Monday’s Wall Street Journal had a special report called Your Money Matters. I found the articles in that section to be very interesting and helpful. The main article, Love and Money ($), was written by Jeff Opdyke, one of my favorite columnists at the Journal. The article lists nine questions that ALL couples should ask before they walk down the aisle (the questions are Jeff’s. The commentary is mine):
1. What are your financial assets and liabilities?
This is the most basic and most touchy question. I suppose the older you are, the more touchy this question could be. However, this is a very important question to ask and answer. If one person brings a lot of debt to the marriage, it could cause problems. Although it may be difficult to talk about such a thing, it is much better to talk about it now rather than after the marriage.
2. How do you use debt?
Some people absolutely hate debt of any kind. Other people consider it a natural part of life. Regardless, it is important to understand each other’s feeling towards the use of debt. Make a plan as to what items you are willing to fund with debt and which items you will fund with cash. Whatever you decide, stick with it.
3. What is your money history?
This seems like an emotional question to me. Most of us grow up emulating the money habits of our parents. Therefore, it is important for the couple to understand where each is coming from. If one person is a hoarder and the other a spendthrft, that spells trouble.
4. Do we need a prenup?
Personally, I’m not a fan of prenups because it looks like a “way out” from the marriage. However, I can see how some people might find them necessary, especially for second or third marriages that occur later in life. A prenup may even help relations between other family members.
5. What are your financial aspirations?
This is a fun question. Do you want to retire and become a missionary? Do you want to retire and travel around the world? Do you want to start your own business? What is it that you want to do that takes money? These are excellent questions for couples to ask themselves.
6. What are your career expectations?
Do both people expect to have careers? Whose career is going to come first? It is best to figure this out before you cross that bridge.
7. How do you propose we divide financial duties?
Keeping track of finances is a time-consuming duty. It is best to split up the task so that each person has an understanding of the household finances.
8. Will we operate from one checkbook or three?
This question is probably more important for couples who have been previously married or are older. For younger couples, I would recommend one checkbook. It makes life less complicated and helps you stay on the same page.
9. Do you have a basic understanding of money?
Be CAREFUL how you ask this question! This could really sound like a putdown if you aren’t careful.
In addition to the above questions, it might be wise to visit a financial planner or counselor just to make sure all bases are covered. If you visit an hourly planner, I can’t imagine it costing more than $200 – $500 to come up with a basic financial plan for a young couple. Or, if you don’t want to spend that much, consider Jeff Opdyke’s Love and Money or Suze Orman’s Young, Fabulous and Broke, which will both offer young couples a better grasp of personal finance.