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.
Have a debt question?
Email your question to email@example.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.