7 money do’s and don’ts to tackle before you marry

Mary Kate Miller
January 30, 2018
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Congrats! You’ve decided to tie the knot. You’ve curated the perfect hashtag announcing #isaidyes.

As you approach the aisle, there are plenty of things you have to consider. In addition to wedding planning, it’s time to have “the talk.” By that, we mean the money talk. Here are seven of the biggest financial dos and don’ts to consider before you get hitched.

Do: Get financially undressed in front of each other

Don’t: Keep secrets

The decision to get married comes because you and your partner have already achieved some level of intimacy, and you’ve decided to commit to each other. We talk a lot about what physical and emotional intimacy look like, but financial intimacy is just as important.

Before you and your fiancé tie the knot, you have to let your partner see where you are financially and vice versa. What does it mean to financially strip down? It means coming to the table and showing each other exactly where you are. Get honest about exactly how much money you make. Be frank about how much money you’re spending on your credit card bills each month. Show your partner what kind of debt you’re carrying and how much you have. Share information about any investments, retirement accounts, and insurance policies you might have.

This is a scary thing to do, and it can be tempting to put your best foot forward by massaging the details. Don’t do it. Having a frank financial foundation before you tie the knot is an essential step towards building a solid life together. If you leave something out, you’re not setting your partner, or yourself, up for success. A lie — even of omission— will eventually come out. The only thing you’ll have succeeded in doing is to set a precedent that it’s okay for you and your partner to lie to each other about money. And is that really the life you want to live?

Do: Make a plan for debt reduction

Don’t: Shame yourself or your partner

A reported 73% of Americans die in debt. As you and your partner start your lives together, you want to make a plan for debt reduction. Carrying debt around with you for the entirety of your lives is a heavy burden— financially and emotionally. Eliminating debt will liberate you and allow you to pursue your financial goals unencumbered.

Before you panic about your student loans or credit card debt, you should know that you’re not alone. 8 in 10 Americans are in debt. The key here is not to let your debts trigger a shame spiral. That can leave you feeling overwhelmed and less motivated to tackle your debt. You are where you are. That is okay. Take a deep breath and make a realistic plan to help you tackle that debt. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, you might benefit from sitting down with a financial planner. Sometimes, having an unbiased third party is what you need in order to put your best foot forward. Think of it like premarital couples counseling, but for money.

Do: Set your financial goals

Don’t: Think you’re going to fundamentally change just because you’re getting married

You’re building a life together. What does that look like? Do you want to own a home? Have kids? Do you want to travel a lot or live abroad? Are you hoping to retire early?

You can absolutely have what you want, but as you make these plans, be realistic. The honeymoon phase can affect the way you see money, too. Just because you’re getting married, it doesn’t mean you’re going to change overnight. Personal finance is mostly behavior. Set your goals and be realistic about the steps that you can make to get there. If you’re someone who has never made a habit of saving, it’s probably not realistic that you’ll be able to save for a house down-payment in a year. That’s okay. Make a plan that works for you.

Do: Consider a prenup

Don’t: Talk about the statistical chances of divorce in the same conversation

You and your partner may be coming into marriage on an uneven financial footing. Whether you’ve achieved a solid amount of financial success, you’ve had the good luck to have an affluent family, or you just feel comforted by boundaries (financial and otherwise), there are a number of reasons to consider a prenup.

Prenups no longer have the icky connotation that they used to. It can be a helpful tool for establishing boundaries, communication, and most importantly, respect. When you consider a prenup, what you’re asking is for your partner to respect you by respecting what’s yours— for better and for worse.

Conversations about prenups stop being constructive when you talk about the chances of divorce in the same conversation. Yes, that’s a risk. Your partner knows that. You know that. If you say you want a prenup because of divorce, it sounds like you’re telling your partner how much you’re not committed to them. Leave conversations about the risk of divorce for a later date. Let the consideration of a prenup strengthen your relationship, instead.

Do: Make a budget for your lives together

Don’t: Put most of your money towards the wedding

A budget is the cornerstone of your financial lives together. It’s how you’ll enact your plan for debt reduction and work toward those goals for the future. Roll up your sleeves and have a date night where you make the budget for your lives. Make it fun by incorporating the little things that give you joy. If you love color coding, highlight away. If you like to have everything at your disposal, find an app that will allow you to do it.

As you budget for your lives together, make sure you’re not blowing all the money on the wedding. As tempting as every Pinterest board you see is, your wedding is not the end game. It’s a celebration of the fact that you and your fiancé have decided to do life together. You want to budget your money so that you can live the lives you want to live.

Do: Figure out the logistics of how you want to handle your money

Don’t: Put off the details until the day you feel like dealing with them (that day will never come)

Who is going to handle your money, you or your partner? Where are you going to bank? What day will you make payments against your debt? Who is responsible for bill pay? Where will you invest your money? How much are you saving, and how much are you putting into retirement accounts (and according to what schedule)?

If these questions give you a headache, you are not alone. The administrivia of personal finance can feel like the last thing you want to do, especially when you’re planning a wedding. Still, you gotta pick a day to do it. Because if you don’t want to do it now, you’re never going to want to do it.

Do: Talk about what scares you

Don’t: Tell your partner they shouldn’t be afraid

Be honest about what freaks you out when it comes to money. We all have one tick. Find a way to communicate that to your partner so that you can both be sensitive to it. If credit card debt is your biggest fear, you’ll want to find a way to discuss the monthly expenses and how to approach when they’re higher than anticipated without going into panic mode. The trick is to find a way to communicate that is respectful and works for both parties.

During this conversation, you’ll probably discover that what freaks out your partner is NBD to you. That’s great. You can be there rock. What you don’t want to do is tell them that they don’t have to or shouldn’t feel that way. We can’t change how we feel— at least not without feeling heard. Instead, focus on how you can support your partner. Figure out what you can do to make them feel more comfortable… and one day, they might not be afraid anymore.

Remember, you didn’t build your relationship in a day. All of this takes work, and you might not get it right out of the gate. Relationships take work. You and your partner have proven that you work well together, so hang in there. A solid financial future is right around the corner.

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