When we start a relationship with a significant other, their financial status isn’t likely our first concern. But before getting married, or even before getting engaged, it makes sense to take a pause and have some serious conversations about current finances—and future expectations.

These aren’t always easy things to discuss, as many people feel uncomfortable talking about money. But don’t let that deter you. Instead, try to reframe the discussion as an opportunity to avoid conflict. Money is a point of argument and contention in many relationships, and setting clear expectations and guidelines now can shield you from future disagreements.

However, starting those conversations can be hard. To help you get the ball rolling, here are five key financial considerations you should discuss with your partner before you get married.

1. Debt

Understanding each other’s current debt situation will give you clarity on what liabilities you are taking on once you tie the knot. This incorporates everything from student debt, credit card debt, car loans and even a mortgage. The level of debt someone carries—and the types of debt—will affect credit scores. If you’re looking to make a big purchase after your wedding (like, say, a home), credit scores will become important when trying to get a loan.

Equally as important as understanding one another’s current debt situation is knowing each other’s feelings about debt. For example, if you’re not comfortable with debt beyond a mortgage or a car loan, but your partner is comfortable carrying some level of credit card debt, then you need to come to some sort of compromise. Not only can this prevent a lot of headaches (and potential bickering), but it can help you better plan for larger purchases that affect both of you equally.

2. Combining Your Finances

You and your significant other may agree to combine checking accounts into one, single joint account. It definitely has its benefits, as you can both make large purchases or pay bills from just one account and not have to worry about writing two checks, taking turns paying bills, or even paying each other back. But this strategy isn’t for everyone.

Some couples may be more comfortable with dividing some expenses and having their own discretionary cash out of their individual incomes. In other relationships, it is more comfortable to combine all cash flow into one pot.

A nice compromise could be to share a joint account for large purchases while keeping individual accounts for smaller things. This way, if one of you wants something on your own (clothing, electronic devices, drinks with friends, etc.), you don’t have to feel guilty or get into trouble for spending money from your joint account.

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong, but you want to have a strategy ahead of time. If one spouse has a much higher income, how will that be handled? Will you have one checking account, a joint and two individuals, or just two individual accounts?

3. Current Savings and Spending Patterns

One of you may be the spender, and the other may be the saver. Maybe you’re both savers or both spenders. Talk about what you’re currently doing and what you feel you can do when you combine your incomes.

Additionally, when it comes to saving, it’s important to discuss what exactly you’re trying to save up for. Often, there is a balance that needs to be considered between long-term and short-term goals. If you are not currently saving, start! And don’t do it just for the short-term goals—do it for the long-term ones, too. Will you buy a house? Will one of you go back to school to get an advanced degree? Do you plan on having children?

4. Housing Expectations

If you’re currently living separately, where do you plan on moving together once you’re married? If you are living together, will you stay in the same place, or are you looking to change your living arrangement? Are you going to be renters, or are you looking to own? How large of a home to do you envision yourself living in? What about in five years? How about 10 years?

One of you may have higher expectations for what you want in a home or even where you want to live. Maybe one of you wants to be close to family. Maybe one of you is looking for a lower tax area. Maybe the school district is important. You have to find a place you’re both comfortable with while not compromising your values or overextending yourselves financially.

Once you know what you want, start looking at the housing market so you know what these expenses will be and if they can be managed. If you aren’t ready to fund this objective, determine how you’re going to save for it. Don’t forget to price out the cost of utilities, taxes and assessments where applicable.

5. Career Goals

In most cases, your long-term financial security will be dependent on your income. As such, it’s important to understand where each other’s careers are headed. Discuss factors such as aspirations for furthering education, as you may need to talk about how that would be funded—and the income gap it may create. Try to understand the opportunities for each of you in your respective careers so you know if the incomes you have now are relatively static or if you have opportunities for one or both of you to accelerate your careers and income.

Although it might be far off, talk about the possibility of one of you staying home with children when they’re born. The thought process may change when children are actually in the picture, but knowing if one of you expects to stay home can help you plan.

In the midst of all the wedding planning, these conversations may not be the most exciting part of getting ready for marriage, but they’re important. Having an open dialogue now will provide a baseline for future expectations and allow you to keep discussing your finances as your situations change. And if you’re not sure how to approach some of these topics, then including an experienced financial advisor can help you keep the dialogue going so you’re both on the same page before you say “I do.”

Adria Meehan Siewert

Adria Meehan Siewert

Senior Vice President, Financial Advisor

CFP ®, ChFC ®, AIF ®, Series 7 & 24 Securities Registrations,* Series 66 Advisory Registration,† Insurance License Having worked in the industry since 2007, Adria regularly meets with clients and works closely with the Roundtable™ team of specialists to develop financial plans that are specifically geared toward their values and retirement goals. She is involved in her Arlington Heights, IL community through Our Lady of the...Read More