Look, I know, you would never ever marry someone for his/her money (probably), but… you will marry someone’s money if you get married. You will marry her student loan payments. You will marry his credit card debt. You will marry her impulse spending and his $600 a month Lexus lease. You will marry your partner’s FICO score, salary, savings account (see, I can think positively), and discomfort in talking about finances. Money isn’t everything but it’s a whole hell of a lot when you need to pay rent or feed your children.
Before you can decide if you should combine your finances with someone, you need to know where that person is financially and exactly how that person views and handles finances. You have to talk about money even if don’t know where to begin.
Maybe you’re ashamed of your debt or concerned about your partner’s credit card use but it’s far too uncomfortable to discuss. You don’t ask questions about your partner’s money because you don’t want to seem accusatory or shallow. Maybe you feel that asking specifics about how someone handles money is tantamount to saying you don’t trust him. But the truth is…maybe you shouldn’t trust him where money is concerned.
Some very lovely, intelligent people do not have a concept of finances. And being friends with that person is one thing but being in love with that person and taking on her finances as your own is something else.
Love does not fix finances. (My thirteen-year-old, romance-obsessed self is disgusted with me right now. Even my seven-years-married adult self is a little disgusted with me right now. But it’s true.) If you want a long and happy relationship, you need a financial partner. And a financial partner is someone you can talk to about finances and someone you can trust with your money.
To help you begin to talk about money, here are 11 questions to ask and answer for you partner as you start to think about a future together.
1. What is your credit score? There may be better foreplay than a FICO score chat, but if you ever want to own a house or rent an apartment or have a car with your partner, his credit score is where it’s at.
2. How much money is in your checking account right now? It’s not really about the amount (I mean it’s a little about the amount) but it’s about your knowledge of your money. Are you someone who keeps close tabs on your accounts or are you someone who wouldn’t realize for a week if you were overdrawn?
3. Exactly how much debt do you have and where is it? Do you have seven balances on seven different credit cards? Is your mate still paying student loans? Do you have $15,000 left on your auto loan? Add it all up. Your debt plus your partner’s debt equals your debt. You both have to be willing to take that on without any judgment or resentment. (The good news is that any debt incurred after you are married can be full of judgment and resentment!)
4. What’s your philosophy on credit card use? When do you use credit cards and how often? Are you comfortable with your credit card use or do you want to get into a different relationship with credit? If you and your partner have very different ideas about when it’s appropriate to use credit or if you both have the same ideas but, you know, they’re bad ideas, then you have to figure out how to fix that right now.
5. Do you think in the short term or long term financially? Do you live paycheck to paycheck or do you have a savings account and investments? Do you stick to a specified budget or do you make financial decisions in the moment? How is your system working for you?
6. What’s more important to you, having your dream job or having your dream house? Let’s say you could have a job you absolutely love but it only pays enough for an ok home, or you could have a home you absolutely love but it’s paid for by a job that’s only ok. Which would you choose? To me, this is a crucial question. If you don’t have the same priorities about your lifestyle, then someone is going to end up resenting someone else.
7. How do your parents talk about and handle money? Do they give you money? It will be enlightening to hear your partner’s answer to this question, but you may find it even more enlightening to hear your own answer.
8. On a scale of 1 to 10, how "good with money" are you? One being "I’m absolutely terrible with money and I don’t know why." Five being "I keep my head above water." And ten being, "I’m annoyingly good with money. No, seriously. I will annoy the crap out of you with my management of money." Are you happy where you are on that scale?
9. What does it mean to you to be "good with money"? What is "enough money" for you? There was a time in my life where being "good with money" meant that I was vaguely aware when my credit card payment was due and "enough money" was whatever amount of money it would take to get me a fancy house on the beach (just a few million bucks). Those definitions served me just fine when I only had myself to answer to but they would not serve me or my husband well in our marriage.
10. How do you plan to become/remain financially stable? Is it about making more money, living within your means, working on a budget, or marrying someone rich? I think it’s important to know if your partner feels like he has power over his money or if he feels like money is this constant struggle that’s always happening to him.
11. Are you willing to change the way you handle finances? This is the most important question. You can’t enter into a financial relationship with someone who has a negative relationship with money and isn’t willing to change that. It’s impossibly frustrating to have your finances tied to someone who is irresponsible with your family money and just shuts down or gets angry when you try to address the problem.
Finances are so complicated and tied to our egos and so very not fun to discuss – especially with someone that you just want to love. But love does not have to be blind. Start having honest conversations about money with your loved one before you combine your finances.
Photo credit: David Panevin