Getting married is one of the biggest decisions you can take in your life, and you need to ask many questions of yourself and your partner to make sure you’re ready for what should be a lifelong commitment. Alongside all the questions about love, flowers and when you should consider having children, however, there are some important money questions that you need to ask.
Finance and romance are not often conflated, even though they rhyme, but by not considering some very simple financial questions, you are potentially endangering your marriage before it has even begun.
With the average UK wedding expected to cost £18,605 in 2011 according to UKweddingbelles.com (and $24,066 in the US according to costofwedding.com), the most important financial question to ask before getting married is whether you can really afford to. There are all sorts of ways of shaving costs from the expense of a wedding, but the big day still represents a significant financial investment and probably a five figure sum.
£18,605 could provide the mortgage deposit for a very nice flat in many parts of the UK, and provide a strong foundation for the beginning of a couple’s life together. A couple without a strong religious or social motive for marriage might well be advised to use the money to make a home, and put off the wedding for a couple of years until they have firmer financial foundations.
After you get married, will you retain your individual bank accounts, or pool your financial resources with a joint account? In a modern, healthy, equal marriage, some would suggest that there’s no reason not to get a joint account to keep easy track of finances and underline the fact that you’re in a complete partnership with your new spouse. Money always creates its own stresses, however, and in reality a joint account is a great way to start many arguments which will be interrupted only by your divorce or death.
If you do decide on a joint account, it’s usually a good idea to retain some separate savings accounts or other funds to retain a measure of financial independence and for extravagant personal purchases.
Once the exclusive domain of celebrities and the super-rich, many couples now consider drawing up a pre-nuptial contract which sets down terms of how financial and other assets will be divided if the marriage should end in divorce. Society has passed the tipping point where suggesting a pre-nup no longer sounds paranoid but is simply a sign of a cautious and pragmatic personality. You should make the suggestion, but if your partner reacts badly to the idea, you should probably be prepared to drop it – the chances are you have little of genuine value anyway, do you really want to risk your relationship over a contract that ensures you get to keep the iPad 2 you bought together?
Successful marriages are based on honesty and good faith. Before getting married, an important if uncomfortable money question is to ask about your partner’s credit history. Have they always paid their bills on time, do they have substantial debts? Do they have a decent credit score for when you go to the bank to apply for a mortgage? The answers to these questions shouldn’t influence your decision whether to get married, but they will give you a more complete picture of your future financial situation. By marrying someone with a large amount of personal debt, you might be taking on responsibility for some of those debts. Better to be prepared for this.
It’s only sensible to clear the air about all aspects of your finances before entering into marriage – tackling important questions such as financial priorities, joint bank accounts, credit histories and what happens if things go wrong is a responsible step which should not overshadow the essential romance of the decision to wed as long as you ask these questions with sensitivity and love.