Being a newlywed, I got asked this question a few times, mostly by my close friends who are around the same age as me: “What’s your tips for people who want to get married?”
My initial reaction was usually a giggle. Several months into marriage and my peers suddenly think I’m an expert? Well, that’s pretty cool, I guess.
But I understand where that question came from. I have made a leap of faith, a major change in life, and I did that before them. It sparks their curiosity on how that “new life” feels like. Then, I thought, why not sharing what I experienced and hope that it answers their curiosity.
If I had to look back and pick something that I strongly recommend couples do before marriage, it will be talking about money – early and openly with an ease.
I was surprised when I read stories about couples who don’t disclose their salaries, spending habits, debts, savings, to each other, and manage to live that way for years. How can they manage to pay bills without ever talking openly about it? I just couldn’t imagine that in my own marriage. I thought that money is a “normal” topic discussed by married couples. Having that assumption, I had no reason not to talk about money with my partner.
Debt makes people more hesitant to share their financial state with their partners and that was how it was with me at first. I was embarrassed of my financial state, mainly because I had no savings and carried some debt before we got married. But, I had trusted him with a lot of other more embarrassing stories, so I thought, why not share this one? We’re about to plan a wedding and build a life together, anyway.
So I took him out to dinner one night for no other special occasion but for money talk.
We started by sharing our hopes and dreams. I told him that I wished to have a gaming PC like him, but I couldn’t seem to put in money for monthly savings. We talked about his fancy gaming PC set how much it cost, how he managed to save that much money. It was then that I found out he was good at saving money.
At some point he was aware that I bought coffee every day, which cost pretty ridiculous after we calculated the monthly sum. Gradually, we also discussed how, where, and when I spent my money. Then, we realized that I was a pretty good spender (and yes, an awful saver).
Another time he told me that he wanted to buy a house first before getting married. My financial goal? Started saving and not having another payment (crying inside). So, I asked him, “Why not buy together? We’re going to live together in that house anyway.”
From that point on we decided to open a joint savings account for our future home. The money talk continued. We shared about our income and how we managed it. What kind of debt I had. How much I spent on food and transport, and how much I could realistically contribute to that account with my cash flow at that time. We also talked about how he spent how much he spent on food and rent, and how he consistently managed to save up. I gained an insight on how to save money and eventually adopted his strategy.
Our money talk became a foundation to discuss about other crucial things moving forward: wedding budget planning, managing money after getting married, family planning, and our career projection. It opened up another level of relationship for us, where we acted as partners to figure out how to make things work for us.
All those process could be daunting at first. Especially if you feel like you have something that might scare your partner off. But that was actually the point of money talk, to really let your partner know about you on a more practical level. Not just the, “I love you – I love you too” part.
I was able to show my vulnerable side on money because I understand my money habit and I admitted that I have flaws. I was aware that my financial situation wasn’t very healthy, especially compared to his. I tried to find out the reasons why I couldn’t save. From there, I started to notice my own money habit, the plus and the minus (though mostly minus).
I highly recommend you to start having a discussion about money if you’re planning to spend the rest of your life with someone. Start with little things, like how much his or your morning coffee costs.
But in order to have a truly productive conversation, you need to really listen. Try to understand his point of view and set aside your judgement. What me and my partner believed back then and until now now is that we would not have been able to be so open with each other without trust.
So, have you had the talk?
Kemala Pratiwi is a writer who enjoys reading about gender and personal finance issues. She watches cat videos and plays Cities: Skylines in her spare time. She also rants and talks with herself on Twitter @kemalapr