Money trouble before the wedding

Money trouble before the wedding
Dear Positive Way Money Experts, my fiancé and I are just six months from our wedding day and we seem to be fighting more than we ever have in the four years we have known each other.  We’ve been living together for a couple of years and have really enjoyed each other a lot.  We both make pretty good money and bring home about $69,000 between us which I guess isn’t too bad for a couple in our mid to late 20’s.  Our student loans combined are over $34,000 and our credit card debt is $17,400.  We just never seem to be able to pay the cards down and the balance has been climbing especially since we started putting deposits for the wedding on the card.  We both like really nice things and we live well but we just can’t seem to get our debt down.  My fiancé says that the wedding is the best day of her life and she deservers the best no matter what it costs.  I just keep looking at the bills and get more and more worried.  We don’t have a wedding budget but I’m guessing that it’ll cost us an additional $20,000 or more because neither of our parents can really afford to help out much.  I really love her but this fighting really bothers me.  What can I do?  Signed, scared at the alter, male 28.

Dear scared, you are right to look for some guidance before you walk down the aisle into a situation that neither you nor your new bride want.  It is none too soon to work out some really important financial details for your relationship.  Research shows that how well a couple sorts out their money issues in the earliest months of their marriage will determine how healthy the relationship will be.  Recent studies show that arguments about money are a predictor of divorce.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. I guess that you realize that you are trying to live beyond your income and adding another $20,000 in debt is not going to help you out of the hole.  You both apparently come from families of modest means.    Are you trying to make up for lost ground, keep up with the neighbors, or have you just not thought about your spending habits?  In any case, you can take action today to make a difference for your future.  From a purely practical standpoint, you need to sit down together with pencil and paper and find out exactly what your financial obligations are, how much you spend every month, how that stacks up against your income, and figure out how you are going to balance the budget.  You need to both decide on what your most important life goals are.  Some of these life goals will require money.  Build them into a financial plan.  You may need to choose to not spend money right now on things you want but cannot afford.You need to be paying your credit cards down, paying off those student loans and putting money aside for a rainy day.  Yes, all at once.  It may mean driving a less fancy car or eating out less but you’ll thank yourself in a few years when you are debt free.   It is important to be paying off the most expensive debt as quickly as possible and making more than the minimum payments on all cards.
  1. On the emotional side of things you need to sort some things out now.  Find out how compatible you are when it comes to money and other key matters.  We have a compatibility guide on the site that is designed to help couples start the conversations that they really need to have about important issues and beliefs.  Also the money compatibility quiz can give you a sense for how close or how far apart you two might be.  You two need to have meaningful conversations about money and your core principles and values.  One way to start the conversation is to say something like, “Honey, I’m really looking forward to the rest of our lives together and I’d like to make sure we do everything we can to be the best we can for each other.  The premarital counseling we’re taking is great.  Now, I’d like us to work together to understand what we both need and want financially for our marriage to be wonderful.  Let’s have some important conversations before the honeymoon.”At this point it’s time to find out how you both feel about key issues such as debt, spending, savings, working, and children particularly as they relate to working and child care.
  2. On an even more emotional point, you and your bride need to get a handle on your dream wedding and dream honeymoon.  Tell her that you know how important the day is for her and you hope that it is just the start of even better days to come.  Now tell her that you lover her and know how important the day is and you want to help make it special.  Ask if the two of you can work together with a budget and clever ideas to make it a wonderful day.  Maybe a tent in the church parking lot can make it a family day where even the children can have fun.  A great family friendly buffet and games for the children can go a long way toward making the usual stuffy and formally wedding more of a fun time for everyone.  If that’s not your style, then brainstorm a dozen ideas for making this wedding special and all within a budget that won’t break the bank.  Some people even forgo an extravagant wedding and invest in a new home and donate part of the wedding budget to charity.
  3. A wedding ceremony is not an end.  It marks a beginning.  In the old days, before the wedding industry started dictating what a wedding has to be, the engagement period was set at a year to allow time for the engaged couple to get to know one another better and to make the decision if they really want to get married.  I’ve heard too many stories about brides and grooms walking down the aisle muttering to themselves, “This is a mistake.  I would have called it off but the invitations went out.  Everyone will be so embarrassed.  We’ll never get our deposits back.”  Of course the marriages did not last.
  4. Committed relationships take a lot more than just commitment and love.  They take communication, honesty, understanding and kindness for each other.  This all takes work.  The best thing you can do for yourself and your fiancé is to start that work now.  Get those problems sorted out before you walk down the aisle worried about how you are going to pay for it all.  See preparing for marriage.

Marriage is what you make of it.  You can’t build a budget for love and make it work but you can make a budget and a financial plan so money troubles won’t tear at the fabric of your relationship like it does in more than half of all marriages today.

In the end, if you can both agree to a long term financial plan with spending and savings practices built in, and you can work out a way to pay for the big wedding, then do what works for you both.  Enjoy the day and enjoy a wonderful life together.

Please remember that you are in control of your life.  None of this information should be considered a substitute for professional counseling, medical, financial or legal advice.