The Beatles famously sang, “All you need is love, love, love, love is all you need.”
So many of us buy into this simplistic belief and think that love conquers all.
Many of us rush into marriage and ignore the red flags that are before us, thinking problems will work themselves out after we are married. The sad truth is that marriage often serves to amplify problems, not solve them.
Kathy Chu of USA Today puts it perfectly when she states,
“If love is the tie that binds couples together, money is often the wrench that pries them apart.”
Maybe in the past arguments about money in marriage could be blamed on societal pressures for people to marry early and for the expectation of the wife to quietly allow her husband to make the financial decisions, but those days are long gone in our society.
Now, women often make more than the men they marry.
The average age for marriage in the United States is now almost 26 for women and almost 28 for men (USA Today). That allows individuals plenty of time to become settled in their careers, support themselves, and spend and save money however they would like.
Unfortunately, once money patterns are ingrained in individuals, they are often difficult to change.
Because individuals tend to gloss over a partner’s potential flaws when dating, they may be surprised once married to find that their views on money do not match their partner’s.
According to USA Today, “Couples don’t talk much about money before committing to each other. Nearly two-thirds of married couples who responded to USA TODAY’s poll said they talked little or not at all before the wedding about how to combine their finances.”
Before you walk down the aisle, make sure to look closely at your partner’s spending AND saving habits as well as his credit score.
Doesn’t sound romantic? It isn’t, but neither is divorce.
Consider these 5 qualities when evaluating a potential partner:
How open is he about his finances?
If you are dating someone for several months who won’t talk about his finances, you may want to walk away from the relationship.
Chances are he has something to hide or is ashamed about his finances.
If he won’t talk to you about finances now, it probably won’t be any better once you marry. Worst case scenario, he may have filed bankruptcy in the past or may have a level of debt he is ashamed of.
Many people find out years after they are married that their spouse has secretly run up thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt. Best case scenario, you will constantly have to fight him to discuss money issues.
How much debt does he have and what kind is it?
If your partner is willing to open up to you about finances, consider how much debt he has.
Of course, there are different types of debt.
He may have student loan debt because he had little or no parental help paying his way through college or because he went to an expensive school. That can be seen in a different light than credit card debt, which may just show that he is spending too freely.
Even student loan debt, however, should be weighed carefully.
If his student loan debt is in the tens of thousands of dollars, recognize that either the debt will be with you for a long while or that you will have to work aggressively to pay it down.
Does he have a repayment plan?
If you find that your potential spouse has debt, is he working to pay it down, or is he just making the minimum payments?
Consider how comfortable he is with the debt load he has.
Some experts recommend waiting to marry if your partner is on shaky financial ground to see if he is willing to improve his financial situation and pay off his debts so you can both enter the marriage debt free.
Is he willing to change?
If you are a saver and your boyfriend is a spender, is he willing to change his behavior?
John and Katy had two completely different money personalities; Katy loved to save and paid cash for everything, including vehicles. John was a spendthrift and hadn’t saved anything.
When Katy expressed her concerns, John agreed to work on changing his ways. They have been married 10 years and live in a completely paid for house and own cars they purchased with cash. Now, John is just as frugal as Katy.
These types of changes are rare, but they can happen.
It is worth delaying marriage to see if your partner can sustain the changes.
How will joint finances be handled?
Before marriage, it is wise to agree on who will handle the day-to-day as well as the long-term financial decisions.
It is best to handle them together, but that doesn’t work for all couples. If you agree on who will handle the finances, you will save yourself much arguing in the future. Agreeing on whether you will merge your money together or hold separate accounts is also an important discussion.
In an age where Americans tend to spend more than they earn and are saddled with both student loan and credit card debt, avoiding arguments about money is not easy.
Still, there are important observations and discussions you should have with your partner before marriage to make sure you can agree on your finances. These discussions aren’t romantic, but they may save you plenty of money and heartache in the future.
Divorce can hit both partners hard, but women tend to suffer more financially.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who divorced in the last 12 months were more likely than men to “receive public assistance, earn less income, and to live in poverty.” Each partner should make sure that the one they are with is a good match for them so they can have a successful marriage, but financially, women have a greater stake in choosing the right partner.
This post is a part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts about Relationships and Money, see womensmoneyweek.com