Marriage is a partnership on many levels. The financial level may not seem like the most critical, but it affects every day of your lives together and has almost infinite potential to disrupt a marriage. Asking the right questions before the big day can be a huge step toward avoiding conflict and building a strong foundation for your marriage.
To help you identify those questions we asked a panel of relationship experts, personal finance professionals, and business people about their #1 money question to ask a partner before getting married. We hope the results help you get a good start!
What They Said
As usual, some items appeared more than once. We tried to avoid duplication in the responses, but here are some of the subjects that were most often discussed.
- Communication: many respondents stress the importance of open, honest communication about money. Hiding a financial issue does more damage than having one!
- Debt: Several answers focused on the need for each partner to clarify how much debt they were bringing to a relationship.
- Goals: several respondents stressed the need to clarify short, medium, and long-term goals to assure that the partners are on the same page.
- Saving & spending: another recurring theme was the need to understand a partner’s spending and saving habits and preferences.
- Attitudes. A number of experts discussed the need to explore fundamental attitudes toward money and finance, which are often inherited from parents.
All of these points are important, and many of them overlap. If there was one central theme in the responses, it was the need for openness, honesty, understanding, and acceptance as the basis for a lasting relationship.
Let’s look at the details.
What’s the #1 Money Question to Ask Your Partner Before Getting Married?
Here’s what our panel had to say.
Kirker Davis LLP
Who, How, What, When?
I actually have four financial questions I recommend asking your fiancé before the wedding day, to help you get on the same financial page before you walk down the aisle. They are a Who, How, What, When combination.
- Who do you see yourself working for? Is your plan to be an employee, or to be an entrepreneur? Your lifestyle will be very different depending on which one that you choose.
- How do you feel about debt? Are you scared of having any debt whatsoever, or is some borrowing okay? Do you have a big credit card balance, or do you like to pay it off every month? It’s important to understand your future spouse’s month-to-month money style.
- What do you own? This question helps new couples understand what they’re both bringing to the marriage. If the answer is “nothing,” that’s fine. But it’s crucial to know about assets like a business, a home purchased in a previous marriage, a family inheritance, or things of that nature.
- When do you like to spend your money: now, or later? You might want to buy a boat, but your fiance might prefer to put the money into a 401K and save up for an early retirement.
Asking these questions helps couples create and plan for their shared financial dreams. I also recommend premarital financial counseling for couples who really want to get in-depth. Premarital financial counseling is a lower-cost alternative to a prenuptial agreement, and unlike a prenup, it’s built on the assumption that the couple will stay married forever, and they just want to start their joint finances off on the right foot.
Holly R. Davis is a trial attorney specializing in family law, and founding partner of Kirker Davis LLP. An accomplished and nationally-recognized family law trial attorney with over ten years of experience, her legal practice focuses on high asset divorce, business and professional divorce, custody matters, and complex litigation.
Dan Lear, CFP®, BFA™
Do you feel comfortable working together to complete a financial plan for our future?
“Create a financial plan for our future” should be at the top of every pre-wedding to-do list. Having a financial plan together doesn’t necessarily mean combining your finances. It does mean getting on the same page about where you are today and where you are going.
I think it is a critical mistake to not discuss your future goals, both financially and personally, before committing to building a life together. Sure, you may want the same things now, but what about 5, 10, or even 30 years from now? It’s important to make sure that you are both heading in the right direction together.
Having a solid financial plan can also help alleviate stress and reduce strain in a relationship. We’ve all heard that arguments about money are one of the top reasons for divorce. Making an effort to discuss your finances openly, honestly, and often – from the very beginning – could save you headaches and heartaches down the road
Dan Lear is a financial planner and a fiancé, busy checking items off his own pre-wedding to-do list. At Affiance Financial, Dan offers clients guidance as they work toward achieving their financial goals.
Personal Finance Consultant
Upward Personal Finance
How should we work together on our finances and build our wealth?
Since financial matters are a leading cause of divorce and financial infidelity is a real problem in marriages, this question sets the stage for partnership, communication, and transparency.
Yes, you can operate finances completely separately and many people do this due to lack of trust or past mistakes/bad relationships. I advise my married clients to work together to set goals. Meet at least annually to review net worth and set goals for the next year. When money discussions start off on the right path and on a positive note, accusatory and painful conversations are limited. There are plenty of things in life that get in the way of a strong marriage. Don’t let money be one of them.
Kasey Ring is a personal finance consultant for women located in Park City, Utah
Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
How Much Do You Save and Spend?
Over the years, I’ve played a role in getting numerous couples together and crossing the finish line. Before one can reach that though, there’s an important question regarding financials that I always instruct my clients to ask – and it’s simpler than what you might think.
“How much of your paycheck do you like to spend and how much do you want to save?”
Simple, right? This is a loaded question, and actually tells you a lot about the partner. First, you find out their spending habits (for non-essential items). If they’re spending 20% of their income, and you’re spending 70% of yours (weighted for comparisons), there’s clearly a difference in financial philosophies. Find out their current % and how it changed over time to make a good judgment about how they reacted to different situations.
Secondly, it allows you to understand what their priorities are based on what they spend, how they save, etc – so ensure you have in-depth discussions of where each component actually goes, and you’ll have a reasonably solid map of their priorities in life. Finally, further discussion on flexibility regarding this question will show you how adaptable they are and what kind of compromises you can reach. Your life will not have a linear path, and you need to be able to gauge if your potential life partner can handle those with you.
If you’re satisfied with this conversation, you’re likely headed towards a successful marriage!
Sameera Sullivan has created an innovative company that provides elite matchmaking services and coaching to those looking for their ideal life partners. As someone with a background in executive recruiting, a mind for business, an education in Psychology & Post Secondary Adult Education, and a passion for helping people find love, it seemed like becoming a matchmaker was nothing short of her destiny. Sameera has succeeded in cultivating a stellar reputation by taking the best practices of both the matchmaking and headhunting/recruiting industries and combining them into a revolutionary new system that provides consistent, high-quality results for her clients.
Can You Tell Me About Your Financial History?
Most couples are well-versed in each other’s history, including where they grew up, where they’ve worked, their families, their health, and so on. Knowing your partner’s financial history is also essential.
Money and sex are two of the most difficult issues for couples to freely talk about. Partners may feel it is inappropriate to discuss money for a variety of reasons, including it invading their privacy, they feel humiliated, they feel out of control, they do not feel educated enough, or they do not believe there is a purpose to discuss it.
However, just as discussing your sexual health and history is important for each partner so is discussing your financial health and history. Without these dialogues, assumptions are made, destructive secrets are kept, and the freedom of being known and accepted is unattainable. When a couple’s finances are combined, they both share the repercussions of budget overspending, late payments, and negative credit record difficulties. If your partner is constantly careless with money, it will have a long-term impact on your relationship.
It is critical to discuss money with a significant other before marriage. If you’re not comfortable discussing money with your significant other, you’re not ready to marry. You may learn facts about them that you didn’t know before, such as debt or debts that have gone to collectors. Shaky payment history affects more than just your significant other; it will come up when you’re ready to buy a house together… Before anyone talks about a wedding, money should be discussed. A wedding is only for one day; a marriage is for life. So, when you make the decision to marry, make sure you and your partner discuss as many aspects of money as possible. Tying the knot also binds you two financially, and it’s not a knot that can be easily undone.
Andrew Dale is an experienced technical support, pre-sales, and cloud architecture specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. He is skilled in sales, customer relationship management, management, and account management.
What Were Your Parents Like With Money?
The best question to ask your partner before getting married is “what were your parents like with money?”
This approach might seem old-fashioned but time and time again as a financial advisor, I see people make the same financial mistakes that their parents did, be that overspending, debt, gambling, or bankruptcy. After all, what we witness as a child does become ingrained within us.
This question shouldn’t be something that breaks off the marriage but it allows you to look out for warning signs. Did your partner’s parents spend all their savings on collectible items? Then knowing this will allow you to raise the red flag as soon as your partner starts doing the same.
Jenna Carson has 15 years of experience working with firms in the Finance space, primarily overseeing Marketing/HR departments. Within multiple organizations, she’s held positions requiring many “hats” and is quite fluent in understanding topics such as personal finance advising and investment management (through modern vehicles such as online brokerages).
What Are Your Plans For Retirement?
The average nest egg required for retirement is roughly $750,000, more than the total savings needed to buy a house, raise a child, or pay for college COMBINED. What age a person wants to retire and what type of retirement lifestyle they see in the future will drive the most significant financial decision a couple can make.
What if you and your spouse have different expectations on retirement age? If one person wants to retire at 50 vs. 67, how will one partner feel about continuing to work for 17 additional years while the other one enjoys early retirement? Imagine the clash of a couple with differing views of their future retirement lifestyle. If one partner envisions expensive trips traveling the world and their spouse imagines a simple life at home and gardening, a major argument about money is inevitable. Couples cannot have conflicting perspectives on the biggest financial decision of their lives.
Marco Sison writes about personal finance and early retirement overseas for Nomadic FIRE. Nomadic FIRE is a retirement blog combining overseas travel and the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement’s investing principles. He has traveled the last five years to over 40 countries to show the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US.
Spending Habits and Emergency Funds
Approximately 48% of American couples fight because of issues involving money. This is why we need to teach people how to ask money questions from their partners politely before getting married.
#1: Ask your partner about his or her shopping frequency. Before you get married, you need to know how your partner spends his or her money regularly. This is why you need to know about spending patterns as well as shopping frequency. In case you haven’t noticed, approximately 20% of people globally shop for various items weekly. Make sure that your partner doesn’t belong in this category since this person doesn’t know how to cut expenses and save money. However, there’s no issue if your partner just spends on groceries weekly. Just make sure that your partner doesn’t buy expensive yet unhealthy foods regularly.
#2: Ask your partner about how much money is stored in his or her emergency funds politely. You need to make sure that your partner is financially healthy before marrying. This means that you have to ask how much have been saved in his or her emergency funds. Make sure that your partner has at least three months’ worth of emergency savings respectively. Based on research, approximately 25% of Americans don’t have emergency funds at all.
Christopher Liew is the Founder of Wealthawesome.com, where he shares tips on money, travel, career, and business. He’s a CFA Charterholder with over 11 years of corporate experience.
Co-Founder & CEO
What Are Your Financial Goals?
What you need to ask is “what are your financial goals?”. That’s going to give you a pretty clear picture of their finance philosophy, as well as their overall behavior around money. Are their long-term goals to have fun? Get rich? Buy a home? Retire early? Those are very different goals that are typically tied into very different behavior and life philosophies.
If you want to save up for a home and to send your kids to college, you don’t want to be shacking up with the person who wants to go on as many vacations as possible and live a luxurious life. Just like you don’t want to marry the “retire early” guy if it means you have to scrimp on everything your entire life when you would like to live a little, while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.
Behavior around money can change over the years, but a major overall financial life goal usually remains the same. Ask the question and think about what the answer means for your relationship and potential marriage. Does their response match yours? Or are you on completely different pages?
Andrei Vasilescu is a passionate internet expert and entrepreneur with background expertise in digital marketing and SEO, which he uses to improve business exposure and growth. He has appeared in publications such as Entrepreneur, Yahoo! Finance, BusinessInsider, and Reader’s Digest, where he shares his knowledge about business, entrepreneurship, and digital marketing. He co-founded the DontPayFull project together with Adrian Cristea in 2012, a multinational business that provides free coupons and discount offers to consumers online.
Live Free! Money Coach
Can I Ask You 50 Questions About Your Finances?
Sex is the ultimate in intimacy, right? But would you rather talk about your sexy desires or your money habits? Many avoid money talks until after the big day. Unfortunately, financial fights are one of the top reasons for divorce. Listen, asking your fiancé about their income, savings, and debts may feel like none of your business. But it IS your business! You are getting married for heaven’s sake!
Get financially “naked”! Grab your paystubs, bank statements & balance of each debt and reveal them on a sexy money date. You may be tempted to hide something because you feel ashamed, or embarrassed, but don’t! Bring it all. Remember, you are getting “naked” – there is nothing to hide! Get a free copy of your credit report(s) to share as there may be a forgotten or fraudulent debt floating out there.
Get curious! After revealing your intimate financial stats, ask probing questions like: What was the stupidest thing you purchased, and why did you buy it? What did you learn about money from your parents? What good (and bad) money habits do you have? How do you feel about charitable giving? Do you have a budget, why or why not? Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? Between 1-10, how would you rate yourself on the I’m-A-Hot-Sexy-Money-Guru scale? Be vulnerable! Don’t judge! Be playful! And put sex back in the first position!
Nancy Hornback is an adoptive mom, wife, breast cancer survivor, former QVC host & money coach (Ramsey Financial Coach)! She has created a financially free life over the past 3 decades for herself & helps others do the same.
Debt and Income
2 questions actually came to mind:
1. Do you have debt? You should ask your partner if they have debt before you get married. It can affect everything from where you decide to live to the kind of wedding you can afford. And it’s not something that your partner should keep secret. You need to know what your financial burdens will be as a couple and how much debt your partner has before taking a big financial step like marriage. You should also share your debt situation with them.
2. What is your income? Have you ever asked your partner how much they make? It’s amazing how many people don’t know the answer to this one. So, if your partner doesn’t volunteer their salary, you should ask and make sure they give you a straight answer. If they’re embarrassed about what they make, that’s an issue you can address down the road. Knowing each other’s income is important because it will determine what you can afford for food, housing, vacations, gifts, retirement savings, and more.
Becky Neubauer is a millennial money expert, financial coach, and award-winning personal finance podcaster focused on teaching millennials how to pay off debt, save for retirement, and achieve financial freedom.
Clayton Quamme, CFP
AP Wealth Management
How Did You Learn About Saving and Spending?
The most important question you can ask your partner is “How did you learn about saving and spending growing up?” This question can help kick off sharing some unexpected childhood stories and help you two learn more about where your current money habits come from. When it comes to money, understanding the past is the key to a successful future. Money conversations can be emotional and tough, so the way you ask a question can make all the difference. You want your partner to feel that you are on their team and not being judgmental as you prepare to manage money together.
Clayton Quamme joined AP Wealth Management as a fee-only financial planner in 2019, bringing with him over a decade of experience working as a financial planner and investment advisor. Clayton is passionate about the commission-free business model that allows him to sit on the same side of the table as the client, serving as a fiduciary for them.
Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP®
Live, Learn, Plan
What Debt are you Bringing Into the Marriage?
The #1 thing to ask before you get married is “what debt are you bringing into the marriage?” It is very helpful (and eye-opening) to share your credit reports with each other prior to getting married. In this way, there are no surprises. It also will help each of you to share your experience with money. It will most likely not be a fun conversation, but it is better to start with a strong foundation. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a financial therapist or Advice-Only, Fee-Only, Fiduciary, Certified Financial Planner™.
Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP® is the Founder of Live, Learn, Plan, a Financial Planning Firm based in Mississippi. Jay is a Fee-Only, Advice-Only, Fiduciary, Certified Financial Planner™. His PhD is in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut. His focus is on helping people learn how to manage their money and his specialty is in helping child-free Individuals. His mission in life is to help people to learn how to live their best life and achieve financial freedom.
Author and Chief Operating Officer
Gift of College, Inc.
Be Open About Financial Health
I believe there are a number of important money questions to ask one’s prospective life partner before tying the knot, but if I had to limit it to just one, I’d recommend asking for (and providing) a current picture of one’s financial health, which would include a comprehensive listing of one’s assets and debts, one’s monthly (or annual) income and budget, and a peek into each other’s current approach to money management. This snapshot would lead to other valuable questions about how assets and debt will be managed as a couple, how financial goals will be established and pursued, and whether any past financial experiences or trauma will likely have an impact.
Patricia Roberts has spent over 20 years helping tens of thousands of families avoid millions of dollars in student loan debt by saving in advance for higher education expenses so that educational and career dreams could be pursued without stress and regret. Through her top-selling and relatable book, Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans, Patricia incorporates her subject matter expertise and personal journey to educate, encourage and inspire parents to save a little at a time and to invite friends, family, and employers to join in the mission.
Founder & Supervising Attorney
The Bankruptcy Law Center
Have a Money Talk
Before getting married, it’s important to have a money talk with your partner to discuss your shared financial goals and plans for the future. This will help avoid any surprises down the road and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to money matters. Some key questions to ask include:
- How much debt do we each have?
- What are our credit scores?
- How much money do we think we’ll need each month to live comfortably?
- Do either of us want to buy a house or invest in property?
- How should we handle bills and expenses if one of us is out of work temporarily?
- What happens if one of us dies?
- What are our retirement savings goals?
By answering these questions, you can get a sense of your financial compatibility, assess the feasibility of your dreams for the future, and have an idea of what you’re getting into before making this important marital commitment.
Ahren Tiller is the Founder & Supervising Attorney at The Bankruptcy Law Center, whose mission is to help people facing tough financial times, overwhelming credit card debts, foreclosures, repossessions, garnishments, bank levies, evictions, lawsuits, taxes, and more.
National Financial Educators Council
At the integration stage of a relationship, where people express their desire to become a couple and begin to fuse their identities with one another, open communication will be important for the development of future plans as well as reaffirming the commitment that has been made. Some questions to consider asking your partner at this stage include:
- How do you feel about combining finances? If we were to get married, should our accounts be merged or do you want them to stay separate?
- How important do you feel it is to check with the other person before making a major purchase? For example, if they came home would a brand-new expensive vehicle without telling you first, how do you imagine you’d react?
- If we were to get married, what kind of wedding do you imagine it would be? A large, luxurious event or a smaller and more intimate gathering?
- If we create a budget, could we both agree to stick to it? Or will this cause a feeling of resentment towards one another?
- If you found out the other person was casually spending money behind your back, how would that make you feel?
- Do we both want to work? If we had children, would one of us be willing to stay home? Are we both good with daycare?
- Are you willing to compromise career paths for each other? For example, if one of you received an offer for a dream job that required moving to a new city and the other had to quit their current job that they loved, could you do it?
- Does either of you have any money saved up? If so, what do you plan to do with it?
- What are our FICO scores and credit history? As official as that may sound, remember that banks will judge you on this when you go to apply for credit cards and mortgages, so it’s really important that you know where you both stand.
- How receptive are each of you to the other’s feedback on your spending habits or use of credit?
- What kinds of insurance do we need to protect one another?
- Do we each have the basics like medical, auto, or home/renter’s insurance?
- When would we both like to retire someday? Can we agree on a date (or age) and make this a tangible goal?
Vince Shorb is one of the country’s leading advocates for promoting financial literacy and a thought leader in teaching and scaling financial education programming. After spending 15 years in financial services working one-on-one with more than 20,000 people, he founded the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) – an organization dedicated to combating the financial illiteracy epidemic.
Let’s Sum That Up
Understanding how your partner handles money and relates to financial issues is not just about finance. It’s also about trust and understanding. The way we relate to money and financial planning is a core part of our personalities, and you don’t really know someone until you know how they manage their resources.
If your discussions raise money issues, don’t call off the wedding! Work together to bring your different perspectives together. Counseling or financial therapy could help.
It’s easy to dismiss concerns over money and money management as mercenary or materialistic, but that is not a realistic approach. Like it or not, money affects our plans, our goals, and our futures, and coming to an agreement on key financial issues is a core part of getting ready to build a life together.
We hope these questions help you get started!