On Tuesday, I offered some practical tips when planning your wedding. But before your big day, it’s also essential to prepare for your financial future as a couple.
The most important thing that you can do is to learn how to communicate about your finances. According to a 2015 SunTrust study, finances were the primary cause of stress in relationships. That stress could lead to a breakup if you don’t develop good money habits.
Getting off on the right foot involves three main money conversations. 1) figuring out your money personality, 2) full disclosure, and 3) goal setting. I suggest having these conversations at different times to give you an opportunity to reflect on each conversation.
Figuring Out Your Money Personality
The first money convo involves talking about each of your relationships with money – your background, your fears, past successes, failures, etc. I know this sounds more like psychology than personal finance, but your relationship with money usually influences the decisions you make with it and how you communicate about it.
Here are some concepts you should explore when you approach this initial conversation:
- How was money dealt with in your household when you were growing up?
- What lessons did you learn from your parents about money?
- How did you deal with money in past relationships?
- Is there something you would like to do differently?
- What are your personal money successes?
- Would you have done any money moves differently?
- What scares you about money now?
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. Use the questions as a starting point and let the conversation flow into honest expression of your relationship to money. For more exercises on figuring out your money personality, check out this Purdue University workshop supplement.
The second step is likely the hardest of the three. Rather than talking about your feelings and emotions, this conversation involves hard facts that may lead to embarrassment and/or reveal insecurities.
With full disclosure, you need to let your spouse know everything that’s going on in your financial life. And I mean everything – how much money you make, your FICO score, student loan balance, credit card debt. Come armed with paystubs, your most recent statements, and any other supporting documentation that you have.
I’ve seen many instances where one spouse hides financial information (usually debt) from another spouse, only for it to become a bigger issue down the road. I’ve even had a client make up an elaborate lie just to hide the fact that she was getting an additional $2000 per month of social security income.
Don’t do this.
Resist the urge to underreport because of embarrassment or worry. This step is about building a strong financial foundation, and you want that foundation based on complete honesty. A minimum-stress, non-judgmental environment will make this process as pleasant as it can be. So make sure you’re well rested and have blocked off time where you can just focus on the conversation. Balance sheets and cash-flow statements will help aid in the process. Writing the information down ensures that you get to remember everything and makes a quick reference guide for your spouse to keep track of everything
Now we get to the really fun part – goal setting. In order to make the most of your money and figure out which money moves you want to make, you need to identify what you want to achieve as a couple. These goals should be short-term (under a year), medium-term (between one year and five years), and long-term (more than five years).
Your goals should focus on whatever you desire. Do you want to pay off your student loans? Get out of credit card debt? Spend a week in Hawaii? Don’t limit yourself. Dream big and figure out what it will actually costs to get there.
For example, rather than saying, “I want to save enough money to go to Germany next summer,” you should say, “I want to save $2500 for a 10-day trip to Germany 18 months from now.” Yes, you will have to figure out how much it costs to fly there, stay in a hotel in the cities you want to visit, and estimate how much food will cost. But having specific numbers and time frames will help you prioritize your goals (surely you have more than one) and give you a definitive plan of action for meeting them.
These conversations will build off of one another. You will likely have different goals because of your different money personalities. Understanding each personality will help you figure out goals that will satisfy you both. In addition, full disclosure gives you a starting point of where you are and what you will need to do to accomplish your goals. And overall these conversations will make it easier to communicate about money in the future.