We were walking down the path by the river to go meet our friends. As it was the last day before our cross-country move and we still hadn’t finished packing or cleaning, this was a bit of an interesting choice. I didn’t think it was a good idea to pause our cleaning frenzy to go swim in the lake. Despite my hesitation, Mr. Mechanic convinced me that we had time in the day for a little bit of fun. We could go to the lake just for an hour or two while the weather was nice, and then tackle the rest of the chores in the afternoon.
He led the way, a big goofy grin on his face. I chatted with him as twigs crunched under our feet and noticed he replied with just one word answers and murmured agreements. He seemed nervous for some reason.
When we made it halfway to the lake, the path opened up to the little bridge we had spent our daily walks crossing and admiring. Our friends were there, waiting with cameras at the ready, flowers spread decoratively along the stonework. Little clues from earlier in the day fell into place, and I realized he was about to propose.
What Do We Do Now?
Our to-do list began to feel like later levels of Tetris. Not only did we plan a move during a pandemic, sign a lease without seeing the property first, and furnish it with second-hand finds, now family members want to know a wedding date to plan around. With many gatherings getting postponed due to COVID-19 and continued uncertainty around planning events with large groups of people, it will be tricky to pin down a date.
Luckily, we have been happily together for 11 years and we don’t feel a rush to get to the altar. There are plenty of things to do before we get married. Since this is a finance blog, I thought I would list out 5 money conversations any couple should have before getting married.
1. List individual and shared goals
If you weren’t sure about your mutual goals before, a good time to check up on them is while you’re betrothed. What goals do you have individually and as a couple?
Short term goals:
Mr. Mechanic wants to finish his residency strong to become a top-notch doc. I’d like to see my software engineering skills progress to senior levels. I want to get good at surfing, Mr. Mechanic wants to start running every day. I want to fill our house with greenery, he wants to plant a herb garden.
Long term goals:
Together, we’d like to move abroad some day to Spain or (maybe) Italy. We both want to learn a new language and are intrigued by immersing ourselves in new cultures. I want to become financially independent and slow travel, Mr. Mechanic wants to continue to work for a while. We revisited our vision for a future work optional life.
These things give us something to work towards for the next 5 years at least. In terms of saving for long term plans, we will need to save up in the case of a future international move, but neither of us are particularly interested in owning a house or making other large purchases. Most of our savings will go towards retirement. We live well within our means now to give us more flexibility in the future. Getting started with these conversations help us envision our future and work towards common goals.
2. Talk Money To Me
One important aspect of marriage is to discuss how you are going to manage your money. On the logistical level, how will you pay the bills? Will you have one large pool of money, and two small separate ‘me-funds’? Or will you do the opposite and keep large separate accounts but have one pooled account for all shared expenses?
Share your numbers. Do you know each other’s salaries? Do you know how much you have in your respective retirement accounts? What are your credit scores? Tally up your net worth as a couple and as individuals.
A 2018 study by Fidelity found that over half of couples surveyed carried debt into their marriage. In Millennial relationships, the percentage is (unsurprisingly, due to the student loan crisis) higher: 74% brought debt into their marriage. If you have debt, does your partner know about it? How will you tackle paying it off together?
Money is a friction point in many relationships, so it’s important to know what you’re working with. Have the conversation now to avoid surprises down the line. In order to reach your goals together, you will need a financial plan to make them happen.
3. Get a prenuptial agreement
While it may seem unromantic to talk about what happens to your money in case your marriage doesn’t work out, I think of it the opposite way: instead of blithely assuming everything will go right, go into your marriage fully understanding the legal ‘Terms and Conditions’ you implicitly agree to. If you fully understand the risks and consequences involved, it’s even more romantic to sign that marriage certificate! You can also decide at this point if a ‘legal’ marriage is in your best interest or if you would both prefer to celebrate with friends and family and leave the government out of it. There are many ways to structure your relationship, and the most important thing is that you are choosing what’s right for your situation.
Many young newlyweds skip this process, thinking that prenuptial agreements are only for celebrities and other wealthy folks, but there’s more to it than that. The fact is that whether you have this conversation before getting married or not, everyone has some form of a nuptial agreement. It has already been decided for you by the state you live in. Better to discuss it before the wedding, when you both want what’s best for the other (hopefully).
Research your state laws
Every state handles this issue a bit differently, so you’ll have to do some reading. Decide together if you are okay with a judge deciding how to divvy up your property, splitting everything accumulated during the marriage fifty-fifty, or if you’d prefer something else entirely. Generally, prenups are recommended to those who have children or are bringing significant assets or debts into a marriage, but every situation is unique. Our plan is to research California’s existing laws and see if it works for us, and consult a lawyer if there is something we’d like to tweak.
Here’s an example of California Family Code:
For the purpose of division of property on dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, property acquired by the parties during marriage in joint form, including property held in tenancy in common, joint tenancy, or tenancy by the entirety, or as community property, is presumed to be community property. This presumption is a presumption affecting the burden of proof and may be rebutted by either of the following:
(a) A clear statement in the deed or other documentary evidence of title by which the property is acquired that the property is separate property and not community property.
(b) Proof that the parties have made a written agreement that the property is separate property.
(Cal. Fam. Code § 2581)
Talk to a lawyer
Reading into the laws and codes can get a bit dense, and isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. Consider finding a local lawyer to discuss what makes sense for you, both individually and as a couple. It may behoove you to each have your own lawyer involved. (I’ll write more on this when we actually tackle this step!)
Whatever you decide, going into the marriage with your eyes wide open will help you in the long run whether your marriage lasts forever or… not.
4. Align on a budget for your wedding
Budgeting for your wedding is a milestone in learning to budget for life. As a couple you will have to make many decisions about big purchases, whether you buy a house, a plane ticket across the world, or decide to send your kid to a private school. Start off on the right foot by setting a wedding budget together and doing your best to stick to it. If you decide to move the target to spend more or less that’s fine too, just be sure you agree on your new plans.
We still have a lot more researching to do before we can throw out a realistic number for the price of our big day, but you can bet I will be writing a breakdown on this site and sharing tips as we go along!
5. Sign up for pre-marital counseling
We found out that one employee benefit we receive is free counseling. This is available at a few workplaces, and I highly recommend checking out whether your company offers free or reduced-price counseling. We went to counseling while we lived in Portland and have picked it up again. A counselor can help you identify patterns in behavior and what triggers arguments and hurt feelings.
Having a third party around can also make it easier to delve into sensitive topics like money, children, sexuality, future goals, and general anxieties. If you struggle to discuss money or if it is already a sore subject, a therapist can help you address your concerns in a safe space.
If we had to pay out of pocket, it would be well-worth the cost and I would gladly pay up. The insights we have gained about ourselves and each other are priceless. I highly recommend it for any couples thinking about tying the knot or sticking together long-term.
We are excited to celebrate with our friends and family who all live in different states (and several family members in different countries too)! As we learn along the way, I will share tips on the blog, but I also hope readers will chime in with the lessons they learned while getting hitched.
What valuable conversations did you have before getting married?
Do you have a prenuptial agreement?
What tips do you have for newbie wedding planners?
Share in the comments below!