Not talking money before marriage can pose a great risk – not just to your financial life, but to your love life as well. It may seem counterintuitive, but talking about money after circumstances have forced the conversation can be much more consequential than talking about it ahead of time.
Though marriage has ancient roots, love had little to do with it until very recently. For thousands of years, marriage was an economic arrangement, making marriage for love a relatively new concept. Now, proposals are surprises, romantic love is the impetus, and the phrase ‘married for money’ conjures negative gold-digging associations.
Although marriage is no longer seen as a purely economic arrangement, money still plays a role in married life. And while most Americans would rather talk about death than money, not talking about it actually poses the greatest risk – not just to your financial life, but to your love life as well. It may seem counterintuitive, but talking about money after circumstances have forced the conversation can be much more consequential than talking about it ahead of time.
In this sense, talking about money can actually be more valuable than the money itself. Here are some guidelines for getting the conversation going:
Start with Context: To get a better idea of where you’re both coming from when you think about money, discuss how your families talked about money. If your parents were open about how they handled money, and taught you about saving, that doesn’t mean your partner has had the same experience. Sharing what your relationship with money has been can give each of you a deeper level of understanding about how you’re each thinking about finances going forward.
Start with the Small Things: When moving on to talking about how you each currently handle money, start with the small things, such as dates, food, and gifts. Trying conversations out about these comparatively minor purchases can make it easier to talk about the big stuff, like a wedding, car, or house.
Money Fears: When starting to discuss how each of you handles the relatively small expenses, and before you get into talks about larger investments, it can be helpful to reveal each of your financial fears. If someone went through a period of scarcity growing up, they may be pro-savings to the point of having no fun with their money, or they may be so risk-averse that they don’t want to invest. The opposite could also be true: If someone grew up in a house where their parents never enjoyed their money, they may now be making up for lost time by traveling, buying luxury items, and spending without much planning. They may have sensed that their parents’ fear-driven conservatism around money kept them from enjoying life, and they may not want to relive that in their own life.
Values: Ask what your money values are. What is money for? How does it drive your sense of happiness? How do you balance spending money on The Now vs. The Future’?
Sharing skills: Is one of you good at keeping tabs on monthly costs, while the other likes to focus on long-term saving and investing? Each of you can play a role in managing your shared finances, and each of your strengths should be considered when intentionally planning for sharing these responsibilities.
Have a Monthly Check-in: It doesn’t have to be somber: Drink wine. Make it a date night. Try to answer these questions on a semi-regular basis: Are we on track towards our goals? How is this working for each of us? What’s not working that we could change? What financial milestones (including the small ones) can we celebrate?
Continuing the Conversation with Your Financial Professional
There's a lot to learn about the tax implications of your marital status. Marriage in the U.S. can incur tax penalties or bonuses. A couple incurs a marriage penalty if the two pay more income tax filing as a married couple than they would pay if they were single and filed as individuals. A couple receives a marriage bonus if they pay less tax filing as a couple than they would if they were single. While instances of marriage bonuses far outnumber marriage penalties, married couples with children are more likely to incur marriage penalties than couples without children, because one or both spouses could use the head of household filing status if they were able to file as singles. Marriage penalties are also more common when spouses have similar incomes, while marriage bonuses are more common when spouses have disparate incomes.
Marital status can change other financial factors, too. Your financial professional should be able to walk you through updating beneficiary forms and other paperwork that will take into account your newly married status. They can also help you understand how new financial opportunities – such as being able to share health insurance – may be putting you in a more secure position to have a little wiggle room to start growing your health—and wealth—in new ways.
If you’re still having difficulty getting the conversation started, finding outside resources can be helpful. Podcasts - such as MONEY UN-TABOOED - are focused on getting people comfortable with talking about money together for the first time. Jackson also offers a wealth of educational resources, if you’d like more information on managing finances to inspire in constructive ways.