9 Questions About Money Every Couple Should Ask Each Other Before Getting Married

by Natalia Lusinski
Wayhome Studio/Fotolia

Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating. Today's topic: Money questions to ask your partner before getting married.

Once you say "I do," and tie the knot, you definitely don't want to wish you'd said, "I don't" once you realize all the student loan debt or other money issues your significant other has — but neglected to tell you in advance. "Tying the knot" will then take on a stronger meaning, as the financial issues won't just slip through the knot. Rather, you'll literally be tied to your partner's money issues, too.

"You may not think of your marriage as a business deal, but a huge part of it is just that," Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together, tells Bustle. "Just like a business, a marriage takes in income, pays expenses, and is supposed to have a little profit (savings) left over. Money is one of the biggest generators of problems, arguments, and resentment in long-term relationships."

What do couples fight about when it comes to finances? Just about everything. "Couples argue about spending, saving, budgeting, and disparity in earnings," Dr. Tessina says. "When couples have difficulty with money, it can lead to financial infidelity: out-of-control spending, lying, and hiding finances, which can destroy the relationship. Overcoming money problems together and working as a team will strengthen the bond between you, and help you create a healthy, lasting partnership. Money can create misery or happiness, depending on how you manage it. The most valuable thing in a long-term, stable relationship is having a partnership, and most new couples don't realize that money is a major factor in marital happiness."

So what can you do to prevent financial issues as you take your relationship to the next level? It starts by talking about it. "Because finances can be a key source of friction in a marriage, couples should strive to achieve financial wellness and have open communication about finances both before and during their marriage," Matt Reiner, co-founder and CEO of Wela, and app out that helps couples get their finances on track, tells Bustle. But financial advisers and money apps like Wela can come in handy too when it comes to reaching your goals as a couple.

"Wela utilizes artificial intelligence to track users' daily, weekly, and monthly spending habits, and provides personalized feedback based on financial needs and goals. Using the concept of a 'daily spend limit,' Wela helps you better understand how your decisions today impact financial goals that are months, years, or even decades down the road — ones that you should be setting together with your new life partner."

As you can see, all it takes to prevent many of the financial issues you and your partner could potentially have is some pre-engagement money talks. Below are key questions to ask your partner before money conflicts get out of hand — literally.


"What Are Your Spending Habits?"

Perhaps you're a budgeting-down-to-the-last-dollar type of person, but your partner is not. So far in your time as a couple, you haven't run into many financial issues. However, if you plan to merge your bank and savings accounts, you'd better have a talk about finances first. "If you're in a relationship, you need to communicate regularly about finances," Kimmie Greene, consumer finance expert at Intuit's Mint, tells Bustle. "Consider scheduling a money date outside of your apartment, like taking a walk to your favorite coffee shop to talk about your spending in a comfortable environment. Make sure you're on the same page about any big purchases or family obligations that may be coming up, and if you aren't, talk through a compromise."


"What Is Your Attitude Toward Money?"


Everyone was raised differently when it comes to money and managing it. Your mother may have had to use food stamps for a while to bring you and your brother up after her divorce (just me?). Or, you may come from a more wealthy background. Or, you may come from one that's more middle class. No matter which one you were raised in, you could have learned frugal spending habits — or not. So before getting married, it’s essential that you and your partner discuss your attitudes about money.

"Talk about how your families dealt with money, and what you liked and didn't like about their style," says Dr. Tessina. "Share your observations about how various friends handle money, and what you think. Then make the discussion more personal by talking about how *you* feel about money, spending, saving, and your future dreams." Maggie Germano, Certified Financial Education Instructor and financial coach for women, agrees. "Even if you and your partner differ when it comes to money, you should both be aware of where the other is coming from," says Germano. "It's important to get on the same page, so that no one feels like they have to be dishonest later on. If you never had the money talk at the beginning of your relationship, have it now. Put it all out on the table."


What Are Your Values When It Comes To Money?


Just like people have different money attitudes, how people spend money is also value-driven, Relationship Specialist Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, and author of Relationship Reset: Secrets from a Couples Therapist That Will Revolutionize Your Love for a Lifetime, tells Bustle. "Often what attracts us to a partner is similar values; however, most conflict over spending can be connected to value differences. For example, if one partner highly values security, they maybe prone to spending less, whereas if the other partner highly values experiences, they may spend more freely. This small difference in values will cause conflict for this couple. Without understanding that it is their differing values driving the conflict, they are bound to blame one another. A simple conversation as to what values are important to each of them can help foster an aligned spending plan that honors each of their values."


"How Do You Pay Your Bills?"


You may pay your bills via autopay and on time, whereas your partner may have trouble remembering when bills are due. "Although money is just a tool, it is a tool that holds a lot of power," says Elmquist. "In a relationship, sharing money requires a high level of trust between two people. It also demands transparency and vulnerability, which opens us up to the possibility of being hurt. Urgency addresses how soon payments need to be made, checks need to be deposited, taxes need to be filed, etc. Often, partners have a different sense of timing, which can result in disagreement and discomfort. Usually, it is best for the person with a higher sense of urgency to organize payments and paperwork."


"What Are Your Financial Goals?"

Oftentimes, you may need goals to help structure your life: career goals, fitness goals, vacation goals, you name it. Financial goals, too, should make the list, and be first on it. "Check in with each other about your finances at key times throughout the year — New Year's and before the fun of summer are often great times — to talk through your personal goals, both individually and as a couple, and what that means for your finances," says Greene. "This will help to get you on the same page, but also give you enough runway, so there are no surprises partway through the year or unfunded dreams, such as an international vacation that takes more than a month of savings to become a reality."

Also, compromising is key. "If your financial goals differ, how can you compromise?" says Germano. "Is there a way that all your goals can work together? Being in agreement means you can be more honest and communicative with each other moving forward."


"What Are Your Long-Term Financial Goals?"


Of course, talking about long-term financial goals is also on your financial-questions-to-ask-your-partner-to-do list. "Discuss long-term joint financial goals (i.e., a new home, baby, travel, etc.)," says Dr. Tessina. "The previous step should lead you naturally into a further discussion of your long-term goals, and into a discussion of specific steps you need to follow to reach them. Steps should include saving and/or raising money to realize your goals, and a plan for how long you think it will take. Then, put your plan to work. Once you have the steps outlined, break the first couple steps down into small increments and choose steps for which each of you will take responsibility for in the coming week(s), etc."


"How Will We Merge Our Finances?"


A big part of merging your life with your partner's has to do with finances. You may already know this from all the marriage prep you've been going through. One "marriage prep" discussion — at least one — should be devoted to how you two will merge your money.

"If you're just starting to merge finances, consider setting up three accounts: Yours, Mine, and Ours," says Greene. "It's essential to come to an agreement on what you will consider 'Our' expenses. It's easy to get tripped up by not making this specific enough, so make sure your list is comprehensive (i.e., does a birthday gift for your mother come from the joint account or your own?). It's OK to fine-tune this list over time, and keeping communication lines open is key. Next, agree on the amount of discretionary money you will each have for the Yours + Mine accounts — this works best if it is an equal amount. Having an equal discretionary spending account puts you both on the same level, eliminating issues that can arise when there is a large gap between two incomes or if one partner has different spending habits than another."


"What Kind Of Debt Do You Have, And What Are You Doing About It?"

I know someone who married a guy with almost $100,000 in student loan debt. Only, he didn't tell her before they got married. She made twice as much money as he did, and when their marriage became official, she became responsible for that student loan debt, too. "You and your significant other will not only want to take a look at your savings goals, but also make sure any debts are on track to be paid off," Greene says. Andrea Woroch, working on behalf of Marcus by Goldman Sachs, feels that being upfront about credit card debt is key, as well.

"Credit card debt makes it difficult for couples to reach important milestones like buying a home or starting a family," she tells Bustle. "That's why it's so important to lay it all out on the table and work together to determine the best tools to eliminate the burden of debt.

Elmquist is a believer in openness about finances, too. "For you to maintain trust, financial decisions need to be discussed and agreed upon before money is spent," she says. "This includes taking out loans and credit cards, individually or jointly. A partner should not be hiding spending, credit, or loans from you."


"What Is Your Financial History Like?"


Most couples know a lot about each other, and each other's histories when it comes to where they grew up, where they've worked, their families, their health, and so on. Knowing your partner's financial history is critical, too. "Money and sex are two of the most uncomfortable topics for couples to discuss openly," says Elmquist. "For a variety of reasons, partners may feel like it is taboo to talk about money, including: It invades their privacy, they feel embarrassed, they feel out of control, they don't feel educated enough, or they don’t think there is a reason to talk about it. However, just like talking about your sexual health and history is critical for each partner, so is talking about your financial health and history. Without these conversations, assumptions are made, damaging secrets can be kept, and the freedom of being known and accepted is impossible to achieve. When couples combine their finances, they both bear the consequences of overspending on a budget, making late payments, and negative credit report issues. If your partner is consistently irresponsible with money choices, it will affect your relationship long-term."

Jessica Gomez, author of The Realist Bride: Everything You REALLY Need to Know to Plan Your Wedding, agrees about the importance of talking about money before there are any wedding bells. "Regarding talking to a significant about money before marriage, it is absolutely crucial," tells Bustle. "If you're not comfortable talking to your significant other about money, you're not ready to get married. You may unearth some things about them that you don't know — like debt or bills that have gone into collections. A checkered payment history doesn't just affect your significant other — when you're ready to buy a house together, that's going to come up... Money should be discussed before anyone is talking about a wedding. A wedding is a day — a marriage is for life."

So before you make moves in your relationship to get married — make sure you and your partner talk about as many facets of money as possible. Tying the knot ties you two together financially, too, and it's not a knot that can become easily undone.