By Laurie Itkin
Who wants to spend months or even years in a relationship before figuring out they are not compatible with their new flame?
You and your romantic partner may have differences of opinions or behaviors on many matters and still have a successful long-term relationship or marriage. For example, there are many happy couples comprised of a Democrat and a Republican; a Jew and a Christian; or a vegan and a carnivore.
In my opinion, compatibility really matters in only two places: the bedroom and the bank account.
I’m not an expert on sex, but I’m an expert on money.
A 2014 poll conducted by Money Magazine found that 70% of married couples argue about money. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that frequent arguments over money could ruin a marriage.
That’s why before you start thinking about moving in together, getting married, or combining finances, you must make sure you are financially compatible. Before making major life and financial decisions with your new love, I encourage you to ask him these three questions:
1. What do you consider examples of “frivolous purchases?”
The Money Magazine survey discovered that “frivolous purchases” by one spouse was the top reason for money arguments. Not surprisingly, two people might have drastically different opinions on what is considered a frivolous purchase. I sometimes struggle with this in my own marriage.
It was nine years into my marriage when my husband and I had our first (and hopefully only) argument about going to the movies.
Several years ago our local movie theater upgraded itself to one of those fancy ones with reclining seats and food and beverage service. When that happened, I refused to see movies there as they charged $19.50 per ticket. “What a rip-off!” I thought. I began watching movies at home on Netflix while my husband still went to the theater (without me).
On my husband’s birthday, I treated him to a fancy dinner at one of the best restaurants in town which cost me almost $200. The next night he wanted to see a movie so I told him because the day before was his birthday, I would treat him to a movie. Of course he wanted to go to that overpriced movie theater. We sat down and he immediately ordered a scotch (which I later discovered cost $24). Then halfway into the movie, he ordered a hot fudge sundae. The bill for his ticket, the drink, the sundae, tax, and tip was nearly $80! All for just a two-hour movie!
I know I should have kept my mouth shut but I couldn’t help it. I had offered to treat him to a movie but I thought it would cost $20, not $80. I had already covered a $200 bill the night before. On our way home I complained about how expensive the movie theater was and told him I thought ordering all that stuff was a frivolous waste of money. He angrily responded and told me that I had ruined his birthday weekend. Once we both calmed down, he explained that unlike me, he values “experiences.” $80 wasn’t just for a movie ticket – it was for an “experience.”
To be honest, I still don’t get it. What I do get, however, is that my husband and I value money differently and that in order to avoid future money conflicts in our marriage, we need to compromise and respect each other’s point of view, even if we don’t understand.
So before you combine finances with your partner, I strongly recommend you discuss your values regarding money and spending. If your partner loves to golf and you cringe at how expensive it is to belong to a country club, you need to address that with each other. If you love buying a new pair of shoes every month and your partner thinks you are throwing money away, you need to address that with each other. If you are way off base from each other, perhaps you are not financially compatible. That doesn’t mean your relationship won’t succeed, but it does mean you might need to make an investment in couples therapy.
2. Do you have any financial obligations from a previous marriage?
It is important to know if your partner is required to make child support or alimony payments and for how long. You should also ask if his ex-spouse has rights to any of his future retirement plan earnings. While it might seem like none of your business, if you plan to marry this man, you have a right to know his current and future obligations. If he has financial obligations, that means much of his income will be diverted to his children and/or ex-spouse and less will be available to contribute to your lifestyle as a couple. If you think you might resent this, you may not be financially compatible.
3. If we were to get married, would you sign a prenuptial agreement?
If you are a single mother, this question is a must when contemplating a second (or third) marriage. A prenuptial agreement can help ensure that if you die certain assets will pass on to your children rather than to your current spouse. If a prospective spouse refuses to even consider a pre-nup, that’s a sign he doesn’t respect your needs and desires as a parent. Without mutual respect, there is no financial compatibility.
About the Author
Laurie Itkin is a financial advisor, certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), and the author of the Amazon bestseller, Every Woman Should Know Her Options. For less than the cost of a one-hour meeting with an attorney, her online course, The Recently-Divorced Woman’s Guide to Financial Independence, teaches separated and divorced women essential financial concepts. You can request a free consultation or subscribe to Laurie’s newsletter by visiting TheOptionsLady.com.