I’m Single and Already Stressed About a Prenup. What Should I Do?

Money expert Bernadette Joy Money expert Bernadette Joy
Money expert Bernadette Joy answers your burning questions about budgeting, investing, and getting out of debt.
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Hello! This is Burning Questions, an advice column where I answer your questions related to FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early)! I am not a licensed financial advisor; I provide education. The information here is based on my opinions, my personal experience, and the work I’ve successfully done with clients. In these columns, I’ll give you practical steps to conquer your top challenges in money, plus insight on how real people are achieving financial independence from a variety of circumstances.

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

Pro Tip

 Got a burning question for Bernadette? DM her on Instagram @bernadebtjoy or email us at contact@nextadvisor.com.

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

I have never had to deal with combining finances with a partner. Anyone I have dated, we knew what type of job each other had but never talked about incomes / salaries . We never lived together so the topic of paying bills didn’t come up as far as splitting them.  

So, my biggest concern is how to talk about it and make those decisions when the time comes that I am married and living with my partner. My assets include some stocks and property. What does combining finances or keeping them separate look like in marriage as well as prenuptial agreements? 

I have only seen them in movies and it’s usually a man with assets seeming to not want to financially support his partner after the divorce which I do not want to be in that situation if I have not acquired enough means to be independent again. So, I would not know how to respond if I were asked to sign one. 

By the way, I am single at this time. I plan to get married in a couple years. 

– Signed, Single and One Day Ready to (Co)Mingle

Wow. My initial reaction when I got this question was: hold your horses. I actually sat on this question a little bit because I was taken aback that someone who is currently single is already asking about prenups.

And that’s when I had to check my own biases. I consider myself to be a modern, independent woman, but apparently I’m still carrying my own biases about prenups based on my upbringing. I personally did not have a prenup because I was told early on that a prenup meant that you were expecting your marriage to fail. But if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I totally would have signed a prenup! 

So I applaud you for asking the question early. Asking the question now means you are someone who plans on being financially independent, married or not!  You will be so much more prepared for when the time comes, much like how I encourage many of my clients to get an estate plan no matter if they’re young and healthy. 

I want to refer you to another great article right here on NextAdvisor where three of my favorite personal finance voices talk about Why You Need A Prenup.

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

1. Check that your future partner is comfortable talking about money from the start.

I am of the very strong opinion that if someone is not willing to share their money story with you (including the bad parts), they’re not for you. Now, that’s not to say that most people don’t carry shame or guilt around money. I don’t expect that the person you marry should be shouting out their salary to strangers on the street. The more important thing to find out is are they willing to be vulnerable with YOU. 

You don’t have to get into nitty gritty details on the first date, but when it gets serious enough here are some questions you can ask that can open the conversation.

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

Notice that the questions aren’t as direct as asking, “What’s your salary? Why aren’t you paying your student loans?” You can glean a lot from just how you both react to one another’s responses. Asking more general questions starts to build trust so that you both can feel comfortable sharing what you’re ready to share. 

2. Practice budgeting together, even if you’re not sharing expenses yet.

Five years ago, I would have been squarely in the camp that married people should combine finances, period. But as I’ve come to work with more diverse couples over the years, that might not make sense for legitimate reasons including past trauma, major differences in assets, or learning to rebuild trust.

But I do advise all my couple clients to practice budgeting together, even if they’re not sharing expenses. My husband and I have budgeted together the first Sunday of every month for the last six years, and my only regret is that we didn’t start budgeting from the beginning 11 years ago.

Budgeting together, even if you are doing two separate budgets, provides transparency not just on how much someone makes and how much they spend. It also provides an opportunity to have open dialogue about priorities and stresses. It provides an opportunity to find places where you can be more efficient together.

One of the best perks of doing a budget together every month is that then you don’t have to talk about money as much the rest of the month. You already hashed it out.

I coached a couple who have been together for almost 20 years, and because the wife grew up with a single mom, she always learned to keep her finances for herself. Instead of forcing this couple to combine every single bank account, we focused on areas of their separate budgets where they could share responsibility or make decisions together, like vacations or gifts for family. That couple has since paid off all their credit card debt, a car, and almost $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 female clients is to build the confidence to know and calculate their net worth and to share their financial independence goals with their families and friends. They’re afraid it will sound like bragging.

According to the Harvard Business Review: “In the United States, women who work year-round earn somewhere near 82 cents for every dollar earned by men — but they only own about 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by their male counterparts. Both of these gaps are far 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 to grow them! Your response to being asked to sign a prenup can be as simple as this: “I know what I’m worth and I want to make sure BOTH of our best interests are protected.” A strong partner will be impressed rather than intimidated by a woman who knows her numbers and her worth. 

So consider the fact that you might be the one asking about a prenup, instead of waiting to be asked. Thank you for being brave in asking this question! I’ll be waiting for my wedding invitation, Kidding, sort of.