Best Money Questions to Ask Your Partner Before Marriage
Finances are one of the most common causes of conflict between married couples. As your wedding date approaches, having honest conversations about money before you tie the knot can minimize financial disagreements and put you on track to reach #couplegoals such as buying a home, having children, and retiring comfortably.
Talking about finances before you marry isn’t as much fun as taste-testing wedding cake or choosing your honeymoon destination, but ultimately, it will have a much bigger impact on your future life together. Learn why couples need be on the same page about money, how to talk about money before marriage, and the best money questions to ask before marriage.
How Important Is Money in Marriage?
Money can’t buy you love, but it can make the road to marital bliss a lot smoother. Poor money habits, on the other hand, can throw roadblocks in your way. For example, living above your means can make it challenging to save for a down payment on a home or put away funds for retirement. Carrying too much debt or paying your bills late can lower your credit scores, making it harder to qualify for a mortgage, car loan, or other types of credit.
Many people recognize the risks of bad financial habits and are eager to avoid them. In fact, three in five Americans say they’ve considered delaying marriage to avoid inheriting a partner’s debt, while 54% say a partner’s debt could lead them to consider divorce, according to a recent One Poll survey.
If you’re the one with less-than-stellar finances, worries about your partner’s potential reaction may cause you to hide the truth. While common, lying about money can have harmful consequences. Among adults who admitted to “financially deceiving” a partner in a 2021 poll by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), 42% said their behavior caused an argument and 32% said it damaged their partner’s trust.
Now that you know how important it is, how do you talk about money before marriage? We break it down into three main areas for discussion: your past financial experiences and attitudes, your future goals, and your current financial situation.
Money Questions to Ask Before Marriage
1. What are your past experiences and attitudes toward money?
The first set of money questions to ask before marriage start by digging into each of your previous experiences with money. Use these discussions to uncover each other’s attitudes toward money and the roots of those feelings. Here are some of the key questions to ask yourselves that you can use as conversation starters to begin exploring this topic:
How did your parents communicate about money? Was it a source of friction? Did the family have enough money to meet everyone’s needs?
What have been your experiences with money as an adult, and how have these experiences affected your feelings toward money? For example, did you run up credit card debt that you struggled to pay off?
What’s your attitude toward money? Some people see money as signifying security, freedom, or success. Others view it as corrupting. What does money mean to you?
What household income level do you need to feel financially secure?
When do you feel stressed about money? How do you handle the stress?
What are your biggest priorities for your money? For example, you might want to travel the world, save for a home, or be generous to charities and friends.
If one of you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?
2. What are your future goals and expectations?
You and your partner have probably already shared a few deep conversations about your life goals and dreams. The next set of money questions to ask before marriage explore the financial aspects of those goals to uncover expectations your partner may have and learn how they align with yours. Here are some money questions to ask yourselves and discuss as they relate to career, home and family, retirement, and more:
How do you see your career progressing? Are you happy with your current career trajectory, or do you want to make a change? Will advancing in your current career or making a career change require going back to school for additional training? If so, how much will that cost? How could a career change impact your future earning potential?
If your incomes are very different, how would that affect your relationship? Do you feel the partner with a higher income should make most of the money decisions? What do you think about sharing a joint account? How can you equitably make joint purchases and investments?
Do you want to buy a home in the future or are you happy renting? Do you envision owning a second home or income rental property someday? Do you imagine settling down somewhere in particular?
Do you want to have children? If so, will one of you stay home to raise them? For how long? How might that affect your family’s income? If both of you want to work, how will you handle childcare? Do you agree on public vs. private school education? Will you pay for their college tuition, or does one of you expect your children to finance their own education through work and scholarships?
Do you plan to support your parents financially or have them live with you when they get older? Do your parents expect this? Do you currently support any family members by paying child support, alimony, rent, or tuition? What would you do if a family member asked you to give or lend them money?
On the flip side, do your family members support you financially (for example, do your parents help pay your rent)? Do you expect them to help you financially after marriage (such as by making a down payment on a home, paying your children’s private school tuition, or starting a college fund for your kids)?
How do you picture your retirement years? Will you be content to stay home and play with your grandchildren or do you want to travel the world? When do you expect to retire? Are you currently saving for enough for retirement to meet your joint goals? If so, what type of retirement plan do you have and what is your progress toward your goal? When it comes to investing, what is your risk tolerance? How comfortable are you both about managing your retirement savings and other investments on your own, or will you hire a professional financial advisor?
Wedding and honeymoon
If you don't already have a firm wedding plan and wedding budget in place, the answers to your previous questions may help guide your plans. Do you want a big wedding, a small wedding, or a destination wedding? How will you pay for the wedding? If you can’t afford the wedding or honeymoon of your dreams, what are some alternatives?
You may find that your and your partner’s answers to the questions from this topic area are surprising, or somewhat mismatched. For example, you might discover your partner expects you to become a stay-at-home parent after the children are born, while you had dreams of making partner at your law firm before you turned 40. Or, while you daydream about buying a home down the street from your parents, your partner envisions living in an apartment overseas. Or, perhaps your idea of the “golden years” is playing shuffleboard at the senior center, but your partner’s idea is more like trekking Machu Picchu. Once you’re aware of the other’s expectations, it will be important to talk through any differences and find common ground. At the very least, you can move toward your financial future together with eyes wide open.
3. What is your current financial status?
As you plan how you’ll join finances, this last set of money questions to ask your partner before marriage revolve around your partner’s current financial situation.
How do you handle your money? Are you a spender or a saver? Do you constantly check your accounts or rarely look at them? Do you follow a budget? Do you use financial apps to track your spending?
What is your annual salary and monthly take-home pay? Is your income stable or does it vary (for example, does one of you freelance or rely on tips)? Are any deductions made from your paycheck (such as contributions to a retirement plan or automated savings transfers)?
Be open about any assets you bring to the marriage, including investments, savings, retirement accounts, real estate, or cars. Do these assets bring in income? If so, how much per month?
It’s important you both lay out your debts and obligations, and understand each other’s attitudes toward debt in general. Do you have student loans, auto loans, mortgage loans, or credit card debt? How much do you owe, what is the interest rate, and what is the monthly payment?
Your credit scores
Get a copy of your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure it’s accurate. Your credit score may be available from your bank, your credit card company, or directly from the three major consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).
Your credit score won’t merge with your spouse’s after marriage; each person maintains their own credit score. However, if you apply for credit together as co-borrowers, such as on a car loan or mortgage, lenders will take both credit scores into account. It could be more difficult to get a loan if one of you has poor credit, so now’s the time to work on improving it.
Whenever you discuss your finances, be careful not to criticize or judge your partner. NEFE’s poll found that 34% of people who hid money issues from a partner did so to avoid disapproval, while 33% did so because they were embarrassed or fearful. Be supportive: The goal is to gain perspective on your partner’s feelings about money. If you don’t understand something, probe deeper to find out why your partner feels the way they do.
Best Ways to Manage Money in a Marriage
Once you have all the details of your current finances in front of you, you can make joint decisions about how to manage your money going forward. When deciding how to handle money as a couple, here are the choices you’ll need to make:
Should you have joint or separate checking and savings accounts? Some couples keep joint checking and savings accounts for joint spending (such as rent or groceries) and maintain separate checking accounts with smaller balances they can use for “fun” spending without feeling guilty.
Who will monitor online bill paying and other financial tasks? You may want to share these obligations or trade off every few months. That way, you’ll both be knowledgeable about your bills, accounts, and other financial information you choose to share. This way, if one person is hospitalized or dies, the other can easily take over the finances.
Will you create a couples budget?
Will you use the same financial app to budget and track your spending?
How will you handle paying down debt? This includes the debt you came into the marriage with and the debt you incur as a couple.
How much do you need to save to build an emergency fund?
How will you save for short-term financial goals (such as a vacation or a home)?
How will you save for retirement together?
The Bottom Line
There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to keeping your financial partnership on solid ground, so don’t feel you have to cover it all in one sitting. Separate your topics of discussion into ongoing money dates will make it easier to talk about money, which can be an emotional topic.