So, it’s already been two months since we returned from our fabulous, wonderful, spectacular vacation to Glacier National Park.
If I had it my way, we would have stayed hidden in the Rocky Mountains and never returned…
It was THAT awesome!
Immersing yourself in a completely different environment has a way of making you reflect on the rest of your life. The fact that we were hiking through mountain trails, trudging over snow-covered glaciers, staying in hotels straight out of The Shining, and snapping photos of moose and bald eagles seemed nothing short of impossible only two short years ago.
Two years ago, I couldn’t even afford to think about taking any sort of vacation whatsoever. When we got married in April 2016, we were in the homestretch of paying off credit card debt! Since then, a lot has changed, but definitely for the better.
Both my husband and I believe that love only goes so far.
Are you ready for this? Because I’m about to get all up in your stuff.
According to an American Express survey, one third of couples surveyed believed finances to be the most stressful facet of their relationship. Furthermore, ForbesWoman and The National Endowment for Financial Education reported that 31% of couples surveyed who had combined finances admitted to lying to their spouse about money (Business Insider).
No, the two of us aren’t jaded cynics who think love is dead. Granted, both of us have been married once before, and we learned a lot about ourselves, respectively. We do believe that in addition to loving one another, we needed mutual respect and compatible financial goals.
Sure, money isn’t everything, but I’ll tell you what–I bet you’re a lot happier with a savings account and bills that are paid!
My husband and I talk about money a lot. Obviously. I write this blog, after all, and a lot of the things I write about come straight out of my everyday life. We budget on payday, review our financial goals regularly, and adjust our allocations depending on new information and where we stand with regards to our goals. We’re not rich (what does rich mean, anyway?), but you’d think we were a couple of Scrooge McDucks if you overheard the maniacal laughter that comes out of our budgeting sessions.
After the nightmare of a PhD program that we both ended up leaving for better opportunities, we decided to start our new lives the right way. We didn’t ever want to worry about money EVER AGAIN.
Honestly, this wasn’t a difficult goal to achieve. As former grad students, both of us were used to living on shoe-string budgets and making our dollars stretch further than most people can imagine. Sometimes I still wonder how either of us made it out alive. We still made a lot of financial mistakes (hint: STUDENT LOANS!), but we had enough sense to learn from them.
One reason we were able to start our relationship (and marriage) off on the right foot is because we CONSTANTLY talked about our financial goals. It became one of our favorite discussions–what do we want our life to be like and how can we achieve that? Therefore, we made a point to have these five financial conversations before even thinking of tying the knot…
1) Financial History
Secrets, secrets are no fun…
Well, sometimes they are, but never when it involves money. When it comes to serious relationships, it’s best to come clean about your financial history. You know, things like credit scores, debt, and everything else you’ve spent your entire relationship successfully avoiding!
Beginning a serious relationship with full financial disclosure can only improve your situation, Notice I didn’t say “beginning your marriage”. This is because I truly believe finances should be discussed earlier in a relationship rather than later. No good can ever come from keeping your financial history a secret.
Now, y’all, discussing finances does not have to be all doom and gloom.
It’s true, you might think twice before getting too involved with someone who is a financial disaster, but not everyone is in dire straits. Disclosing your financial history can spark conversations about the future, mutual goals, and excitement about what you both want to do with your money. When we were paying off our mountain of credit card debt before we got married, I never dreamed that budgeting day could be so fun. The two of us created a mutual goal and motivated one another to stick to it. When we finally made that last credit card payment, it was like we reached a new milestone in our relationship.
It doesn’t matter how embarrassing you think your financial situation is; it’ll be a lot more embarrassing if your partner finds out you’ve been keeping financial secrets. I mean, seriously, if you can’t be straight with your future spouse, then you probably shouldn’t be marrying them to begin with.
2) Taking Stock
Perform a complete audit of your financial life.
Believe it or not, you might find things you completely forgot about or never even knew existed!
Case in point: Discovering a rogue checking account you didn’t realize your name was still on or a credit card your bank claimed was closed, but–SURPRISE!–that was a lie and your ex could still hypothetically request a new credit card.
Both of these things totally happened to my husband and I on different occasions. Fortunately, both of these stories have a happy ending. The afformentioned accounts were closed and everyone’s credit scores remained intact. However, it taught both of us that we need to periodically take stock of our financial lives and make sure everything is in order.
Every so often, take inventory of your checking, savings, and credit card accounts. Are there superfluous accounts that are not being utilized? If so, whose names are attached to them? Will inactivity affect them in any way?
Now, do the same with any debt. How much debt do you have? Where did this debt originate? Is it split into multiple accounts (e.g., student loans are often divided based on interest rates, etc.)? What is your payoff plan (e.g., what debt are you paying off first?)? Knowing exactly what expenses you have and where your money is located should be a priority before potentially merging your financial life with someone else.
3) Our Priorities
Everyone has priorities.
Mine involve debt payoff, family, travel, and building a solid retirement. I have a few, I guess…
What are yours?
Before tying the knot, make sure to ask your partner what their priorities are. Do you want to pay off debt? Do you want to buy a house or start a family? Do you want to retire early? Do you want to travel the world? Do you want to purchase 500 acres and run an animal sanctuary?
These are questions you and your partner need to ask one another before walking down the aisle (or into a courtroom, if you’re anything like us). Discussing priorities and setting goals are the reason we eliminated our $10K of credit card debt in six months and the reason we were able to purchase our home when we did. I’ve also found that having similar financial priorities has brought us closer together, as we are constantly working together and looking forward to a positive future.
After stabilizing our careers and finally feeling like we could breathe, we asked ourselves, “What do we want to do with our life?”
Besides having a successful career, we needed to get on the same page and decide what we wanted to work toward. After all, what’s the point of working if you’re not working for something? Neither of us are the kind of people who purely work for the weekend. No, we want to build an exciting, yet comfortable life full of activity.
After deciding what our priorities were, as a couple, we could finally get to work and start enjoying our life together! Sometimes it’s difficult, as we have to balance aggressive debt payoff with taking time (and money) to enjoy life, but it seems to have worked out really well so far. Finances can be complicated, but if you and your partner have similar financial priorities, it can prevent conflict and stress in the future!
4) Budgeting Style
Or lack thereof…
Maybe this section should be called “spending style”, since “budgeting” might be assuming a lot. Whatever it’s called, it doesn’t involve blowing the entirety of your take-home pay every payday!
Right after we started dating, my husband and I immediately began talking about our finances. It wasn’t that difficult, as we were very open with one another from the start. That, and we were both extremely motivated to get out of the broke-ass grad student life as soon as possible!
So let me tell you, if you do anything to prepare for your wedding day, have a serious discussion with your partner about budgeting. How do each of you budget now? What works? What do you want to do differently? It turned out that Stuart liked how I organized my budget (spoiler alert: spreadsheets!), so we joined forces and combined our expenses into one budget spreadsheet.
Discussing your budgeting style is important whether you’re entering a marriage with debt or a mountain of disposable income. It’s not going to help you one bit if one person has a high amount of disposable income, but the other person is an out-of-control spender. It’s like that episode of The Office where, in the words of Stanley, Jan’s spending Michael “right to the poorhouse.”
If you and your partner have different budgeting styles, that’s OK! Now is the time to come together and find a budget that works for both of you. This can be a combination of budgeting techniques that help you achieve the same goal.
5) Separate or Joint Accounts
To join finances or to not join finances…
After you make a budget together, you need to decide where this money is going to come from. There are pros and cons to each choice. It really just depends on your individual preferences, as couples function perfectly fine with either approach.
My husband and I decided to combine our checking and savings accounts because that’s what made sense for us and helped us stay organized. Neither of us wanted to keep track of what percentage of our paychecks went to which expense. However, this is what many people decide to do. This is especially important if each person has a different spending style. It might make more sense to keep your accounts separate if you’re worried you’ll accidentally overspend and cut into the bill money.
The point is to find an approach that decreases stress on you and your partner. If that means keeping everything separate and calculating your contributions for each expense, then do that! If you’d rather pool your accounts (remember–you can have multiple checking and savings accounts under the same names), then do that! There are no rules when organizing your finances, except for staying in the positive!
And Remember…You’re a TEAM!
None of the information in this blog post matters if you and your partner do not view yourselves as an unbreakable team.
Relationships are hard. Seriously, if anyone knows that, it’s me. It’s no secret, I’ve been married once before, and that alone has taught me volumes about who I am and how important it is to have these discussions before merging your life with someone else. Whether it’s finances or any other part of a relationship, communication is key!
Both you and your partner possess strengths that the other does not. Hopefully, you balance one another out and work together to help one another when you’re struggling. I have to say that this is probably THE most important part of a relationship. Yes, love and trust and all that jazz, but part of trust is counting on that other person to help pick you back up when you’re feeling tired and unmotivated. That way, the next time they’re feeling the same way, you’ll have the energy and optimism to return the favor.
So what do you think? Are there other financial conversations you absolutely need to have before tying the knot?