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.