Let me preface this by saying that if you are in the target audience of this blog, I believe you are too young to even contemplate getting married. You simply don’t have the maturity to take care of someone else— most likely you can barely take care of yourself. You are in a time where everything is way more intense for you than it will be in a week, or even a month from now. The person you are sure is “the ONE” today may not even be someone you are speaking to tomorrow. You are going to go through many changes in taste of people between now and when you are actually ready to settle down with someone. That being said, I am a realist, and I know that there are those among you who are in a relationship, and are considering taking the next step. Before you do this, you should consider some basic ideas and evaluate moving forward.
I don’t want to turn this into a morality lesson, but one of good financial management. In addition to all the warm, fuzzy, feelings that you may be feeling towards this person, you should also look at reality. Marriage, or any long term commitment, will eventually cross into a financial arrangement. This is where many young people start making mistakes that too often result in divorce. In fact, money is often listed as one of the causes in divorce cases. Whether it is a difference in philosophy, or a terminal lack of management skills, a household with financial troubles often becomes a broken household.
When you think you have found the one, you should be comfortable enough to talk to that person frankly about finance. If this is not a comfortable topic, that should raise huge warning flags for you. Consider that you are contemplating spending the rest of you life with someone. You should be able to talk to this person about anything. If either you or your prospective can’t do that, take it as a sign that you may still need a little more time to mature. If you are able to talk about finance, you should make sure that your goals and those of your prospective’s are in-line with each other. Do you both want to have the same standard of living? If not, is there some middle ground where you both can be happy? Do you both understand the level of work and commitment to these goals is needed to make them come true? The answers to these questions should help serve as a guide to how ready you are to make any kind of commitment, or if this person is the one you thought they were.
If you have been smart about your own finances, you manage your income well, pay your bills on time, have a positive credit history established, and are working towards financial liberty, you recognize all the hard work that you have put into it. You want someone who has a compatible philosophy about finance, who has done the same amount of work to stay in a positive track. To this end, NEVER, EVER, one more time, EVER assume someone else’s debt because you think this may be “the one”. I’m not making a judgment on the person with the debt, and I’m not questioning your love for the person, but you are not doing anybody any favors if you pay off someone else’s debt as a precondition to being in a relationship. In fact, doing this will usually only end up in hurt feelings if that person isn’t able to pay back the loan, and may make them angry if you even call it a loan. If you call it a gift now, when things are good, you have lost that money if the relationship ever turns sour. There is no way to win here. Once you have made a commitment, any debt incurred should rightfully be paid by both of you, but not before.
Prenuptial agreements are a tricky thing to talk about with some people. Some people try to equate intelligent planning with a lack of trust or love. These people are programmed to believe that you don’t love them if you are protecting yourself from financial harm. Others will tell you that you don’t have anything worth protecting now anyways, and a ‘pre-nup’ is pretentious. I would ask these people if they would like you to believe that you will always be in the same financial situation you are in today. Pre-nup’s are not just for the rich, they are for anybody who wants to avoid a huge messy fight over the least important aspect of a marriage should that marriage ever fail. Some people will tell you that prenuptial agreements are for someone who is planning on getting a divorce. I object to this because I believe that to say that pre-nups are planning for divorce is to say that insurance is planning for an accident, or that a will is planning for death. You are planning on living, but if something does happen that interrupts that plan ever comes up, you are prepared. I believe that knowing you will never have to have a fight about the separation of money takes away some of the stress of marriage, helping to ensure that your marriage will last longer.