First of all, let me say that I love my wife, not just because she may read this blog post, but undeniably, I love my wife, period. We were married in Nov. 1996 (see the photo of us being pelted by bird seed leaving the church), so it’s been over 18 years at the time of this writing and I couldn’t be happier. I’m not one of those folks that complains about how their wife won’t let them do this or that, or someone who generally just says their wife make their life miserable. I feel like asking folks that complain like that, why did you get married then? Marriage is a partnership and like any good partnership, each party has to have a say, which means may not always get your way. If you wanted to be the king/queen of your castle and never have to answer to anyone, then you should just stay single. Sorry for the rant, I’ll step down from my soapbox for now.
When it comes to marriage, I firmly believe money and the financial direction of your family is one of the key elements that requires regular communication and an agreed direction to go. I hear a lot of claims about money being a key aspect in divorces. While the stats of marriages ending in divorce in the US seem to hover around 50%, I would imagine that money will at least be a top 3 factor in many of those divorces. I abhor divorce and the damage it does to people and families and it pains me to see the trend in our society that treats it as a thing you can change as easy as you change jobs. I hope and pray that your marriage is strong and you are in regular, meaningful dialog with your spouse about all the aspects of your marriage and family (not just finances). For today though, let’s focus on money and your marriage. I know it’s a slight stray away from compound interest topics, but in some ways it’s more important.
Pre-Marriage…How Do You know if you are Compatible Financially?
So how do you know if you and your spouse-to-be are heading in the same direction when it comes to finances? The answer could be simple; you must observe each other’s behaviors/habits and then communicate how you feel and discuss it. There is some truth to the saying “love is blind”, so don’t be blind to your financial future. Your marriage and money depend on it!
When couples are dating and eventually thinking about marriage, the discussions will likely turn to the future you both dream of and topics like jobs, kids, homes, trips, etc. But did you talk about money and finances before you wed? I’ll grant you that money and finance are not always the easiest topics to just jump into a conversation about, but there are ways to do it. One way to learn about how your potential spouse handles money is to observe what they purchase and how they make their purchases. You might actually learn very quickly just by observing someone that they really don’t have the same attitudes about money as you do. Relying solely on observation could lead to false assumptions, but that’s where follow-up questions or discussions can come in. For example if your boyfriend always buys things with his credit card, you may be concerned that he could be in credit card debt. But after you discuss the matter, you could find out that he pays his bill in full every month and is using the card to earn mileage points for your honeymoon! Either way, you get the idea, talking about it is a good thing.
Another tactic that is simple, but not to be overlooked is to listen. You may observe the person you are dating purchasing many big ticket items and then also complaining that they never seem to have any money left at the end of the month. Or you may hear them refer to some of their debt obligations (consumer debt, auto loans, etc.) in conversations while they still continue to make large discretionary purchases. These could be red flags and opportunities to discuss how you both feel.
My wife and I were very fortunate in this area prior to our marriage. I can’t take credit for having the great idea, but fortunately Financial Matters was a module in the pre-marital counseling we were doing through our church. Does premarital counseling solve all problems prior to marriage? Of course not. But it should get you to discuss the key issues that are common points of contention in marriages before the matter goes unchecked. The discussions hopefully lead to a life-long ease and desire to always keep each other apprised of your hopes, dreams, and even struggles. Or, the discussion could end with you realizing that you and your potential spouse aren’t headed in the same direction for your lives with regard to family, money or other aspects of marriage (like finances).
As we said, “love is blind” but don’t fall prey to that and let significant topics like finances go un-discussed prior to your wedding. Divergent money philosophies are not grounds for an instant break-up, but if it is one of a growing list of indicators that you two might not be heading in the same direction, then perhaps it’s time to take action.
I think it would be great if all couples that went through some form of pre-marital counseling found that they were perfect for each other, but I’m also realistic enough to know that this will not always be the case. It won’t be easy, but if a split does happen (for whatever reason) as a result of healthy discussions of the major factors of life, then the only consolation I can offer is that it’s easier to do it before you wed than after.
My wife and I walked through this and we are both glad that we did. Next post I’ll talk about how we handle some of the day-to-day financial matters now that we are married.