It’s a big decision to kiss single life goodbye and commit to your loved one. Most of us go into marriage assuming there will be good times ahead – otherwise why would we do it? We don’t give much thought to the bad times, and all the other times in between – we’re focused on the “happily ever after”. But there is one thing that can put strain on any marriage – no matter how happy – and that’s your in-laws.

Around 10% of the people that I help deal with debt list the financial demands of their in-laws as the source of their money troubles. In-laws who fleece money off you can put a real damper on a happy marriage and can lead to endless financial worries as well.

It’s not in our culture to be greedy

I know that as Africans, family remains a key factor in our finances. We manage more financial demands than other cultural groups, and we mostly do it with lower incomes. Our priorities centre around providing insurance, protection for our loved ones, education or parental support. But where it becomes huge challenge for those wishing to get married is when these priorities are now focused mainly on maintaining or improving the lifestyles of the in-laws.

Trust me – I have seen so many selfish parents who just don’t care how the newlyweds will live after the big wedding bash, as long as they can still get what they want. They will go as far as to make life a living hell for their new son- or daughter-in-law, to maintain their status quo. If you allow this to happen, it can break your marriage.

Have the money conversation BEFORE you get married

Now, I understand that they raised you or your partner, and perhaps you feel that you owe it to them to look after them. But when you get married, it’s important that you prioritise your marriage as well. You can make it hell or heaven – and if you want it to be heaven on earth, you need to start talking to your partner about money. Be aware of their financial attitudes and habits. This will help you to determine what kind of a life you are going to have together.

Your mutual goals will shape your future. Your first debate will be whether you should go for a massive wedding bash or rather save the money for the house deposit. Right away, this will give you some insight into what your partner wants and whether your in-laws care about your future or their own comfort and status. Remember that the rest of your life happens when the party is over – and you, your husband or wife and your families should all be committed to your financial security.

If they really need your help…

If the financial reality of your marriage is that you need to help your parents or your in-laws to survive, then go into the arrangement with open eyes and a willingness to make and demand the sacrifices that will allow for all of you to have a financially secure future. For example, if you are paying a huge amount to help with the upkeep of your in-laws’ house, then consider living with them. Going into debt to buy a house of your own when you are already paying for someone else’s will mean that there’s less to go around for everyone.

Don’t be surprised by financial commitments that you never saw coming. Before you get married, make sure that everyone understands what’s expected of them, and that everyone gets on the same page about building a secure future together. Remember, looking after yourself and your partner first isn’t selfish – it’s sensible.

Even so, it’s important to bear in mind that there are still great in-laws out there. My mother-in-law was supportive, never intruded unless consulted and always gave us her ear if we needed her to listen. Just remember to be transparent and to always encourage communication between everyone who relies on you.

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