You've no doubt attended a wedding where the invitation read “no boxed gifts” – in fact, you may have even held such a wedding yourself. The idea is that money is the greatest gift you can give to a new couple. They can use it for whatever they need most.

With so many couples starting off on the “right foot” with savings in the bank, why is it that financial issues are the leading cause of divorce in the US?

When it comes to marriage, our communities focus on the traditional questions. What are the duties of the husband and wife to each other? Who's really supposed to do the housework? How much cooking is the husband supposed to do? Will the wife work outside the house, and how will they take care of their kids?

Finance is the neglected detail that makes all these things work. Just from the above examples, how will a couple actually be able to afford Islamic school tuition? If they do decide that the wife wants to stay home after having children, how do they transition the household from two incomes to just one?

No matter how much two people love each other, money is the one thing that can tear them apart.

Do your financial homework before you get married. Knowing the financial picture ahead of time makes for a smoother marriage –it also gives you a good look into the personality of your future significant other.

Here are a few questions to go over while talking to a potential spouse. If you're already married but never discussed these issues, it might not be a bad idea to visit some of these topics as a starting point.

1. How much debt do you have?

Don't underestimate this question; it might be the most important question you can ask.

Total up all your credit cards, student loans, and outstanding car balance(s). If you bought a new laptop on 0% for 6 months on a store credit card and still have 2 months left, include that too. If you still owe a friend $50, that counts as well. All your debts must be included.

I heard of a situation at one masjid where a wedding was being delayed multiple times due to the bride  carrying $50,000 (and counting) of student loan debts. The groom to be was debt-free and hesitant about taking this debt on his shoulders. What do you think would have been the impact of dealing with this after getting married?

Once you're married, you share everything. That includes your debts. A marriage can cause you to go from being $10,000 in the black to $40,000 in the red.

This is not to say that you should only marry someone who is debt-free.

The important point here is to have all the cards out on the table. The husband and wife must both be clear as to precisely what they're entering into. If they have debts, they need to make sure they are on the same page about paying them off and what type of lifestyle they will lead. If your parents ask you how much your future spouse has in debt, the answer should be specific down to the penny, not a rough, rounded number.

Surprising someone with debt, or having different expectations about the necessity of paying it off, can be a recipe for disaster.

2. What are your spending habits?

This is as simple as it sounds. What types of things do you spend on? How frugal are you? How much do you pay attention to price while shopping?

When you go grocery shopping for the first time as newlyweds, you should not yell at your spouse because you are dumbfounded at him or her spending triple the amount for a gallon of milk to get organic. It's not about being right or wrong, but instead it's about understanding the other person's preferences and habits.

If you have a habit of spending a lot on shoes, or tech gadgets – make your spouse aware of it ahead of time. Part of your budgeting process is going to be adapting to each other's habits and learning to compromise with each other when it comes to finances.

Set benchmarks with each other about when each of you expects to have a conversation about a financial decision. Do you need to talk to each other before purchasing a 99 cent app? What about a $20 purchase, or $100? This will change with circumstances, such as income. As with everything else, the key is to try to discuss it ahead of time so there aren't any surprises.

Having the discussion and laying the groundwork is the most important part. It's much easier to change the benchmark 6 months or 2 years into a marriage then it is to try to make one from scratch in year 7.

The point here is not for you to turn into something you're not. It is making sure the husband and wife have a proper, mutual decision-making process according to which they can spend money.

3. What are your financial goals?

What are your hopes, fears, and dreams?

This is the most important part of the conversation. The answers here will guide your decision-making and communication with each other.

Do you want to make hajj within 5 years? Make 'umrah every year? Do you need to travel to visit relatives regularly? Do you dream about buying a new car every 3 years? Maybe you have a family member that you want to help sponsor education costs for? Perhaps it's a charitable project? Does one spouse need an extra large emergency fund to feel secure?

Take it another step further. Do you eventually plan on having kids? Are you sending them to private/Islamic school? Do you both work now but hope Mom can quit her job and stay home with the kids? Do either of you plan on going back to school to further your education?

All of those things carry a price tag (often a hefty one) and take lots of planning. You and your spouse must be on the same page when it comes to big picture items. This is what gives you the juice to make tough financial decisions later. When you both sit down to buy a car, you should already have a budget for it. If one side wants to go over that budget, then you both know it's going to impact one of your other big picture goals. If you're not focused on those goals, you will slip financially and while you may survive just fine, you won't be able to hit those things you both wish for.

The easiest way for problems to arise is when one person takes hold of the purse strings and then dictates which goals are most important and where sacrifices need to be made.

Once you share your hopes, fears, and dreams with your spouse, you can then work on a game plan to make them happen. People don't just magically come up with the money to do something like go on hajj. It comes after making it a goal, and then planning how to set aside the money to do it.

Use this as an opportunity to discuss what you want, and work with your spouse on how to make it happen. You can help each other achieve these goals and start learning how to make sacrifices for one another. It's actually much more romantic than it sounds!

This is an adapted and updated excerpt from the free e-book: A Practical Guide to Debt and Personal Finance for Muslims. Please visit Debt Free Muslims for more information.

16 Responses

  1. Nadu

    Excellent article it is very important for future spouses to discuss this. I didn’t discuss this with my spouse before marriage and wish I did because it could have saved some arguments over finances. Aside from the three questions mentioned, I wish we discussed whether we would open a joint account or keep our separate accounts only, and also how money would be withdrawn for spending (monthly budget, withdraw from bank or atm as needed etc). Aside from the “traditional questions”, which will usually get agreeable responses, questions about finances have to be asked and answered honestly also.

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  2. Abez

    JazakAllahuKheiran for posting this- it’s a very important topic and too many people focus on accessories (dress, holiday, the right biryani) and lose sight of the basics- like whether or not they have financial stability or the foundations of a working financial partnership.

    I would add- especially when it comes to Asian families, that whether or not a brother or sister plans on supporting their parents or extended families- and to what extent- it important to know beforehand. Finding out later can lead to a sense of deprivation, betrayal, or resentment towards the extended family for “stealing” from family resources when they are limited.

    Whatever page husband and wife are financially on- it just needs to be the *same* page.

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      • Zainab

        You are right, supporting our parents is a must if we have the means. However, I think that topic should still be discussed before marriage, especially if both husband and wife are going to contribute to their finances. My female co-worker, who is a pharmacist makes more than twice her respitory therapist husband income. He supports his parents and 2 younger sisters financially. The wife is fed up with it and is always complaining to her friends at work. According to her they have been arguing about it a lot lately. She sees no reason why her money should go to his parents who never like her from the begining. So it is a good idea to discuss even supporting parents before marriage.

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  3. Muslim

    I married a sister who grew up poor and passed the above quiz. Then one day got a promotion and later was magically tens of thousands of dollars in debt. She literally left me over night alone and in debt. In the end you can only do your best and trust in Allah.

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    • anchorkeidi

      Assalaam alaykum. Very crucial topic but I believe it all starts with being open with each other’s incomes. Unfortunately, many men are too scared to share this. Once the incomes are on the table, budget can be made monthly with no suspicion from either party about where the money is going. Monies beyond the budget can then be debated on. May Allaah help us in our marriages.

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  4. Maryam

    This is really good. Thank-you. I’ve seen a lot of discussion on the mahr so its good to see other issues being presented.

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  5. The Salafi Feminist

    Also be very aware of how the woman’s income is going to be used (or not) and by whom, and for what… and make it explicit and clear ahead of time.

    My ex came from a very conservative (Salafi) family and it was acknowledged that “a woman’s money is her own” – but as soon as I started part-time work (from home), the expectation was that I also pitch in for household expenses (which were minimal), contrary to what was implied previously (i.e. that my money would be solely mine to spend or save as I will).

    The point about budgeting is excellent. I can’t emphasize how important it is to have at least one spouse with good budgeting skills who can *stick* to that budget… sometimes the one making the most money doesn’t always know how to spend or save it appropriately.

    And please, don’t buy your spouse a ‘gift’ that cost an arm and a leg, and then wield it over them as an example of what you’ve done for them, how much you care for them, and how they should do XYZ for you to pay it off.

    Don’t use money as a weapon in your marriage unless you want to destroy each other, yourself, and your marriage.

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  6. Aysha Muhammad Haadi

    True talk. But unfortunately where I come from, and I guess in most African cultures, its mostly the man who is the bank roll and he gets to do whatever he wants with his money, he calls the shots in terms of money for spending in the house, you’d have to ask if you personally need something which of course may not be provided for, the wives may not even know exactly how much he earns. And then if the wife works, although in most cases she won’t be told to pitch in to household expenses, she’d be expected to be ”generous” and provide, also she’d be expected to take care of her personal needs and that of her relatives where it’s required. But of course, there are exceptions

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    • Bilkis

      Yes sister Aysha, that is the case in my situation. I make much more income than my spouse and I spend more for our finances. I was barely financially supported when our kid were very young and I wasn’t working. But now he expect the most to come from me and 100% of the home-chores is on me. Very unfair and very unislamic!

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  7. M I P

    Assalamu alaykum
    Subhanallah. It makes sense. But asking those questions before the marriage would make some spouses very nervous I guess. However it’s good to bring up financial questions. Thank you for such a wonderful topic.
    Jazkallahu khayran.

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    • Aly Balagamwala

      Dear M I P

      Your comment is valid but your name and associated URL were not valid as they were of an advertising nature. Kindly, please use a name or a valid kunyah in future comments.

      Best Regards
      Aly

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  8. RightOn

    Is it allowed to have a contract stipulating that each partner keeps his/her capital (eg money, shares, house) and/or debt? Or is this not allowed in Islam?

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  9. john fiston

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    interest rate so i will advise anyone out there that need a loan to contact them via their email,johnfiston7@gmail.com

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