• Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

I’m single and already stressed out with a prenup. What should I do?

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Nov 9, 2022
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Good morning! These are burning questions, an advice section where I answer your questions related to FIRE (Financial Independence, Early Retirement)! I am not a licensed financial adviser; I provide education. The information here is based on my opinions, my personal experience and the work I have done successfully with clients. In these columns, I’ll give you practical steps to tackle your biggest money challenges, as well as insight into how real people achieve financial independence in a variety of circumstances.

This week’s question is from someone who wants to protect her financial independence, even if it means having a difficult conversation with a loved one…in this case, someone she hasn’t met yet.

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I’m not dating anyone right now, but I’m already worried about a prenup!

I’ve never had to deal with combining finances with a partner. Everyone I dated, we knew what kind of job each other had, but we never talked about income/salaries. We never lived together, so the topic of paying the bills didn’t come to separate them.

So my biggest concern is how do I talk about it and make those decisions when the time comes when I’m married and living with my partner. My assets include stocks and property. What does combining finances or separating them look like in marriage as well as prenuptial agreements?

I’ve only seen them in the movies and he’s usually a man with assets that doesn’t seem to want to financially support his post-divorce partner who I don’t want to be in this situation if I haven’t acquired enough means to become independent again. So I wouldn’t know what to say if I was asked to sign one.

By the way, I’m single right now. I plan to get married in a few years.

– Signed, single and one day ready to (Co)Mingle

Wow. My first reaction when I received this question was: hold your horses. I actually sat on this question a bit because I was surprised that someone who is currently single is already asking about prenups.

And this is where I had to check my own biases. I consider myself a modern, independent woman, but apparently I still carry my own biases about prenups due to my upbringing. Personally, I didn’t have a prenup because I was told early on that a prenup meant you expected your marriage to fail. But if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I would totally have signed a prenup!

So I commend you for asking the question early. Asking the question now means you are someone who is planning to be financially independent, married or not! You’ll be so much better prepared for when the time comes, just as I encourage many of my clients to get an estate plan, no matter how young and healthy they are.

I want to refer you to another great article here on NextAdvisor where three of my favorite personal finance voices talk about Why do you need a marriage contract.

I also want to share with you three tips on how to approach the first conversations about money with a future partner, based on my own marriage and the experience of accompanying many women through divorce and wedding.

1. Make sure your future partner is comfortable talking about money from the start.

It is my very strong opinion that if someone is not willing to share their money story with you (including the bad sides), they are not for you. Now, that’s not to say that most people don’t feel shame or guilt around money. I don’t expect the person you’re marrying to shout their salary to strangers on the street. The most important thing to know is that they are ready to be vulnerable with YOU.

You don’t have to go into great detail on the first date, but when it gets serious enough, here are some questions you can ask to open up the conversation.

  • Sometimes I worry about the money. Do you ever worry about money?
  • What’s your favorite thing to spend money on? What don’t you like to spend money on?
  • What was money like growing up in your household?
  • Are you investing? What do you like to invest in?
  • What do you think of the debt?
  • Are you saving for something special?

Note that the questions are not as direct as asking “What is your salary?” Why aren’t you repaying your student loans? You can learn a lot about how you both react to each other’s responses. Asking more general questions starts to build trust so you can both feel comfortable sharing what you’re willing to share.

2. Practice budgeting together, even if you don’t share expenses yet.

Five years ago, I would have been squarely on the side that married people should combine their finances, period. But since I’ve come to work with more diverse couples over the years, this might not make sense for legitimate reasons, including past traumas, major asset differences, or learning to rebuild trust.

But I advise all of my couples clients to practice budgeting together, even if they don’t share expenses. My husband and I have been budgeting together on the first Sunday of every month for the past six years, and my only regret is that we haven’t started budgeting since the beginning 11 years ago.

Budgeting together, even if you’re doing two separate budgets, provides transparency into not just one person’s income and expenses. It is also an opportunity to have an open dialogue on priorities and constraints. This is an opportunity to find places where you can be more effective together.

One of the best things about budgeting together every month is that you won’t have to talk about money so much the rest of the month. You have already said it.

I coached a couple who have been together for nearly 20 years, and because the woman grew up with a single mom, she always learned to keep her finances to herself. Instead of forcing this couple to combine each bank account, we focused on areas of their separate budgets where they could share responsibility or make decisions together, such as vacations or gifts for the family. This couple has since paid off all of their credit card debt, a car, and nearly $20,000 in student loans by learning to budget together, even with separate budgets.

3. Know your own net worth and financial independence goals, and share them with confidence.

One of the most common challenges I work on with my clients is developing the confidence to know and calculate their net worth and to share their financial independence goals with family and friends. They’re afraid it looks like bragging.

According to harvard business review“In the United States, women who work year-round earn about 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, but they own only about 32 cents for every dollar of wealth held by their male counterparts. These two gaps are much more acute for black and Latina women.

So I loved that you mentioned assets like stocks and property. That means they’re worth enough for you to want to protect them, and make them grow! Your response when asked to sign a prenup can be as simple as this: “I know what I’m worth and I want to make sure that our BOTH best interests are protected.” A strong partner will be impressed rather than intimidated by a woman who knows his numbers and his worth.

So consider the fact that you might be the one asking about a prenup, instead of waiting to be asked. Thank you for having the courage to ask this question! I’ll be waiting for my wedding invitation, just kidding, sort of.