*A wise man once said the biggest mistake he ever made was misunderstanding the relationship between love and money. It wasn’t until his wife left him and took every material possession he had – and his dreams – that he learned this valuable lesson. If there are two things most people wish they could do over it has to be how they have handled past relationships and how they’ve handled their finances.
Although rational people enter relationships with the best of intentions, the divorce rate in theUnited Statesindicates that good intentions don’t guarantee happy endings. So, as with anything in life, it’s better to expect the best, but be prepared for the worst.
Although my fiance and I completed pre-marital counseling, the subject of money rarely if ever was discussed until after we said ‘I do.’ And those “discussions” became more confrontational over time. It wasn’t until after the nuptials that my (then) husband told me he didn’t want to co-mingle our finances because my credit score wasn’t up to his standards. That was his choice. I just wish he would have told me before the marriage. We could have saved the expense of a wedding, a divorce and all the emotion and money spent in between. I didn’t know it at the time, but he did me a favor. Now I’m gonna do you a favor and share some lessons I’ve learned along the way about relationships and money. Consider it my Valentine’s Day present to you.
Long Courtships Are Best
Date someone at least two years before you get engaged. This will help avoid getting caught up in the fantasy of a love at first sight fairytale wedding. Drug addicts, the mentally disturbed and people with other major character flaws can only fake it for so long. And although it’s your choice to date somebody who doesn’t have a job or a vehicle (but not both), you can’t fully evaluate a person who is not whole. Wait until after they are employed, own a vehicle and financially can support themselves before you make long-term decisions about that person as a potential life partner. People change when they get money and their own wheels.
When you marry, wait at least a year to have children. Only time will tell if you’re not right for each other. Sadly most people don’t allow themselves time to get to know each other’s habits, values and character. And if you don’t agree on core principles you shouldn’t have children together regardless of how cute the babies might look.
Bad Habits Are Hard To Break
If you’re seriously considering marriage, take note of each other’s spending habits during the dating stage of the relationship. Although it’s important to know how much your significant other earns, it doesn’t matter how much you earn if you spend it all on clothes, shoes, dining out and on the latest electronic gadgets. Impulsive buying habits are why most Americans are in debt.
And while we’re on the subject of habits, it’s really important to note how a man treats his mother, his sisters and other women in his life. Does he speak well of them? Does he act gentlemanly, even with women he doesn’t know? Or does he have total disregard for all the above? And if he has children does he support them financially and emotionally? Does he treat an ex-spouse or a baby’s mother with respect or disdain?
Pre-Existing Expenses Can Kill Your Family Budget
Even though it’s romantic to assume your spouse will welcome you and your pre-existing debt with open arms credit card bills, student loans and child support payments can become an overwhelming burden. If you didn’t create the bills or the babies you shouldn’t be expected to pay for them regardless of how much you love someone. Former spouses and baby mommas have a habit of petitioning the court for higher child support payments just after their ex gets re-married.
Wait Before Co-Mingling Funds
Even if there are little to no pre-existing money woes it’s best to wait a few years on the joint bank accounts, credit cards and co-signing on property people can leave with such as cars. That includes filing joint tax returns: don’t do it. Filing jointly might put you in a higher tax bracket. Or it might get you a few hundred dollars back in your refund. But nothing screams ball and chain around your ankle more than an ex-spouse to whom you are forever linked in the eyes of the IRS because you filed a joint tax return just to get a few hundred dollars back.
If you decide to open joint accounts after the waiting period always stay on top of the balance and of course the withdrawals. It’s not fair for one spouse to take on the financial burden of the whole household. It should be a shared responsibility. If something should happen to your spouse you will need to know how to handle money matters. And there have been too many instances where one spouse didn’t pay close enough attention to the finances to their detriment.
If your spouse is in a hurry to join financial forces a pre-nuptial agreement might be your best defense against financial ruin. Some say a pre-nup is an indication that at least one of you is not fully committed to the relationship. But if both of you are not willing to sign one you definitely shouldn’t be putting your money in the same account, especially in states such as Texas and California where a couple’s assets are split 50/50.
Marrying into the Family
Marrying someone without meeting his parents or the people who nurtured him is like accepting a job offer without being introduced to any of your co-workers; you can still do the job if you don’t get along with each other, but it makes for a better atmosphere if you do. And it might help you to understand your fiance better. It’s important to know what kind of energy this person brings when it comes to spirituality and money. In other words, are you evenly yoked in all areas of your life? You’ll learn these answers by talking and observing each other’s habits over time.
Although everybody wants to feel loved, instead of toiling over the perfect Valentine’s Day gift your time might be best spent searching for someone who understands the value of having a committed life partner. Then everyday will feel like Valentine’s Day.
Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, TX metroplex. For questions, comments, and speaking engagements contact her at [email protected]