What to do before you say, “I do”—The past
As a financial advisor, I help couples with retirement and estate planning every day, so navigating sensitive financial topics is nothing new to me. However, blending finances as a newly engaged couple was uncharted territory to me.
A few weeks after being engaged to my fiancée, Rebecca, I looked at her one night and said, “Should we have the money talk?” We’d been tiptoeing around this topic for a while, revealing salary details but never going as far as sharing our personal account details.
After putting off the conversation long enough, we decided to finally roll up our sleeves and dig in. We entered our usernames and passwords into our money apps, counted to 3, and pressed log in. A few minutes later, we’d laid bare our financial lives for each other to see.
We looked at each other. Stared back at our screens. Then Rebecca said, “Now what?”
Though we’ve grown to know each other on a much deeper level, the sound of wedding bells chimed in with new and important considerations, especially since we’d now be making important decisions together. During these conversations, we realized not only did we need to blend our finances, but we should also be planning for mutual goals like buying a home and starting a family.
An extensive web search led us mostly to articles on budgeting, Roth IRAs, and credit cards, but few articles ever mentioned the human side of this process. We decided to approach things differently, by examining our past, present, and future.
So in this 3-part blog series, we’ll cover how Rebecca and I navigated a series of discussions as we combined our finances. I’ll share how we built a solid foundation, blended our money, and established relationship goals. Keep in mind though: Navigating and blending your finances isn’t a onetime event—it’s an ongoing journey through the past, present, and future.
Every couple inevitably has the “past” talk—discussing your upbringing, sharing embarrassing stories, and learning how past experiences have shaped your money perceptions. Even if you both grew up in similar towns and were exposed to similar family dynamics and beliefs, talking about your childhood, your earliest memories of money, and the lessons you learned along the way is important—and difficult. Many people never revisit their past in terms of money, and for some, it can be an uncomfortable and sensitive subject.
But you’ll need to open yourself up to vulnerability (which may be awkward at first), accept each other (no matter how different your outlooks), and look inward (to understand your partner), which is crucial to personal and relationship growth. Sharing your self-reflections and personal discoveries is the goal of this talk. You each must grow as individuals (by examining the past) before you can have a successful future together.
Although geographically, Rebecca and I grew up 50 miles apart, our financial experiences were much more distant. While we both earned college degrees and have successful careers, our views on money are different. I grew up comfortably, but like most families, we struggled after the 2008 global financial crisis. Rebecca, however, attended private school and rarely had to think about budgeting for her future.
In our lives together today, I regularly encourage discussions about planning, saving, and spending. Rebecca’s uncomfortable talking about money, so the idea of jumping into joint financial decisions is scary for her. Understanding each other’s perspective and learning how to navigate our financial stressors took time, but it made us much stronger as a couple.
Then listen more.
When you think you’ve listened enough, listen again.
When it’s time for your talk, remember that your partner is pulling back the curtain and inviting you to sit in a front-row seat to listen to their financial past. They may also be dealing with certain memories and feelings for the first time.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and dive deeper into your partner’s past. Whether their experiences are happy, sad, or both, encourage them to lay all the cards on the table and be ready to support them when they do. And prepare yourself to be just as open and honest. It’s not all about what your partner says; it’s about what you have to say too.
In our experience, hugs, ice cream, and empathy go a long way. We’ve also found it crucial to tune out unnecessary distractions, so pick a quiet place, and put your phones away. You might also consider seeking the help of a counselor, faith leader, or other trusted marital ally, as we did.
There’s no right or wrong way to have this important talk, but it’s key to a financially successful marriage.
In my next blog post in this series, I’ll discuss what we found to be the hardest conversation of them all: the present. It’s time to start creating a plan to join and manage your finances. Whether you keep your finances straightforward and neat or Rube Goldberg-style, it’s time to pull back the curtain once again.