Until Debt Do Us Part

19 Sep 2006

Should "no romance without finance" be the motto before talking marriage?

"If couples can't ask their potential mate about finances, I would say they're not ready to get married … It''s like going to the doctor and then refusing to take off your clothes. What's the point?"

Kathleen Stepp, CPA, CFP, a financial advisor with Stepp & Rothwell Inc (Kansas)

It’s a gorgeous end-of-summer evening in Toronto and I’m getting ready to get into my car to pick up a girlfriend I’ve been seeing for about six months. We’re going out for dinner in Yorkville. She always looks forward to those Yorkville Saturday nights out. It’s one of our favourite dating spots. Before heading out, I go online to make sure that my monthly cell phone bill has cleared my Visa before I use it to charge tonight’s dinner. Great, I’ve got enough room on it. I’ll pay it down at the end of next week – after I clear my student loan payments once I get paid again. Our trip to Montreal isn’t scheduled until next month so I should be able to cover my share of the hotel bill. Sure it’s a bit of financial gymnastics to keep up this whirlwind romance but we all have to do this in the beginning right? It’s all about putting our best foot forward for the courting period.

So how long until she knows about my mounting credit card bills and student loan back due debt? I don’t know. Why do I need to worry about that? Besides, talking about money is tacky. Nobody wants to know about your problems. We all have our crosses to bear. I’m sure she has her own issues as well so why bring it up? The same way I pay for dinner when we go out, she buys concert tickets and never forgets to get me something when she goes on her monthly shopping sprees. Why should I care how she pays for it? She loves me right? I won’t be the party pooper.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s not surprising. Whether you are a man or a woman, we have all put on that show to impress dates, co-workers and even family members. Do we ever stop to think, however, that maybe the people in our lives we put on the show for might expect the show to go on forever? After seeing most of my friends get hitched over the past few years, I have learned through their experience that disclosure, disclose, disclosure is the name of the game if even the “thought” of marriage seriously starts coming into play. The realities of dating and marriage are two entirely different beasts.

As a single person dating, it “is” probably wiser to keep your business to yourself to some extent. You don’t really owe any explanations to someone you probably won’t still be speaking to next year. The fact that you may spend $500 on clothes every month can work great for the single lifestyle. You’re looking good, attracting the stares and all is great. But once you start getting into a life-partner or marriage situation, those spending habits may start causing friction with the significant other. What may seem reasonable to you can come across as excessive to your new wife or husband.

But strangely, many people never get into those conversations, or even realize those patterns, until after they get married. For instance, you may find yourself having to cut back on your monthly shopping expenses because you suddenly find out that your significant other had filed for bankruptcy five years ago and you can’t get that low-interest mortgage you were hoping to get. Moreover, once you start sharing bank accounts together, you may start discovering debts you didn’t know your partner had. How were you to know that your man’s weekly romantic lounge outings were financed by payday loans?

So before you start shopping for wedding rings on credit and booking reception halls, financial advisors and marriage counselors recommend that you and your mate sit down and openly go through every single details of your current financial situation. Student loans, credit card debts, and your credit reports are all “must discuss” subject matters before entering into a marriage. Once you both know what you are getting yourselves into together, the chances of having a successful marriage will greatly increase. Figure out your spending patterns. Is one of you a spender while the other one is a saver? That can be worked out with one person making sure all the bills are paid and deciding together on a budget for a little splurging.

Marriage is not a solution to problems. In fact, marriage can actually magnify issues that may have been left unexamined beforehand. So make sure to consider the three essential D’s: Disclose. Discuss. Decide.

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