Red flags to living happily ever after

if your sweetheart has a debt, and no serious problems underlying the debt, it's wise to work together to eliminate the debt before tying the knot.
if your sweetheart has a debt, and no serious problems underlying the debt, it's wise to work together to eliminate the debt before tying the knot.

Be warned: This article might not leave you feeling warm and fuzzy about your valentine. But it might save you a broken heart and a mountain of money.

Dating couples are strongly encouraged to speak openly about their sexual history and HIV status early in a relationship. Yet, you seldom get advised to speak to your sweetheart about money - at least, not until you're really serious.

But having the money conversation when you're madly in love can be tricky, says
behavioural finance specialist Gerda van der Linde.

"Emotion overrides rational thinking. So, you may know, rationally, that your partner indulges in 'retail therapy' but if you're crazy about them, ending the relationship may be near impossible for you."

When assessing financial compatibility, there is no definitive list of questions to ask a potential spouse, but there are some helpful talking points, Van der Linde says.

• Upbringing and childhood: Ask your partner how their upbringing influenced how they relate to money. If your valentine’s parents wasted money, that person may be prone to do so, too. Or their parents’ behaviour may have made them very frugal.

"You also want to know what values, such as a good work ethic, have been instilled. No one wants a partner who thinks they are entitled to a certain standard of living, but isn't willing to work for it."

Culture is also very important, because it can determine expectations. "A former colleague grew up in Soweto, a modern city girl, and had a child with a man from Mpumalanga, well-educated but with strong traditional ties. They found that they couldn't get married because of their different views on roles and who was responsible for what when it came to money."

• Impulse control: Poor impulse control is a red flag. Impulse control is the ability to resist or delay an impulse or a drive. To keep to a well-formulated financial plan, which includes saving for retirement, children’s education and more, requires you to withstand immediate gratification for the benefit of future gratification (read reward).

People with poor impulse control may also be prone to addictions which can wreak havoc on a relationship.

• Debt: If you are dating someone with a lot of debt, think very carefully about why your partner is in debt. Debt can be indicative of a lack of self-discipline or more serious problems such as gambling or codependency, a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s irresponsible
behaviour. Van der Linde says that if your sweetheart has debt, and no serious problems underlying the debt, i t’s wise to eliminate the debt before tying the knot.

• Financial plan: “A good question to ask your sweetheart is, ‘Do you have a plan for your money?’ It’s often said that a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Meaning, without a plan, you are destined to fail.

Unless you have a plan for your money, it’s going to be like water in your hands –
impossible to hold on to. Ask questions like: ‘Do you budget? How many credit cards do you have? ’ And observe your partner’s money habits, as these may be more revealing than their words, Van der Linde says.

• Financial coaching: Van der Linde recommends you ask your partner if they would see a financial coach who can facilitate a conversation about money that may  otherwise be awkward. If your partner is resistant, that may be a sign of arrogance, mistrust or an unwillingness to be transparent about money.

Many financial planners who have the Certified Financial Planner accreditation offer coaching for a consultation fee of about R1 500 an hour. It may be a lot of money, but it may also be the greatest investment in your future. You may avert the biggest mistake of your life by marrying the wrong person.

Marital contract can be a deal breaker in a marriage

If you are setting a wedding day:

Make sure you know if your sweetheart expects lobola. If you have broken with such traditions, it’s important early if your partner is like-minded.

Entering a marriage with lobola debt can put a strain on a new marriage.

"I recently heard of a woman who had planned her wedding down to the last detail - the venue had been hired, the dress had been made and the guests invited. The last thing was a meeting with a lawyer to work out the prenuptial contract. And that was when she discovered who she was marrying. Sadly, she felt it was too late to call off the wedding," behavioural finance specialist Gerda van der Linde says.

A marital contract can be a deal breaker. Marriage is a partnership with a greater chance of success if the roles and responsibilities are clearly spelt out.

If one partner has considerably more wealth than the other, the wealthier partner may want to be married "out of community of property without accrual", meaning that each person owns what they brought into the marriage and all that they accumulate during the marriage.

On the other hand, your Valentine may want to marry "in community of property", thus all assets and liabilities are jointly owned. In other words, if the love of your life is up to his eyeballs in debt, that debt will become yours the day you say "I do".

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