Before saying “I do,” you and your future spouse likely will have some great conversations: your likes and dislikes, where you want to live, and even how many kids you’d like to have. You may even create a bucket list of places to go and things to do together.
But have you talked about money? Not just how much you make or what you’ve saved. Go even deeper. How does your faith drive your money decisions? Are you a saver or a spender? Do you have a good credit score? How are each of you saving for retirement? What outstanding debt do you each bring into the marriage?
And this is just the beginning of money talks you could—and we’d even go so far as to say you should—have with the one you love.
Whether you’re 25 or 65, getting married for the first time or again, (or even if you’re already married) getting in sync with your spouse about money is critical for reducing conflict and establishing a solid financial future. Read on for tips from two Thrivent client couples and their Thrivent financial advisors about how you can get on the same page about being wise stewards of the gifts they've been given.
1. Do a money autobiography
No, you don’t have to write a book. But it’s important to learn your partner’s money history, says Ethan Hulme, Thrivent financial professional in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Hulme suggests questions like: What are your earliest memories about money? How did your parents handle money? Did you talk about money in your home?
“Knowing your spouse’s history with money allows you to understand where the other person is coming from,” he says. “Then it’s easier to move forward and find the values you hold as a couple.”
Thrivent members Mark and Darlene Scowden, of Yukon, Oklahoma, each brought money habits from previous marriages into their relationship. “We had a lot of discussions about who was going to pay the bills, which bank accounts to keep, and which credit cards to have,” Mark says. “She knew what worked for her and what didn’t, and so did I. We kept the good stuff and stayed away from the rest. We talked, and with compromise, worked together to make decisions.”
2. Establish joint goals
In order to achieve financial clarity, it’s important to know where you are now and where you want to go, says Ann Seitz-Brown, a Thrivent financial professional in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.
“Do a financial snapshot—what’s coming in, what’s going out and what’s the difference” says Seitz-Brown. “If you don’t have a good idea of what you’re spending, track it for a month or two.”
Then together set purposeful goals in areas such as establishing an emergency fund; paying down credit cards, student loans or other debt; and saving for retirement, she says. Also set giving goals—including both nonfinancial (time and talents) and financial (treasures) ways to give back.
Setting goals has been key for Thrivent members, Tyler and Abbi Null of York, Pennsylvania. They viewed money differently, and they kept their finances separate, but they still were able to set mutual goals. “We’ve made great strides in learning how to take care of our money and make good decisions based on our goals,” Abbi says. “If we have extra money, it’s being used to lessen debt. We’ve bought a house and have a newer, used car.”
3. Set up a saving and spending plan
Yes, it’s the “budget” word—and it’s vital to discuss. Setting up a budget starts with your financial snapshot, and then assigning a name to each dollar, says Seitz-Brown. Essentially, it’s identifying exactly where each dollar you earn will be used. It’s purposeful spending.
But even if you don’t create a perfect balance sheet, she says, you need to ask: “Is this what we want to be spending, and how does it align with our goals and our faith?”
A big struggle for couples can be when one is a saver and the other a spender, says Seitz-Brown. Or when one has debt and the other doesn’t. It can be a struggle to build trust. You may have to set limits on what’s OK to spend without running it by the other person.
“Everyone should have a spending plan,” Seitz-Brown says. “How are you going to manage your resources, direct them in ways that help and support yourself and others?”
Tyler Null admits that early in their marriage, he had more the attitude of “if I don’t act like it’s there, I don’t have to deal with it.” Abbi was the saver. That all changed when Tyler learned Abbi was pregnant in early 2019.
“When I found out Michael was coming, I mapped out all our expenses and what we needed to save,” says Tyler. “Being able to understand our money coming in and going out in every aspect has helped us get on the same page.”
Now he writes everything down—and their budget has helped them handle the extra bills that arrived with Michael.
4. Protect your financial future
There are several steps you can take to protect your financial future.
You’ll want to look at your employers’ retirement plans, including investment options and the employer match. Make sure you’re contributing enough to the plan or plans with a match to receive the full value of the match.
Don’t forget your auto and health insurance options. Check if you have adequate coverage and if it makes financial sense to combine them with your spouse.
What if one of you were to get sick or become disabled, or if one of you would die? “You should review benefits such as life insurance and disability income insurance that you may receive from work,” Seitz-Brown says. “Is it enough?”
You’ll want to talk to your financial professional to make sure. Also, update the beneficiary designation on any existing life insurance contracts or investments.
“We had to ask the hard questions,” says Darlene Scowden. “It is hard for couples to sit down and talk about retirement, sickness and death. But we also don’t want to leave each other or our children with the heartache of dealing with it after we are gone.”
Meet Mark and Darlene Scowden
Mark and Darlene Scowden have been married for seven years. It’s a second marriage for the Yukon, Oklahoma, couple. Mark became a widower at age 60, and Darlene was divorced at age 55, after 39½ years of marriage. They met online. When they decided to get married, the money talks began. Each was the bill payer in their previous marriages. She preferred cash, he preferred credit card and checkbook. She paid bills online, and he wrote checks. “We had to compromise,” Darlene says.
Mark adds: “She pays some of the bills, and I pay others. We pretty much use a joint account, but Darlene wanted to keep one with some money in it. She uses it for the online bills she pays.”
Marital success tips from the Scowdens:
1. Be nosy about finances. Know what each is bringing into the relationship in terms of money reserves and debt.
2. Figure out who’s going to pay the bills and how they’re going to be paid, such as writing checks or paying online.
3. Set a spending limit and ask before you make a purchase over a certain amount.
4. Decide on choices such as eating out, cable TV, etc.
5. Talk to each other and your financial team about how to handle end-of-life finances, such as wills and trusts. Do your due diligence on the front end.
Meet Tyler and Abbi Null
Tyler and Abbi Null of York, Pennsylvania, were on opposite ends of the money spectrum when they got married nearly five years ago. While paying bills on time was always first priority for the high school sweethearts, they differed on how the rest of their money was spent. Abbi was budget conscious, while Tyler didn’t really pay attention. Money arguments caused them to keep their finances separate, with each bearing the responsibility for certain shared expenses. However, when baby Michael joined the family last September, their financial habits changed for the better.
Marital success tips from the Nulls:
1. Be open and talk about money as much as possible. Learn about your spouse’s background with money.
2. Use credit cards sparingly and commit to paying off in full each month.
3. Know what’s coming in and going out.
4. Don’t make emotional decisions; create a plan before moving forward.
5. Don’t let money control you. It’s a discussion that needs to be had, but it’s not the end of the world if something isn’t working right in this moment.
How Thrivent can help newlyweds
If you’re looking for guidance on purposeful financial goal setting and financial protection for your family, get in touch with your