5 essential money conversations to have before proposing to your partner

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Valentine's Day has a tendency to inspire sweeping gestures like marriage proposals — but before you swap the box of chocolates or dozen roses for a diamond ring, you'll want to make sure you've talked through the practical side of things with your partner.

"You'll want to have really good, open communication about where you currently are financially and what your financial goals are," says Mikel Van Cleve, certified financial planner and director of personal finance advice at USAA. "It's really important that both individuals come together and be on the same page in order to avoid conflict later down the road."

While money conversations aren't the most romantic, they must happen. After all, arguments about money are a leading predictor of divorce.

Consider these five topics before popping the question:

Smiling couple hugging on beach
What is your money philosophy?

Before getting into the details of joint bank accounts and estate planning, start by understanding the financial background of your partner, says Andy Smith, certified financial planner and financial adviser at the Mutual Fund Store: "Start talking about your backgrounds, where you're coming from. Try to get a sense of how the other person approaches money."

You'll want to find out how they feel about money and what they consider to be its purpose in their life. What are their attitudes toward money? What are yours? What did your parents teach you about spending, saving, philanthropy?



South Africa, Cape Town, Rear view of young couple sitting at beach

What are your financial goals?

Just because you may now have two incomes doesn't mean you can afford everything you want. "There are some needs and wants that are more equal than others," Smith told Business Insider.

Whether it's paying for frequent vacations or owning nice cars, your values won't always match up. Draft independent lists of your wants and needs so you can spot potential conflicts before they arise.

Once you're married, you'll want to revisit the financial goals you talked about, make them more specific and detailed by writing them down, and establish a finish line. Be realistic when setting a time frame, but at the same time, think big and don't be afraid to challenge yourself. But for now, getting a general idea of what your partner wants to achieve with their money is an excellent start.



Senior couple dancing in living room

What are your life goals?

Does one partner plan on staying home with the kids for a period of time? What are you hoping to accomplish in the short term, and where do you want to end up 20 years from now? Do you want to travel? Retire early? You may not have a clear timeline sketched out in your head, but the earlier you start talking about your ideas for the future, the more likely you are to achieve what you want.

When thinking about bigger purchases the two of you hope to make later on, it's smart to bring up credit score. You don't want there to be any unpleasant surprises when you and your partner go to a mortgage company to get pre-approved, for example, and you're rejected because one of you has terrible credit.

To buy a home, you'll need a credit score of about 640, explains Bill Liatsis, CEO and co-founder of online loan platformCreditIQ, and it would take about two years to get your score up about 200 points. "If one person has a lower score, you have to be aware of that," he explains. "Credit score has a big bearing on what that couple may be able to accomplish as a family in the future."

The earlier you cover the topic, the better. Start by checking your credit score, which you can do as often as you want through free sites like Credit Karma, Credit.com, or Credit Sesame.


Couple smiling and walking along canal with bikes

How will you spend, day-to-day?

If you don't currently have a budget, now is a good time to start putting that together, advises Van Cleve: "You'll want to really take a look at how your finances merge together. What will income look like now? What are expenses going to look like? What expenses are you going to pay for? What expenses am I going to pay for? How are we going to share those obligations together?"

Take a "big picture" approach to your joint budget before you're married — discuss the basics, like whether you can afford your home, how much money you'll be able to put towards your wedding, and how you'll achieve your financial and life goals.

Once you're married, you can craft a more detailed budget that accounts for your day-to-day expenses. When that time comes, don't just set and forget about your joint budget — revisit it every month, Van Cleve suggests, and make adjustments if needed. This monthly check-in is also a good time to talk about long term financial goals: "It's a great time to really reassess what those overall financial goals are and get a plan in place. A plan can mean different things to different folks, but it's really just establishing your goals, deciding when you want to accomplish them by, and how long it is going to take."

Couple sitting on sofa watching television

What are your assets and liabilities?

Once you've talked about the big picture, it's time to lay out the facts — all of them. "You don't want any surprises," says Van Cleve. Whether you've got student loans or a trust fund you never told your partner about, it's time to come completely clean and make sure your partner knows exactly what's in your name in case something happens to you.

Here are some essential issues that should be covered:

1. Saving accounts: By the time they get married, individuals may have one or two old 401(k) accounts from prior jobs, a current 401(k) or IRA account, and other accounts created for them by their parents. Consider sitting down with a financial adviser who can go through all of the accounts in your name and determine what needs to happen with them, and make sure your partner has a clear understanding of them in case something happens to you.

2. Beneficiaries: For every existing 401(k), IRA, or investment account, individuals will have already listed a beneficiary in the event of their demise. "Now that you're coming together as a couple," Smith says, "you're going to need to rethink those beneficiaries based on what's appropriate for your particular situation."

3. Debt: If either person in the relationship has a good amount of debt, it's important to be open and honest about the entire situation, says Van Cleve: "Then, you can begin to put a plan together, by first committing to not adding any more debt and then deciding how to start attacking that debt and pay it down."

Once you've identified your individual assets, write everything down and keep it in a place where your partner can find it. Include login information, phone numbers, and anything else they would need to access those assets.

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5 essential money conversations to have before proposing to your partner

Dog-sitting, babysitting, or house-sitting

These jobs are always in high demand, and the best part: you can name your price and create your own schedule! Post an ad on craigslist, or use your friends' and family's connections to get your name out there. 

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Rent out your space 

List your apartment on Airbnb or another rental site, and make some easy cash by staying at a friends and renting out your place for the weekend.

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Share your space

Just as you can rent out your full apartment or house, you can also post a free room (or even just your couch!) on sites like Craigslist or Airbnb. This way you can split your living expenses -- and maybe even make a new friend!

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Sell your body parts

Now here's a weird one: Donate your hair, breast milk, or even plasma for a profit. According to Grifols, if you're healthy and weigh above 110 pounds, you can earn up to $200 a month donating your plasma to life-saving medicine. 

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Sign up to participate in medical tests and clinical trials. 

Universities constantly need volunteers to test new medicines and treatments -- and because the pool of willing participants is limited, there is typically a large compensation for being a guinea pig. 

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Participate in a focus group

Companies and organizations will pay you to join a focus group. These can be conducted in person, online, or via phone. You will most likely be reimbursed in cash or gift cards -- plus, you often get to test out fun new products! 

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Take online surveys

Similar to focus groups, you can get paid to give your time and insights on an online questionairre. Plus, you can do this from the comfort of your couch. 

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Bank on your sperm

Although we don't necessarily recommend this option, there is a very high demand for healthy sperm donors. Keep in mind some of the obvious drawbacks, but sperm donation is non-invasive and highly compensated. 

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Crowdfund your dreams

Crowdfunding allows you to raise monetary contributions from a large group of people who want to support your venture. Post your project or idea on a crowdfund site, like GoFundMe.com, and see the cash pile up.

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Become a tutor

If you're qualified, post an ad online or on a community board to tutor children on their school courses or for the upcoming SATs.

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Get a part-time job

Capitalize your free time (on the weekends or after work hours) by working a part-time job. A bartender, waiter, or Uber driver are all great options for an additional source of income -- and great tips! 

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Resell tickets

Take this suggestion at your own risk: If you're staying within legal limits, buy tickets low and sell high as an effective way to source additional money. (Just make sure to check your state and local laws first!)

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Rentafriend.com

You can sell anything on the internet these days... including your companionship! Get paid to go on a platonic outing for a few hours and enjoy your afternoon with a new friend. 

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Rent out your parking spot

Make sure to check with your landlord first, but if you have the option to park your own car further away, lend or share your parking space or driveway for the hour, day, or even month! 

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Keep a coin jar 

This one takes patience before a big pay out, but keep a spare jar or drawer for loose change that you usually toss anyway. It will keep it all in one place -- and those quarters do add up! 

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Make something to sell 

If you have a knack for arts & crafts, create jewelry or other handmade gifts to sell on sites filled with other thrifty vendors like Etsy

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Sell items online

This effective strategy requires low effort with a high return. Post photos of your used or non-used items on sites like eBay or Craigslist, and let the bidding begin! 

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Have a yard sale

Sell clutter you've been meaning to get rid of right in your front yard. This simple tactic is convenient, and guarantees a wad of cash right to your pocket.  

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Return past purchases

This tip may seem obvious, but is often overlooked: Take your recently-purchased items that are laying around back to the store for either store credit or a full refund. 

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Recycle scrap metal and cans

Collect cans and scrap metal out your own garbage, basement, and street and bring to your local recycler to exchange your findings for money.  

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