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We know we should talk about money before we get married, but what about before we get engaged? Absolutely. As Elle Kaplan, finance expert and founder of LexION Capital, explains, "it's standard practice to discuss milestones like wanting kids, buying a house, or travel plans before getting engaged, but the truth is that most of these goals are connected to money. Couples need to be on the same page financially as well as emotionally to ensure a successful marriage."
She continues, "Many marriages encounter trouble because financial disagreements pop up far too late in the relationship. It would be akin to discovering your partner doesn't want to have children five years into the marriage. By discussing finances early, couples have a chance to make sure they can achieve their goals and smooth out any money wrinkles."
So before you get engaged, Kaplan says these are the six money talks you need to have.
1. Your own money habits.
While you may not think your individual money habits matter before you tie the knot, how you save and spend now could have a big impact on whether you both reach your financial goals later. That's why Kaplan recommends sharing your money views before you get engaged. "Just like your personalities, everyone is going to have their own unique approach to money," she says. "One of you might be thriftier, while the other is a spender. The key here is to learn how to start honestly communicating and compromising together."
2. Your long-term financial goals.
Says Kaplan, "Your long-term relationship goals are all going to be tied to money, so it's important to narrow down the financial details and start planning early." For example, let's say you both dream of buying a house in the next five years. Talking about how much you'll spend and how you'll afford it before you get engaged is the best way to make that dream come true five years from now, Kaplan says. "By starting to plan early, you have plenty of time to get your finances in order and achieve your dreams," she explains.
3. How you'll save money.
Fact: The first year of marriage can be just as expensive as it is exciting (thanks to your honeymoon and wedding, of course!). So rather than scrambling to save or going into debt for your big day after you get engaged, Kaplan recommends talking about how you'll save for that costly celebration now. "Couples can start their marriage off on the right foot by strengthening their savings now," she says.
4. Your credit scores.
While your credit scores may not seem like a big deal now, "a poor score on either side can throw a wrench in your financial plans," Kaplan warns. "Everything from getting a mortgage to interest rates on joint accounts are determined by these scores. It can take a while to fix credit, so couples should work together to get the highest scores as possible early on."
5. Your income and expenses.
Before you commit your lives to one another, it's smart to figure out how much (or how little) you make and have left over after your expenses each month. "It seems simple, but many couples don't even know how much the other earns until after marriage," says Kaplan. "If you're both spending more than you're earning or have very little left over, now's the time to start coming up with a budget together."
6. Your debt.
Kaplan says almost every American has some form of debt, including student loans. It's not exactly fun to talk about, "but throwing this issue under the rug will only make it worse," she warns. "What's important is that you have a clear sense of any debt and a plan to tackle it. Be especially aware of any 'dirty debt' with high interest rates, such as credit card debt, which can easily snowball."