This Monday was International Kissing Day. When I heard that, I began to think about my first kiss with my now-husband. It was quite adorable really. It was at the end of one of our first dates, and he was walking me home. He turned to look at me and kissed me on the cheek. I thought that was the cutest, most adorable thing I’d ever felt, so I planted one right on his lips as he was pulling away. I knew he wanted to kiss me, but didn’t want to seem too eager. Needless to say, his strategy ended up working quite well for him and we’ve been married for over two years now.
As I was reminiscing on this delightful memory, I began to think more about the start of our relationship and how much of an emphasis we put on being open in our communication. I think a lot of engaged couples and newlyweds start out this way, but then, when the topic of money comes up, it seems that communication either changes or shuts down completely. Typically, one partner takes a stronger lead on household financial matters at the start of the relationship. But even if one partner handles a majority of the details of the finances, it is still vitally important that there is strong communication from the other partner about their ideas and preferences about money. Before getting married, it’s important to discuss various financial topics with your partner. Here are two questions to get you started:
How do you feel about debt?
This seems like a simple response “Of course, I don’t like debt,” but there is actually a bit more to this question than it might seem.
Using Debt – Believe it or not, some debt is considered “good debt,” i.e., a mortgage, car loan, business loan. In many cases, utilizing debt can be a financially optimal decision. For example, debt from a student loan could enhance your education for a better paying job. Debt to grow your business could give you the boost you need to really get the results you want. The key to any debt is to make sure it fits your needs and is a reasonable amount that you are able to not only work into your monthly budget but most importantly, pay off so you don’t have to carry that weight long-term. On the other hand, debt can be extremely overwhelming and emotional for some people. Even if the financially optimal decision is to utilize debt to advance in some way, some may be more comfortable to pay in cash or not buy it at all in order to sleep better at night. Both options have their benefits, and it is important to discuss your feelings on different types of debt with your partner.
Paying Monthly Expenses – Credit card use is a form of debt. Of course, if it is paid off in full each month, a rolling balance is not being accumulated. Thus, no debt remains. However, some people find it more comfortable to use debit cards because it is easier to keep track of cash flow while others may like credit cards because of the benefits i.e., cashback, travel points, etc. But for those who find it easy to overspend, using credit cards for daily expenses can be a slippery slope. So, before you and your partner apply for a new credit card and start spending to get the most travel points, be sure to agree on how it will be used and how you will be able to live within your means.
How do you feel about saving?
It is important to establish the right balance between saving and spending for your household, not only from a cash flow perspective but also from each member’s personal preferences and experiences. By this, I mean that some want to retire as soon as possible and are aggressively saving early in their career to meet this goal. Other individuals may want to save as much as possible because their parents have reached retirement age but are forced to continue working because they have little to no savings for retirement. Perhaps they are spending as much as possible because their parents worked and saved their whole life and passed away from cancer shortly after retirement. Whatever the case, many people’s spending habits come from a past experience, learned habit, or a deeper meaning, so it is important to talk with your partner about why they think about saving the way that they do.
My husband and I dated for precisely 13 months before getting married, 11 of which were long distance. It sounds crazy, I know, but for us, it truly was as they say, “when you know, you know.” Because of the distance, it required that we had good communication skills coming into the marriage since without them we didn’t have a relationship. This experience created a solid foundation for open and honest communication at the start of our relationship that I am grateful for now (although I wasn’t happy about the distance at the time).
Some relationships don’t have to navigate how to work while being 2,500 miles apart, so open communication might be harder (or easier) to build. Whatever the case, you should make it a priority to have these money conversations with your partner before making a stronger commitment. (Check out our blog post How to Have Hard Conversations About Money for tips on how to communicate with your partner.)
Whether you are in a new relationship or have been together for years, it is never too late to talk with your partner about your feelings on savings and debt. You may find out something new about them. And finally, don’t forget to give them a kiss!