If there is one topic in the entire world about which everyone has an opinion, it is money! Whether you want to acquire as much of it as you can, simply need it to pay bills, or feel compelled to live with as little of it as possible, money means something to you; and, it will mean something to your future spouse. The big question is: does it carry similar meanings to you both?
You know what they say about money…
- “It makes the world go round.” – John Kander, Fred Ebb
- “Money often costs too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “Money can’t buy me” – Paul McCarthney
- “Time is money.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” – (I Timothy 6:10, ESV)
Before committing to spend your entire life with someone, it is extremely important to discuss and honestly evaluate how you both handle finances and how your money habits and beliefs will affect each other and your future children. Love is grand, but no amount of tingly butterflies in your gut is going to be enough to carry you and your spouse through times of financial struggle. If you view money in vastly different ways, it is better to know now than to be shocked and dismayed later when you have your first crazy money fight.
Money problems tangle up many marriages and we want this to be a non-issue for our clients and our readers. There is hope! You can put in the work now, get on the same page with money, and set yourselves up for peace and harmony in your finances. Does that sound exciting?!
If so, before you bridge the gap between dating and engagement, answer the following questions honestly; and, do not stop there! Keep digging, discussing, and melding your monetary philosophies!
- What is our overall financial philosophy?
Your philosophy of money is created by the set of beliefs you have about money itself. These questions will help to shed light on that set: Who taught you the most about money? Is money meant for necessities? Is money meant for fun? Is money evil? Is money something we should shun? Is money “just money”? Is it ever okay to live beyond your means? Are you okay sharing personal income and wealth information with others; if so, who?
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The questions below will help to further define your financial philosophies in your discussion together.
- What role will debt play in our marriage?
There are two kinds of people in the world – those who do not mind being in debt… and those who do. However, how people handle their debt is wide and varied. Some do not like having it, but they are not willing to sacrifice their lifestyle to get out of debt. Others will eat Ramen noodles for three years to wipe out their debt as quickly as possible. And, finally, there are those who think debt is normal and simply do not sweat it.
Thankfully, Eric and I have similar views about debt, and I consider this a blessing for our relationship! We believe the Bible specifically tells us to get out of debt and stay out of debt (Proverbs 6:1-5). However, we have met other Christians who simply do not find dumping their debt to be a top priority. So, what you and your sweetheart need to decide is how you both feel about debt, and what, if any, part will it play in your lives. Is debt okay for a house, but not for a car? Is debt okay for Christmas, but not for vacations? Is debt never permitted? Is it fine to go into debt for emergencies? Is debt a way to enjoy the lifestyle you want?
Ponder and discuss this question at length because disagreeing on this one point can destroy a lot of intimacy in your relationship, even if everything else between you is fine.
- Are we committed to living on a budget? If so, how will that look?
There are different types of budgets. There is the notepad budget – which was a personal favorite of mine in high school. I would jot down how much money I had and then split it among my “bills.” However, if I woke up one day and felt the urge to spend my money a different way – then, I’d do it! As long as I had money for tithes, car insurance, and gas, then life was fine. Such a plan is not a completely terrible way to live if your parents are paying for your room and board, health insurance, clothing, and food. (I chuckle in embarrassment to think I ever referred to their house as my house, and the room they let me stay in rent free as my room. Adulthood has a way of humbling that cocky kid inside all of us!)
Another type of budget is the: we are going to try a budget… but if we fail, we fail budget (i.e., the life story of so many frustrated couples). But, let’s face it… anything done half-hearted is doomed to fail even before it begins.
The budget Eric and I recommend is the zero-based budget Dave Ramsey talks about in his book, The Total Money Makeover, and in his phenomenal course, Financial Peace University. In short, this budget assigns a “task” to every dollar you make. Meaning, if you have $300 left over after budgeting for all your expenses, you still assign a job to that money. It can be set aside for future car repairs. You can plan to save it towards a long weekend. You can tuck it away in savings. It is about intentionality and those who work hard and build wealth are intentional with their finances. Without giving every dollar a name, (as Dave Ramsey describes it), money floats away. Soon, that $300 overage is a vapor and you are not even sure what happened to it. Eric and I know how that feels!
- Will we have a joint account or separate accounts?
Our recommendation for married couples is to have one joint account (or one joint personal account and one joint business account if you are self-employed). The reason we suggest this is because money represents goals, dreams, and priorities. When couples share their resources, it shows a desire to be on the same path and working towards the same destinations. Also, couples who separate their finances into separate accounts have a much easier time divorcing – not only because they are not united in this main area of life, but because the practicality of having their own financial setup is already done.
Having separate accounts is not a divorce sentence. I know couples who choose to keep their accounts separate and are still married; yet, I have not found a compelling enough reason to convince me that couples should start their marriages on separate “teams.” If you do not trust the person you are dating to handle your family’s finances honestly, you will not likely trust him or her in other important ways as well. Let that be a red flag to explore in detail before getting engaged.
At any rate, whether you want to have a joint account or separate accounts, you and your significant other need to agree on this point before marriage. Learning your sweetie has completely different expectations is not a surprise you want to discover on your honeymoon.
- What is our plan for handling financial disagreements?
If you and your future spouse never have a disagreement about money, it will mean one or both of you is holding back. There will come a time when you will have conflicting viewpoints (And that is okay. It means you are breathing and have a functioning mental capacity.) So, go into your marriage not questioning if you will disagree sometimes, but questioning how you will handle it when you do.
- Which one of us will primarily handle the financial maintenance?
Though couples need to be in agreement about their finances, it is not realistic to assume that both partners will spend the same amount of time creating, tweaking, and maintaining the budget. The person “in charge” is not in control of the budget – rather, he or she is in charge of the money maintenance chore. Eric and I both eat, but we have agreed that I am in charge of the shopping and cooking. If he desires a specific meal, he is not out of luck. We can discuss it, and if I am able, I can deliver it. The same goes with our finances. I may be in charge of maintaining the budget each month because I am home during the day and have the time, but I do not hold the money under lock and key; and, if I want to make changes to our agreed upon budget, we discuss it first.
Having too many hands in the budgeting pot is inefficient and can lead to unnecessary fights. So, which one of you is more into numbers, accounting, and spreadsheets?
- Under what circumstances will we request money from family, and under what circumstances will we give money to our family?
Gird your loins, folks! This topic is a big one! There is something about family that makes us rethink our financial beliefs. Though I do not believe in loaning money to family (thanks to all the reasons Dave Ramsey lays out in his Financial Peace University course), I know my heart would break (and I would feel overwhelmed with pressure) if someone I loved showed up on my doorstep pleading with me for help.
So, talk about this now. Please do not wait until these situations face you because they can drop bombs into your marriage. Have a plan.
- Consider setting aside a bit of money in an envelope for such occasions.
- Agree that neither of you will ever give money (over a certain amount) to anyone without discussing it first.
- Agree to help in non-financial ways when possible (e.g., providing shelter, helping with home projects, babysitting, etc.).
Whatever you decide to do, be a team and have each other’s backs if and when you experience intense family pressure.
Though Eric and I do not believe in loaning money to others (Proverbs 22:7), we are not against giving in certain situations. We are not comfortable creating a master/slave relationship with those we love – or with anybody.
- What is our car-buying philosophy?
Will we buy new cars? Will we buy used cars? Will we lease cars? Will we drive cars a few years and then sell? Will we run our cars into the ground before getting new ones? Car purchases may seem like a small financial issue, but this is the stuff of legendary fights. ~smile~ For example, I do not believe in car payments. Saving for and buying a nice, used car outright is how I am determined to buy vehicles. It works because Eric is in complete agreement, but if he expected a new car every few years, and had no problem taking out a $500 monthly car note on it, we would have some incredibly unpleasant conversations. Compare your thoughts, beliefs, and experiences as it relates to car purchases, and see if you and your honey are of one mind.
- At what point in our marriage will we consider buying a house?
Please, whatever you do, do not allow outside influences to push you into buying a home before you are emotionally and financially ready to take the plunge. Home ownership is about so much more than paying a mortgage. There are updates, repairs, weather damage preparation, lawn care, and no on-call handyman (unless one lives in your home!). Owning a home is a blessing and something couples should consider if they plan on living in an area for several years, but it is a major investment. Take the time to study, research, and wait until you are ready for that responsibility.
If Eric and I were starting out again, we would want to know the following four pieces of advice: Avoid thirty-year mortgages. Avoid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). Put down at least 20% to avoid paying private mortgage insurance. And, most importantly, don’t spend more than 25% of your net monthly income on your housing. Even if you have to wait a bit longer than your friends to buy your first home, you will be glad you did not jump the gun. A new house is no fun if you have no money left to enjoy it!
- What role will giving play in our marriage?
Will we tithe faithfully? Will we set aside money for gifts? Will we support missionaries? Will we buy from children selling gift wrapping paper for school fundraisers? Will we take meals to the sick? Will we give in ways that are not financial in nature (e.g., labor, hospitality, etc.)? When a giver marries a non-giver, it is a struggle. As Christ-followers, we are called to be generous, but people have different opinions about what giving means. What some call “helping,” others understand is “enabling.”
Try to enjoy this discussion. Listen to understand each other’s points of view. Though you will probably tweak it over the years, develop a giving plan for your marriage.
- Bonus Question: If we suddenly came into ten million dollars, what would we do with it?
Eric and I sat down with a notebook one evening and individually did this exercise for fun… and then we compared plans. You can learn a lot about each other from this exercise – and even some hidden truths about yourself.
What talks have you and your boyfriend or girlfriend had so far about the role of money in your marriage? Have you been avoiding the topic? Have you spoken about it extensively? Some are passionate about discussing money and others would rather watch dew drops dry. However, regardless of your love or hatred for dealing with financial matters, it is something every couple should dialogue about in detail before engagement. Rich or broke, money matters will affect your marriage; but, money does not have to be the cause of constant conflict for you if you get on the same page now and commit to following the rules you both set in place.
Which money discussions have you had with your significant other so far?