Today’s post is specially written for engaged or seriously dating couples. A free budget guide is included below.
According to this article on Brides.com, December is now the most popular time to pop the question. That’s right, not only are summer weddings no longer as popular, but hopeful brides-to-be should be on the lookout for small, jewelry-sized boxes around the holidays from their significant others.
Some of you are not sure if you’re more surprised by that stat or the fact that I was on Brides.com. But I digress.
With it being that time of the year, whether you’re just getting serious or planning a wedding, having a serious conversation about finances with your future spouse is vital. Beginning to have open dialogue about finances before marriage gives you a good test of how you will handle other serious topics that come up in marriage along the way.
When you’re working to align your finances as a couple, the last thing you want to do is start a big fight. Unfortunately, it’s a dreaded conversation and can be super difficult to do without one of you leaving the room angry.
However, there is a way to have this conversation that brings you closer as a couple as you combine your finances. With this method, you’re not trying to outwit your fiancée; you’re just easing into a conversation that could potentially be difficult.
Whether you’re in this season yourself or a pastor who is shepherding those who are, the method to this conversation is broken down into three steps: The Approach, the Small Meeting, and the Big Meeting. Following these three steps will leave you both feeling closer together instead of being angry.
Having these conversations early can prevent a lot of problems later on down the road. And if you haven’t had this conversation yet, then it’s time to begin the conversation.
Here’s your guide for how you as a couple can do this the right way.
1. The Approach
Before we start talking about financial strategies for you as a couple, we need to talk about the attitude and approach to the conversation you’ll be having. I’m no relationship counselor, but I have learned one simple step to make sure my wife Pam knows I’m in a position of humility.
Are you ready for it?
Ask for their advice.
Put yourself in a position of genuine humility. It might look something like these:
“Hey, I’ve been reading these really great blogs by Alan Wildes about a generous lifestyle. What do you think is more important for me to do, give money or save money?”
“Well, what do you think about the spending habits of our society? Is there anything you think people could do differently?”
They will have an opinion. Be sure to listen intently.
Most problems in marriage have to do with communication, and more specifically, a lack thereof. Don’t ask this question unless you’re willing to hear the answer and have a conversation about it.
The goal is not to not necessarily have your financial conversation here and now, but to just get a conversation around money going that doesn’t lead to a fight. You may or may not be able to jump into the intricate details of your finances here and now but begin the conversation.
For some couples, this may only take a few hours to get to and other couples may need a few days. Take your time. The important part is to keep the focus on how you can be better.
This may seem hard, but I guarantee it will get the conversation going. The transition question from this stage to the next one is a simple, “What do you think about talking about combining our money together?”
2. The Small Meeting
Before you have a big meeting with spreadsheets, Excel documents, revealing your debts and what is in your bank accounts, you need to have a crucial coffee date that is so often overlooked.
After you grab your lattes and a seat (or your Keurig’s and a couch), once again you can initiate the conversation you want to have by asking your partner’s advice. Find out their opinion on a few things that you’ll need to know before you head into the big meeting!
Here are some great examples:
“What do you think about debt? How much is ok to have and when should you pay it off?
“Is it important to track spending? If I wanted to begin/continue to do that, what do you think the best way is to do it?”
“Should I only use debit/cash for every purchase or should I use credit cards?”
Notice that none of these are pointed questions. You’re not stating your own position and asking them to confirm/debate it, you’re simply asking their opinion on the subject.
Again, this isn’t the “Big Meeting”, it’s just the small one you have to set yourself up for success for the big one.
The end goal you should have is not to figure out specific numbers but discover philosophies or practices that are currently being held and why. You want to end the conversation agreeing that money is important to both of you and that by working together, maybe you could be in a better position in your next upcoming season as a couple.
This is especially true as you’re approaching your marriage. If you’re going to join your lives together, money will inevitably become a part of that.
Ok. Now for the big one.
3. The Big Meeting
Through the first two meetings, you’ve helped your significant other lower their guard around talking about money. You’ve held your tongue when it was difficult, asked their opinion, and showed patience.
Now, it’s time to finally dive in into the numbers.
You’ll want to help your significant other prepare for this meeting by asking them ahead of time to create a list of some things that you’ll be sharing with each other and discussing.
I suggest that these are written down. Your lists should include bank accounts and what’s in them, what debts are owed and the interest rates, and repeating monthly expenses. On a separate list, each of you should write some financial goals. Doing this work to create these lists ahead of time will help each of you mentally prepare to have this vulnerable discussion for the first time.
As soon as you sit down, both of you flip the lists containing numbers face down and set them aside. If you can do this in a way that makes your partner laugh or smile, you’ll immediately ease some tension. Invite them to pull out the list of financial goals.
Begin your conversation talking about what your dreams are. Do they include:
Owning a house? Being debt-free? Giving a certain percentage of your income away? Taking that dream vacation? Just taking one vacation each year? Taking care of your parents financially?
Talk about the lifestyle that you both want and find out where it overlaps. Create this new list together and agree that you want to do whatever it takes to have that together. You can even sign it and put it somewhere for safekeeping. From here on out, you should begin to reference each other as “partners” because you now have shared dreams and goals. Howdy, partner.
Now that you are partners, it’s time to flip over that other list and talk about your monthly spending, income, and debt. This will be the most vulnerable and difficult piece for each of you, so offer to go first. After you share your current financial situation, ask your partner,
“What could I do better to be a better partner?”
During this crucial conversation, remember to listen. Do your best not to be offended by what they have to say or disappointed if they don’t say anything at all.
Then, your partner takes a turn. As they share, don’t judge their situation. Know that how you respond to what they share will set the tone for the rest of your meeting.
Once you get through that, it might be a good time to take a short break: Get a refill, stretch your legs, make your partner laugh and do your best to keep things lighthearted.
After you return from your break, spend the next few moments of your Big Meeting talking about your attitudes toward money and how you treat it. If you’re spending more than you make, ask why. If you have a desire to be generous but aren’t living that out, find out what roadblocks are preventing you. If you want to take more vacations but aren’t, find out what is overriding that desire.
Now that everything is out in the open, set up a plan to manage your money. This is your first budget meeting, so you may need to create a budget (read below to find out how to receive a free template). List out your monthly expenditures and ensure that they are below your total income. Within your budget, have specific amounts of money/budget percentage to go to tithing and generosity, paying off debt and investments.
After creating your first initial combined budget together, it may be good to pull out the signed list of your shared financial dreams and see how you measured up. Will your budget create the results you want? If not, take another short break and return in a few minutes to try a few revisions. You’ve made it this far together; make sure you get this right. Then be sure to celebrate together when you’re finished!
4. The After Party
As you can see, it takes a lot of intentional thinking and execution to get the results that you want.
Even though this journey through the Approach, Small Meeting, and Big Meeting may take some time, the result is well worth it. Whether you’re planning your big day together already or only thinking about the conversation that comes before you pop the question, setting up yourself with a solid foundation could not only prevent you from a lot of future heartaches but will get you as a couple where you want to go financially much, much more quickly.
If you’ve made it through the three steps, congratulations! But the work isn’t done.
Set up reoccurring budget meetings every month to check-in and stay on track. Put it on the calendar to spend 15-30 minutes catching up and checking in on your finances. Your meetings do not always have to be looking at your bank accounts and going through spending line items by line item. You can have financial conversations in your marriage by revisiting overall financial goals and expectations. These meetings are not just for times of crisis, but to prevent a crisis. When would you rather have the financial conversation: when times are tight and stress levels are high and conversations are loud, or when things are a little bit easier to work through and it's easier to listen and grow?
Continue the approach of humility, patience, and listening through every conversation you have. Be sure to remind yourself of your financial goals often. These are the motivations to stay on track financially.
Use The Budget Template
Ready to put your new budget into action? Click the link below to download a great template to get your family started on a budget.
What’s your biggest takeaway from this approach? Do you have a great success story you’d be willing to share of you or another couple you know? I’d love to read it in the comments.