Dollars and Sense: Talking Money Before Marriage

Before a woman gets that engagement ring, should she find out how he's going to pay for it? Experts say yes.


Many years ago, when I was mostly dating for looks and swagger, my grandmother tried to set me up with her friend’s son.

“He owns a house and has a good job,” she said to persuade me.

“But Gaga, I don’t like him like that,” I told her.

“Listen, he is a good man. I married your grandfather because I knew he was a good man who would be a good provider,” she responded. “That’s what you need to look for.”

My grandparents stayed together until my grandfather died at age 98. And because he was a great provider, after raising three children, traveling the world, owning a nice home and prepaying every penny of her funeral arraignments, my grandmother can afford to live very comfortably in an assisted-living community.

Since my grandparents’ time, the idea of looking to a man as “a provider” has evolved into something quite different for many women. Many of us are waiting longer to marry and, in the meantime, providing for ourselves. What a man brings to the table financially remains a factor, but how early in the dating process should it play a role?

“Very early,” says Jacquette Timmons, author of Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Successful Relationship With Your Money and Your Mate. Timmons says that all single women, even those in their 20s, need to examine a man’s financial habits from Day 1. “Money is never just about money,” she says. “It is a way of evidencing someone’s character, discipline, life philosophy and more.”

And that will matter if the relationship does go the distance. A new study reveals that “financial infidelity” — going behind your spouse’s back to hide money or credit card purchases — can hurt the relationship and lead to divorce.

“Marriage is all about negotiation, compromise, trust and not deceiving each other,” psychiatrist Gail Saltz said on the Today show. “I think when financial deception does go on, it [points to] a bigger layer of deception underneath.”