5 Personal Finance Discussions To Have Before Getting Hitched

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 10, 2008 · 30 comments

in Money & Career

Photo by mbtrama

When a couple gets married, they’re not only joining lives, they’re joining bank accounts. Each person brings to the relationship different attitudes and ideas about money. One of the keys to a happy and successful marriage is to get on the same page with your spouse about finances.

Here are 5 things that a couple thinking about getting married should consider before getting hitched.

1. Review your credit history and debt together

Before you get married, sit down and look over each others’ credit report. One person’s bad credit score is bad for the both of you. You don’t want to find out when you apply for a loan that your lovely wife racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt to pay for a shoe shopping habit while in college. By then it’s too late. Finding out each others’ credit score before you apply for a loan can help you decide whether to leave the person with the crappy score off the loan application so you can get a good rate. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up like this guy:


The guy is kind of a douchebag when he says he wouldn’t have married his wife if he knew her credit report. But the commercial gets across the point that it’s important to know each others’ credit report before getting married. It will help you make decisions when taking out a loan.

2. Discuss financial goals

Find out each others’ financial goals and attitudes about money. Is your wife a spendthrift or a frugal monger? Does she want to save for a down payment on a house or does she want to be a renter? You can preempt money tension down the road by getting your goals and attitudes out in the open from the very beginning of your marriage. If one of you likes to spend and the other likes to save, your marriage isn’t doomed, you’ll just have to come to a compromise. Establish what this compromise is going to be at the beginning of your marriage.

3. Decide whether to have joint or separate accounts

The choice to have joint or separate accounts is entirely up to your personal preference. Each has their benefits and drawbacks. It also doesn’t have to be either/or. Many couples have a joint account for home expenses and maintain separate accounts for personal ones.

If you do decide to open up a joint account, make sure you both are aware of how much is in the account. You don’t want to have pay unnecessary overdraft charges.

4. Draft a budget together

Budgets aren’t sexy. They’re tedious and boring. Creating a budget with someone else makes it even harder because each of you have different priorities on spending money. While you might want to allocate more money for entertainment, she might want more money for groceries.

But creating a budget together is vital. It will help bring your spending habits more in-line with each other. It also makes BOTH of your aware of what’s going on in your finances instead of just one person being in the know.

I recently found a great (and FREE!) spreadsheet program based on the envelope budget system. It’s simple and easy to use. Download it, sit down with your gal, and get to cracking on a budget.

5. Decide who is going to head up the finances

The days of having the man have sole control over a couple’s finances are over. Couples these days often choose who is going to tend to the bills and bank accounts based on who has more of a desire to do it. It always seems that within a couple, one partner has more of a knack and interest in it than the other. If neither of you are inclined to head it up, you can always divvy up the tasks equally. Still, things tend to run smoothest when one person takes on most of the responsibly. But even if one partner does the lion’s share, the other spouse should be kept actively abreast of what is going on and be a part of all major decisions. You don’t want your wife to die and suddenly realize you have no idea what the state of your finances is.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin (ReturnToManliness) July 11, 2008 at 12:30 am

The one point everyone has to remember is to NOT be judgmental towards the other person for having issues. They may have made mistakes in the past and want a chance to fix them.

The separate accounts issue is kinda like a pre-nup…this one can cause some problems with the whole “our love is forever” thing. If she says “don’t you think we are going to be together forever?” and/or “well then, what’s the point of getting married?”, it’s time to ease up a little and try a different approach…learned from experience…

2 Wil July 11, 2008 at 4:07 am

I am just over 4 months on my marriage, and I have found that mint.com has helped us both get a solid graphical grip on where our money is going, and it does it without the hard work of entering everything into the spreadsheet. Oh and it is also free, and not ad supported, but offer and anyo-data supported so a really clean interface.

3 Nesagwa July 11, 2008 at 6:04 am

Hey, thanks for the link Wil. That looks much better than the old Quickbooks type program.

4 John July 11, 2008 at 6:18 am

Being married for almost a year now, I tend to agree with the idea of drafting a buget together. It helps both husband and wife see in a concrete way where the money goes. This in turn stays fresh in your mind when you are about to buy something on impulse. The key to this is to review the budget frequently, even weekly so that husband and wife can develop solid financial habits.

5 Brett McKay July 11, 2008 at 6:19 am

@ Will- I’m a big fan of Mint as well. However, some of my bank accounts have trouble working with it. They don’t update. So, I’ve been using the spreadsheet program until it gets cleared up.

6 John July 11, 2008 at 6:47 am

My wife and I have separate joint accounts. That is, we have each other’s names on our separate accounts. It makes things easier for us, since we split up the bills, and we don’t generally have to worry about accidentally causing overdrafts. In addition, should something happen to either of us, the other spouse will have access to all accounts without having to jump through hoops.

John (another one)

7 Hayden Tompkins July 11, 2008 at 7:09 am

FYI, there are two types of finances to manage – household and investment.

I manage the household finances (budgeting, money allocation, food purchases, etc.), though he pays our joint bills.

He also manages our investments. Me? I just say ‘dump it in an index fund’, but he prefers to much more involved than that! So he does it.

8 pistolette July 11, 2008 at 7:16 am

A friend of mine had awful debt, and her boyfriend said he wouldn’t marry her until she got out of it. He taught her how to be responsible, and enjoy life without excessive spending. I used to think he was a jerk, but now I realize it was kind of romantic, like saving her from a drug addiction. She did get out of debt, and they are married now, have a nice investment portfolio, and own a pretty cabin in the woods :-)

9 angelina July 11, 2008 at 7:17 am

A friend of mine had awful debt, and her boyfriend said he wouldn’t marry her until she got out of it. He taught her how to be responsible, and enjoy life without excessive spending. I used to think he was a jerk, but now I realize it was kind of romantic, like saving her from a drug addiction. She did get out of debt, and they are married now, have a nice investment portfolio, and own a pretty cabin in the woods :-)

10 Brett McKay July 11, 2008 at 7:32 am

@ Hayden- That sounds like a good arrangement. I’m with you on the dump it in an index fund philosophy.

@ angelina- I’m glad to hear that it worked out for your friend and her husband. I hope to get my financial situation to a position where I can own a cabin in the woods, too.

11 Helen July 11, 2008 at 9:27 am

I worked in a credit union 27 plus years ago and was told by the financial advisor to get my own checking account and a major credit card in my name only. He said “every married woman needs those two” I followed his advise and tell other women the same thing.

12 Shanel Yang July 11, 2008 at 10:54 am

One more to add to your list: Talk about a prenup. I know, I know. No one wants to hear that one. But, see why everyone (even those who aren’t rich) need one in article “Who Needs Prenups?” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/07/11/who-needs-prenups/

13 theBorch July 11, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Mint.com is a great site to help with your finances, has fancy graphs and everything, best of all it’s still free!

14 Sean July 11, 2008 at 8:06 pm

YNAB (you need a budget) .com saved my marriage. A month after we were married my wife admitted that she’d racked up some serious debt from a bad business decision years ago and had been trying to dig herself out unsuccessfully ever since. She declared bankruptcy and I watched my dreams of homeownership fall away like burnt ash.
I have never been the most financially savvy man in the world (Which I owe to my folks who were always very quiet about money when I was growing up) and It wasn’t until my wife and I sat down and started working on YNAB together that we began to see eye to eye about our goals with money. We now work out a budget at the beginning of each month and then spend a few minutes each Friday entering expenses in the program. It helps us keep each other honest and moving forward on our savings and financial goals.
If you’re like many of the baby boomers’ children and didn’t get a solid financial education growing up then I can’t recommend something like YNAB enough for getting you in touch with money.

15 Richard July 12, 2008 at 6:48 am

One thing I only realized recently is that budgeting software and financial accounting software are different! In the past we used accounting software thinking that we were budgeting, but it didn’t really help. Now we’re using a spreadsheet and doing budgeting.

In general:

Financial accounting software will let you see where your money is going (and where it went), but it doesn’t tell you where it’s going to go. eg. Quicken, http://www.gnucash.org/

Budgeting software tells you how much you have and where it’s supposed to go, but won’t tell you where it has been going. eg. http://www.youneedabudget.com/

16 Eric July 12, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Giving up control over anything that’s been your sole responsibility can be tough. Understanding the difference between giving up control and sharing responsibility, though, is one of the most important parts of any relationship.

You would never enter a business contract with someone who wasn’t willing to shoulder the responsibility for the relationship equally. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to enter a marriage where either party ignores the joint financial commitment.

Discussing money is never fun, particularly when it can so easily become a wedge between to people. At the same time, the money conversation is just as important as the kids conversation leading up to the decision to get married.

17 fathersez July 12, 2008 at 8:09 pm

This is a subject I have wanted to broach to my children (my elder 2 girls) for some time now.

Your post has made it much easier for me. Thanks

18 Israel July 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm

I did all of these before getting married. I was glad I did because it helped us solidify our finances at the time.

19 HL July 18, 2008 at 6:06 am

There are definitely some issues here. For one thing, you sure don’t need a pre-nup. And any marriage counselor will tell you that if you keep separate bank accounts then you’re marriage is already in trouble. The whole point of marriage is a life long commitment. If you go into with the idea that you can get out of it at some point and save yourself some money, then you aren’t really committing, and it sure won’t be for life. You have to realize that your money is no longer ‘your’ money. It is ‘our’ money. To treat it any differently is an insult to your spouse.

My wife is a stay at home mother. Does that mean that she can’t have any money at all? Heck, it’s ‘MY’ money, I earned it! If she wants to spend something, she can go out and get her own money! I don’t think so.

Believe it or not, a woman can actually survive after her husband is dead, even if they only had one joint account.

All that crap aside, you absolutely must communicate with each other about the budget. Money problems can be really hard on a marriage, but you are in it together. Everything is together. You are now one flesh. Communicate about everything.

20 M. Steve July 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm

“The guy is kind of a douchebag when he says he wouldn’t have married his wife if he knew her credit report.”

I go much further that that. I find that commercial morally offensive, as if the marker of whether you should marry someone is a score assigned by a corporation. He even says, “I married my dream girl”, but, instead of being incredibly happy and thankful, and together working through her past mistakes, he sits whining and wishing had his dream house, instead. Not much of a man, methinks. He should-a spent some time reading your blog.

(I actually didn’t see that commercial for a long time, and figured they pulled it cause even freecreditreport.com saw how disgusting the message is, but it’s back. Can’t say that I’m surprised.)

21 Jim July 24, 2008 at 7:31 am

Not to sound prudish, but aren’t you contradicting yourself a bit with your sentence, “The guy is kind of a douchebag when he says he wouldn’t have married his wife if he knew her credit report. ”

Don’t you preach that a man should use a certain level of decorum in his communications?

Taken from your book:
“Avoid profane language. Profanity is a mark of low breeding. If
you must swear, avoid doing so in front of ladies and small children.”

Perhaps you are taking the viewpoint that ladies and small children do not frequent this site; I also understand that “douchebag” may not necessarily be considered a profanity, but it is not a word I would use in front of a woman.

Please understand, I would bet that I use profanity more than the average person, I was just surprised to see it in your posting.

Just my two cents…

22 Brett July 24, 2008 at 8:36 am

@Jim-

I admittedly use “douche bag” a lot in both my writing and my verbal communications. Perhaps it is a weakness, but truth be told, I just find the word really amusing. It doesn’t seem crass to me, it just makes me chuckle. I do use it around most women, although I probably wouldn’t around children. The former do read the blog, while I doubt the latter do. To me douche bag it up there with “damn” and “hell” which aren’t grievous swears and instead can be use to pepper your communications now and then. But I respect that everyone’s tolerance level for certain words is different and every man must make up his own mind about which words are appropriate.

23 Jim July 28, 2008 at 7:21 am

@Brett

Perhaps I was being a bit of a prude; however I have been frequenting the AOM quite often lately and am trying to curb certain habits. I do believe that there is something to be said about a man who understands the art of being a gentleman. I also believe that many of the women that I know appreciate a man that understands this “art”.

G-d knows that I use plenty of foul language in front of people (women included). It is something that I am trying to control moving forward. Maybe this was a personal case of the pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other.

24 Adam September 6, 2008 at 11:42 am

I personally find that using the google spreadsheet program works the best for doing the budget because it is easy to work on it together from two seperate computers at the same time. It also keeps a history of the changes that have occurred to the budget spreadsheet as well.

25 Jean Clink June 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I hope you will regard my comments. I was looking forward to sending this article to my daughter who is the age to marry, and I hope she will marry a real man.

I am glad I never heard d-bag used before and find it completely out of order on a website devoted to the art of manliness. I understand hell and damn which usually are not necessary either, but at least they do not conjure up pictures of something done by an unclothed woman in the privacy of her bathroom. Get the picture?

To speak negatively about the woman one has married is not manly either, but such an appellation says nothing about the lack of character in the man to whom you are referring, where ‘foolish’ or ‘thoughtless person’ would be much more descriptive and get the point across better.

Sincerely, Jean

26 ms. loan October 29, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Great advice! If i were to ever get married, i would have to review this article.

27 Hoss July 14, 2010 at 10:05 am

I think the man should be in charge of financial matters. Let’s face it, women make more emotional decisions while men tend to think things through and not act on feelings as much. My dad always took care of 100% of the family’s finance/money matters when I grew up, and I do the same now. My wife’s involvement is limited to clipping coupons. Before we were married she made some bad decisions. (It “feels” like you’re helping yourself re-financing a mortgage that takes your monthly payment down from 1200 to 800 per month…. but reality is that you’re going from a partially paid-off 127,000, 20-year to a 132,000 30-year…). It probably sounds callous and sexist, but overall men make better decisions than women. (Men do…. man-boys or immature 50-year old teenagers don’t…)

28 Derek D. July 14, 2010 at 10:24 am

My wife and I have a joint account into which all of our pay goes, and then we each also have individual accounts into which we each get an equal monthly stipend according to our budget to pay for dining out, clothes, toys, etc. All of our regular monthly bills are paid out via the joint account (i.e. mortgage, investments, etc.) By having individual accounts, it allows us to know what our monthly limits are and we can individually save up for a personal item without muddying the waters. We put a pretty fair share of our joint account into savings as well to pay for vacations, house improvements, etc.

29 Rebecca Sink-Burris October 2, 2012 at 2:10 pm

A little defense of women here, our daughter is the saver and her fiancee is the spender between the two of them. He is a great guy and we are hoping that financial issues will not be a problem for them. Just starting out after college, she squeezes an amazing amount of savings out of her smaller income. While he pretty much spends what he makes and has credit card debt. She seems to be a good influence on him in this regard.

30 will June 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Mint.com is a great tool for budgeting. It takes your transaction history from your bank or credit card and categorizes your expenses and income to let you see if you are staying on track. it will even send you alerts when you go over budget in a category or have upcoming / late bill payments.

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