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When and How to Have the Dreaded “Money Talk”
Updated: January 09, 2021 |
Taylor Kovar, CFP

How to Start Talking About Debt, Money, and Marriage as a Couple

You’ve been dating for a while now and you’re starting to be filled with hope and excitement as you think about your bright future together. Where will you live, what kind of family are you going to have, what kind of adventures will you experience, and how are you going to handle your finances in marriage? It’s time for the dreaded “money talk.”

Discussing finances in marriage has to be approached in the right way.If one of those things doesn’t seem to fit with the others, well, you’re not alone. We often find that, in all the fun and emotion of dating, money conversations somehow get left out. And we get that — a candlelit conversation that skips between marriage and credit scores doesn’t seem very romantic! The reality, however, is that if this relationship does go to the next level you will be making some major money decisions as a team. Finding out if you are compatible when it comes to how you handle your daily finances in marriage could be a deal maker or a deal-breaker.

According to a recent survey by Country Financial, 42% of couples do not talk about money before they are married. We didn’t, and we are now The Money Couple®! The road between A and B wasn’t entirely straightforward, though; we’d like to urge you have that important money talk well before you tie the knot.

In case you’re wondering: “What’s the worst that could happen?”, we’re going to share a little story with you. We call this “The $10,000 Newlywed Debt Surprise”.

Why You Need to Talk About Money and Marriage Ahead of Time

Coming home from vacation is so hard! While you’re swinging in a hammock in paradise you forget your long list of things-to-do, your bills, your diet, and your boss. Coming home is a startling return to reality.

Josh’s return home was especially startling.

Home from Maui with his new bride, he went to their bulging mailbox to retrieve the mail. He wondered how two people could get this much mail in just one week?

At least the wedding and honeymoon bills hadn’t arrived yet. He hated to think of the bills they racked up in the last few weeks! But a gorgeous wedding and once-in-lifetime-trip were worth it, and he knew he and Paige would remember this time forever.

Then a feeling he’d soon want to forget hit him. His heart sank, his stomach turned to knots, a $10,000 credit card bill? Whose was this? Did his neighbor’s mail get stuffed in their box? Was there some other Paige McCancy? There had to be some mistake!

Unfortunately, the only mistake was a lack of full disclosure. Paige hid her debt from Josh while they were dating because there never seemed to be a good time to bring it up. She thought Josh was so sweet, but he always worried about money. When they started planning the wedding and the honeymoon, she figured mentioning her debt would push him over the edge. So she told herself she’d tell him later, and “later” only came when it was no longer possible to hide the problem.

Like the flash floods in Maui, this rush of information has the potential to damage everything. But it doesn’t have to. The damage is done. The debt is real. What can they do now to fix their finances, marriage, and the trust between them? We have some tips about tackling thorny issues regarding marriage and credit scores in a little while. First, though, let’s take a moment to think about how much trouble could have been saved by a timely money talk while they were still dating.

Getting on the Same Page About Finances, Marriage, and Compromises

Your new honey is going to love this one. Here are 3 tips to having your first money conversation:

1.  Discover and Understand Your Money Personality

Before you even start talking money with your significant other, you need to figure out how you tend to see finances. Maybe, for instance, you think debt is something to avoid at all costs, or you see no problem at all with an impulse purchase now and then. It’s important to understand that these attitudes may be normal and appropriate for you, but other people – including the one you intend to marry – may have completely different views.

These differences aren’t always obvious, even after you combine your finances in marriage. Don’t get caught flat-footed: take 15 minutes to take your FREE Money Personality Assessment on our website. You need to understand how you look at and deal with money yourself.

2.  Identify Their Response

Tell your boyfriend or girlfriend what you discovered with the assessment and wait to see what they have to say. For instance, if you found out you were a Saver/Flyer and are telling them how important it is for you to have a good chunk of money saved for emergencies, and they look at you like you are from outer space, this is a huge red flag!

This is also a learning experience, though, and will help your first money talks go that much more smoothly. If you think that having a large emergency fund is just common sense while your partner just doesn’t see the point, you may end up talking at cross purposes and even getting into heated arguments without ever being able to put this simple misunderstanding into words.

3.  Discover their Money Personality

Ask them to take the Money Personality assessment themselves and see if there is any pushback. Remember this is your first conversation about finances in marriage. It’s not like you asked them how much debt they have or what their debit card’s PIN number is. You just want to get to know them better. If they push back, another huge red flag!

Dealing with Disagreements About Finances: Marriage First Aid

Getting to grips with your respective Money Personalities is a major step forward toward harmonious finances in marriage. Adding a little love and respect to the mix, as well as scheduling a weekly “money huddle” where you can both air any concerns, and you should be able to avoid 90% of money fights.

If you hit a roadblock about some major decision, though – or you never actually had the all-important money talk before the wedding – there are some steps you can try to resolve the issue without letting disagreements about finances affect your marriage.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Get all the facts on the table. All of them! Let’s take Josh’s $10,000 debt surprise after his honeymoon as an example. Was his bride’s debt for needs – schooling, car repairs, medical expenses, etc.? Or was it for wants: shopping, lattes, and tanning beds?

There’s a reason we make promises to each other about money in our wedding vows. Her debt is now their debt. The headline probably isn’t the whole story, though, so discovering the details makes understanding the problem that much easier.

Get Help

Get some third party assistance. You don’t have to try and tackle this on your own. Ask someone with more experience and a fresh perspective to help you understand how you got where you are and how to avoid making the same mistakes in future.

You don’t have to think about seeing a financial advisor or even a couples’ counselor as subcontracting part of your relationship or admitting that your marriage was a mistake. Professional help is simply a tool to help you improve your communication about finances, marriage, and whatever else may be bothering  you.

Re-Examine Your Money Personalities

Learn to value each other’s view of money. Every person approaches finances differently. If you understand your spouse’s Money Personality, you can head off many of the problems before they arise and talk through your individual approaches to money in an open, thoughtful manner.

In our example above, it looks like Josh’s Primary Money Personality is a Saver. His Secondary may be a Security Seeker. Is Paige a Risk-Taker? A Spender? A Flyer? Our assessment calculates both Primary and Secondary Money Personalities so Josh and Paige, and all of us, can deal openly with who we are and who we fell in love with.

There’s definitely some trouble in paradise for these to. On the other hand, they can take this opportunity to start fresh and learn some valuable insights about each other that will help their marriage far beyond the honeymoon.

Exploring Your Money Personalities Together

I knew I would get married someday and I wanted to have the BEST relationship ever so I picked up every “pre-marriage” book I could find. Each of those books helped give me a foundation so I knew what I was getting into. We STRONGLY recommend you pick up a copy of The 5 Money Personalities. Money impacts each conversation — get a great match and you will cut many potential arguments off at the pass.

Discovering more about the person you are dating will help you decide if you want to pursue this relationship or not. As you talk about your Money Personalities, you might find this money conversation can be a little more romantic than you thought.

Did you talk about money before marriage, or did you perhaps receive an unpleasant surprise just after the wedding? Tell us about that conversation in the comments below. If you didn’t, we’d love to hear your story as well. Please leave a comment. Let the dialogue begin!

Make it Happen!

Taylor & Megan Kovar
The Money Couple


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