11 essential money matters to discuss before marriage

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How to Mix Money and Marriage


It's always fun to discuss the excitement of your wedding plans, but what about the not-so-fun topics? Among these are your personal finances and how you plan to handle money matters as a couple.

Unfortunately, a survey of engaged couples by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that "68 percent of respondents held negative attitudes toward discussing money with their fiancee, with 5 percent indicating the discussion would cause them to call off the wedding."

That's not good. Before you take a vow to share the rest of your life with a significant other, you should have the money talk to determine whether you're on the same page — and if not, how to get there.



1. Share your philosophy about money

How do each of you feel about money? What are your thoughts on how financial affairs should be managed? You should also both disclose what you learned about money as a child so you can gain a better understanding of your respective views.

Perhaps you were raised by parents who were well-off and you routinely live every day as if you had the income to support the lifestyle of your youth. If you fit the bill, marrying a saver could result in conflict. How will you work this out?

If you're having trouble breaking the ice, you could try a money quiz like this one on Motley Fool. You each privately answer the questions — then compare your answers at the end to tease out how you are alike and different. Here's a taste of it:

1. You get $1,000 back as a tax refund. What would you spend it on? ____________ What would your partner spend it on? _______________

2. You view money as (circle one):

(a) A necessary evil.
(b) The path to happiness.
(c) Nice to have, but I won't sweat over it.
(d) Hey, where's my wallet?

The main thing is, get started on the conversation.

2. Chat about credit reports and scores

After you're married, you will continue to have your own credit file, but you may also share joint accounts – like credit cards, car loans and a mortgage. If your partner has bad credit, that fact will negatively affect the interest rate you get on joint accounts.

Discuss why your credit scores are high or low, and how you can go about improving a bad credit score.

3. Disclose financial obligations

Is your money being spent in places that your partner is unaware of? Now's the time to come clean and discuss all arrangements, such as charitable contributions to relatives, child support or alimony payments.

Other outstanding obligations, such as auto loans, student loans and credit card debt, should also be disclosed.

4. Make a plan to cut overlapping expenses and pay down debt

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling recommends that couples look for areas where they can cut overlapping expenses:

For example, most cellular phone companies offer family plans that can cut monthly phone costs, or see if joining the same gym can help to reduce monthly dues.

At the same time, make a plan to pay down both of your debts so you can establish the best credit possible for the day when you want to apply for a mortgage or car loan. Double down on your credit card payments to eliminate this expensive type of debt.

5. Set goals

Do you have a list of short-term, midrange or even long-term financial goals? Have you discussed them in detail with your mate? If not, put everything on the table and determine if you share common goals. At some point, you will need to establish such joint goals.

6. Budget

If you're going to spend the rest of your life together, why not learn how to manage your money as a unit? Does one of you wing it while the other sits down each month and creates a detailed spending plan?

There's no way around it: A budget is an absolute must, or you may find yourself coming up short month after month – or, even worse, find yourself with a mountain of debt.

Need a little help? Planning an affordable wedding is a great way to get started. After all, do you really want to spend the next five or 10 years paying off all those costs attached to the big day?

7. Talk about children

Are kids in your future? The cost of raising a child born in 2013 up to age 18 for a middle-income family in the United States is approximately $245,340 (or $304,480, adjusted for projected inflation), according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Note that this estimate does not include expenses after age 18, such as college. If you want to include public or private college education, get a more detailed breakdown of costs, and see variations according to where you live, check out the Cost of Raising a Child Calculator on babycenter.com.

Of course money is not the only consideration — surely not the most important one — in the decision to raise children. But it is certainly helpful to understand what resources you will need to raise a family and to plan, if you go that route.

8. Plan for retirement

Assuming you're together for the long haul, retirement savings will eventually be an important source of income in your household. Do both of you participate in retirement plans at work? If not, make sure that the working spouse is contributing to an IRA for the non-working spouse.

And while you're at it, it's a good idea to look into life insurance policies, both private and employer-sponsored.

9. Will you have joint or separate accounts?

This potentially sticky topic should also be hashed out before you tie the knot. While a marriage is indeed a union of two parties, some couples decide not to combine their finances and instead maintain separate bank accounts. Check out some of the pros and cons here: "10 Things You Should Know About Joining Finances in Marriage."

There are also cases where it's advisable to have a prenuptial agreement – for instance, when one partner is substantially wealthier than the other and has other heirs to consider. It will also save you a ton of time and money in the event that you divorce and go your separate ways.

10. Share career plans

How do your career aspirations fit into the overall plans for the marriage? Perhaps one of you will take on a demanding job that will require the other to become a stay-at-home parent and rely solely on one income.

Or maybe you want to start a business, but need to tap into savings to make ends meet during the startup phase.

Either way, money is involved, and the topic needs to be discussed.

11. What's your backup plan?

When money gets tight in a marriage, fear or frustration can cause discord. That's why it's so important to establish and grow an emergency fund. What's an ideal cushion? What are the rules for withdrawing funds from the account?

Do you have any additional suggestions? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

Related: The best cities for saving money

16 PHOTOS
The 15 Best Cities for Saving Money (Unlisted)
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11 essential money matters to discuss before marriage

15. Garland, Texas

  • Population: 235,501
  • Median income: $51,997
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Median home listing price: $160,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,350
  • Average gas price: $1.678
  • Average cost of groceries: $36.77
  • Sales tax: 8.25%

This suburb of Dallas is more affordable than its much larger neighbor, which is in the No. 49 spot in this ranking. Although the median income in Garland is slightly below the national median income of $53,482, housing costs are relatively low. Plus, Texas is one of seven states that doesn’t have an income tax, so residents can keep more of their paycheck and stash it in a savings account.

Photo credit: Andrei Tudoran/Shutterstock.com

14. Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • Population: 445,830
  • Median income: $54,228
  • Unemployment rate: 4%
  • Median home listing price: $269,900
  • Median monthly rent: $1,325
  • Average gas price: $1.704
  • Average cost of groceries: $29.41
  • Sales tax: 7.63%

Colorado Springs ranks as one of the best places for outdoor lovers, but it’s also a great place for savers. Just 60 miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs offers a more affordable alternative to Colorado’s capital, which is 69th on GOBankingRates' list of the best places for saving money. The median home list price and median rent in Denver are more than 35 percent higher than in Colorado Springs. That means residents of Colorado Springs have more room in their budgets to save.

Photo credit: photo.ua/Shutterstock.com

13. Oklahoma Cita, Okla.

  • Population: 620,602
  • Median income: $47,004
  • Unemployment rate: 3.3%
  • Median home listing price: $195,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,195
  • Average gas price: $1.687
  • Average cost of groceries: $33.99
  • Sales tax: 8.38%

Even though Oklahoma City is the largest city in Oklahoma — and the capital — it doesn’t have a big-city price tag. Relatively low housing, gas and grocery costs leave residents more room in their budgets to save.

Photo credit: Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock.com

12. Austin, Texas

  • Population: 912,791
  • Median income: $55,216
  • Unemployment rate: 3.1%
  • Median home listing price: $359,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,480
  • Average gas price: $1.557
  • Average cost of groceries: $30.91
  • Sales tax: 8.25%

The capital of Texas is known for its live music scene, trendsetting restaurants and South by Southwest festival. But Austin isn’t just a place for music lovers, foodies and techies — it’s a great place for savers. Gas and grocery costs are low, and housing costs are manageable in a city with a median income that tops the national median income.

Photo credit: iStock.com/David Sucsy

11. Arlington, Texas

  • Population: 383,204
  • Median income: $53,055
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Median home listing price: $186,560
  • Median monthly rent: $1,395
  • Average gas price: $1.655
  • Average cost of groceries: $33.35
  • Sales tax: 8%

This city makes GOBankingRates' list of best places for savers for the second year in a row. Arlington is another Dallas suburb that’s more affordable than its bigger neighbor. Its relatively low housing costs and daily expenses along with a median income that’s on par with the national median income give the city’s residents a better ability to save.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Aneese

10. Tulsa, Okla.

  • Population: 399,682
  • Median income: $41,957
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home listing price: $136,900
  • Median monthly rent: $975
  • Average gas price: $1.627
  • Average cost of groceries: $32.31
  • Sales tax: 8.52%

Like Oklahoma City, the state’s second-largest city is a great place for savers. Although the median income in Oklahoma City is higher, lower housing costs in Tulsa offset the difference and land it higher in this ranking.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

9. Omaha, Neb.

  • Population: 446,599
  • Median income: $48,751
  • Unemployment rate: 3%
  • Median home listing price: $169,700
  • Median monthly rent: $1,100
  • Average gas price: $1.841
  • Average cost of groceries: $33
  • Sales tax: 7%

Notoriously frugal billionaire Warren Buffett lives in this Midwestern city that ranks as one of the most affordable places to live. It has the lowest unemployment rate on this list. Despite low housing costs, the median income is relatively low, which is why Omaha doesn’t rank higher on this list of best places for savers.

Photo credit: iStock.com/DenisTangneyJr

8. Fort Wayne, Ind.

  • Population: 258,522
  • Median income: $43,994
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • Median home listing price: $97,900
  • Median monthly rent: $650
  • Average gas price: $1.827
  • Average cost of groceries: $31.64
  • Sales tax: 7%

Fort Wayne returns to the No. 8 spot in GOBankingRates' ranking, the same spot it earned in 2015. It has the cheapest median rent and cheapest median home list price among the best cities for savers. However, a relatively low median income leaves residents with less to save and prevents this city in northeastern Indiana from ranking higher.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

7. San Antonio, Texas

  • Population: 1,436,697
  • Median income: $46,317
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5%
  • Median home listing price: $229,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,136
  • Average gas price: $1.527
  • Average cost of groceries: $31.02
  • Sales tax: 8.25%

Although bigger than Austin and Dallas, San Antonio boasts a lower cost of living, which means residents can afford to stash more in savings. You can even soak up the culture of this city for free by strolling along the top tourist destination in Texas — the San Antonio River Walk.

Read: 35 Secrets to Saving Money in 2016

Photo credit: iStock.com/H 1photo

6. Virginia Beach, Va.

  • Population: 450,980
  • Median income: $67,001
  • Unemployment rate: 4.5%
  • Median home listing price: $264,900
  • Median monthly rent: $1,600
  • Average gas price: $1.552
  • Average cost of groceries: $32.24
  • Sales tax: 6%

Virginia Beach has the lowest sales tax among the top 15 best cities for savers. Housing, grocery and gas costs also are relatively low in this city on the Atlantic Coast. Plus, a median income that’s well above the national median income helps make it easier to save in Virginia Beach than in many other cities.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Imagesbybarbara

5. Chandler, Ariz.

  • Population: 254,276
  • Median income: $72,072
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7%
  • Median home listing price: $310,990
  • Median monthly rent: $1,495
  • Average gas price: $1.497
  • Average cost of groceries: $34.67
  • Sales tax: 7.8%

Housing costs in this suburb of Phoenix are actually higher than its much larger neighbor. But the median income is more than $25,000 higher in Chandler than in Phoenix, which ranks 31st on GOBankingRates' list. Higher wages help offset slightly higher housing costs, giving residents more ability to save in this city that has a strong high-tech employment base.

Photo credit: iStock.com/ubu-ibmee

4. Kansas City, Mo.

  • Population: 470,800
  • Median income: $45,376
  • Unemployment rate: 3.8%
  • Median home listing price: $134,900
  • Median monthly rent: $825
  • Average gas price: $1.689
  • Average cost of groceries: $31.98
  • Sales tax: 8.35%

Kansas City is known for its barbecue and jazz, but it also offers affordable living. Fort Wayne, Ind., is the only place among the top 15 best cities for savers that boasts lower median rent and home list prices than Kansas City. But Kansas City’s median income is higher, giving its residents a better ability to stash more in savings.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

3. Lubbock, Texas

  • Population: 243,839
  • Median income: $44,139
  • Unemployment rate: 3.1%
  • Median home listing price: $179,500
  • Median monthly rent: $1,050
  • Average gas price: $1.603
  • Average cost of groceries: $28.34
  • Sales tax: 8.25%

Home to Texas Tech University, Lubbock is called the Hub of the Plains. Although the median income level is lower than the national median income, the unemployment rate is low, as are housing costs. An affordable cost of living makes it easier to save in Lubbock.

Photo credit: iStock.com/DenisTangneyJr

2. Plano, Texas

  • Population: 278,480
  • Median income: $82,944
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Median home listing price: $320,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,895
  • Average gas price: $1.678
  • Average cost of groceries: $32.28
  • Sales tax: 8.25%

Plano is a better city for savers than some of the better-known Texas cities on this list. Although Plano has the second-highest median home list price and highest median rent among the top 15 best cities for savers, it also has the highest median income, which means its residents have more to set aside in savings. With several major corporations headquartered in Plano, it’s been named America’s No. 1 city to find a job and the third hardest working city in America by Money Magazine.

Photo credit: iStock.com/olddays

1. Gilbert, Ariz.

  • Population: 239,277
  • Median income: $81,485
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7% (phoenix metro area)
  • Median home listing price: $300,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,400
  • Average gas price: $1.497
  • Average cost of groceries: $34.67
  • Sales tax: 7.8%

Once known as the Hay Capital of the World, Gilbert is now a booming suburb of Phoenix with one of the highest median incomes in the state of Arizona. In fact, nearly 34 percent of the city’s population is characterized as “boomburbs” with a median household income of $105,000, according Gilbert economic development data.

Although housing costs are higher in Gilbert than in many of the other best cities for savers, they’re not the highest. And the high income there helps propel Gilbert to the top of this list.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Bob Balestri

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