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Planning a wedding comes with a long to-do list: Choose the wedding party, send out the invites, taste cakes and so on. But something you may not think to do is have a talk about your financial values with your partner before walking down the aisle.
More than two-thirds of engaged Americans (67%) say they’ve found it difficult to have a serious financial conversation with their fiance or fiancee, according to a new survey NerdWallet developed in partnership with Zola.com, a one-stop-shop wedding planning platform.
This may have a cost: 70% of engaged Americans say they’re facing money challenges during wedding planning, which is likely not helped by their reticence to talk about finances. And more than half of engaged Americans (54%) don’t agree with their partner on financial goals.
The survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults — among whom 133 are currently engaged and 1,018 are married — conducted online by The Harris Poll, asked engaged Americans about the financial struggles they’re facing as they plan weddings. We also asked married Americans what money topics they didn’t talk about prior to marriage, but wish they had.
Some engaged couples are trying to balance their wedding with other money goals. According to the survey, 3 in 10 engaged Americans (30%) say a money challenge they’re facing during wedding planning is juggling multiple financial priorities at the same time as paying for a wedding.
Many married Americans regret forgoing prenuptial money talks. Three in 5 married Americans (60%) say there are financial topics they didn’t discuss, but wished they had, before getting married. This could be because more than half of married Americans (53%) say they have found it difficult to have a serious financial conversation with their spouse.
More than half of engaged Americans don’t agree on financial goals. The survey found that 54% of engaged Americans don’t agree on their financial goals with their partner, and more than a quarter of engaged Americans (26%) argue with their partner about money regularly.
“Money stresses can loom over newly hitched couples, creating hiccups during the first years of marriage. Some of that strain can be avoided by talking about finances early and aligning goals, expectations and habits with each other,” says Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.
Wedding planning is plagued by money struggles for many
The way to the altar can be pricey: Weddings can cost tens of thousands of dollars (or more), and according to the survey, 7 in 10 engaged Americans (70%) say they’re facing money challenges during the planning process. Of engaged Americans, 30% say one of the biggest money challenges they’re facing is juggling multiple financial priorities while paying for a wedding, and 22% say the same of going over budget on their wedding.
“In our experience advising our couples, a large source of stress is staying on top of all of the expenses associated with planning a dream wedding," says Emily Forrest, director of communications at Zola. "For many couples, this is the first time that they are in charge of a substantial budget, which can be overwhelming.”
More than 1 in 5 engaged Americans (21%) say one of the biggest money challenges they’re facing during wedding planning is that they don’t agree with their partner on how much they should spend overall on their wedding, and for some, this may result in financial repercussions after “I do.” Around 1 in 8 engaged Americans (13%) say the same of having to go into debt to pay for their wedding.
Money talk is difficult for some, but a necessary premarital task
Getting on the same page with your partner about money before marriage may seem about as romantic as biannual dental cleanings, but like the latter, it’s really smart. Money can fund your goals as a couple — like buying a home or traveling the world — but only if you both work together to make a financial plan. This isn’t always easy; the survey found that more than half of married and engaged Americans (55%) have found it difficult to have a serious financial conversation with their significant other. The No. 1 reason? Nearly a quarter (24%) say they didn’t want to create conflict.
Some married and engaged Americans aren’t actively avoiding the conversation. According to the survey, 14% have found it difficult to have a serious money conversation with their partner because they didn’t think to bring up the topic, and 12% say it’s because they didn’t think it was important to discuss. But this conversation is arguably one of the most important premarital talks you’ll have, as evidenced by how many married Americans say they wish they had talked about money topics before getting married.
The survey found that 3 in 5 married Americans (60%) say there are financial topics they didn’t discuss with their spouse but wish they had before getting married. For nearly 3 in 10 married Americans (29%), the missed money conversation they wish they’d had with their spouse before marriage was about their financial goals.
Some other financial topics that went unbreached for some married Americans before marriage are income (19%), debt (23%) and financial help provided to family members (14%), all of which could significantly impact a couple’s financial life together and cause resentment if not discussed.
Some engaged Americans are having regular money fights
Many engaged couples are at least somewhat on the same page financially: The survey found that nearly half of engaged Americans (46%) say they and their partner agree on their financial goals. But there’s progress to be made. Less than a third of engaged Americans (31%) say they and their partner are happy with how they’ve decided to manage their money, and more than a quarter of engaged Americans (26%) say they and their partner argue about money regularly.
Having money conversations is important, particularly when a couple has a financial imbalance, like large debt or income disparities. In the survey, we found that more than 1 in 5 engaged Americans (21%) say one partner has a lot more debt than the other. Talking about how you’ll handle this as a couple is crucial to avoiding future conflict and resentment.
Couples with different upbringings — whether cultural or socioeconomic — could likely benefit even more from having these money discussions before marriage. According to the survey, a quarter of engaged Americans (25%) say they and their spouse are from different cultural backgrounds, and the same proportion (25%) say they’re from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Money lessons and attitudes learned growing up could be very different for these couples, and getting on the same page may take more conversations.
What engaged couples can do
Talk about your finances. Sit down with your spouse-to-be to discuss your finances as they currently are. Get it all on the table: your income, credit scores, debt, family obligations and spending habits. Both of you should aim to be completely transparent; enter into your marriage without money secrets, both because it’s the right thing to do and to avoid future resentment.
Then talk about how you want your finances to look once you're married. According to the survey, nearly half of married Americans (47%) combine accounts completely, while 21% keep their finances completely separate from their spouse. Others contribute to a joint account 50/50 (16%) or proportionally to their income (11%) for shared expenses. How you and your partner decide to manage your finances is up to you, but you’ll want to make sure you’re in agreement before you’re legally entwined.
Financial conversations may seem tedious, but they don’t have to be. There’s fun to be had even if you don’t love spreadsheets. Using money to pursue your dreams as a couple — like starting a family or retiring early to drive around the country together — can help make your marriage magical.
“Talking about finances doesn’t have to focus on how money is limiting you, but rather on the possibilities it can create for your life together. Asking each other about your biggest financial dreams and then breaking down the smaller steps you need to take together to achieve those dreams can be even more romantic than a sunset cruise,” Palmer says.
If you haven’t yet, put together a wedding budget. The survey found that 15% of engaged Americans say one of the biggest money challenges they’re facing during wedding planning is they don’t know how to create a budget for their wedding. Failing to set a budget for such a large expense can mean entering your married life with debt. Instead, use a free wedding budget management tool to set limits for different spending categories, then track your actual spending as you go to keep expenses in check.
“Understanding how you will fund your wedding and setting a concise budget early on ensures that you know exactly what you can and can’t afford before you start planning,” Forrest says. “We also recommend that couples have an honest discussion about what their wedding priorities are — whether it’s attire, live entertainment or late night catering — so that they can decide what they are and aren’t willing to splurge on.”
While it’s not recommended to go into debt for your wedding, it can be a good idea to put your wedding expenses on a credit card and pay it off in full by the due date in order to earn rewards on your purchases while avoiding interest charges.
It’s also worth seeking out smart ways to lower your wedding costs, if you’d like to save some extra cash for the honeymoon. Some couples also choose to set up cash funds as part of their registry, so guests can contribute to the honeymoon or other financial goals.
Set up ongoing money talks, now and into your happily ever after. According to the survey, nearly a quarter of engaged Americans (23%) say one partner is less interested in talking about money than the other. A benefit of marriage is that many day-to-day tasks can be divided and conquered — you do the dishes, I’ll do the laundry. But money impacts just about everything in life, and both spouses need to know what’s going on with the family finances.
Schedule a regular money chat — weekly, monthly or quarterly — with your significant other. Make it fun and judgment-free, but set aside the time to talk about what’s going on with your finances, what’s working and what’s not, and the progress toward your combined goals.
“Surprising someone with money questions can create additional strain, so instead, set aside a time dedicated to talking about finances in an open and nonjudgmental way. If both people come prepared, it’s easier to tackle any difficult topics,” Palmer says.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from July 25-27, 2023, among 1,151 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who are currently married or engaged. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 3.2 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Sarah Borland at [email protected].
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