Once you are sure you are financially compatible with your partner and want to take the next step of sealing your union in marriage, you will need to take time to discuss a few financial issues, which if left unaddressed could potentially cause marital disharmony. We look at the most important.
Once you decide to become a married couple, you need to begin working towards full financial disclosure. This is important because anything hidden in the closet will surely come tumbling down once you start living together. If you have decided to invest more time and effort into developing a relationship with someone, it is time to begin to dig deeper into all personal areas, including finances. Although there is no right timetable for getting financial information, it is expected that by the time you are ready to talk about getting married, you should also be sharing more specific personal information. There are four areas in particular you need to discuss: income, financial obligations, financial goals and handling of joint finances.
Finances are never easy stuff to discuss, but it is essential that you know what kind of person you are getting married to before you do so. It is even more crucial to be honest with each other in regard to finances before you tie the knot, as you may become legally responsible for your spouse’s existing financial obligations. You need to know exactly what his or her financial position is like before you decide to take that crucial step of marriage, which automatically makes your partner’s problems yours. Sometimes they may be too much to take on, and its best you know before marriage. You also need to decide how much both of you want to mix your finances before you start a joint home. What should you do if your partner refuses to participate in financial disclosure? There are people who may not want to talk about finances, especially when they have something to hide or be ashamed of. Don’t be fooled into believing that all will be revealed “after the wedding.” Disclosure after the event may shock you beyond expectation, spelling doom to the marriage even before it has started. You should seriously rethink your committing to someone who will not disclose personal financial information to you.
This stonewalling is a very big red flag. If it’s the man who does not want to reveal, he may be a chauvinist who thinks women are either incapable of understanding family finances or have no right to the information. If it’s the woman she may be insecure and think her financial situation, whether good or bad, may be threatening to the man. Or one or both may be involved in criminal activities to make money or they may be heavily indebted. If a person does not want to disclose his financial status, he may be a con artist who does not want you to see the evidence of his financial misdemeanors, or he may have given you a false picture of who he or she really is. He may be a control freak who will make your life miserable and who will never treat you like a full partner.
He may be giving the image of being extremely wealthy while living beyond his means and in debt. She may be an addict of some sort whose finances are always in a mess. Ask yourself if you want to live with a person who is not free to discuss finances with you. Knowledge is power, and without it you should not commit to moving forward into a situation where you share not only a life, but also living arrangements and financial obligations. Continue to date, if you like, but don’t commit to marriage to a person who will not share financial information with you. But once you have both fully disclosed, then you can move to the next step of discussing how your financial arrangements will be once you start living together. Here are four important things you must not overlook.
1. What’s your joint income?
In order to decide how to plan your finances and split expenses when you get married, it is essential to understand how much money each person makes. For couples that work at salaried jobs, this is not difficult to verify, as all you need is to show each other a pay slip. For people in business or with irregular income, it is more difficult to give exact monthly figures. You need to sit down with each other and share realistic numbers based on the history of the business, or previous income, to have an idea of joint cash at your disposal. Once the numbers are disclosed you have a true picture of your joint income and the cash available between the two of you. With this information you will be in a position to style the life you want – can you afford to buy a house? Can you move to a more spacious apartment? Can you afford a car, or two?
2. Examine your financial obligations
If either of you has ongoing financial obligations, such as mortgage or car loan, or you take care of siblings and elderly parents, or are paying for your higher education, these will reduce the amount of cash available to fund joint expenses. A simple list of your current financial obligations should be shared with your partner, so that both of you understand where all the cash is going and how you can work together to lift the burden from the partner with heavy obligations. It can be helpful to break financial obligations into mandatory and discretionary categories. For example, a mortgage is mandatory but paying a loan on a second luxury car you don’t need is discretionally and you can decide to sell it to improve your joint financial situation. Asking the significant other to share a list of his or her financial obligations is a good test of how both of you handle your finances. If both of you are capable of producing an honest list, it shows that you are both aware of your obligations and are handling them properly. A person who cannot produce a list must be totally disorganised, and the organised person may have to assume the responsibility of managing family finances – from ensuring a budget is followed and all obligations are met, all within available cash.
3. Discuss financial goals
Now that you have a good handle on income levels and financial obligations, it is time to switch gears and talk about the future – what are your goals? If one had financial problems in the past going by the list of obligations presented, how is he or she working his way out of these problems? Is the person in debt expecting the debt-free one to handle more expenses while they dig themselves out of the hole? How do you feel about shouldering a higher financial obligation than your partner? Do you want to be the one helping clean up a mess you were not part of? Again, this is the time to be brutally honest with yourself. If your partner does not have a good track record in handling money, you have no evidence that this will change in the future, and you therefore need to be fully aware of what you are committing yourself to. It is important for both of you to engage in a discussion about your future financial goals. Separate joint goals from personal goals.
Do you plan to start a business?
Will you own it jointly? Do you plan to quit formal employment at some point? What do you intend to do? What investments do you want to get into in the future and how will you finance them? How much will you be saving from your joint income to finance your joint goals? It is better to share your goals right from the beginning, rather than assuming that you are sharing the same vision of the future, only to find out later that you have divergent views. Your own personal goals are as important as joint goals and these should be discussed, appreciated and taken into account when planning your finances. For example, if the woman wants to stop working when the children come and devote all her time to them, this needs to be factored in as the family will have to function with one income. If the man has a hobby that consumes money and he intends to continue with it to another level, this should be taken into account.
4. Discuss how to handle joint finances
Armed with the knowledge gleaned from full disclosure, you can now discuss how to handle financial arrangements after you get married. At this point you can relax because you have a clear picture of what you are committing to, and there are no financial secrets waiting to disrupt you after you get married. However, do not expect your partner to be an excellent financial manager, but even when they are not and are willing to improve, consider that you have a gem. Remember life is not always perfect and if you have fallen in love with a person who has poor financial management skills but is willing to reform, you should not hesitate in taking the risk and moving ahead with your plans. If your partner is not a good financial manager, you can protect yourself by making sure you do not expose yourself to his or her potential pitfalls. Make sure you do not open any joint accounts until later in marriage when you are both at par in terms of financial management.
Do not enter into any loan agreements or financial arrangements that you could not afford to finance on your own if your partner failed to perform. If you are both good financial managers, it will be easy to create financial arrangements that suit you both. A good way to start is to have joint accounts, where each of you can draw money to finance the family budget. You should also have a joint savings account to finance your future goals. It is best to maintain individual accounts for personal expenses. It is important to review your financial standing after a year of marriage, and thereafter more regularly as your goals may change as you go along. As trust grows over time, you will also find you are able to share more and think more in terms of “us and ours” rather than “me and mine.”