Advertiser Disclosure

Want Happily Ever After? Best to Talk About Money Before

May 13, 2015
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

By Pamela Sams

Learn more about Pamela at NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

They’re set to get married, but one of them is a spender and the other is a saver. One gambles on investments, the other gets queasy at the thought of risk. One makes twice as much and thinks a 50-50 split on bills is fair.

When a couple is in love and contemplating marriage, financial matters are often far from their minds.

Even so, it’s important to address the role that money will play in the marriage, since financial misunderstandings can wreak havoc on a couple’s happiness. And the time to deal with money matters is before the wedding, not after. Too many couples fail to talk seriously about money until after they’re married, and that can lead to some unexpected and unpleasant surprises.

Spender vs. saver

Couples are often surprised to find just how far apart they are on money matters. In many cases, one spouse is a dedicated saver, while the other is a dedicated spender. This mismatch can obviously lead to problems down the line. Getting these important matters sorted out and coming to an agreement ahead of time is the best way to head off problems.

For example, couples can agree that all purchases over a certain dollar amount be discussed in advance, giving each other the freedom for small indulgences from time to time. This can help reduce the financial strain on the marriage without the partners feeling deprived or resentful.

Couples should also have a rough idea of where each partner stands financially before the marriage. It is not necessary to go through each financial statement and bill line by line, but a basic understanding of your partner’s financial condition is essential. This allows couples to identify potential trouble spots early and work on better financial habits as a couple.

Bold vs. timid

Going over finances before the wedding also gives couples a chance to discuss investment strategies. Virtually every couple has short-term and long-term financial goals, but the partners may have quite different ideas about how to reach them. One person may wish to play it safe when it comes to investing, while the other partner may be comfortable taking on more risk. It is important to work out these differences and agree on a strategy that is acceptable to both partners.

That could mean putting investment money into separate pools, one for each partner. It could also mean discussing any financial moves ahead of time or allocating some money for safe investments and other funds for longer-term growth opportunities. It could even mean that one spouse takes the lead on investing while the other sits back and makes periodic recommendations. In any case, the key is to keep the lines of communication open, and be sure all investment decisions are transparent.

Big earner vs. small earner

One of the hardest things for couples to do is allocate household expenses fairly when one partner makes significantly more money than the other. That difference in earning power can seem insignificant at first, but as time goes on it can become a real problem, especially if the two partners also have different spending and saving habits.

Many couples feel that the fairest way to allocate household expenses is simply to split everything down the middle, but that allocation may not go over well with the lower-earning spouse. One alternative couples can use is to allocate expenses on a percentage basis.

Say one spouse earns $7,000 a month and the other earns $3,000 per month. In this case, the higher-earning spouse would pay 70% of the household expenses, and the other would pick up the remaining 30%. That ensures that each spouse is contributing a commensurate share of his or her income to maintaining the household. You could probably poke holes in this strategy, too, but for some it may work better than a 50-50 split.

Dealing with money is not easy for couples; nevertheless, it’s an important consideration. Financial problems are responsible for a significant percentage of breakups and divorces, so getting this aspect right—prior to marriage—is crucial.