9 Financial Things to Consider Before Marriage

Brynne Conroy

Bride and Groom Kissing Under a the Bride's Veil

You’re getting married! Congratulations!

Before you walk down the aisle, there are some pretty intense money conversations you’re going to need to have with your fiance. Throughout the process, we’re going to encourage you to communicate kindly and compassionately, because that’s the kind of communication good relationships are built upon.

But as you go through each step, remember that if you learn something that causes you great concern, it’s okay to consider walking away. The reason you talk about these things before marriage is that if you identify any behaviors or attitudes your partner isn’t willing or able to change, you still have the opportunity to make an informed decision. 

Explore your individual money stories.

Don’t worry. You’ll eventually get into the dollars and cents.

But so much of how we deal with money is built on our past experiences -- whether we recognize it or not. Talking through the beliefs you have about money, or the stories you tell yourselves about money, can give you big insights into your partner’s experiences. With this information, you can not only understand where your partner’s coming from, but also how to best communicate with them about money.

When reviewing your money stories, it’s helpful to have a framework. Her Money Matters by Jennifer Hemphill provides such a framework. And don’t let the title fool you; the book and accompanying workbook is helpful even if you or your partner identifies as ‘he.’

Get transparent about your current money situation.

Now that you know each other’s past, it’s time to talk about the present. This is where you share numbers related to your income, assets and debts. Any child support or alimony responsibilities should also be disclosed during this part of the process, as well as any anticipated inheritance or other financial obligations.

The point here isn’t to make anyone feel superior or inferior. Remember to communicate in a compassionate way, remembering what you learned about your partner’s money stories. 

Talk about your financial goals.

You now know where each other has been, and where they stand in the present moment. Now take some time to talk about the future. What are your retirement goals? How much do you think would be a reasonable amount to spend and save on a monthly basis? Is there any debt you’d like to pay off? 

Talk through both individual and joint goals. Hopefully this step gets you excited about your future together, and allows you to lay out a plan on how you’ll get there. 

Discuss family planning.

A huge part of financial planning can be family planning. If you haven’t yet discussed children, now is the time to discuss it. Children can come with many potential financial needs, including but not limited to:

  • Moving house to be closer to family.
  • Moving house for the extra bedrooms.
  • IVF or other fertility treatments.
  • Daycare expenses.
  • The costs of one parent cutting back or leaving the workforce.
  • Equitable distribution of income and savings in single-income households.
  • Increased monthly spending on needs like food, clothing and hygiene.
  • Costs of college.

You likely won’t incur every last expense on this list, and you may not have to consider these expenses at all if you both decide not to have children. Either way, it’s a discussion that can have major financial implications.

Discuss joint and separate finances.

Traditionally, when couples get married they share bank and other financial accounts, with each partner having the authority to manage the accounts and withdraw funds at any time. These are joint accounts. 

You don’t have to make all of your accounts 100% joint just because you’re getting married, though. You could alternatively choose to keep your money in separate accounts. That doesn’t mean your money will never be subject to litigation in a divorce. But it does mean your spouse cannot access the accounts in your name only  without pursuing legal action.

You can also mix joint and separate accounts. For example, your checking account could be joint while you each have separate, individual savings accounts. 

While going 100% joint may be the traditional route, that doesn’t mean it’s the path you must take. Every couple’s finances will look different, and there’s nothing wrong with keeping things separate if that’s what works best for your relationship.

Write a joint budget.

Even if your bank accounts are separate, you’ll want to budget together. Separate accounts don’t mean secret money. Instead, it means taking each of your individual resources and contributing towards your joint goals in your life together. 

If your income levels are disparate, you may not choose to split all the bills 50/50, whether you have joint or separate finances in your marriage. One partner may have more disposable income, making them more readily able to contribute to larger savings goals. 

By going over your budget together, you’ll be able to get a firm grasp on what day-to-day life will look like, and how each of you handle long-term goals. 

Explore how marriage changes your finances.

Marriage will change your finances in a number of ways. In some instances, it will be cheaper. You’ll pay less for car insurance. For some people, getting married can save them money on their taxes, though the opposite is often true for low- to moderate-income parents who were previously cohabitating. 

Marriage can also affect your long-term finances. It can bump up income brackets for many government programs and tax credits. Those who stay married long enough can also gain access to spousal social security benefits in retirement, even if they get divorced before hitting retirement age. 

Discuss prenuptials. 

A lot of people think prenuptials are reserved for the wealthiest of the wealthy, or those who do not trust their partners. 

This common framework is misleading. As millennial finance expert Erin Lowry told CNBC Make It, everyone has a prenuptial agreement. It’s just dictated by your state’s divorce laws by default. 

Before you get married, you should both get to know those laws. If any part of it seems undesirable or unfair to either partner, now is the ideal time to work that out with a prenuptial agreement.

Get an estate plan together. 

If you’re coming into a marriage with assets or children, you will want to work out your estate plan before walking down the aisle. This will include a will, trust, guardianship directives, life insurance, powers of attorney and more.

Much of your estate plan can be established for free using Tomorrow.