Have This Financial Conversation Before Marriage

Incompatibility about finances is one of the leading contributors to divorce in the United States. Therefore, getting on the same page about your finances before you get married is just another great way to prioritize your relationship and help safeguard it against potential disruptions down the road.

Perhaps you experienced the all-to-familiar money arguments in your own household growing up. Did your parents have conversations about money or full-out fights about the finances? Sadly, it’s not uncommon for couples to share the following accusatory exchanges about money, but it certainly can be avoided with a little practice and preparation.

"You act like eating out once in a while is going to bankrupt us both! I work and so do you, so why can't we enjoy our lives? I don't want to spend the next 40 years scrimping and living under self-induced poverty!" - Kristen

"How did you manage to spend that much again this month? I thought we agreed to a budget and here you are blowing it again. I'm telling you, we can't afford Whole Foods, and you can do your own manicures!" - Mike

While the couple in this hypothetical dialogue are talking, they aren’t communicating effectively or productively with one another about their finances and ultimately what their priorities are. (For more from this author, see: Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Budgets.)

When you understand and discuss your experiences and deepest beliefs about money early on, before the marriage, even couples with differing money mindsets can find a happy middle ground. Here’s how:

1. Understand Your Money Scripts

Everyone has a money script, an unconscious belief about money that affects your behaviors and attitudes about money. There are four money scripts that most people fall into. Take the time to understand which money script you are and which one your partner is so that you can address how you will deal with potential conflicts when they arise:

  • Money avoidance – These people have a lot of negative feelings about money and often worry about running into financial problems. This can cause them to avoid spending or taking advantage of opportunities for fear of something bad happening.
  • Money worship – People with this money script love money and the pursuit of it. There can never be enough money and this can result in discontentment around finances.
  • Money status – These people assign self-worth to the amount of money they have and the things money can buy. (For more from this author, see: 3 Crucial Tips for Living Within Your Means.)
  • Money vigilance – These are your financial contrarians. They are the avid savers and are always ready and prepared for the “what-ifs” in life that can cause financial distress.

2. Explore the Ways Money Impacts Your Relationship

Once you understand your money script, explore your differences and agree on how you would like to work through them as a couple. 

Those with money vigilance can become overbearing with their supervisory attitude towards their partner's spending, while worshipers can wreck the budget with their spending habits. Anticipate what may cause arguments and get on the same page with how you would like to avoid these issues altogether and productively address them when issues to inevitably arise. (For related reading, see: Top 6 Marriage-Killing Money Issues.)

3. Discuss What the Two of You Are Building Together

A marriage is about building a future together, which includes the financial goals you set for yourselves. Talk about your goals and how you'll reach them together.

The beauty of this is that once your goals are aligned, your behavior should change accordingly. The money worshippers of the world may curb their expenditures when they have a clear goal in mind, while the money vigilantes might ease off on the nit-picking if you're both making good progress toward shared goals.

4. Make Clear Your Expectations, but Adjust Accordingly

Set your roles and responsibilities together: Who pays the bills? Who manages the accounts? Is one of you expected to be the breadwinner? You may be surprised at your partner's preconceived ideas, so get them all out on the table now, and make small adjustments if necessary so you're both working from the same set of blueprints.

5. Decide Whether to Merge Your Accounts

Should you pool all your money in joint accounts? Keep them separate? There is no right answer. It really just depends on what will work best for you as a couple. If you decide to merge accounts, you can open a joint checking account just for paying bills or to aggregate all your resources together. If you want to keep separate accounts, you may decide to divide up the bills between the two of you and cover expenses that way.

In the end, it's about having good communication and coming together as a couple to decide how you will work as a team on your finances.

(For more from this author, see: 4 Steps to Help You Build Wealth Right Now.)

To learn more about working with a financial advisor, you can download our free guide, “The Ultimate Guide for Choosing Financial Advice.