IN THE RUNUP to our marriage, everyone had advice for us—on everything from communication to sex to our finances. But some of the best advice we received came from a church leader my husband had known for years. He gave us a list of topics to discuss. These discussions resulted in some financials wins, while the conversations we avoided led to struggles.
Needs vs. wants. My husband and I each made a list of what we considered to be our needs and wants. Food and a place to live were needs, while eating out and going to the movies were wants. After we each made our lists, we compared them and then combined our lists. Luckily, we were already pretty much aligned in our needs and wants, but it helped us to have a greater understanding of what each of us valued. After that, we ranked our wants according to which were most important to us.
The win: We know what our needs are and what wants are most valuable to us. Travel comes first among our wants. That has helped us to set priorities. We know which other “wants” we should spend less on, so we can afford to travel.
Debt. We also discussed our expectations regarding debt and what we were okay going into debt for. When I was growing up, debt was seen as something terrible and to be avoided at all costs, except when purchasing real estate and cars. We always paid cash for everything else. My parents never used credit cards growing up. In fact, if they mentioned credit cards, they always immediately connected them to debt.
By contrast, my husband grew up in a family that used credit cards (gasp) and understood that there were some things that it was okay to go into debt for, as long as you knew you could pay the money back. Bringing these ideas together triggered a lot of discussion, as we figured out how we would handle our own finances going forward.
Today, we use credit cards to do most of our grocery shopping and for other essential payments, but we always pay off the balance each month. If there’s something that we need to take out a loan for, we sit down and discuss how the loan payments will fit into our budget and how soon we can pay the debt off.
For instance, for my husband’s masters of accounting program, we had to take out a student loan—the first either of us had ever taken out. It took a lot of discussion and research to find which payment plan would work best for us, based on interest rates and grace periods offered.
The win: While we still have the education debt, we’ll be able to pay it back quickly. We’re also on the same page regarding how we pay for day-to-day purchases, so we don’t end up with any more debt.
Insurance. We didn’t discuss were what types of insurance we would need or when we should get coverage. As both of us were under age 26 when we married, we were still on our parents’ health insurance. Neither of us had fulltime jobs with benefits, because we were both in college. When my husband’s family kicked him off their health insurance, we were at a loss as to what to do.
We had a similar experience with life insurance. My husband’s part-time job started offering no-exam life insurance policies—rarely the best option for young adults in good health. My husband quickly signed up for a policy for each of us, without any discussion of which policies would work best for our situation. Since then, we’ve done more research comparing policies and found better coverage.
The struggle: We had to make some spur-of-the-moment decisions about health and life insurance that we weren’t ready for—and we would have fared better if we’d discussed them ahead of time.
Investments. Growing up, my parents didn’t talk about investing. While I had taken a class on stocks and bonds, I always assumed that investing was something you did when you were older and had plenty of money. My husband, however, has been a finance geek for years and loves following the stock market.
When we both started working after college and making money, he asked me if it was okay if he invested in some stocks. I said “sure,” and that was our whole conversation. Several weeks later, my husband was telling me about how our stocks were doing, and I realized I had no idea how much he had invested or what he had invested in. This led to panic, arguments and long discussions about what our expectations were for our investments—something I wish we had done in the beginning.
The struggle: We both had different expectations regarding our investments, which caused us to have a lot of disagreements.
Money talks can be intimidating, especially when you’re getting into a serious relationship. You want to impress your significant other, not get bogged down with budgets and other financial minutiae. But these conversations—however awkward—are crucial to your success together.
Kendra Madsen is a freelance writer who loves healthy living, the outdoors and obsessing over plants. When she isn’t writing, Kendra can be found exploring the mountains with her puppy or curled up at home with a good book. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMadsen2.