Dear Carrie: My fiance and I are tying the knot in April. We're in our late 30s and are really looking forward to our new life together. My big concern is that we haven't spent much time talking about our finances because I know money differences are a big cause of marital problems. What can we do to avoid this? --A Reader
Dear Reader: With Valentine's Day just around the corner, the timing of your question is perfect. That's because, while money may not seem romantic, understanding your feelings about money can be an important part of keeping your love alive. So, I'm happy to have the chance on this occasion to share my thoughts on how couples can keep finance issues from ruining their romance.
GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER FINANCIALLY
You and your fiance probably feel you know each other pretty well. But if you haven't discussed your attitudes about money, you may still have a few things to learn. For instance, is one of you a saver and the other a spender? How do you each handle credit and debt? What about financial independence and control? These are underlying concerns that can rear up later if you don't address them now.
It may seem hard to bring these things up at first, but think of it this way: You're not just talking about money. You're talking about your dreams for your future together and how you can make them a reality. Do you want to buy a house? Raise a family? Travel? These all take money. So, start by making a date to talk about what you each want, how you'll prioritize your goals -- and finally how you'll work together to finance them. The rest should follow quite naturally.
I should also note that a prenuptial agreement may be appropriate for some couples, especially if one or both of them is coming to the marriage with considerable wealth. But even if you don't decide to go the legal route, it's crucial to talk out all the details of how you will merge your financial lives.
DECIDE HOW MUCH FINANCIAL TOGETHERNESS YOU WANT
At your ages, it's likely you've each been financially independent for a while. Therefore, deciding upfront how much you want to mingle your finances is important. My personal preference is to create a "yours, mine, ours" system of three accounts, which will allow you each to have a separate (but equal) account for personal expenses and a joint account for shared expenses. That way, you can both have some autonomy, but you can also work together for common goals and expenses.