Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kiss and Tell About Your Status

Bert's Guest Blog: By Erin Baehr,* CFP, CDFA, E.A. © 2012

It is estimated that 10 percent of all proposals happen on Valentine's Day — that's what the Internet says anyway, and if it's on the Internet it must be true, right?

All kidding aside, if it is even close to being true, that is a huge number of people getting engaged in the coming week. The pressure's on, guys. The world (aka the flower and jewelry industries, et al) expects an over-the-top proposal and two months' salary for her ring.

It's easy to be swept up in the romanticism of it all, but after the pictures are posted on Facebook and your relationship status is updated, you are left with two people planning not just a wedding together, but a life and all its not-so-romantic details. Financial compatibility is a big deal, and ideally should be assessed before the engagement, but it's still not too late. Here are several financial things you should know about your partner (and what your partner should know about you) before you marry.

Credit score: Your credit score is like your financial GPA, and largely determines your freedom of financial choice. A good score can open the door to the best interest rates, for instance, while a poor one can affect your chance at a new job. If your fiancé's score is less than stellar, find out why. Was it something out of his control, like a prolonged job loss or a medical issue? That's certainly understandable. Or was it from overspending and irresponsibility? If so, think twice about merging finances before those issues have been worked through, or you may be dragged down with him.

What does she own and what does she owe? How will you know your fiancé is really a rich princess in disguise unless you ask? While that's not likely, it is still important to know what she does own, and decide if those assets will be commingled as marital property or held separately. Of vital importance is the type and extent of her debt if she has any. Is she weighed down by credit card debt or large student loans? You'll need to discuss who will be responsible to pay those debts after marriage. And like the credit score, excessive debt can limit your options financially, or worse, be a symptom of financial dysfunction in your fiancé.

Employment history: Has your beloved been in the same position for a decent period of time, or does he flit from job to job, complaining about the unfairness of each position? Hmm, that may be a red flag. Pay attention to his work ethic and desire to work. Is there a large income disparity between the two of you, and if so, will that have an effect on the balance of power in your relationship?

Career goals: Where do you see yourself in five and 10 years in your career? Do your fiancé's career ambitions mirror yours, and if not, will that frustrate you or her? Does she plan to devote countless hours to earn a promotion, or take time off to complete a master's degree? If you have similar ambitions, you may be understanding of each other's drive, but if you look forward to relaxing over an early dinner, her late nights at work or school may leave you lonely.

Money personality: We all have a "money personality," or a style of relating to money. Which one we are depends on where we fall on a continuum of saver versus spender and operating out of fear or greed. Are you a miser type personality, thinking of marrying a shopaholic? I predict friction in your future. It's good to find out what personality you each tend toward, and understand if they balance each other out or are a toxic mess. For more information on money personality, check out "Why Smart People Do Stupid Things with their Money" by Bert Whitehead.

His money biography: What was money like in his family of origin? We tend to act in ways familiar to us, so if money was not ever talked about while growing up, it is likely we will be uncomfortable talking about it as an adult. If his parents tried to buy his love, it is likely that he will see spending as a measure of caring. Or if things were tight, he may now have an extreme fear of losing his wealth. Or, on the other hand, he may be a big spender as an act of rebellion against a restrictive childhood.

Unspoken expectations: These are tough to uncover, because we often don't realize we have them. For instance, in your family of origin, it may have been common for your dad to buy your mom a dozen red roses on Valentine's Day, regardless of the cost. If you marry someone whose expectation is that the two of you would save your money by cooking at home with a Red Box movie because his father thought it outrageous to spend that kind of money on flowers, you may be quite disappointed when he comes home empty handed and angry that he expects you to cook (and he will be blindsided by your anger). Or if he expects to have a wad of cash each week to walk around with and not account for it, while you expect to count every penny spent, that also can lead to anger and resentment. Without bringing these into the open you may be completely confused by your intended's behaviors and reactions.

Money motivation: What drives her uses of money? Is it a means to power, influence or notoriety? Or is it a way to show love to her family? Looking at what motivates each of you to earn, give, save, or spend money can predict some of your financial behaviors. Are your motivations compatible?

Lifestyle expectations: Does your fiancé envision one of you staying home with children should there be any, or does he expect that you will both work outside of the home? And how big of a home will that be? What kinds of vacations does he like to take? Again going back to the hidden expectations, if your family took a European vacation every year while your fiancé's family camped in the backyard, unless you talk about it, you may naturally assume he wants to save for that kind of vacation, too.

*Erin Baehr, CDFA, CFP, EA is the principal of Baehr Family Financial, LLC, and a member of the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors in Stroudsburg, PA (www.YourMoneyEveryday.com). She was recently named "Greatest Around the Poconos" in the financial advisor category.

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