Problems relating to financial matters are a major reason why marriages break down, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says in its Making Marriage Last booklet.
“Whether it is over how money is earned, spent or saved, money fights are common because money is a part of daily life, from paying the electric bill to saving for retirement,” it says.
“The key is for couples to discuss their views on money and to decide among themselves how they will make decisions about how the family money will be controlled.”
About 62 per cent of spouses who argue with their partner do so because they disagree over money, according to a 2022 survey of 2,000 UK adults by investment provider Royal London.
The most common cause of these arguments is “spending too much”, the research found.
Twenty-four per cent of respondents to the survey also consider their partner to be irresponsible with money, it said.
Financial compatibility is a critical aspect of marriage, says Sophia Bhatti, director of Dubai-based Wimbledon Wealth.
If you don’t have a partner who understands your financial goals and is willing to help you reach them, it is going to be much harder to build the life you want, she says.
We asked finance experts to list eight crucial money questions couples should ask each other to know if they are financially compatible.
1. Can we speak to each other comfortably about finances?
When living together, it is wise to work out a joint budget to at least ensure that monthly bills and expenses are paid, says Rupert Connor, partner at Abacus Financial Services.
“Depending on how long the relationship has been going, there might also be joint savings goals or an existing joint mortgage or retirement account,” he says.
“However, no matter what stage the relationship is at, if one’s financial future is tied together, then it is worth talking about it.”
About 33 per cent of adults surveyed by Royal London said they keep financial secrets from their partner, including hiding their savings and having undisclosed debts, while 76 per cent keep some or all of their banking separate from their spouse.
Money discussions between couples can be very heated, says Rasheda Khan, a financial wellness expert and founder of Dubai-based wealth management consultancy Design Your Life.
Before sitting down to talk, remind each other that you are on the same side and discussing money matters means you are both able to move closer to your financial goals, she says.
About 70 per cent of couples in the US discuss finances on a weekly basis and 32 per cent talk about it a few times a week, according to a 2022 survey of 1,000 adults by media and technology company The Knot.
When it comes to talking about money, 76 per cent of couples polled find it “very or somewhat easy” to discuss money and finances with their partner, the survey found.
However, 10 per cent said it was “somewhat or very difficult” to talk about money. Words and phrases used to describe reasons for the difficulty include “awkwardness”, “different values” and “poor communication”.
2. Do you find it easier to spend or save?
While couples may know the answer to this or have an opinion, it is good to have an open conversation about spending and saving to ensure you are on the same page, Ms Khan says.
“Saving is important, so one person has to take responsibility of watching over it. If you are the one who saves first, then you take responsibility.
“This will also help you decide who takes responsibility for other expenses. Taking responsibility means ensuring this bill or expense gets paid; it is not about who earns what.”
About 33 per cent of couples surveyed by Royal London said they are incompatible with their partner when it comes to spending and saving.
One partner may care more about saving for their retirement, while the other places more emphasis on saving for an emergency fund, says Mr Connor.
Try to learn more about each other’s definitions for what being good with money actually means, he says.
3. How honest are you about debt?
Many people do not tell their partner about debts they may have, according to experts.
This could be an attempt to protect a partner. However, it is much easier for things to get out of hand if you hide problems, Mr Connor says.
About 32 per cent of Americans are keeping a financial secret from their partner, according to a 2022 survey by TD Bank.
The most common financial secrets are a big purchase, significant credit card debt and a hidden bank account.
“One school of thought believes that we should not be borrowing short term, as our savings can always cover our expenses. Another is that short-term borrowing is part of every day life and nothing to worry about,” Mr Connor says.
“If partners have different views on this, it does not have to be a problem, so long as some sort of compromise is established and both partners stick to their side of the bargain.”
4. What expenses should I be responsible for?
Divide the expenses and decide who is managing which expense and let them take responsibility for it, Ms Khan says.
“It should no longer be about are you good or not, rather it is about working together to get closer to your goals,” she says.
5. What are your spending priorities?
Spending habits can often affect couples, even if they keep separate accounts, as money will be required to accomplish joint financial goals, says Mr Connor.
Agree on how much to spend and save, so that money fights become far less frequent, he says.
However, if one is a spender and the other a saver, a compromise must be found that works for both partners, he says.
6. What lifestyle do you want to live now and in the future?
Understanding each other’s needs and wants helps you to budget for them within your monthly expenses, Ms Khan says.
It also helps couples to be on the same page in terms of how they want life to be, she says.
“Consider what lifestyle you can live now and what you both are working towards.”
7. What keeps you up at night about finances?
It is not unusual to be anxious about your financial situation, according to Mr Connor.
“Sharing these stresses and concerns is a good way to get them off one’s chest,” he says.
8. Do we need a prenuptial agreement?
The idea of signing a prenuptial agreement before marriage may seem unromantic but it is a sensible way of starting out, Mr Connor says.
“Taking the time to agree with your partner what should happen to assets in the event your marriage fails will reduce uncertainty and stress in your relationship and, should the worst happen, a prenuptial agreement can be an invaluable resource to fall back on in divorce negotiations,” he says.
“Where there is disparity in wealth between partners or inheritance is due … this type of agreement is recommended.”
Among US adults who have been married or are currently engaged, 15 per cent said that they had signed a prenup, up from 3 per cent in 2010, according to a 2022 survey of 1,073 people by The Harris Poll.
Forty-two per cent of US adults support prenups and 35 per cent of those who are unmarried said that they will probably sign one in the future, the survey found.