Money conversations every couple should have before getting married

By Miranda Marquit

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Jun 02, 2023

Read time: 3 min

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My ex-husband and I didn’t have any real money conversations before we got married. Sure, we talked about budgets and our student loans. But we neglected to answer some crucial questions that now I wish I had asked. 

Before you tie the knot, get real about money. Like, REAL. Here are some of the things I wish my ex and I had discussed before we said “I do.”

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Your financial values and priorities

Fights about money often stem from differences in money values and priorities. For example, I love travel and experiences. I’m willing to spend a lot of money on those priorities. On the other hand, my ex-husband likes things—comfortable furniture, beautiful dishes, and a big-screen TV.

It’s not that one of us is right and the other is wrong. We’re both right! However, our different priorities sometimes led to budgeting clashes. 

If we’d taken time before the wedding to look at how we both use money, we might have figured out that some of our values and priorities were incompatible.

Discuss how you like to use your money and what you’re most likely to spend it on. Then, figure out how you can both get what you want.

Some couples like the idea of each getting some type of “no guilt” money that they can spend on whatever they want without judgment from the other person. Others compromise with each other so each person gets some of what they want. If you really want to get married, you’ll find a way through this impasse, but it’s much easier if you know what you’re dealing with as early as possible.

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How to handle debt

Early on in the relationship, talk openly and honestly about debt. How much you have, your plans for paying it off, how much is okay with you, and for what. Also talk about whether you’ll work together to pay off pre-marriage debts (like student loans) or you prefer to keep individual debts separate. It’s just like managing the bank accounts. There’s no single right answer. 

Getting on the same page about debt is especially important if you’re in one of the nine community property states where you’ll legally share every debt either of you takes on after your wedding day. They are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

How to handle assets

A prenuptial agreement isn’t about setting your marriage up for failure, nor is it reserved for the uber-wealthy. If you both have assets and income from before the marriage, a prenup can help you clarify expectations about what would happen in the event of divorce or death. It can also make both partners feel more secure and confident that their own financial priorities are protected.

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The logistics of paying the bills

Don’t assume that you’ll handle money in your marriage the same way your parents did. There are three main options when it comes to handling money in your partnership:

  • Joint accounts for everything: This approach, sometimes called “big pot finances” is when all income for both spouses goes into one account and all of the expenses—joint and individual—come out of that account.

  • Separate accounts for everything: With this approach, finances are kept separate, and shared expenses are divided up. You can split bills according to a percentage (50-50, 60-40, or any other split that works for you). Or you can each take responsibility for different bills. For example, one person might pay for housing and utilities, while the other pays for insurance and buys groceries

  • Combination of joint and separate accounts: With this approach, there's a joint account for shared expenses like housing, insurance, and children’s activities. The couple maintains separate accounts and each transfers their portion of the shared expenses into the joint account.

There’s no right answer, but it’s worth talking about the potential pros and cons of each strategy. You and your partner both need to be comfortable with the situation. 

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How to handle income differences

Couples rarely bring home exactly the same amount of money. The way you arrange your finances matters.

For most of my marriage, I was the primary breadwinner. The fact that my husband didn’t make as much as me didn’t matter much in our arrangement. We used a “big pot” strategy. All of our money went into a single account. There was no division of bills to pay.

If you both have income, but keep separate accounts, address how you’ll handle the income disparity. Some couples handle it by proportion. If you make 70% of the income, you might pay 70% of the bills.

Another consideration is whether one partner will stay at home and not work—or only work minimally. In that case, there are other reasons to address the income disparity. For instance, you might want the working spouse to contribute to a spousal IRA for the non-working partner so they can build retirement savings as well.

Already married?

It’s never too late to start moneying together. Start with a financial checkup to get you both on the same page so that you can start planning your next financial move.

Talking about money will help you grow closer and work together as a team. 

Author - Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit is an award-winning freelance writer and podcaster who has covered various financial topics since 2006. Her work has appeared in numerous media outlets, and she is frequently asked to host workshops and appear on panels on topics related to financial wellness. She is the co-host of the Money Talks News podcast and a consumer finance advocate and spokesperson for moving hub HireAHelper.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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