Thursday, December 4, 2008

Talk about finances? Definitely!

Not long ago, I received an email from a young lady who asked me whether I think it's appropriate to discuss finances before marriage - matters such as earnings, savings, debts, loans, and so on. My answer: absolutely! I would say it's not only appropriate, but advisable.

I know many women are reluctant to talk about finances with their suitors, out of fear of seeming greedy and materialistic. Yet there's a distinction between seeking only men who earn a lot, and looking for a financially responsible husband who is willing to provide for his family.

Consider that your husband will be the man whom you count on to provide for you and any future children you might have, the man whose leadership you are supposed to trust in all areas, including finances. Money will inevitably remain a part of life - and therefore, young people shouldn't be too shy to find out about things such as debts, spending habits, and lifestyle expectations, and make sure you are on the same page - before marriage.

Financial decisions made by either spouse before marriage will impact both. I'm not saying you should not marry someone who happens to carry a large debt - but keep in mind that once you get married, you will not be able to step aside and say, "this is your debt, honey, you pay it off and leave me out of it". It will influence your life, whether you want it or not. For example, if you aspire to be a full-time wife and mother, this might not be possible for a while if your husband has debt to pay. Again, I'm not saying, don't get married because of something like this - just wanted to point out it's a factor to consider.

Unwise spending habits is something even more crucial to find out as soon as possible. If you see your potential spouse can't resist frivolous spending, and/or can't hold a steady job, don't expect a change after marriage. Sometimes, lifestyle expectations are irreconcilable - for example, one of the spouses dreams of organic farming, sustainability, and making it on one small income, while the other thinks a couple should have two incomes, one of which is dedicated to "treats" and luxury items.

No Orthodox Jewish marriage happens without a pre-nuptial agreement. It's called a ketubah, and includes all the duties of the husband towards his wife, such as financial support and marital relations. It also includes a sum of compensation the husband will give the wife in case of divorce. The ketubah is signed in front of witnesses, and is read aloud during the wedding ceremony. Without a ketubah, the marriage isn't considered valid. The ketubah has served as protection to Jewish women for many years, and I think it's a wonderful custom. We may be called pragmatic and materialistic, but again, money is a part of life.

In the realm of finances, I believe that a wife can and should gently offer her opinion, especially if the husband is interested in her counsel. However, the wife should also stand behind her husband's financial decisions, and once he has his mind set on something, she would be wise to support him and trust his judgment. My husbands consults with me every time before making (or deciding not to make) a major purchase, but if I see he is already set on it, I simply tell him - I trust that you know what is best for our family. Some men are less than wise financially, or have spending habits that are incompatible with supporting a family, or can't hold a job - which brings me back to the first part: if you want to feel protected under your husband's leadership in all matters, do talk about finances before marriage!


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more.


Heather said...

I absolutely would discuss finances with your future spouse!

And, to go one step further, I would not marry a man who has already gotten himself into huge debt. I think this shows a willingness on his part to live far beyond his means. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. He should be able to demonstrate ~before your marriage~ the ability, determination, and strength of character to support your family. He should be living in such a way as to be preparing for supporting his family; i.e, saving money to buy a house, etc. If he wants to marry you, he will pay off his debts and prove himself worthy of being the man of the house.

At least, this is how I am raising my three sons! :-)

Deanna said...

Hello Anna, I so enjoy your blog. Question for you. During a Jewish wedding, do the bride and groom take a vow to be faithful to one another til death do part? If so and there is a divorce, why would the divorcing party be willing to honor the financial support after the divorce if they didn't honor the til death us do part? Deanna
I agree that visiting about financing before marriage is so very important and in order to be in one accord, need to be in agreement how the finances are and will be handled in a balanced way. If there is to be a healthy financial arena in the marriage than both parties need to have a healthy and balanced approach to handling money. Amen and amen.

Mrs. Anna T said...


Since Judaism recognizes the possibility of divorce and re-marriage, there is no "til death" vow. Marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment, of course, but in some cases divorce is justified.

Elizabeth said...

While I agree it is an extremely important thing to discuss finances before marriage and know what your future spouse has, makes, and owes, I would say that the way he handles money is more important than that. Watching that will give you clues as to what your financial life will be like once you are married!

I do not believe that marriage should be avoided because of a large, reasonable debt. I would not marry someone with 40K of consumer debt, but I would marry someone with medical or student loans of that amount if the end result of the money spent is proving to be valuable. All situations are individual, though.

While I am willing to marry someone with a minor amount of student loan debt that will not be paid off before we marry, someone else may delay the marriage to let him pay it off.

Mrs. Correa said...

I agree, Elizabeth. I married a doctor. (With no consumer debt.) :-)Doctors don't have student loans paid off for quite a long while into their practices and careers. That is what I have heard financial teacher/advisor call "necessary debt"-- just like a mortgage. So be careful, Heather, in teaching your boys to have no huge debts before marriage. If they end up having a lifetime career goal like a doctor of some sort, or some other career where a lot of education is required, they may put off marrying until they're in their 40's. Or they won't strive for something high like that at all.

Something to think about.

My husband and I totally discussed money before marriage. It wasn't a difficult thing to do at all. People have to get real.


Civilla said...

Yes, it is sensible to talk about finanaces before marriage. After all, money is the number-one subject that married couples fight about.

Lori said...

I tend to agree with Heather, though Elizabeth makes good points. Sometimes, some debts are acceptable. But then, I know more than a few people who went thousand, or 10s of thousands of dollars into debt for schooling that they DIDN'T USE! Like (I need to invent an example so as not to identify someone accidentally), someone who went into debt for a masters in education only to realize he/she hates teaching. Or a masters in Law only to become an English teacher in Spain (because going to Spain is so much more fun than working 70 hours a week). Or worse, takes out MORE debt to start a business, before paying off the first. After all, starting a business is self-improving also. The worry here is, do you marry someone with massive debt that could realisically paid off in several years only to be stuck with a man who decides to, well, not be in a hurry to pay it off? Just something to consider. Thanks for talking about pre-nups and premarital finances, Anna. What a service.

Heather said...

Hi again!

I guess I would encourage my sons to think long and hard about what they would be really getting into if they chose to take out huge debts to pay for medical school.

Consider, for example, stories like this one:

What kind of life would they be offering their new bride if they choose to work 60+ hours a week to pay off their debt? How many years are they going to work like that to pay it off? What kind of life will they be offering their children if they aren't there to raise them? Are they going to delay having children and have their wives work to pay for this life choice?

I don't mean to be argumentative, I certainly hope I don't come off like that!

I am a very lucky girl. I graduated 8 years ago from college, and my dear husband (who owns his own business) is *still* paying off my student loans! They are not scheduled to be paid off for five more years. I just kick myself now that he has to do this and hope that my boys don't start their marriages with such burdens!

Bethany Hudson said...

Interestingly, studies have shown that the #1 reason for divorce (at least in America) is "financial problems." That's right: not infidelity, not "falling out of love"; money! Bearing this in mind, I think it is imperative, for all the reasons you discussed, Anna, to have some serious money talks before considering marriage. My old pastor used to say, (excuse the slight crudeness) in most marriages, you deal with money more often than you have sex, so you'd better start talking finances because the best relationship in the world won't make money troubles. (Not to say that a good marriage can't work through money troubles, but that you need to be on the same page in order to tackle your problems.)

Anonymous said...

It's so wonderful to see a post about discussing finances. I don't know why so many couples are afraid to discuss money--perhaps they think it will make them seem materialistic or greedy?

However, it really does need to be discussed so that both people understand the other's financial goals, attitudes, etc. BEFORE getting married. Otherwise, it can lead to many arguments and misunderstandings down the road.

As for debt, I knew that my husband had student loan debt before we got married as he was pursuing a Phd in order to teach at a University.

The important part is that I KNEW about the debt beforehand and from our financial discussions before we got married, I knew my (then) future husband had a solid plan for our future.

We have now been married for five years and are close to paying off that debt. Yes, it did mean that we've had to delay buying a house (we still rent), but not yet owning a house is a small sacrifice compared to the wonderful man I married!

So the bottom line is that I don't think you should rule out marriage to a man who has debt, but you definitely need to find out what his plan is for paying it off and understand that YOU (not just him) will have to make sacrifices in the meantime. Once you are married, it's your debt too!

(Of course, my above argument assumes that the debt isn't frivolous consumer spending--that's a whole other can of worms!)

Great post! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

No offense, but being in a 1.5 income family, I assure that my working is not for "treats and luxury items."

I knew before I got married that I would not be a stay-at-home wife. And I'm fine with that. My husband has a steady job which provides flexability, but not a lot of money. If a girl/woman desires to stay at home full-time, she should certainly mention that before getting married, as not every guy has a job that can support a family.

Anonymous said...

I found part of this sentence funny..."We may be called pragmatic.." Wouldn't that be refeshing? I cam imagine alot worse things to be called than pragmatic. In fact in today'w world it might be refreshing to be called pragmatic.

Mrs. Anna T said...

To Anon with 1.5 income,

I believe you misunderstood my point. My intention wasn't to say that a second income is *necessarily* dedicated to luxury items - I simply meant to illustrate how differently people might think about money.

Lori said...

Heather, more good points again. And that article was sobering, and Depressing! But with the finantial advise, very helpful. I may be forwarding it to some folks I know, to encourage them that, well, it could be worse, and if the story's couple can get help, then the friend's situation isn't hopeless. Thanks for passing it along.

Samara said...

This is a great post. I'd like to add that young ladies and men might also want to be very discreet when discussing their financial situations with others, lest prospective suitors/suitees be motivated to take advantage of them. It's not pretty to think about, but I had more than one would-be hanger-on try to start a relationship with me based on their perception of my financial status and have witnessed the misery of a friend whose husband was successful at deceiving her into supporting him (and his vice habits) for the last five years. It's important that both partners be active in choosing one another for good reasons; it's easy for some folks to be very passive on the subject of finances to the point where a prospective partner might take advantage of them.
The best advice I was given during my pre-marriage period was that the best predictors of someone's future actions are the actions of their past, and that their actions speak more truth than words. While some young ladies might see a man as a "creative type" or "idealistic", the reality could be that he is simply shiftless and undisciplined. The counsel of trusted and wise family and friends is priceless in this regard.

Anonymous said...

I married a man who had/still has debts that we are still paying off. I knew it going in to the relationship and knew that we wouldn't have it paid off when we got married.
It is difficult, but I knew it going in...if he didn't tell me and then we got married and the bills started coming in - I might have been a little peeved, but the conversation does need to be had.
You're is a part of life.

MarkyMark said...


I'd like to offer a man's POV on this issue. If there's one topic that's common fodder on the men's boards I frequent, it's being questioned about money. Few topics stir up as much dust as this one does! Here are my thoughts on this issue...

One, I agree with Anna; it's IMPERATIVE to talk about finances, since they're an integral part of life and our relationships. Knowing whether or not someone is on the same page in this important area is a must. There are things I call 'make or break issues' WRT relationships, and money is near the top of that list. If the husband and wife have vastly different ideas on financial issues, then that relationship is doomed to likely failure. As Bethany pointed out and official statistics corroborate, FINANCES ARE THE NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF DIVORCE! So, being on the same page is a must.

Secondly, one must be careful as to HOW the subject is discussed. As a guy, if I meet a gal (rare these days, as I'm not interested in getting married), it seems like the FIRST QUESTION OUT OF HER MOUTH (after asking my name) is what I do for a living-first question! I'm not rich, but even if I were, I'd find that to be a total turn off, because it appears to me that my wallet size is under examination. Don't ask about his trust funds, investments, or anything else; you'll come off as a gold digger, not as someone wanting to find out his attitudes and track record with money.

That said, I think it would be better to use events, news stories, etc. as talking points; by talking about the story in question, you can OBLIQUELY find out his attitudes about money, yet not appear to be a gold digger. For example, say the two of you know a couple that recently married, and they had a costly wedding. Use THE WEDDING as a talking point, and see what he thinks of expensive weddings. Does he think it's a good thing? Does he think it's wasteful? Why? I could go on, but you get my point. I would be most receptive to that line of questioning. However, when a gal IMMEDIATELY starts asking about my job, the kind of car I drive, whether or not I own my home, etc., then I'm thinking gold digger-time to exit, stage right!

FWIW, I think that these expensive, ostentatious weddings that are all the rage these days are a BAD IDEA. Why do people spend upwards of $30,000 on what amounts to an extravagant, one day party? Do people ever stop and THINK about this?! It doesn't look like they do.

I think it's smarter to have a simple wedding; to hold the costs down; then take the lion's share of the money for a down payment on a house. But, that's just me...

BTW, I understand wanting to know finances, particularly for the readers here; most of you all are SAHWs, or working on becoming one. That means it's only his income coming in. Therefore, this is something that cannot be overlooked. I understand that, and I agree with Anna on finding out about this ASAP. However, I'd also like to stress that, as a man, there's a RIGHT way to do this, and that there's a WRONG way to do this too. Hope this helps, and I wish you all a good night...


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Analytical Adam said...

Just wondering does the women have to read what her responsiblities to her husband because a lot of Jewish women think that just becaue they were born a women they deserve respect which really isn't the case. A women is suppose to bring children into the world and be the leader in the home and if she doesn't underatand her role how can the man truely fullfil his role. Furthermore, if a women is at an age where children are less likely or impossible what then. I agree with the man's part of the Ketuvah but if the women doesn't underatand her role I think it is a big problem and is just another example of gender relation problems in Rabbinic Judaism. Correct me if I am wrong here because I'm sorry but many Orthodox women DO NOT understand their role and don't understand why the man is suppose to do this which is because the women is providing other services which without why should the man support his wife.

Leslie said...

You are so right. Finances are a very important issue that must be discussed before marriage!

I know for me personally, if ever I decide to marry, it will be to someone who is debt-free and plans on continuing to live a debt-free lifestyle. I have seen what going into debt can do (I speak from personal experience!).
I also firmly believe that God wants us to be good stewards of our money and not be indebted to others.

I tell ya, though, it is very difficult in this day & age to find a mature man who has the same perspective about debt that I do. I have yet to meet one man who is debt-free or who wants to live a debt-free lifestyle.
The men I have spoken with do not see a problem with debt; and, in fact, they think it best to have debt to better their credit score! How tragic!!

Right now I am saving up to purchase my first home with cash. I will not buy a home until I have all the cash to do so. For now, I rent extremely cheap (with utilities included) and adhere to a strict budget each month.
I am very focused on accomplishing my goal - and I should be able to afford a $100,000 home in cash in about 5 years! :)

Anonymous said...

In practice, it's often very difficult to gauge a young man's financial attitude.
If a woman is looking at men over the age of 25, then she certainly can gain some information by examining his lifestyle, career, car, home, spending habits.
But in Israel at least, a man under the age of 25 hasn't had much time to develop a financial approach. Men here are drafted till the age of 21, and then many go to university (personally, I would never hold a student loan against anyone, even if they did ultimately regret the choice of major).
So if we're talking young people....many of the religious folks in Israel don't even work before they get married in their very early twenties. Many have lived at home till that time, or at dorms. They can't amass huge consumer debt because the credit card companies here don't let you do that unless you have a steady income.
So in theory, it's good to get a broad financial picture. In practice, it's very dependent on culture and locale. Not always possible with very young men. Sometimes you just need to work on faith and the guy's general character.
Of course, I also believe all financial decisions should be mutual.

Lori said...

MarkyMark, you sound just like a man I knew on the west coast (who was a very good man, but a little bit jaded). Makes me wonder... For many of uf ladies, "What do you do" is simply an easy conversation starter, a non- or post-university version of "What's your major". There's nothing more behind it than that, for many if not most of us. The question "what car do you drive" is a silly question, but I've never personally known a grown woman ask that, unless for a very practical purpose (big group of people "caravaning" to a a location, asking so she knows which car to follow). But it has some sense: how sensible/ostentasious is he? But then still a little silly. You seem really nice, but maybe the fellas on the boards you mentioned are just a little sensative (surely the boards are representative of only some mens' experiences)? I'm sorry for your experiences with my sex. I agree there's a good way and bad way, but I'm just sharing so that you or a friend neednt pass on a great girl just because she's not great at small talk.

I personally wouldn't hold student loan against someone, as in personally. But can't say I'd want to marry it either, depending on how much it is. I wish more fathers would take initiative in this area, investigating young men for a daughter...

I'd like to re-affirm my support and encourangement of pre-nups. A person can claim, really believe a certain way about money, but not live it out once married, and a written contract is something to return to, to say, "yes, we did discuss this, and this is what you said". It's a reminder that at least one time, you were both on the same page, even if that part isn't legally binding. But mostly pre-nup as a protection. Even God-fearing people often go off the deep end and make horrible, destructive mistakes, and a pre-nup offers some protection to the injured. I was too optimistic for one myself, and God has protected us thus far. But not all the couples I know.

(sorry if this posted twice. had an internet glich)

Mrs. Correa said...

Well, I don't have any student loan debt. (I went to Bible College, and paid as I went along.) So, it's just his. I am a mother of two boys-- and I get to STAY HOME! :-) All discussed before marriage.

It's possible. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
"1.5" here again. Sorry for the misunderstanding, just as you feel passionately about justifying staying at home, I feel the sames about working. (we call it the "mommy wars" in the US). I get tired of people (not you!) assuming I don't love my child or thinking that my husband is lazy because his income alone is not enough. I want to be a good wife and mother just as much as the next woman and I do the best I can. I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Marriage is always an economic relationship (in addition to having religious or romantic aspects). Once the topic of marriage comes up, I think all financial questions are fair game. (Tact is always helpful, of course, but you still need to get -- and insist upon if necessary -- direct and specific answers about your prospective spouse’s economic status). If someone wants to marry you but becomes offended if you ask about his (or her) finances, run for the hills.

In fact, I think you shouldn’t HAVE to ask about your prospective spouse’s financial resources and prospects. Once marriage comes up, both parties should disclose their financial issues. Before my husband broached the topic of marriage, he made sure I knew about his massive student and consumer debt. I made sure he knew about mine. Neither one of us had to fish around for the information.

As for marrying someone with debt -- it really depends on what you want in life. My husband and I will have student debt for the rest of our adult lives. For us, education is so important as an end in itself that we have never once begrudged the sacrifices we have to make to pay our debts. I would rather have an education than a house. I respect that most other people probably feel differently; I am just saying that the impact of debt depends on the priorities of the people involved.

-- Pendragon

Anonymous said...

Here is a topic that might make a good post for Mrs. T: I am always curious about how married couples manage their finances. When I was growing up, my father gave money from his salary to my mother for household and personal expenses. She put that “allowance” in her own checking account.

In my house, my husband’s salary and mine go in one account and we both write checks on it. This is a little tricky because we don’t always know what the other person is doing; so sometimes we find that we both have been spending money at the same time and the account is lower than it ought to be to pay bills and such. Fortunately, we have overdraft protection and credit cards, and we usually manage to get back on track quickly when we overspend!

Also (and this is very embarrassing for a feminist), I really don’t know what is going on in our finances. I earn most of the money, but my husband manages it. I simply don’t have time to keep track of everything, because I work longer hours. I just keep my spending within reasonable limits and hope that we can afford it -- not a great system, I admit!

-- Pendragon

Mirelle T. said...

Hi Anna!
Can't believe you used my question! :) Thanks again for all the FANTASTIC advice! You are such a wise young woman and I value your opinion!! Thank you!


Anonymous said...

As an aside...
It would seem to me that giving a husband free reign to make financial decisions is rather dangerous. What happens if and when the decision turns out to be a terrible one? I wonder how many wives would be noble enough to keep themselves from saying 'I told you so' or 'I can't believe you did this' or 'you are such an idiot!'

When financial moves are made together by husband and wife, they both bear the brunt of the responsibility, for better or worse.

Allison said...

I'm not married (no groom in sight, either!) but I've been thinking about this issue a lot.

I regularly discuss this, in a lighter way, with our paralegal. She is adamant that "all is possible with love" and that I'm terribly jaded when I mention that I'd need to see a potential husband's credit report before saying yes. To me, it's not that romantic, but absolutely necessary: as I watch friends struggle with marriage problems and divorce, I can't help but notice that 90% of these problems are directly related to money issues. Different spending and saving patterns, different priorities. I've been taking a hard look at my own finances so that I can try to match my own financial philosophy, and financial goals to those of a potential spouse.