They say love conquers all — but when it comes to money, not so much. Finances are a leading cause of strife in relationships and for most new couples, talking about money is really hard to do. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you and your honey get good at talking about your finances early on — preferably before you walk down the aisle. After all, how a person handles money tells you a lot about who they are. Putting your finances on the table before the big day can help ensure you start your life together on a healthy financial footing.
To help you out, I’ve put together 10 money-related topics you and your soon-to-be spouse need to talk about before you take the plunge, whether it’s getting married or moving in together.
1. Your family history
Most of us learn our money habits, for better or for worse, from our parents. If your family history involves, say, bankruptcy, then your money habits might be shaped by that. Sharing how money was handled in your home is a great way to start talking about how you can make a fresh financial start in your relationship.
2. Your personal balance sheets
This is where the concept of “for better or for worse” comes into play. You and your fiancé should have a good grasp of each other’s assets and debts before marriage. Of course, bringing debt into a relationship is a lot harder than bringing assets. A big tip for this discussion — avoid blame and shame. Now, if your fiancé’s debt is more than you can handle, this could be a big red flag about the future of the relationship.
Believe it or not, I know a few people who have walked down the aisle without knowing exactly what their beloved earns. Understanding how much money is coming into your household from both your jobs is critical. Before your wedding day, you need to talk about what your incomes are, both before and after-tax.
4. Do you need a prenup?
If you don’t have any significant assets, then a prenup might not be for you. But people entering into second marriages or marrying later in life might want to consider having a one, especially if you have assets you want to see passed down to other people, such as children from a previous marriage.
5. The future
Where do you see yourself in five, 10 and 15 years? That’s an important question for both of you to answer together. You might see yourself with three kids and a huge house in the city. Your fiancé might see you two travelling the world, real estate-free. Older couples should also talk about retirement — when do you plan on retiring and how do you plan to make it a financial reality?
If your goals include a mortgage or financing of any kind, then you should check your credit scores. If one of you has a poor score, you’ll know what you’re dealing with when it comes time to get approval on that loan, mortgage, etc. Or you can work to clean up a poor score together.
7. Consider professional advice
My husband and I came into our relationship with different money styles. We decided to call in an impartial third party to mediate our money merger — a financial planner. It worked really well for us — we avoided a lot of arguments and our planner helped us determine an investment approach that merged our two styles.
8. Who does what?
If you’re living with your partner for the first time, you need to clarify who’s responsible for doing things like paying the bills or making sure you’re saving enough for retirement. In my house, my husband is the chief financial officer, responsible for making sure the bills get paid on time. I’m chief investment officer, responsible for our RRSP savings and other big financial goals. How will you divvy up the financial responsibilities when you’re living together?
9. Your bank or mine?
At some point, it’s going to be easier for you to merge your finances through some kind of joint bank account, even if you both keep separate accounts for yourselves. How you pool your incomes to make sure the bills get paid differs from couple to couple but I’m a big fan of joint bank accounts, if only because one account lets you see where you stand financially at a glance. One important thing to take away from this conversation — how will you approach personal spending? Will you give yourselves an allowance for items like pedicures and gadgets? If so, how much?
10. Who’s your beneficiary?
If your fiancé isn’t already your designated beneficiary on your pension plan or your RRSP, then you need to make sure you make that change. You should also consider making a will, especially if there are significant assets at stake like a house or condo.
Caroline Cakebread is a Toronto-based financial writer and editor. She’s also a recovering academic and the mother of two kids. Check out her personal finance blog for Chatelaine Your Money.