Are You Financially Compatible?

Love, Self

Honesty about finances can ensure a more secure bond.

To avoid devastating surprises down the line; every couples needs to have candid conversations about their financial standing before two become one. Abby Ellin talks to the experts for advice on navigating these awkward topics--and cautions on the dangers of not talking about money before marriage.

Here's the thing about money: we're barraged with messages about it.

For many, it's forefront in our minds. But few, if any of us, actually discuss it, even with our closest friends. Think about it.

You can probably recite, in exquisite detail, the minutiae of your best friend's last fling; you can most likely wax poetic on her chocolate obsession (not to mention her waxing obsession!).

But do you know how much she earns? Or how much she pays in rent? Or whether there's a sizable inheritance with her name on it?

Probably not. And if statistics tell the truth, it's probably no different with your partner. Think back to when your relationship began.

Chances are, you explored your feelings about children, debated the benefits of the suburbs versus the city, and figured out whether your sleeping habits jive with his.

But did you ask if he has a 401K or a big portfolio? (Or any portfolio, for that matter?) Does he think children should pay for their own education, or does he believe parents should help out? In short, are you financially compatible?

"There are a whole bunch of other things to worry about in a marriage, and you don't want money to be one of them," says Lynette Khalfani, author of The Money Coach's Guide to Your First Million. "You really want to avoid the morning after surprise: 'I had no idea you owed $35,000 worth of credit card bills!' Or, 'I knew you went to Stanford, but I had no clue you had $75,000 in loans!' It's good to know if you want the same things, or if you like the same colors—but what about your thoughts on saving and spending and investing?"

Khalfani and other experts maintain that the best way to determine if you're fiscally in sync is to—gasp!—sit right down and ask questions.

Of course, in a culture that's more comfortable discussing egg freezing than nest eggs, that's much easier said than done. But look at it this way: though talking about finances can take some of the romance out of a relationship, divorce is even worse.

Dewar MacLeod and Deirdre Day-MacLeod, for example, have completely different takes on money. Dewar, a 45-year-old history professor and documentary filmmaker, was brought up in Beverly Hills, CA; Deidre, a 46-year-old writer, grew up in a less ritzy home in Rochester, NY.

The couple has been married for 16 years and has two children. But they never talked about finances before they got married, and their opposing attitudes have taken a toll on the relationship.

"He has the tastes of a rich boy no matter how little we have," Deirdre says. "I don't trust him to spend wisely, and he thinks I'm shortsighted. Dewar never used to pay anything on time. A while back, we declared bankruptcy, after years of having him at the helm. Now I'm in charge, and I don't even tell him how much we have."

In an ideal world, Khalfani says, the couple would have discussed the important financial questions before they married, so they wouldn't have been blindsided after the fact.

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