A reader is about to get married but worries that love will ruin his finances.

Question: I’m turning 40 next year and have never been married. Last week, I proposed to my girlfriend of two years. I’ve spent most of my life building my restaurant business, and now it’s time to have a more balanced life. But I’m nervous about how we’ll handle money as husband and wife.

My girlfriend actually makes more money than I do, but she spends WAY more than I do. She has thousands of dollars of credit card debt — I’m not even sure how much. Meanwhile, I pay off my credit cards every month. She loves to shop for the latest clothes and always has to have the newest car, while I’m driving a 2005 Mazda. 

I’m thinking of asking her for a prenup agreement so I can protect my assets. What do you think, Howard? And how to I ask for this without making her really, really mad?

— Brad in Maine

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

I’m not avoiding your question when I say: A pre-nuptial agreement is the least of your concerns.

Before you get married, you and your fiancee need to have an honest talk about money — not only how much you have, but how you decide to spend it. As Debt.com has previously reported, money is a major cause of marital strife. One study reported 15 percent of people between the ages of 35 and 54 — your age group, Brad — “argue about finances every week.”

Another study revealed that 63 percent of couples think “their significant other overspends in some way,” while 20 percent admitted they had a “secret debt” they hadn’t told their spouse.

Before you get married, you both need to know exactly what the other earns, and exactly what you each owe. This should be written down, and then you two should draw up a budget. You should adhere to that budget before you tie the knot, to ensure you’re financially compatible.

Sometimes when  I urge engaged couples to have this frank financial discussion, they tell me, “But Howard, that’s so unromantic.” I’m all for romance —candlelit dinners, midnight strolls, weekends in bed — but do you know what’s really unromantic? Yelling at each other because you’re both mired in debt and can’t enjoy your lives.

If you still want to proceed with a pre-nup, Brad, know this: They’re more popular than ever. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers released a survey of its members last month and found that half are drawing up pre-nups at a faster pace than any other time over the past three years.

That fact may help your discussion with your fiancee — hey, everyone is doing it. Those pre-nups are also increasingly protecting retirement assets, since even the wealthy are worried about their retirement savings.

First, however, you might want to encourage your fiancee to get a free debt analysis from one of Debt.com’s certified credit counselors. It’s free, and it’s an excellent way to start the discussion you know you need to have. The phone number is 1-800-810-0989.

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About the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

I’m a certified public accountant who has authored two books on getting out of debt, Credit Hell and Power Up, and I am one of the personal finance experts for Debt.com. I have focused my professional endeavors in the consumer finance, technology, media and real estate industries creating not only Debt.com, but also Financial Apps and Start Fresh Today, among others. My personal finance advice has been included in countless articles, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes and Entrepreneur as well as virtually every national and local newspaper in the country. Everyone should have a reason for living that’s bigger than themselves, and besides my family, mine is this: Teaching Americans how to live happily within their means. To me, money is not the root of all evil. Poor money management is. Money cannot buy happiness, but going into debt always buys misery. That’s why I launched Debt.com. I’m glad you’re here.

Published by Debt.com, LLC