Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Won't He Talk About Money?

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a question about how to approach sharing money in a marriage. My boyfriend and I have been together for a long time, so of course we think of getting married someday. His parents are wealthier than mine, and his career also generates more money than mine does. He likes to buy his parents expensive gifts for holidays and birthdays—things my parents would like but cannot afford. Before marriage, these choices are his, but if/when we get married, I feel that his money and my money become our money, which means we have to agree on how to spend it.

When I heard of the most recent gift he bought his parents, I mentioned that as a married couple, I thought it would be fair to buy expensive gifts for our parents only if we can afford to give comparable gifts to both sets so we don’t favor either his or mine. He shut the conversation down, as he does with most conversations about money. I worry that he secretly thinks that he should be able to do what he wants with “his money” and that “what he wants” might not include my family. I worry that he thinks my family deserves their debt because he doesn’t agree with all their choices. I also worry that his parents may unconsciously expect these expensive gifts from him and that I might become the “bad guy” in their eyes—or worse, his—if I would rather save money than buy expensive gifts for anyone, even if we could afford it in the short term. He says that when we get married, things will change and that our new family will take priority over either his parents or mine. But should I believe that based on his current actions? How does one prepare for such a big change?

Please help! I know that arguments about money are all too common in marriages, and I want to learn how to deal with this topic fairly and effectively before committing to a lifetime with him or anyone. What are some common guidelines that people follow? How do we figure out what works for us? What does it mean if we simply disagree with each other?

Expecting Fairness

Dear Expecting Fairness,
You're right - money is one of the most common things people argue about in marriage! How one handles finances is very personal and reflects how a person was raised, his values, priorities, and personality. 

It is good to think about how your boyfriend's current behaviors would play out in marriage - that is something people commonly don't do. (Many people simply get married and assume all will be fine, and then are surprised to find out it isn't.) I applaud you on really thinking this through.
It is fair of you to ask him to discuss how he expects to handle money as a married couple. How much will you spend, save, give away? (Rough estimates are all that is required, not exact figures!) Will you combine bank accounts and incomes? If you have children and decide to stay home, will he view it as his money that you get some of, or is it the family's money?

What isn't fair is to hound him about why he is spending his money in a certain way, when he might not make the same choices once you marry. Don't forget, you likely spend money on things that he thinks are frivolous - eating out, books, clothing, etc. You might be a bit miffed if he questioned you spending money on take-out because he expects that you and he will cook at home once married.  I
t is not fair to judge him on how he buys gifts for his family as a single person. Keep in mind - right now he is the sole arbiter of his money, and if he likes to spend money on expensive gifts for his family, so be it! That is completely within his rights. You say you believe that "before marriage, that choice is his," but the rest of your letter belies that statement.

You say he shuts down most conversations about money - this can indicate different things based on the circumstances. Is he very closed off about money in general? Or do you frequently ask him hypothetical questions about money in future situations? If the latter, he might simply be shutting down because he doesn't want to talk about what might be.

It sounds like a related question is how he feels about your family (in-laws are another top argument for married couples). Does he typically treat them respectfully? Or does he seem to judge their life choices or have some disdain for them?

I would highly recommend that once you are engaged, you two take Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU), and getting premarital counseling. FPU is an excellent class which teaches budgeting, saving, getting out of debt, buying a home, and much more. My husband and I attended this class before we married, and it worked wonders in getting us on the same page about money. At the very least, it will get you talking about the right things. 

Premarital counseling is simply a tool to get you two discussing your differences in an open way so you go into your marriage more informed about the other person. It helps you learn ways to resolve differences and stay in love. If he has issues with your parents or with money, this is where you should discuss it. 

Note - I said to do this once you are engaged. Before then, this stuff is not something that needs to be discussed terribly in-depth. Not until you are engaged (at which point you can reasonably expect to spend your lives together) do you need to explore all these issues.

I hope this helps you resolve the issue!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been married 30 years and think money is a very important issue to address before marriage. I think this advise is spot on. One additional comment to Expecting Fairness is: If you are expecting to give 50% of the effort toward your marriage and get 50% in return that could be a bigger issue than money.

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