In a few weeks I’m going to get married.
Just typing those words makes my heart leap — it’s either the profound love I feel for my fiancée, Mandy, or it’s the gigantic to-do list that remains before the big event.
Luckily, one thing we’ve already crossed off that list is talking about our finances. I can say with utmost confidence that, in terms of money, Mandy and I are on the same page. (It helps that when you work for a financial services company, the topic is almost always on your mind.)
Of course, we didn’t just sit down one day and quiz each other — these discussions and experiences happened organically over time. But looking back, our most insightful money lessons as a couple centered on a handful of topics that cut to the core of our attitudes about money — and ultimately our relationship. Here are some of the big money questions you and your partner should also answer before saying “I do.”
WHAT IS YOUR SPENDING PHILOSOPHY?
When I was a bachelor, I didn’t make grocery lists. When I was hungry, I went to the corner store or a nearby fast-food restaurant. It was all about convenience; price was an afterthought. Mandy, on the other hand, is a budgeter, and she has the spreadsheets to prove it. She is all about finding a deal and pushing every dollar further.
One day early in our relationship, I brought home a loaf of bread from the corner store and Mandy looked at me aghast: She couldn’t believe I paid twice as much as it would cost from a grocery store. Whilst holding my pricey loaf, we unofficially began our first money talk.
It would be very frustrating for Mandy to be with someone who continued blowing money on impulse buys when she puts so much effort into doing the exact opposite. That’s why I now live by the mantra: One simply does not pay full price for anything. I changed my spending ways and, honestly, the reason had less to do with money and more with respecting my partner.
This was a crucial discussion to have in the early stages of our relationship. By talking through each of our spending philosophies and hearing each other’s sides, we were able to reconcile our differences and move forward as a team.
HOW DO YOU SAVE MONEY?
Later in our relationship, I asked Mandy if she was maxing out the employer match in her 401(k). She looked at me and asked, “Maxing out the what for the what?” It was my turn to look aghast when she said she hadn’t looked at her retirement account in the year since she’d started her job. Call it money discussion number two.
As we talked, the conversation moved from employer matches to the different retirement savings vehicles to how much money to save in an emergency fund, and how we wanted to save beyond those accounts. I could see Mandy’s eyes start to glaze over at the first mention of Roth IRA, but fortunately, investing is a bit of a hobby for me.
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As such, I helped her navigate the ins and outs of her retirement account, and she upped her contribution to max-out her employer match. And after our emergency fund was in a good place, I showed her a few brokerage services that make it easy to invest spare income for even more growth — she‘s hooked. She’s choosing companies she wants to invest in for her portfolio and is enjoying learning the ins and outs of the market.
WHAT ARE YOUR LONG-TERM GOALS?
Once we knew we were on the same savings page, the next question was: What did we want to put our savings toward?
Buying a home was at the top of our savings list, and we knew that we would rather spend our money on something tangible that would grow value over time, rather than spending it all on our wedding or traveling across Europe.
Since neither of us has siblings, another long-term conversation we needed to have was how we would support our parents in the future. We know our next house will need to be big enough for our kids, my mom and Mandy’s parents, and we’re already planning for it.
If your long-term goals differ from your partner’s, it can be difficult to make financial decisions as a team. And while you’re discussing your goals, it's also important to talk retirement — when you want to retire and what you want your lifestyle to look like. That way, you can set expectations and work toward your goals together.
DO YOU HAVE DEBT?
Most of us would rather share embarrassing anecdotes from our childhood than talk about our debt — but when it comes to you and your partner, their debt will eventually be your debt. It wasn’t until we both confessed our debts that we started working to help each other.
While our debts were different — I had credit card debt and Mandy had student loans — we realized we were making the same mistake in our repayment plans. We each only made the minimum payment every month, meaning my credit card balance continued to grow and Mandy was only paying down the interest on her loans instead of making progress on the principal.
So, I paid off my credit card balance and now pay my bill in full each month. Mandy refinanced her loans, and I agreed to take on more expenses so she could accelerate her loan payments. Talking about our debts wound up bringing us closer together — not to mention, it kick started our repayment plans so we’re in a stronger financial place.
Every couple is different, which means there are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. The key is to be on the same page with your partner — and having honest discussions about your finances and goals can help ensure you move forward as a team.