In the prior columns we looked at 10 mistakes newlyweds who care about their finances and their overall relationships don’t want to make, and we started looking at 10 questions they should ask about finances, which we will finish in this column.
Jeff Opdyke’s “Financially Ever After” is a quick and easy read that every couple should consider “investing in,” because, as it says, who you marry matters to your wallet; handling your finances effectively as a team will make your life and relationship better; and open discussions, a willingness to learn, a division of financial labors, and compromise are key.
Let’s continue our discussion of important questions for couples to ask.
QUESTION 2: What is Your Money History? Whether we have ever thought about or admitted it, many of our attitudes about money can be traced to how we were raised with money, including whether we are a spender or a saver, whether we are open to discussing money matters or not, and whether we care about more sophisticated money matters, like investing. That being said, it is important to have a conversation about each party’s financial upbringing and education, as well as what they want money to do for them and their family — vacations, where they will live, financial security, the list can be extensive. It is where financial values and goals diverge that more discussion and perhaps some spending vs. saving compromises will be required. Once again, if the financial goals and/or values are too divergent, that financial planner may be advisable.
QUESTION 3: What Are Your Financial Aspirations? When parties lay out their hopes and dreams for the future, they can see overlapping, but also divergent dreams, and start to see if compromises may be necessary or this relationship won’t really work. I want four children and to stay at home with them, I want to retire early in Florida, I want to return to my home town in Iowa, I want to work my way up in the company so I can move to Europe.
QUESTION 4: What Are Your Long-term Career Expectations? Some of these may have come out in Question 3, but you may need to expand on it, because career defines a big part of people’s lives. What will your work be to you — a job, career, profession, or an obsession? Will you work 16 hours a day and commute? Will you take every promotion, even if it means moving to a new city? You both need to assess the landscape and see if compromise will be necessary.
QUESTION 5: What Are Your Financial Assets and Liabilities? This is where you lay it all out and don’t hide the ball, since it will eventually come out. You need to see what, if any, financial issues will need to be dealt with, like debt burdens, and what the combined net worth will be.
QUESTION 6: How Do You Use Debt? Are you debt adverse, see debt as a way to live above your means if you can make the monthly payments, or are you somewhere in between? The debt you carry may answer this question. A reasonable mortgage, auto loan, or student loan, given your income, is one thing, vs. unaffordable credit card debt or a lease on a car that you could not otherwise afford. Then some follow up questions — how do you plan to pay off your debt, and have you looked at your credit reports and credit scores?
QUESTION 7: Will We Operate from One Checkbook or Three? This is really for couples looking to marry, because of the legal protections afforded. We have covered this in the prior discussion on mistakes to avoid. There are downsides and upsides to individual, joint and some combination of these accounts. The key is to look at what makes sense at the time, and realize that things may change over time depending on what works then.
QUESTION 8: How Should We Divide Financial Duties? There can be any number of ways that a couple can handle the team’s finances. Perhaps the ideal is that both parties share the duties, each taking responsibility for what they are strongest at, what they are most interested in, or what they are willing to manage. Then, you can trade off. For example, each pays the household bills for six months of the year.
QUESTION 9: Do We Need A Prenuptial Agreement? Although there is a myth that this indicates a lack of true love and trust, in today’s world, there can be many good reasons for such an agreement, which can actually protect both parties. If there is a good reason, the approach should be to lay out the circumstances in an honest way — I have an account in my name from my parents, so that I can take care of my disabled sister should something happen to them. If there are good reasons like a family-owned business to stay in the family, heirloom property or a summer cottage to be passed down, obligations from a former marriage, working with experienced professionals can make this all work, while protecting both parties, and perhaps even coming up with some equitable tradeoffs.
QUESTION 10: Who Buys the Rock? Yes, that engagement ring for those couples looking towards marriage. How big will it be, how much will it cost, could some of that money be put to better use for our financial future, will some of it be purchased on credit, who gets it if the engagement is called off, and does it matter who calls it off and why? So it’s a conversation very much about other than the ring itself. It may be the first joint purchase, so it will be some indication of your joint financial priorities. There are different state laws, or no laws, as to who gets the ring if the engagement is called off. New York, among other states, has a No-Fault Rule. Essentially, whoever gave the ring gets it back, no matter who initiates the breakup.
Remember — full disclosure, team effort, and compromise can go a long way!
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.