Love in a recession: questions to ask before you get married

Smart couples will go through pre-marital financial counseling before saying "I do."

Couples can avoid trouble down the road by going through pre-marital financial counseling before saying "I do."

Don’t get married without Financial Premarital Counseling!

We have a friend who married a wealthy man. Only after they were married did she learn how he got so wealthy: he hoarded everything and spent nothing. He controlled all of the money, giving her a pittance for groceries and very little for anything else. It was no surprise that their marriage eventually dissolved, but she would never have married him in the first place if she had known how he handled money.

According to the National Directory of Marriage and Family Counseling, the divorce rate in America has hovered around 50% since the mid 80’s, but premarital counseling reduces that number by 30%. And since money and money fights are one of the top reasons for divorce, financial premarital counseling is crucial for a solid marriage.

Do you know ANYONE who is planning marriage? Are they getting good pre-marital counseling, which includes financial counseling? If not (or perhaps even if they are), send them to this post. This Three Step approach is meant for them.

Step One: Take This Quiz

Print out two copies of the following questions, then each of you answer them in writing. Do this in separate rooms or separate houses; just be sure to take your time and think through each answer.

  • How would you prioritize the following choices: getting out of debt, paying off house, investing for retirement, establishing an emergency fund?
  • How much money would it be OK to spend without discussing it with my spouse?
  • Do you think, upon marriage, you two should have separate checking accounts or joint accounts?
  • How would you feel about borrowing money from parents?
  • Do you currently balance your check book?
  • Upon marriage, which of you should balance your check book?
  • Do you currently live on a written budget?
  • How much debt do you currently have? What kind of debt?
  • How much debt and what kind of debt would be OK in your marriage?
  • Are you in favor of a pre-nuptial agreement? If you answered “Yes”, explain your answer.
  • What is your credit score?
  • Have you ever NOT paid your bills?
  • Have you ever co-signed a loan? Had a loan co-signed?
  • Upon marriage, what would your short term financial goals be?
  • Upon marriage, what would your long term financial goals be?
  • What is the stupidest thing you have ever done with money?
  • What financial secrets does your fiancé not know about?
  • Which of these three best describes you: tightwad, average or spendthrift?
  • Which of these three best describes your fiancé: tightwad, average, or spendthrift?

Step Two: Communicate

You knew when you were taking the quiz that you would be discussing your answers with your fiancé. Right? So now set aside time (at least two hours) to discuss these answers together. Each of you need a pad and paper so you can make notes on areas that will need further discussion. Now is the time to be very upfront with your thoughts and expectations. For example, if your future spouse thinks it is OK to spend $1,000 without checking first, and if you don’t agree, say so. What surprises did you discover? In what ways are you compatible? Make sure you talk in depth about your short term and long term marital goals.

Step Three: Take Action

While you should not combine your finances before marriage, there are some things you could be doing. Consider the following your premarital homework:

Clarify your short term and long term goals.

Put them in writing. These goals will be your financial compass once you get married.

Start working on those goals.

If one marital goal is to get out of debt, then each of you should start a plan to get rid of your personal debt. If one of you has debt and the other doesn’t, DO NOT pay off your future spouse’s debt at this time. However, the one with no debt should start building up a savings account that will go toward that debt AFTER the two of you are married.

Create budgets.

At this point, because your finances are separate, you each need your own budget. Creating those budgets and living on them is a great preparation for the time when both of you will be living on the same budget.

Track your budgets.

You will both learn much as you see which of you does a better job of actually living on the budget you created.

Create a joint budget.

When you are close to the big day, go ahead and work up a hypothetical joint budget. Ask yourselves how soon you can meet your short term goals by using this budget. Talk about sacrifices you can make to reach those goals sooner. You want to be ready to hit the ground running, so having a plan now will be huge.

Plan and agree to have a debt free wedding and honeymoon.

This is your chance to work together with a common goal. You don’t want your first financial decision to put you in a hole, so work together now to start finding ways to save money on your wedding.

I wish you a long, happy and debt free marriage.

Did you have premarital counseling? Did the counseling include financial counseling? If yes, how did it help? If not, how would it have helped?

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