6 Important Finance Questions You Need to Ask BEFORE the Wedding

Do you know how much your partner actually makes?

women discussing paperwork

Talking about money basics (income, assets, and debt) before you get married is basically required, right? Well, maybe not. According to this survey, a whopping 43 percent of people don’t know the salary range of their spouse. We’re not talking about the specific dollar amount—just the range. That’s a whole lot of people who are way, way out of the loop (and probably haven’t asked the really hard questions). To save you from a lot of post-wedding tears and fights, we put together six important finance questions that partners should always cover before getting married. (Though, now is always a good time to tackle these questions. So if you’ve already gotten hitched and haven’t discussed them yet, maybe it’s time to make a wine-and-chat date.)

Conversations can get emotional and escalate quickly, and figuring out how to broach these topics in a way that’s healthy and helpful can be a little tough. With that in mind, we’ve put together a collection of topics you should be discussing (and the questions that will help you get there). The goal is for you to be able to walk away from these conversations feeling happy, instead of beaten down and exhausted (and like you still don’t know anything).

1. Money Management Habits

Your intentions: You’ve observed that your partner manages money differently from you. You want to understand each other’s habits and what you each enjoy about money management. You may be someone who keeps very close track of your finances—you have a spreadsheet projecting out your monthly budget for the next twelve months, and constantly monitor your net worth. Your partner may be the complete opposite—they don’t track their spending categories or savings rate, and never think about their net worth. However, this doesn’t mean they’re “bad” with money.

How NOT to ask:

“Are you on top of your money or a hot mess?”

“I don’t enjoy managing money. Can you do everything, please?”

Solution: Have a conversation about your habits: how do you keep track of your budget, or why don’t you keep track of your savings? Find out what each of you likes and dislikes about day-to-day money management. Tell each other about what you’ve found works well for you.

Questions to ask:

“How do you keep track of how much you spend and save, and also how your accounts fluctuate over time?”

“How often do you check your accounts?”

“Do you keep a budget? Why or why not?”

“Are there certain things that you like or dislike doing when it comes to money management?”

2. Financial Upbringing

Your intentions: You know you and your partner were raised differently. You’re worried that you come from different worlds but need to find a common language. Maybe one family was well-off and the other struggled financially. Or maybe your parents taught you that talking about money is impolite, but your partner’s family talks about it all the time and it makes you uncomfortable. Perhaps your parents taught you how money works by paying you to mow the lawn, while your partner didn’t get any financial education from their parents.

How NOT to ask:

“Did growing up poor/rich mess you up?”

“Were you raised by wolves and that’s why you don’t know anything about managing money?”

“Why do you sound like your mother/father every time we argue about money?”

Solution: Find out where your partner is coming from so you can truly understand their actions. Our financial upbringing has a big impact on how we function with money as adults.

Questions to ask:

“How did your parents manage money when you were growing up? For example, did they split responsibilities, keep track of expenses, have monthly meetings to discuss their money, or use a financial adviser?”

“Do you remember if your parents ever argued about money?”

“How did you feel about your family’s financial situation when you were growing up?”

“What did you learn from your parents about money?”

3. Life Goals Relating to Money

Your intentions: You have a vision for your life, dreams, and goals. Perhaps you want to start a business, retire at fifty, and buy a farm. You thought your partner wanted the same things, but the way they’re spending their time is not helping to reach those goals financially. You may be worried about where things are headed, leading you to lash out and pick fights.

How NOT to ask:

“The business you started after quitting your job isn’t earning any money—what are you doing to me?”

“I don’t want to live in a small apartment for our entire lives, so why aren’t you helping me save more for a house?”

Solution: Being emotional or worrying doesn’t solve anything. Talk about what you both want out of life: What are your big goals? Then work backward and define the concrete steps you need to take over the coming months and years in order to achieve those goals, with a specific focus on your finances. For example, if you want to retire at fifty, how much money will you need? And what does that say about how much you need to start saving and investing today in order to get there? If you want to have your own business, are you going to quit your job and start working on your idea, or will you work on your idea nights and weekends until you’ve reached enough success to quit your day job? Life goals are intrinsically tied to how you manage your money. You want to have a plan, and to have a plan, you need to be on the same page about your life vision.

Questions to ask:

“What are your life dreams and goals?” (Make these specific by naming dollar amounts, the age you want to be when you reach the goal, or any other concrete metric.)

“How much is enough for us to make per year to have our dream lifestyle?”

“What do we need to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year to achieve these goals?” (Again, be specific with concrete steps, dollar amounts, timelines, and metrics.)

4. Merging Finances

Your intentions: You’re not sure if combining your money, keeping it separate, or a combination of both is the right approach for you and your partner. Maybe you’re trying to be realistic; divorce rates are high and you never know what could happen. You’ve heard stories of crazy people who skip town with their spouse’s cash. Maybe you don’t feel right about merging your hard-earned savings with the relatively low savings of your partner.

How NOT to ask:

“If we combine our money into a joint account, am I going to regret it one day?”

“Why should we combine our money when I’ve saved five times as much as you?”

“How can you possibly think that having separate accounts is healthy in a marriage?”

Solution: It’s not advisable to merge checking, savings, and investment accounts until you’ve built a significant level of trust in the relationship. Hopefully, by the time you’re engaged or about to get married, you’re at that trust level. Many successfully married couples can’t imagine having separate accounts—they join all their assets and never think about yours, mine, or ours. Other couples keep their money separate, and each contribute a certain share to the household. Meanwhile, many happy couples have a hybrid system in which they have one or more joint accounts they use to pay their household expenses, but they also keep their own “fun money” accounts for gifts for each other and treats for themselves.

Questions to ask:

“Did your parents combine their money or keep it separate? Did it work for them?”

“Which arrangement—joint, separate, or hybrid—makes you most comfortable, and why?”

“Can we try the separate or hybrid approach on a trial basis and then make a decision about whether we want to join everything?”

5. Respectful Spending

Your intentions: You notice that one or both of you makes significant purchases without consulting the other, which can lead to hurt feelings and arguments. You want to figure out a way to make both of you happy. Meanwhile, things aren’t so straightforward; for example, your partner makes a lot more than you and you feel uncomfortable asking them to curb their spending when you’re contributing much less to the household.

How NOT to ask:

“Why did you buy that expensive drone without talking to me first?”

“Why do you always get annoyed when I spend money that I work hard to earn on things that make me happy?”

Solution: Agree on your spend threshold number—this number is literally the dollar amount at which you want your partner to check in with you before they make a purchase. Is it $200? $100? $50? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer does not depend on your income or savings. Another alternative is to have separate accounts for your separate spending money. That way you get what you want, your partner gets what they want, and you can each save for that bigger TV or the illustrated Harry Potters without feeling guilty.

Questions to ask:

“What’s your spend threshold number?” (You should both say your number at the same time.)

“Our numbers are different, so do you want to meet in the middle, or agree to respect each other’s numbers?”

6. Kids and BreadWinner Status

Your intentions: You come into a relationship with certain preconceived notions, and so does your partner. When you don’t see eye to eye, or don’t discuss it, you can fall into arguments driven by your underlying concerns. Perhaps you’ve always imagined that you would have a dual-income household, or maybe you expect one of you to stay home to raise the kids, or to work part-time when the kids are young.

How NOT to ask:

“You honestly expect me to stay home with our future kids even though I have a master’s degree?”

“Do you think you have more say in our financial decisions just because you make more than me?”

Solution: Okay, so “breadwinner” is kind of an old-fashioned term, but it can still be relevant in the twenty-first century. Many people find a career to be very fulfilling, and they want to put their higher education to good use. Other people are happy to take on the responsibilities of a stay-at-home parent on a part-time or full-time basis while their partner takes on the responsibilities of earning the majority of the household income. Some couples prioritize both partners’ careers and carve out money for day care or a nanny. If one of you stays home, it’s important to remember that you are still equals even though you contribute differently to the household.

Questions to ask:

“When you imagine our future with kids, do you expect one of us to stay home?”

“How do you feel about one of us making all the money, or a lot more money than the other?”

“If we both want to work full-time, how much will child care cost and how much do we need to start saving for it now?”

Did you and your partner talk finances before you got married? What did you ask—and what did you leave out?

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  • Lisa

    Oh, these are really great. We were familiar with each other’s financial situations going into the marriage, and we knew that we were planning to combine finances. Now that I’m more financially literate and having lived through a few of our own issues, I wish I’d had some of these scripts to discuss the differences we had surrounding money. We still would have had to have some difficult conversations, but I think these scripts and considering some of these ideas would have helped.

  • Cellistec

    Amen to all of these. Let’s not forget “in an expensive emergency, where would the money come from?” and “what’s our policy on loaning/giving money to family or friends?” That second one is a particular bugbear–we’re becoming more financially stable while our parents and siblings are starting to struggle.

    • Lisa

      Those are great questions. I’ve started conversations about what our plans would be if someone in our family required long-term care or needed medical assistance, and it made my husband squirm a bit. I think your second question in particular fits in with that thread nicely.

    • Lulu

      I was just coming here to say that “Do we need to plan on taking care of our parents?” was (still is) a HUGE one for us.

      • raccooncity

        So true. Also so hard to be realistic about without also having that conversation candidly with your parents. And while all my parents say they’re fine, financially, it’s hard to know if they’re realistic about that assessment or if they’re glossing over things for their kids.

        • Eenie

          Ugh this. He hasn’t had this conversation with his parents. I’m not worried about his mom because she has three kids (much easier to spread the burden), but he’s his dad’s only child. I think they’re in an ok shape, but I really have no idea (and he doesn’t either).

          My parents are pretty upfront with the fact that they aren’t where they want to be at this point in life, but they have a plan to get there. I’m executor of their estate and end of life care decider for both of them so I made sure I had all the information I needed to do these things.

        • Cellistec

          Yeah, it’s always startling how long someone close to you can pass for financially stable while struggling behind the scenes.

      • Not Sarah

        Yes! My partner is completely oblivious to his parents’ finances and perfectly happy that way, whereas I am my parents’ executor and have a pretty reasonable picture of their finances, including knowing that I don’t need to worry about supporting them, but he doesn’t even know that piece about his parents!

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, for us it’s less parents these days, but we do float friends (and caregivers) in case of emergancy. Luckily we’re on the same page on that, which is basically, if we have it we do it. BUT. It’s a big one.

      • Cellistec

        Meg & co, I think a bunch of us could use APW’s take on how to broach this topic, both with a partner and with said parents. For example, my mom generously gave us $10k for our wedding, and now she’s (one of several loved ones) struggling financially. So there’s gratitude, and guilt, and hindsight, and a deep urge to help her even as we feather our own nest. Has this been covered yet?

        • Eh

          I think to some extent adults will do what they want. My inlaws have a huge amount of debt yet gave us $10k for our wedding (and the year before gave my BIL the same amount, and the year we got married they also gave my husband $5k as a graduation gift). I was shocked about how much they gave us because my father is better off and gave us considerably less (it was a pre-agreed upon amount with my step-mum that was similar to the amount she gave her children), and my FIL had just been laid-off (which they knew was going to happen for a long time as he was being demoted and getting fewer hours because the factory was shutting down). I am not saying to let your mom drown but I don’t think you need to help her out of guilt.

          • Cellistec

            Good point, and that’s a perk of being an adult: spend your money on what you want event if it digs the hole deeper. (To a point.) It’s not the guilt driving me so much as the anxiety about our parents being one emergency away from being in real trouble, and the mixed signals between the comfortable image they present in public and the fears of destitution they whisper to us in private.

          • Eh

            I understand that anxiety. My inlaws live off my MIL’s income as my FIL has been unemployed for almost three years. My MIL makes a good amount but they refuse to change their lifestyle to match their income. They like to show the world that they are middle class (they pretended they were middle class when they weren’t when my husband was growing up). They still go on big expensive trips and then afterwards complain to us about how much it cost. And they actually only were able to pay it off because they went to the casino and won on the slots. I don’t think they would come to us for money (it would be against their ‘middle class’ façade) but I see them digging into retirement savings to get out of debt if it came to that. They want to retire in the next three years which I don’t see happening. I think living off even less in retirement will be even harder for them. And I think the money will run out so down the road we will probably have to deal with that.

        • Meg Keene

          Yeah, I think we need to talk about dealing with parents IN GENERAL, so noted. I have parents dealing with serious health issues, and I often think I’m alone on that (because they are particularly unhealthy for their ages) but I think I’m not. So I think ALLLL of that needs to be covered.

          I mean, yes. Obviously it’s a personal decision. But it’s complex. Particularly if you and your partner are not on the same page about it.

    • AmandaBee

      YES to both of these. Especially the second one if you, like us, have a mix of economic backgrounds (his family has a fair amount stashed away…mine not so much). He hasn’t thought much of supporting his parents financially because that probably won’t be an issue, whereas it’s something I’ve always assumed I might have to do at some point.

    • BSM

      I’d love some advice about how to have these conversations with your parents. I’m sure my mom isn’t financially prepared for the rest of her life, but I also don’t know how to talk to her about it. And, to make things more complicated, I’m not sure I’m interested in supporting her in the event that I’m right. Which also makes me feel like a horrible person.

      • Marie

        I feel the same way. I’d like to know about both of my parents, but don’t know how to ask. And if I do ask, I’m afraid it will require me to promise to support them before I have decided I can.

    • Eh

      I am a saver so we have a nice amount in savings. When family/friends need money we do not loan it. This was something my dad taught me. It’s not worth the hardship of getting the money back, so if we are in a place to give money we gift it.

      • Cellistec

        Yes, my dad always said “a loan to family members is a gift.” As in, don’t expect that money back. Dad wisdom!

  • K

    We have been married 5 years, and just last week I learned crazy details about my in-laws pre-divorce finances (including a secret bank account with $150k!). I am now surprised that finances have not been a difficult point for us – we have similar short-term and long-term goals and are mostly on the same page for spending.

  • My husband and I were very upfront with each other about our financial situations pre-marriage, and his candidness was one sign to me that he was my future husband. However, I do wish that we’d discussed more about how we’d run our finances after marriage. Originally I thought a his/hers/joint would be great but now I see the ease & utility of doing everything from one account, and I still haven’t convinced my husband of this.

    • Alicia Landi

      FWIW, my husband and I have everything in one joint account, but we partition it into his/hers/household categories using budget software (YNAB). We each get a small amount of ‘discretionary’ funds each month and the rest is combined in one big pot for the rest of our family’s needs. This works well for us, but it also probably helps that husband wants no part in money management and is easygoing about how the household funds are spent.

    • Meg Keene

      We do almost everything joint, but each get spending money. (Lunch, clothes, whatever). That is in our own account, and we each have our own debit cards to that account. It’s an easy balance.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      Don’t give up, Jareesa! We started out the same way and after a couple of years combined everything.

    • Ashlah

      We’ve done three different setups: everything separate (a pain in the butt); equal amounts sent to joint account to cover expenses, keeping the surplus separate (didn’t feel egalitarian, somewhat of a pain in the butt); and most recently, everything to joint account with equal spending money sent to individual accounts. We’re still in the transitional period for the last one, working out the kinks, but I already appreciate the ease and straightforwardness of it. It took a number of months to convince my husband we should give it a try, but I think he feels good about it too. None of your financial decisions have to be set in stone! Keep talking about it, and maybe he’ll come around. Suggest a trial period of a few months followed by a review, maybe?

    • We lived in sin for a few years before getting married so we had a his/hers/joint prior, and he didn’t want to change after marriage. Then we moved in Hong Kong (a move that is meant to be temporary) and we decided to just share 1 single account. We’ve since realized that (for us) keeping separate his/her “allowances” is futile because neither of us is frivolous and we only ever buy personal things that we need (without consulting) and we don’t feel the need to police things like lunch expenses, haircuts etc.

      Having the his/hers/joint was such a hassle, because we’d have to calculate each month how much each person had to contribute into the joint (we go on vacation a lot, so that bumps the number up from our regular household budget), and we tried to make it so that each person contributed the same proportion of their salary. Then we’d have to calculate how much each person puts into our joint savings….I prefer our current set-up where we just roll what’s left over each month into savings.

      • The His/Hers/Joint isn’t a giant hassle if you’re not so focused on giving equal portions from the salary…if you instead just focus on each of you have equal allowances, and all the leftovers goes into the joint account.

    • Danielle

      It is “easy” to have a joint account, but can lead to stress depending on your money management philosophies.

      We’re actually thinking of doing the opposite of you (moving from joint —> separate) once my husband is out of school and earning more income, because sometimes he really wants to help out his family, and I am not always comfortable with those choices. It can lead to fights, so we might just go back to separate accounts. As long as we’re paying our bills and saving a certain percent, maybe we don’t need to know what the other is spending on.


  • Kate

    To my complete shock and partial horror, it turns out my parents did not discuss nitty gritty money stuff before getting married. Which is why my mom was so supportive/impressed lately when I mentioned the spreadsheets and graphs my partner and I have created in preparation for moving to a new place/splitting expenses in a new way. Things worked out for my parents, but I was veeery surprised because I consider them both to be very responsible with money. They also talked pretty openly about money growing up and tried to give us all a good education about money. But my mom made it very clear that she wishes they had had those conversations sooner rather than later.

  • Eenie

    I think an important one is debt as well. What kind of debt do you bring to the marriage? How do you feel about it (soul crushing, manageable, part of life, etc.)? What new debt would you be ok with (car, house, education, household items, vacation)? How much should we prioritize paying down existing debt vs saving for other things?

    • emilyg25

      Yes! Also, how are you going to go about tackling that debt? We combined everything when we got married, which means we’ve been paying off my student loans together, but that’s not right for other couples.

      • AmandaBee

        Figuring out how you want to pay back the debt is definitely a big convo, and probably unique to more recent generations. Fiance and I merged finances (or are in the process anyway) and he was surprised when I said we should tackle both our debt together once we were married. He has the somewhat larger amount of debt, so I think there was some guilt. But from my perspective, it made sense that if we were going to be one financial unit together, we may as well tackle debt together. But I understand that others have different perspectives on this, especially if you keep finances semi-separate.

    • CMT

      This is a conversation I haven’t figured out how to start yet. I know my boyfriend has debt; we met in grad school. We’ve both talked about paying student loans. But I have no idea if he has more/less/the same amount of debt that I do and I’m not quite sure how to ask.

      • Eenie

        I think you just ask it. I’d offer up your information first (I pay $x a month and have $y left).

      • Ashlah

        Just ask! Are you worried about how he’ll react? Next time the topic of student loans comes up, tell him how much you have, and ask how much he has. Unless he’s got issues (which you will want to know about anyway!), I think this is one of those things that seems way scarier to talk about than it actually is.

        • Eenie

          Yup. I still remember when I finally asked how much my partner made. It was such a non issue that I had made into this big thing. He said “I make $x, but I take home $y and typically get a bonus $z”.

        • CMT

          Oh, yeah, I know. I’ve seen how responsible he is in other areas; I have no reason to believe he’s not in this area. It just seems like such a heavy thing to bring up! But you’re right, it’s not that big of a deal and I just need to do it already.

          • Amy March

            I also think it’s a good time to practice not “fixing” it. So if he tells you, and you think its maybe not the best way to be doing things, saving that for another discussion is probably wise (not never, just later). Or maybe I’m just still bitter about having my own student loan obligations mansplained to me . . .

          • Eenie

            How do you fix loans? You have them. It’s done, you pay them back based on your personal priorities (or your family priorities).

          • Amy March

            I mean “fixing” in the sense that sometime people have a tendency to respond to a problem with solutions when that isn’t what someone is asking for (not meaning to imply I think CMT is guilty of this!). So, if he say “I have 100K and I pay $800 a month on a 15 year repayment plan,” I’m suggesting not responding with “oh have you looked into income based repayment? it’s so much better!” or “ya know if you paid $1500 a month you’d be done so much sooner.” I think those conversations can be appropriate, but not the first time you’re learning what the numbers are. Basically, let them be the expert on their own finances.

          • Eenie

            There was a lot of sarcasm in my original comment!

          • Not Sarah

            You fix them by trying to make a “better” plan to pay them off faster! Or a “better” plan to ignore them! Not exactly the response you want right away when you first discuss this, especially when you’ve been managing your finances on your own for a while.

            ETA: the fixing is if your partner’s priorities are different than yours and you try to offer them immediately upon learning how much they have.

          • emmers

            I’d acknowledge the awkwardness, and say something like “this makes me feel weird to talk about but…” Oh, and bring wine.

          • CMT

            Ha, I’ll definitely bring wine! At the beginning of our relationship, the only way we could have important conversations was after a few drinks. Thankfully, we’ve mostly gotten over that.

      • emilyg25

        “On Saturday, let’s talk about our financial situation! Can you bring info on all your debt? I’ll do the same.”

      • AtHomeInWA

        I broached my student loan debt with my partner in phases: (1) Here is how much my tuition is, here is how much my scholarship is, but then there are expenses. You can do the math and estimate within a range. (2) I’m within X dollars of the national average for graduates in my year, which narrowed it down for him. And then finally (3) I owe $XX,XXX and my monthly payments are $XXX.

        Over the course of a year or so as our relationship progressed the information became more and more specific.

    • Lisa

      This is such a good conversation. I wish we’d had it before we got married, but I’m glad we’ve had sooner rather than later. We have some friends who have made a few choices that I definitely wouldn’t with money, and their choices and what we’d do differently have been a great jumping off point for conversations surrounding how we view debt. (Kind of like how other people have described attending other weddings together helped them figure out what they and their partners wanted for their own days.)

    • Ashlah

      This is super important! Especially your feelings about taking on future debt. If one partner plans to save and buy all their cars in cash, and the other plans to finance a new car every few years and forever have a car payment, that’s going to take some major discussion.

    • Violet

      Yes, as well as the positive aspects of debt and your risk tolerance. My partner is more comfortable using debt to his advantage, like for investing. Debt of any kind scares me, so I tend to hoard my extra dollars. If you combine our two personal approaches, you get a more diversified portfolio at a household level. I hold down the fort while he propels us forward. It’s a nice balance, and I think it’s a good reminder that people really can be truly different about money without those differences necessarily being a bad thing.

      • emmers

        This is us. For both of us, when we log into our 401(k), it gives the message “you should reconsider your allocation”– because it considers him too risky, and me too safe, but if you add us together, we’re fine!

        • Violet

          Haha, mine tells me I’m too safe even *after* I forced myself to choose a riskier allocation than I’m personally comfortable with; that’s how conservative I am with money!

    • Her Lindsayship

      So true. It was a huge thing for me to tell my now-fiancé how big my student loan debt was because I knew that he had zero debt to his name and a good amount of savings. I felt ashamed. But I still told him pretty early on, because if it sucked talking about it then, I knew it would suck WAY worse if I held onto that information for a few years!

      This was really important for my personal growth as well as our relationship. Telling my fiancé about my debt really freed up a lot of the anxiety and shame I felt about it. I respect his opinion, and the fact that he was looking at that number and not flinching made me relax a little. He’s so supportive and his rational approach to it really helped me look at it without so much emotion too. The debt feels more manageable. He’s not helping me pay it down at the moment, because that’s not the solution I feel most comfortable with, but just being able to talk openly with him about it has been so helpful.

      • Kaitlyn

        You sound just like me and my relationship! I have significant student debt (like $60,000) which is a result of my parents divorcing during college and my college taking away a big grant after freshman year, etc. etc. Anyway, my guy is an Eagle Scout and got a full ride to school and his parents covered tuition, etc. I already felt bad about that, but when I found out he’s been investing since he was 18 and has a significant down payment saved to buy us a house, I felt terrible as I do not have this type of savings.

        I told him within 6 months of our relationship about the student debt, because I knew we we were serious and I wanted to have him know all the facts. I only told him recently the extent of my credit card debt (being 23 in a major city with a credit card and never being taught how to budget = terrible idea), but have also told him my plan how I’m going to pay it off before the end of the year. Next year, we’re going work on a plan for my student debt and he plans on buying a house for us. I feel terrible I can’t contribute to that, but he’s pointed out that I brought a lot of the major furniture/decor to our shared apartment. Not as substantial as a down payment for a house, but I appreciate him being nice about it.

        One of the major things we’ve also been discussing is how we’re going to pay for a wedding when the time comes. I know he’s still saving for a ring, but I know we can’t really rely on my parents for too much and want to make sure we have a plan for that as well. Overall, we’re pretty good at discussing finances. I think it’s more important to me than him because I’m the one with all the debt, etc. so I don’t ever want him to think I’m taking advantage of him.

        • Her Lindsayship

          Yep yep yep definitely that last sentence there.

      • Not Sarah

        I am your fiance and I feel so much guilt about being the one who never had student loans! Why? We were both similarly frugal in college and the only difference in our outcomes from college was the fact that my parents paid for school and his didn’t. It’s not anything that either of us chose ourselves that caused the financial difference – it was simply being born into families of different means. So then I feel guilty that I’m the one who owns the place we live by myself without him or that I want a pre-nup to protect myself when it feels like our difference in financial situation now isn’t from anything we did ourselves, but from the decisions *our parents* made. We are really good at discussing this and he doesn’t share my anxiety/guilt, which helps.

        • Kaitlyn

          Definitely want to echo the decisions that parents made. Our parents have fundamentally different approaches to teaching their kids about finances. His parents taught him how to budget, save, etc. My mom thinks her kids should just figure it out because she had to (all three of us ended up with serious CC debt, but luckily we ended up with partners who could teach us the ways of money management).

          I’m glad to hear you two discuss it, but don’t feel guilty! One of the things I’ve had to learn being in a relationship is that as desperate as I am to want everything to be equal, sometimes that just can’t be the case and I can’t beat myself up over it.

          • Not Sarah

            He tells me to not worry, which helps.

            “as desperate as I am to want everything to be equal, sometimes that just can’t be the case and I can’t beat myself up over it.” -> this is key to so many things in relationships and it is so hard!

            In our case, my parents taught me great money management skills and he just kind of figured out the same money management skills on his own, despite both of his siblings and his parents being non-planning spenders, he turned into a saver (though still not a planner). And even though he did have student loans, he doesn’t like debt and paid them off aggressively, which I’m totally in agreement with.

        • Her Lindsayship

          Try to be a little kinder to yourself – your situation is unfair, but like you said, it’s not because of anything you did. You’re already doing a great job not blaming the debt on his decisions, not getting defensive about it. I think the best thing you can do is just make sure he knows you don’t resent the debt or judge him for taking it on. That’s been such a huge help in my relationship.

          My fiancé hasn’t mentioned getting a pre-nup, but I don’t think I’d be bothered if he wanted to. He’s worked hard to save over the years, and I don’t take that lightly. For some reason, he just seems to have a really easy time mentally taking our (very different) financial worlds and joining them into one, so he views the debt as a problem we share and he appreciates how hard I’m working to clear it. But I can’t help thinking that if I were in his position, it would be difficult for me to see it that way. Is there anything your guy can do to help you feel less guilty? If so, tell him!

        • Eh

          I paid off my student loans right after graduating (they were small because I did not qualify for government student loans) and I was well on my way to having a downpayment before I met my husband (our downpayment is 100% money I had before we got married). Before we got married my financial planner asked me what my husband was going to contribute to the downpayment (knowing he was still a student and he had substantial student loans and no savings). The obvious answer was nothing. She was genuinely concerned about our financial imbalance going into marriage and home ownership. My friend who was in the same position as my husband told me if I was concerned about the imbalance that I should get prenup. She then asked if I was concerned about the imbalance before talking to my financial advisor, and mentioned that her and her husband don’t have a prenup. I opted not to get a prenup and I am ok with that risk.

          • Lisa

            I came into the marriage with significantly more money, too, (probably enough to be a downpayment on a home) but I didn’t have anyone who encouraged me to even entertain a prenup. I know that my husband is a hard worker, but I had the good fortune to have parents who paid for all of my expenses during school, whereas he would work summer camps each year to earn the money he lived on during school. All of the money I made went into a savings account, and that is now our emergency fund. We might tap into some of it to pay off his loans. Every once in a while, I feel a little resentment that all of the work I did over the course of my college career will be going to his expenses, but most of the time I look at it as a team effort. I knew about the debt when I took him on, and even though the money is “mine,” it’s not really mine anymore, you know?

          • Eh

            I see it as we are a team and his parents did not teach him financial management skills. As a team we are digging out of the hole, and working on financial management skills. He pays the minimum he has to every month and when ‘he’ comes into money we discuss how much will go towards the loans. For example, he cashed out an insurance policy (that his parents had on him) and he got a temporary promotion so that helped pay down the loan faster. We could have used that money for renovations or a big trip or another car but for our team it’s best to pay off his loans.

          • Lisa

            Oh, totally. It’s only flashes every once in a while where I think, “But this is my money!” And I don’t think I’ve ever said it aloud to him. We’re definitely working on this together and discussing money management and long-term financial goals. Husband actually texted me just this morning to say that he has an influx of new students as a result of a friend’s maternity leave, and my first response was, “That’s great! I’m so happy for you. We can put that extra money towards your student loans.”

  • Jamie

    Some great tips. I can’t believe the statistic about how many people don’t know their partner’s salary! I couldn’t dream of getting married without knowing such a vital piece of information. You’re going to live together and perhaps have children together, at some point that salary might have to support both of you. Planning a wedding together, it’s so important to know where each other stand on the budget. Like I want a Pronovias dress in a dream world (http://goo.gl/RCm2Nk) but I know based on our salaries that we can’t afford! I wouldn’t go out and buy the dress anyway and just hope my partner was okay with it. He doesn’t have to know what the dress is or see it, but he needs to know that it’s financially reasonable for the overall wedding budget.

    • Meg Keene

      I KNOW. I KNOW. I was so shocked I started asking around, and that’s when I found out some people couldn’t remember their OWN salaries. Soooo.

      • Lisa

        Oh, my goodness. Seriously?? We’re not living hand-to-mouth, but I still know when pay day is and exactly how much I should expect to receive on that day. I check my on-line accounts every 1-3 days to monitor the activity. I cannot imagine not having any idea of what exactly my salary (or my husband’s) is.

        • guest

          I don’t know my salary to the exact thousand dollars, or my spouses salary to the exact ten thousand dollars. I could google them if I wanted to. But they are always changing and relatively dependent on grants and things. I don’t have the mental space for this stuff. We put like 20% of our money in retirement, use about 10% to pay off student loans, and save another like 20% so I am not super concerned with counting the dollars. . .

      • BD

        Ya know, this all has me thinking about the post a few days ago about how most people don’t have $400 for emergencies. I thought that was crazy at the time, but if people don’t even know what their own salaries are, not to mention their spouses’? I no longer think it’s crazy.

  • anon

    My husband and I thought we were being so good and responsible because we discussed all these things before marriage – and then life came along and blew up all these carefully laid plans, when my husband was laid off from his job and we went from him making 120k with steady regular paychecks to 40 k between the two of us, with his work entirely freelance. Our whole system was predicated off of regular pay checks and a certain income threshold. I’m finding it extremely difficult to figure out a system like this with the irregularity of freelance income – it’s so hard to plan ahead because you just don’t know when the next gig is coming (my work is hourly and hours vary tremendously month to month.) It’s hard because most budgeting sites / software I’ve ever seen seems to expect that you have somewhat regular paychecks and that your income doesn’t fluctuate wildly / unpredictably from month to month. If we keep up the freelance life I want to start automatically putting a percentage in savings whenever he gets a big gig (right now though we’re just living hand to mouth and not even.) However, I also don’t want to base long term life goals off our current situation, because my husband and I both hope and presume that he’ll get another steady higher paying job in in his industry eventually and my income should go up over time too. I don’t know how one makes financial plans when life is in limbo
    (It’s funny that I feel comfortable posting on the APW sex threads with my real name, but I feel the need to post a money thread anonymously – think that says something about the way I was raised!)

    • Eenie

      Oooh that’s tough. YNAB (if you haven’t looked already) actually has quite a few blog posts dedicated to freelance/unpredictable income.


      • NotMarried!

        Exactly what i came down here to say.

    • Ashlah

      I know we harp on YNAB a lot here, so maybe you’ve already checked it out and decided it’s not for you, but I want to plug it again. You only deal with the money you have on hand, as you receive it. With their philosophy, you’re actually discouraged from projecting future income. Perhaps it would be a helpful tool for you guys.

      This situation sounds really rough, I’m sorry things changed so drastically from where you started. I don’t think the change in your financial situation takes away from the fact that you were “being good and responsible.” You had the important talks about finances, but life happened. I hope things get easier soon!

    • Violet

      I agree with Ashlah that being good and responsible does not, unfortunately, inoculate anyone to life’s ups and downs. This sounds like a stressful situation, so I hope you guys are able to rely on each other for emotional support.
      YNAB has helped me dramatically for my fluctuating paychecks (I have some semblance of regularity but then other fluctuations throughout the year). Before I never knew if I was not saving enough during the lean times or if I was spending too much during the flush times. Now, I have the answers, in black and white (pixels, but there you have it).
      With regard to budgeting, though, the discrepancy between what you two were pulling in then and now is more likely to affect your larger monthly obligations, like rent/mortgage than individual line items. Are you both in agreement about downshifting your lifestyle for the time being until he gets a more regular gig? At the very least you’ll get more experience living on less that you can then keep with you to some extent once he earns more. At which point, the “extra” money can go towards those goals you’re talking about. That’s what my partner and I do, anyway. We both have times where we earn more (think of it like a “bonus,” though that’s not technically accurate in my case). But we don’t budget our monthly lifestyle based on those flush times. We budget based off of our lean amounts (like, decisions about rent are based off the low numbers) and then when we get our windfall sums, those go towards investing/new mattress/etc. Are you and your husband both similar in that regard? Or does one want to spend because, hey, the money will likely eventually come along while the other one wants to hunker down til the storm blows over?

    • Annora

      I think The Kitchn has a blog post about budgeting with a fluctuating income! It might be helpful to see how someone else approached it.

  • Laura C

    One thing I ran into is that since my husband lost his father when he was a teenager, he doesn’t really know how his parents handled things or how they talked to each other about money. And in general his parents didn’t really talk about it with the kids, I think for different reasons — his father just spent money freely because he figured he could always make more so why bother worrying, and his mother didn’t want to talk about it, not sure if that’s because at least some of the time after her husband’s death it was stressful or if it’s part of her more general program of not wanting her kids to be adults. So I had this fairly clear idea of how my parents function (everything is in one pot, my father handles money to the point of being the only one to ever go to the ATM, but neither of them polices the other’s spending at all and their threshold for purchases they need to discuss with each other is … I doubt there’s a formal amount, but I’d guess functionally it’s in the low thousands) and I have a fairly good sense of how much they earn, how much they have saved in what accounts (every few years they send me an updated list of their assets), while he just has had no clue until pretty recently, when we’ve gotten his mother to talk about it a little (but we didn’t get her to talk about it until months after she’d made him the executor of her will). But beyond the specific information, I had a model of how my parents functioned, one I’d witnessed as an adult myself, and he had never witnessed that at an age when he would have given it any thought. So I tried to ask some of these questions and the answer was he just didn’t know.

    • Violet

      Like your husband, I have no idea how my parents handled money when they were married. All I knew growing up was my dad worked, my mom stayed home, and she saved receipts in a shoe box. I don’t think it was good, but they didn’t tell us at all how they discussed or handled money. I learned more once I was older, but by then I had already made my own decisions about money. So there was no learning from them (mistakes or otherwise) by that point.

    • Eh

      I think a lot of parents don’t teach their children about money. My parents taught us about saving and budgeting; though they did not necessarily talk about how they managed money (my mom worked for a bank and had access to cheap credit so they did not live what they taught us – I found this out when my mom passed away). My husband’s parents didn’t teach their sons about money at all. My inlaws gave their kids everything they wanted and gave them money when ever they needed it and lived way beyond their means (and my inlaws have huge debt as a result). One of the first times I met my inlaws my husband had to ask them for money to cover his tuition because he decided not to work part time that semester (if I had asked my dad for tuition money my dad would have given it to me but I would have had to explain to him why I didn’t have enough money and what I was going to change so I wouldn’t run out of money again). Now both of their sons are married with houses and children. My inlaws are constantly judging our financial decisions (including buying a house and all renovations) because they are worried that we are going massively into debt (and run to them?).

  • SuzyNP

    How do you marry someone without knowing their salary, let alone salary range? I’m a little mind blown.

    • Amy March

      If you look at the survey, of the 40% of people who guess their spouse’s salary range wrong, only 10% of those people were off by more than $25,000. So most people are actually in the ballpark, and I can see being off by $10,000 or so pretty easily- by the time you have taxes withheld, and maybe 401K contributions, and insurance, the amount you see as take home pay is pretty different than salary, and in a way that number matters more. Not that people shouldn’t be discussing this more but I don’t think it is as dire as that particular statistic makes it seem.

      • BSM

        Yup. My husband and I have been married nearly a year and shared finances for 3 years before that. Up until his most recent promotion this February, I only vaguely knew what his base salary was. But, like you said, I know the exact take home pay that goes in our joint account on each of his paychecks and which days those hit our bank account. Take home pay!

      • SuzyNP

        Ah fair enough, I committed the cardinal sin of commenting on a study that didn’t actually read. Doh.

    • Alex

      Heh I agree. My mind was blown earlier this year when a co-worked acknowledged that she had no idea how much stock her husband had in the company he helped to start. Yes, she has a good idea of his salary range, but at a startup where lots of times stock makes a BIG difference the fact that she didn’t know if it was 0.1% or 10% was mind blowing

  • AmandaBee

    My fiance and I lived together for years before we got engaged and are pretty upfront with money. But I’ve realized that wedding planning is like practice for future financial decisions: we’ve had to figure out how we have different approaches to handling money (he’s more save-as-you-go, I like All The Spreadsheets) and different priorities (how much is a nice-looking venue worth to us?). That’s been really helpful as a run-up to what I assume will be a string of larger discussions later on.

    Also illuminating was the fact that he lost his job during the wedding planning process, so we really had to scramble to adjust both daily and wedding budgets to make it work on my income and his savings. Thankfully we worked things out with some help from family, but that definitely forced a lot of intense conversations about what we could/couldn’t afford and how to prioritize our money.

    Not that I’d recommend sudden job loss as a marriage prep strategy, but in a weird way the stress of dealing with his has made me feel more comfortable with our ability to handle financial adversity in the future. (still hoping he gets a job soon though, bwah)

  • EF

    The ‘how much do you actually take home’ is SO IMPORTANT. when partner and i moved in together, he was telling me he made X amount each month…but actually, that was pre-tax. And I just assumed it was the net, not gross. This led to many misunderstandings. Definitions are important, make sure you’re on the same page!

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I am shocked by the amount of people who have no idea how much they make gross AND what they take home. This is a good time to each look at your paychecks so everyone is on the SAME page.

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  • RageFace

    On the topic of joint accounts, I’ve always found the concept weird. Maybe because I’m South African and we don’t really do that here, to my knowledge? The “joint bank account” has always been an American concept to me, because the first place I’ve heard about it was through American media. *shrugs*

    That said, Mr Rage and I always talk about “our money”, even though we have separate accounts. Hell, we are even with different banks, haha! We are incredibly transparent with how much we earn and how much we have, because not only is Mr Rage super frugal, I come from a financially-savvy upbringing (my mother is an accountant), so it’s vitally important that we have no financial secrets and skeletons in the closet.

    It works for us, but I know it won’t work for others.

  • We’re in a funny place with money. We agree on what we want in the future and, if we were both earning to capacity, we’d be well on our way there. BUT my husband hasn’t worked full time in over a year (actually more like four but that includes a long and intentional holiday/break). His industry (and work, which his absolutely loves) has slowed down a lot. His solution is to use the time to up-skill in that industry so that when it bounces back he’s ready (plus bake bread, which is rad). The only problem with this plan is that it assumes the industry with EVER bounce back. I’m not exactly a pessimist but I’m very much leaning towards – ‘hey, I do a job I don’t exactly love so we can save money to do that stuff we talked about – how about you go do something for a while, even if you don’t love it, so we can save that goddamn money twice as fast and I can stop doing this stupid job’.

  • Ashleigh Hobson

    I think this article is fantastic, but I wish we could address tricky subjects without alcohol in hand. Casual references to talking this over as a “wine- and – chat ” night insinuate that we can’t face potentially uncomfortable discussions sober and subtlety remind us day in and day out that we can’t be ourselves and let others see us struggle a bit- instead just make your life more bearable with WINE!

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