt? What is your credit rating?
Advice: If your partner has debt, encourage him to put a debt reduction plan in place and map a timeline to paying off the debt. Get him to commit to stop spending until the debt is paid off in full. Starting married life together while drowning in debt is never ideal. Be sure to unpack everything relating to debt so that you can start your marriage free from worry. In addition, avoid going into any further debt by borrowing money to pay for an elaborate wedding. Consider a small, intimate wedding with close friends and family.
Some questions to ask: How did your upbringing shape your attitude to and feelings toward money? What are your current attitudes towards money?
Advice: If you are a spendthrift while your partner loves a bit of ‘retail therapy’, you are bound to lock horns at some stage. A common technique employed by married couples is to set a spending limit that each partner adheres to. Any purchase over the agreed spending limit should be discussed and agreed upon first. Before getting married, discuss your differing money personalities, your different attitudes towards money, and how you intend to manage these personalities in the context of your marriage.
Some questions to ask: What does financial success look like to you? How much is enough? Do you measure your success in terms of income?
Advice: It is great to have an ambitious and hard-working partner, but not one who makes money their god. Having a spouse in relentless pursuit of money can put emotional strain on your relationship. Talk to each other about your morals and values, how you feel about material wealth and how each of you measures success. Most importantly, draw up a list of joint financial goals that you can work towards as a couple. This will provide you with a blueprint to measure your success as a couple.
Some questions to ask: How do you think we should manage our money? Jointly or separately? Who pays for what? How do we make decisions? Should we merge bank accounts? What if one spouse earns more than the other?
Advice: When it comes to money management in a marriage, the only correct way is the one that you agree upon together. Whichever way you choose to structure your bank accounts and payments in your relationship, what’s more important is that you both stick to the plan. If you agree to operate a joint bank account, then do so with mutual respect and consideration for each other. If you decide to pool your incomes and share all expenses, then commit to doing it entirely, without holding money back or hiding money from your spouse. If your decision is to keep your finances completely separate, then be sure to understand the consequences of having two separate financial lives.
Some questions to ask: Do you have financial obligations to anyone else, for example an ex-spouse or children? What financial baggage are you bringing into the relationship? Do your parents have enough money for their retirement?
Advice: As families and family structures become more diverse, the likelihood of financial baggage being brought into a marriage increases. Whether it is children from a previous relationship, an ex-spouse or a dependent sibling, marrying someone who has financial obligations outside of your marriage can be cause enormous tension. Seek to fully understand these financial commitments in terms of quantum, time period, future escalations and unforeseeable costs. It is important that, going into the marriage, you fully understand these obligations and make peace with them.
Some questions to ask: What are your financial stresses? What are your money fears? What keeps you awake at night?
Over and above debt, find out what else stresses your partner out when it comes to money. Does he worry about his parents’ retirement funding? Has he got concerns about possible retrenchment or job loss? Has he taken a risky investment gamble? Is he worried he hasn’t started saving for retirement? Be open with each other about your financial fears and find ways to shoulder these worries together.
Some questions to ask: How would you like to spend your ‘fun’ money? What are your interests and how often would you like to pursue them?
Advice: Find out how she likes to spend her ‘fun’ money and whether her leisure interests are aligned with yours. Some hobbies can be particularly expensive and it is best to know upfront what her plans are when it comes to spending money on interests, hobbies and sports. Make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to how you intend spending your fun money or spoiling yourselves.
Some questions to ask: Do you want to own property? How do you feel about renting? How do you feel about investment property?
Advice: Buying a property is one of the biggest investments you will make in your lifetime and it helps if you are both on the same page. Your partner may have strong feelings about not wanting to own property, or he may wish to buy a smaller property in order to afford a holiday home. Be sure to discuss the topic of property before you get married. Buying and selling property comes with enormous costs, so it will help if you share the same views on the matter.
Some questions to ask: What are your plans for retirement? Do you want to retire? What do you want to do in retirement? Where would you like to live?
Advice: Retirement might be the furthest thing from your mind, but it’s a discussion that needs to take place. We often find that a couple has widely disparate views on retirement, with one partner dreaming of retiring to a small fishing village while the other is keen on a retirement village in a leafy suburb. It’s difficult to develop a joint retirement plan if your retirement objectives are not aligned in any way. While retirement may seem far off, start talking in general terms about how, when and where you envisage your retirement.
Asking the hard questions now could mean not having to make tough decisions later.