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Marriage Vows & Money Woes

Dear Michali,

My kallah and I are getting married in six weeks and as excited as I am to get married I have some concerns. I don’t know if it’s just the stage of engagement, but my kallah seems to be on a daily shopping spree, spending more money than what we would have together after the wedding and this is a big issue for me. As it is, money will be tighter than what she grew up with and her current spending habits make me question whether she can keep to a tighter budget and ensure we will be financially responsible. What do I do?

Sincerely,

Worried Saver

Dear Worried,

First of all congratulations on your upcoming marriage! Engagement can be a very exciting time, a time where there is everything to look forward to. Yet many couples struggle to juggle all the wedding stressors, maintaining romance, and continuing to get to know one another. It can feel like being a teenager all over again, feeling stuck in between two stages of dating and the full commitment of marriage. It is only natural that some stress will come up for both of you and surprisingly that can be a good thing as learning to navigate stress early on in the relationship can help prepare you for future life stresses (Click here for my article about conflict resolution during the first year of marriage).

The topic of money just so happens to be what I call a hot topic as it is loaded with nuance and meaning. In premarital therapy, couples learn to address all sorts of hot topics ranging from in-laws and communication styles to intimacy and budgeting so that they feel better prepared for the transition to marriage and setting up a strong relationship foundation.

When it comes to the topic of money, it can be important to have several conversations where you take a step back and understand each of your overall values, histories, perspectives, and goals for money. These conversations can be broken down into three segments: past, present, and future.

Here are some sample questions you can include in your finance conversations:

Past

How did your parents manage finances? What was money like for you growing up? Was money a source of tension and stress or collaboration and security in your childhood home?

Tell me about a time when you chose to save versus spend and vice versa. Why was it important for you to spend versus save?

Present

What does money represent for each of you? Is it a source of safety or freedom or an outlet for socializing and/or relaxation? What do you feel when thinking about saving versus spending money? What does saving money look like for you? What does spending money look like for you? What is important for you to spend and save money on?

Future

What are your vacation preferences? How do you go about financially preparing for vacations?

Where would you like to be in five, ten, and twenty years from now financially?

It can be helpful to note that oftentimes one person in the coupleship is more of a spender and one more a saver. This can be good as it offers the potential for ultimate balance: the spender needs someone to ground them and remind them to organize and set goals whereas the saver needs someone to remind them to enjoy their hard work and live in the present at times and not just the future.

These conversations can help teach you who will assume each role. They can also deepen understanding when financial demands occur. For instance, when the saver tells the spender that finances will be tight, the saver can talk with an appreciation for the fear the spender may experience and perhaps create a cushion during a less tight month so that the spender can occasionally treat himself or herself during the tight times. Similarly, when the couple spends more money on say, a vacation, the spender can show the saver how he or she will be extra vigilant with sticking to the budget when they return.

Additionally, once you discuss your feelings and plans for your money, you can then create a joint budget which can be reviewed, discussed, and tweaked. Many couples find it helpful to have monthly budget meetings so that they stay aware and in control of their finances. These conversations help create a system for how to talk to one another and what to look out for during such meetings.

When finances are discussed in a respectful and open way, you each don’t just feel understood, you are also more likely to create a budget that is representative of both the spender and saver, more likely to stick to the budget, and now have a way to renegotiate your financial needs as your income and expenses fluctuate. Most importantly, having these conversations diffuses the intensity of the hot topic and creates a path toward additional meaningful discussions and ultimate connection.