Getting engaged is exciting and frightening, and it’s easy to get carried away in the moment. Hopefully you and your intended have already laid everything on the table before you even considered taking the next step, but if you haven’t, take some time to ask yourself and your intended these five questions before a ring is in the mix.

Do You Want Kids? How Many and When?
So many couples go into marriage with the vague idea that they’ll start a family “eventually.” For some men, that means in five years. For some women, that means the wedding night. To avoid surprises and ensure that you’re financially prepared for a child when it happens, you should discuss when you think the appropriate time to start a family is before you get engaged. Life happens and there may well be a “surprise baby,” but don’t operate on the assumption that “it will happen when it’s meant to.”

What Are Your Career Goals?
At this point, you probably both have jobs, so it’s easy to skip over questions about career goals. Don’t. It’s important to know whether one or both of you expects to attend graduate school, start a business, or quit working in the future. Again, plans and goals can change, but it’s important to agree on what’s best for your family before you start a family.

Do You Have Debt? How Much?
When I was planning my wedding, there was a quick poll on the Knot asking how many couples had discussed their debts. I was startled to see that over 70% of couples had not discussed their debts. If you’re getting married, you NEED to know how much debt your partner has. Even if your partner doesn’t expect you to help pay it off, the fact is that debt may prevent you from working toward joint financial goals, or prevent you from enjoying vacations and other activities. All debts, whether they’re school, credit card, or even family loans, should be discussed and you should agree on the approach to paying them off.

What’s Your Financial Picture Right Now?
If you’re getting married, there shouldn’t be any financial secrets. Bad things happen when couples keep money secrets from each other. Discuss your income, investments, savings, and other holdings.

What Are Your Financial Goals?
Although your goals may change, you should be aware of each other’s current financial goals. If one of you wants to buy a house in five years and the other wants to quit working and circle the globe on a yacht in five years, there could be a problem. Once again, your plans may change, but you have to change them together.

When you have this discussion, you should also include your retirement goals. If one of you wants to retire at 55 and the other plans to keep working until they die, you’re going to have a basic conflict. You don’t have to stick to your targeted retirement date, but you should both have an idea of how you picture the later stages of your marriage.

What’s Your Spending Style?
Want to start your marriage fighting? Don’t ask this question. It’s very important that you both understand and be comfortable with each other’s spending styles. If one of you is a spender and one is a saver, you should agree on who will manage which portions of your finances and how you will manage your spending. Maybe you’ll need separate accounts, or maybe you need a spending limit. Whatever you choose, discuss it before you get engaged.

I can already hear people saying, “Why should we talk about this before we get engaged? Shouldn’t we know we’ll be spending our lives together first?” There are three simple reasons you should talk about these things first:

  1. Once you get engaged, your life becomes a flurry of non-stop activity and stress. It’s hard to slow down and have these important discussions when you’re already too busy and stressed out.
  2. There’s a financial cost to getting engaged and planning a wedding. If you discover you don’t agree on major points, you may lose money on rings, vendor deposits, etc. If you’ve received gifts and then split up over these questions, you’ll have to figure out how to return the gifts.
  3. It’s easier to explain a breakup before you get engaged.

Some of these questions are deeply personal and can make for an uncomfortable conversation, but let’s be honest, if you don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with your partner, you should NOT be getting engaged. Then continue having regular discussions about your finances and goals after you get married.


8 Responses to “Six Questions You Must Ask Before Getting Engaged”

  1. » The Festival Rocks… And Rolls… Cheaply, Of Course! on the Festival of Frugality on November 17th, 2009 8:21 pm

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  2. Festival of Frugality #204: The iPod Playlist Edition | Weight Loss Archive on November 17th, 2009 8:47 pm

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  3. Debbie M on November 20th, 2009 8:23 am

    Instead of just career goals, ask about lifestyle goals–what’s their ideal lifestyle.

    Also, try to find out what they’re like both poor and rich. (Most of my friends are compatible with me when they’re poor–they get frugal and still have fun–but they do all different kinds of things with their money when they get some of that.)

    Also, observe them both healthy and sick (or ask someone who has) and when they’re both in a good and bad mood. Also, try to see them out of the usual context in some way–I like to go camping.

    Of course meet their family and find out about their expectations about their family–do they want to spend every holiday with them? Stay as far away as possible? Let any of them move in when troubled?

    Of course you need to know about religion and other philosophies, at least the ones that are important to you. (Remember, the absence of religion or political extremism may be what’s important to you.)

    Finally, ask them about all your favorite and least favorite traits. Are your favorite traits of theirs also their favorites or just something they’re trying out for a bit? Are your least favorite traits of theirs something important to their identity or something they also don’t much like?

  4. Aryn on November 20th, 2009 11:26 am

    Great suggestions, Debbie. I was with my husband for a long time before we got married, so I forget that we’d seen each other in every possible state (except pregnant and old age) before we talked marriage.

  5. Dustin | Engaged Marriage on November 23rd, 2009 10:12 am

    As someone who teaches at marriage preparation courses and blogs about having an extraordinary marriage, I think you’ve done a great job with this list! If you can agree on money, kids, religion, sex and in-laws, you are way ahead of the marriage curve!

  6. Wedding Roundup | Savvy Cinderella on April 16th, 2010 2:56 am

    [...] about the money, honey?!  Six money questions to ask before getting engaged.  Love the name your own price advice.  And avoid newlywed money [...]

  7. Pat Chiappa on June 15th, 2010 12:32 pm

    Since money is one of the main reasons for divorce, the money/financial questions before getting married are such important issues. This is such a great post – thanks for getting it out there.

    I wrote a guidebook for couples called; Year Ahead/Year in Review, A Couples Guide to Dream Big, Plan Smart & Live Well. It focuses on communicating with each other about what each person wants both in life and in the relationship, and then, how to get there and make it happen, including budgeting. The book is a annual planning guide, but with suggestions of monthly or quarterly check-ins regarding goals and budget.

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