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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.