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By Claire Hegstrom
While finances probably aren’t at the top of the list of fun and flirty topics to discuss before marriage, it can open up lines of communication in ways many other subjects can’t. As social media breaks down the walls of socially acceptable conversation starters, money talk before marriage is no longer seen as taboo.
A recent NPR article estimates that, “As many as 41% of American adults admit to hiding accounts, debts, or spending habits from their partner.” While leading into a first date with, “…so what’s your credit score?” isn’t ideal, talking about money, finances, and unseen habits could save some stress after you say “I do.”
Jumping into the nitty-gritty numbers right away can be intimidating to those still basking in the honeymoon phase, so start with simple questions that lead to important answers about how your significant other views finances.
1. What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever charged to a credit card?
This light-hearted question can give great insights into debt lessons learned, and possibly your partner’s most recent credit blunder. It can also be a topic that uncovers important facts like how much credit card or student loan debt each of you have, and how you pay for unexpected expenses in an emergency.
2. If you received $5,000 right now, what would you do with it?
A question that gets us all excited: the idea of coming into a large amount of money. For many couples, this is a reality seen in yearly bonus and tax refund checks. Would they put a large portion into savings, or invest it? Or is unforeseen fortune the ticket to checking off their wish list? The answer to this question will reveal your partner’s inner thoughts on spending versus saving, and give you clues into how far in advance they financially plan.
3. What’s one thing you won’t skimp on, even to save a few bucks?
Whether it be name brand Oreos or the Tesla you can’t live without, we all have the brands we’re deeply devoted to. For some, it’s incredibly important to live upwardly frugal, cutting costs wherever you can to reach your financial goals even faster. For others, splurging a little to make the day-to-day more enjoyable is a price they’re willing to pay.
4. How old were you when your parents stopped financially supporting you?
Learning what age your partner became totally financially independent will give you insights into raising your future children together. Often, people’s ideas on parenting stem from childhood experience, so be prepared to chat about how you’ll financially support your kids through the years. This is also a great time to discuss any major financial lessons your partner learned during the first few years on their own.
5. Did you see your parents talk about money when you were growing up?
There are so many emotions involved in finances, often learned from what we experienced in our formative years. Did your partner’s parents speak to each other calmly about finances, or was it often an anxious conversation? Did mom or dad handle the money, or was it a shared responsibility? How do you plan on conquering your financial future as a couple?
6. What were your family vacations like?
How often did your partner go on vacation growing up? Was vacation a lavish trip across the country, or maybe a modest weekend camping in a tent? It’s smart to start talking about how much money you’d like to spend on vacations in the future, and how often you’d like to get away to have fun.
7. If you suddenly lost your job, which expenses would you cut first?
Are there some things you just can’t live without? You could learn that an unexpected job loss would be no problem, as they have a large emergency savings tucked away. Either way, talking about how you’ll deal with crisis could save your marriage in the future, as you’re sure to encounter curveballs along the way.
8. Have you ever helped a sibling out financially?
Family is often an emotionally-charged topic that needs to be discussed early and often. If your partner has helped out a family member financially, did they expect to be paid back? Thinking even further into the future, will it be your responsibility to financially care for ailing parents? You’ll want to make sure you’re on the same page before these potentially stressful situations arise.
9. What is the most you’d spend without consulting your partner first?
Secret spending is one of the biggest factors of marital arguments. So sit down and discuss what your spending threshold is before you need to consult your partner to make a purchase.
10. What will we do with checks we receive for wedding gifts?
Better to have the joint checking conversation now, than when Grandma Jane writes the check to Mr. and Mrs. Married. If you’re willing to jump into the game early, it might be a good time to tackle your first budget and joint account. Opening a joint checking account right now will ensure a place to put your monetary wedding gifts after the big party.
There’s a lot more to your partner’s financial story than the three-digit number telling you how financially fit they are (aka their credit score). Diving into these questions can uncover deep-rooted beliefs, learned money behaviors and even your biggest dreams for your future life.
Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.
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