A week after getting engaged, I woke up in the middle of the night soaked in my own stress sweat. The excitement of the proposal had worn off and the questions began to race through my mind.
How would our relationship change once we got married?
Do we need to get married or can we just ditch the legal document?
Will I have to drain my savings account to fund this wedding?
Speaking of money, what will happen to my money once we’re married?
That last question has stuck with me for quite some time. My fiancé and I have always been good at having hard conversations about life and our relationship. We’ve discussed topics like having kids, raising kids with a certain religion and our future career and relationship goals. We’ve always found ourselves seamlessly getting on the same page.
We’ve also talked a lot about our finances, disclosing to each other what our cash situation looks like and what kind of money mistakes we’ve made in the past. But one thing we never talked about before getting engaged was the infamous word ― prenup.
For a while, I didn’t think getting a prenup was something we needed to do. Neither of us were walking into this marriage with major assets. We just figured we’d keep our separate bank accounts, for a while, and figure out how to split bills and financially plan together, while keeping some things separate.
In New York, where we plan to get married, the money you make becomes marital. Which means, it’s shared. Money or assets from the past become marital, too, unless you protect them with a prenup or don’t add any money to your savings account, investments or assets.
“My fiancé and I have always been good at having hard conversations about life and our relationship. But one thing we never talked about before getting engaged was the infamous word -- prenup.”
But the more I thought about the word “marriage” and the legal bindingness of it, the more I began to panic. I knew I had to talk to my fiancé about our financial game plan and perhaps even about getting a prenup.
I thought prenups were just for people with huge amounts of money in the bank and long lists of assets, but the more I researched that, the more I realized I was wrong. Essentially, prenups are something for anyone to consider, regardless of how much money you have to your name, who wants protection or a legal game plan of what will happen if the marriage ends. Why argue about all of the assets you came into the marriage with, when the marriage is crumbling and on its final leg? Why not get that out of the way beforehand. The idea of a prenup or a legal financial document started to sound more and more attractive.
When I brought this topic up to my fiancé, at first, it was uncomfortable. He questioned why I had this fear and then began to understand the positives of exploring our financial protection options before getting married. For starters, it allowed us to go into the marriage with a clear plan of action for how we’d combine our finances and what we’d keep separate.
“I thought prenups were just for people with huge amounts of money in the bank and long lists of assets, but the more I researched that, the more I realized I was wrong.”
It also would be something that could calm my pre-marriage anxiety, which I find normal. You’re about to legally bind a lot of yourself to another person, shouldn’t that feel a little scary? We decided to educate ourselves on what a prenup would mean and in the process, figuring out the best moves for ourselves individually and as a couple.
Before continuing any financial conversation together, we decided to spend time separately going through our finances. We each created a spreadsheet with the current state of our bank accounts, our investments our retirement funds, and our debt. We also decided to write down what we both felt we were comfortable combining and what we wanted to keep separate (to be used for a potential future prenup).
Taking this step not only allowed us to both organize any outstanding financial mess (like the need to merge an old 401(k) into a SEP IRA) but also have all our assets documented in an easy to consume way.
After sharing our spreadsheets, we decided to reach out and get help. A lot of the conversations that floated to the surface turned into small fights over deciding how to budget and save together. We both had different ideas about how to go about doing this; I wanted us to live on a tight budget to increase our savings and my partner wanted us to invest more now.
“A lot of the conversations that floated to the surface turned into small fights over deciding how to budget and save together. We both had different ideas about how to go about doing this.”
An entire coffee shop of people stared at me as I yelled and cried one afternoon while we went over our credit card statements and talked about the kind of purchases we could cut back on. I found myself feeling strong and sensitive about the fact that I’ve been single and independent for most of my twenties and have worked hard for my money. Though I’ve made money mistakes along the way, I was proud of my accomplishments, and at times, exposing my errors to my fiancé made me feel weak.
We spent full day in silence after a conversation about how to split our money and wages went south after discussing the potential scenario of having kids. I would have to temporarily stop working for a few months, and we both freelance so there’s no such thing as paid maternity or paternity leave for us. We didn’t reach a resolution.
We realized that we both needed financial advice and mediation from an expert. These were important conversations to have and to hold before getting married.
We sat down with someone at The Financial Gym, which according to their website is a group of financial trainers looking to put you in control of your finances, one step at a time.
“We realized that we both needed financial advice and mediation from an expert. These were important conversations to have and to hold before getting married.”
We met with a financial trainer who asked us questions about what our individual and joint financial goals were, analyzed our assets and helped us determine how much we should budget and save for our ideal retirement and investment plans.
Turning to an expert helped us power through a difficult set of conversations about basic finance and how things will work once our money is merged and the money we make becomes shared. Once we knew what we were both bringing into the relationship, and were close to agreeing on how to implement shared money habits, we decided it was time to think about whether or not we wanted a prenup. While I always thought prenups were for people who had millions of dollars in assets, it turns out I was wrong.
Before making the decision, we decided to book an appointment to meet with a divorce lawyer, six months before our wedding date, to talk about what kinds of terms we could include in a prenup and what we could potentially add to it later on. This felt like a smart and proactive choice to help protect us from outcomes we weren’t necessarily ready for since we weren’t “planning” for them to happen.
“We decided to book an appointment to meet with a divorce lawyer, six months before our wedding date.”
When we go to that appointment next month, we’ll be ready to share our assets with the divorce lawyer, our future concerns and how we’d like to handle the worst case scenario of our relationship, an unexpected ending. Either way, we’re way past the awkwardness of having the prenup or financial protection conversation. Now when the word comes up, we laugh and share with our friends proudly that we’re considering getting one. A lot of them look at us with wide eyes of shock.
Over dinner with another engaged couple, we talked about the P word and the only thing they could share with us was that they are concerned we’re approaching our engagement journey in a negative way, by planning for the worst.
None of my friends have ever openly talked about getting a prenup before their marriage and if they did get one, they kept that secret and swallowed the idea of releasing that information to their close friends. Some people feel the decision is private, but society tells us that getting a prenup is like you’re planning for the worst instead of working so hard on planning the best day of your life ― the actual wedding day.
“Society tells us that getting a prenup is like you’re planning for the worst instead of working so hard on planning the best day of your life -- the actual wedding day.”
The more I talked to friends about this and told them I might want to get one, the more I felt judged. Some friends even texted me asking if I was having second thoughts about marrying my fiancé. I’m not. I truly feel like marrying this person is the best decision but that doesn’t mean I should feel shamed for wanting to figure out how I will walk out of the marriage, financially, if it ever comes to that. The wedding day will be a great day in our lives, but it’s the marriage that’s the most important ― and this includes discussing our finances.
I’ve spent years making money and saving it. When life together gets complicated and changes (kids and more joint assets), I feel like I have the right to have a plan in place ― aka a prenup. It might seem unromantic to be so frank and rational, but I think it’s the opposite. We’ve found ourselves, and our relationship, getting even stronger now that we know everything, every dollar and every conversation, is on the table.
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