You and your significant other finish each other’s sentences, make each other laugh and can’t imagine spending your lives apart. You think you’re ready to get engaged — which means you're due for a few constructive conversations beyond honeymoon locations and wedding venues.
Specifically, it’s time to get on the same page about your finances.
Financial planning isn’t the sexiest topic. But it’s important to be aligned on key issues that will influence what your life together looks like before you walk down the aisle, says Maggie Baker, a psychologist who specializes in financial therapy. Here are four key money conversations to have before getting engaged.
HOW DOES EACH OF US MANAGE OUR MONEY?
When you first started dating, you probably observed each other’s money habits over time as you got to know each other. But now that you feel secure with one other and are committed to the relationship, Baker says it’s time to have deeper conversations around your finances — everything from how you spend money every day to the experiences and role models that helped shape your financial views.
Baker recommends that couples start by asking some basic questions: Are you more of a spender or a saver? Do you like to budget, or are you more inclined to improvise? How much debt and savings do each of us have? How much do we make separately and how will this impact our shared life? Should we merge our accounts or keep them separate?
“Many people are afraid that if they bring up the subject of money, it will change the relationship,” Baker says. “But hidden debt or spending can cause the end of a relationship, in large part because it can trigger a sense of betrayal. It’s like having an affair with money.”
WHERE WILL WE LIVE?
You may both have family living in different parts of the country, and a competing desire to live close to them. Or maybe one of you has always wanted to rent an apartment in a big city, while the other wants to start house-hunting in the suburbs. Or perhaps you anticipate taking a job in a different city, state or even country in the near future.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to discuss whether a move is something both of you are open to, as it’ll affect your cost of living and potential job opportunities. Even if it’s not a decision you need to make now, Baker says that it’s important to come up with a framework for how you would plan to tackle this type of decision should the need arise.
DO WE BOTH WANT KIDS?
Getting married doesn’t mean you plan to have children, but it’s crucial that you don’t make assumptions about your significant other’s desire for kids.
“When one part of a couple wants kids and the other doesn’t, it can be really difficult to come to a resolution where everyone is happy and fulfilled,” Baker says.
If you both see kids in your future, Baker recommends discussing your views on discipline and the values you hope to instill in them, as well as how you envision balancing work and childcare — a decision that will have a big impact on your finances. Will you hire childcare right away, or will one spouse take a step back for a while to focus on the kids?
“It’s important to be honest about competing desires and to recognize that in a healthy relationship, there will often be compromises,” Baker says. “You need to work toward those compromises together.”
WHAT ARE OUR DREAMS AND GOALS?
Sharing your dreams with the person you love is one of the best parts of being in a relationship — just make sure you go beyond generalities. Baker says that it’s important that each of you understands the other’s long-term goals, whether those are personal, professional or financial, so you can support them.
“When you get married, you’re talking about a shared future,” Baker says. “If you’re living with someone 24/7 for the rest of your life, then ideally you want them to be happy and satisfied. That means understanding their vision of the future and making sure you are both working toward a future where you can be happy together.”