Before we got married, we talked to both sets of parents about money and how they handle things. Thankfully, they have all made smart financial decisions in their lifetimes and so had some great advice for us. My parents, in addition to being financially savvy, have also long been involved in the marriage prep offered through their church. So they've counseled a lot of couples before marriage. And invariably, they said, the single biggest issue in a relationship is money.
We knew that money would be a tricky thing for us... I have never had a budget (!! I know. So bad.) and Lewis has almost always had a budget. I have a lot of student debt from both my undergraduate and graduate studies. Lewis has no debt (such a help). I like to spend money on getting my nails done, going out for drinks with friends, and shopping. Lewis likes to spend money on video games, going out for drinks with friends, and playing in the outdoors (ski passes, new gear, etc.) I had investments, but no IRA. He had fewer investments, but an IRA and 401k that he was contributing to. I spend a lot more on little things like Target and gifts. He spends more on big things like new skis and trips.
Needless to say, there was a lot to reconcile. We had to consider some long-term, big picture questions like:
How much money do we need to live?
How much to sustain a quality of life we're happy with?
How aggressively should we try and pay off our debts?
How important is it to us to invest and/or contribute to IRA's?
Should we max out our 401K?
Do we want to own a house?
Is it important to us that our kids have higher education? If so, do we want to help them?
Should we have separate or joint bank accounts?
How many credit cards should we have? Which credit cards?
Should we tithe monetarily? If so, how much and where?
But there were also more practical, day-to-day questions about our spending like:
How would we like to allocate our income?
How are we going to budget? Some software? Excel? A paper ledger?
Will one person be responsible for all of our financial reconciling and paying bills?
If not, how do we allocate responsibilities?
How much money can each of us spend without consulting the other?
Should we use cash, debit, or credit cards?
Is automatic bill-pay best?
These were ALL important questions to us and we talked about every one of them. In fact, we still do. Every single month! I'm confident that even if we were to answer separately, Lewis and I would have almost identical answers. However, it has not been easy and it is definitely not fun.
To this day, despite being on the same page about our finances, money is still the #1 thing we fight about (and we don't fight often). But having those conversations before we got married ensured that we were generally on the same page with money, even if we didn't have an exact answer to all of the questions above. Just hearing about Lewis's expectations and habits (and vice versa) was, I think, crucial to some of our marital happiness! (And in the next little bit, I'll share exactly what we do and how we budget.)