These are actual questions from a very good marriage preparation course my daughter is taking (offered by the United Church of Canada). There is a section on Finances, which I applaud, since that subject can cause more relationships to fail than many other topics.
My daughter sent me the topics, and I have taken the liberty of commenting on the topics in this section of the course. Overall I think there are some good questions, however, there needs to be more frankness between the couple about money.
Here are some of the questions and topics discussed in the money section of the marriage prep course.
How was money managed in your family? How was it discussed, or was it?
I like that question, since most folks learn about money management from what they saw their parents do. If neither partner has any understanding of what their parents did with money, this is an incredible disadvantage. Learning about money on the fly is a scary way to learn about finances.
What is the biggest surprise you’ve learned about each other when it comes to spending and saving?
A really good one. This means you have actually talked about this, you’d be amazed how many married couples didn’t discuss this one before the ceremony.
You cannot enter into this kind of commitment if you know nothing about your partners financial situation.
Think of a picture or symbol that helps you say something about what you value in your marriage.
If the symbol is a big house, that is important. How will this house come about? With no plan going into the marriage, how will this symbol come into being?
Will you have one joint account to cover all expenses, with both spouses putting all their earnings into it or will you have three accounts (one each, with a common one for household expenses). List some reasons for choosing one model over another.
I think either model can work, and I have seen successes doing it either way. The best thing to do is decide this important financial strategy before the rings go on the fingers.
When you are married, you assume each other’s assets as well as debts. Do you know how much your partner owes?
Bingo! This is a must! Are you marrying someone with massive debts?
A healthy marriage is sustained by generosity toward others. How much will you give to charities, the community or other organizations. You may not have much money to begin with, but setting aside an amount for this purpose enriches you both.
Finding out your partner’s ideas on charity and giving is important. If they have a huge family and they like buying presents for everyone, that can really add up. If they like buying dinner for friends, is the other partner OK with that (and can you afford to do that in the first place)?
I have heard more than one young couple complain they are going in debt having to attend friends weddings, does that make sense? Best talk about that one quickly.
How indebted are you as a couple? If you find, after doing your budget, that your level of indebtedness worries you, many provinces and states have governmental organizations that can help protect you from creditors through a financial proposal process that allows you to repay your debts in an orderly fashion. Do an internet search to find these numbers.
WOW! This is very good. This is what this section is all about. If you do not have the number that is how much you owe (after the wedding and associated expenses are paid), or are above water, you are ensuring future failure.
Should you get divorced and you are indebted as a couple, the debt is split between the two of you. This includes debts that either partner brought into the marriage (unless excluded by a legal statement of some sort).
Name a financial milestone that you have reached together. How did you celebrate?
Did you blow a big wad of money to celebrate? Do you celebrate these types of things, or simply smile and move onto the next challenge?
Other Financial Marriage Preparation Topics
I think this section of the course was good, however it is missing important details. I would love to see some kind of discussion on the following financial topics.
- Where are you going to live? Rent? Live with parents? Buy a house? All are all huge financial topics. A course on how to buy a house, how to pay for a house and how to pay for the upkeep on a house would be really important for new couples.
- Investing and how this might work. If the couple is lucky enough to have money to invest, teaching them about how to invest is very important. Simply calling your bank and talking to them, will simply lock them into high MER, badly paying Mutual Funds. Maybe their family has a “person”, but is that the right person for them?
- Spending habits, do you know how your partner spends money? Are they savers, or do they like to spoil themselves? Does one of you like eating out a lot, and wants to have the latest in stylish clothing? Will you want to have two cars, or only one? Can you afford the planned lifestyle? Lifestyle creep is a dangerous part of a relationship.
- Are you going to have one partner stay home if there are children and how will that work? Are you planning on having kids? Not only a financial question, but a big financial decision.
- Will one of the partners be in charge of the money? Will this be a shared burden between the two? This had better be decided before you move in together, or this will be a source of many arguments.
- How are the finances and investments going to be tracked? Are you going to use Quicken, Mint, Excel, or Pen and Paper? All are quite good, but you need to track it somehow, so that both partners can know where things stand.
- How will financial arguments be resolved? I realize this is a hard one, but discuss this beforehand. I doubt you will find a resolution.
- Are either of you planning on going back to school ? Taking a sabbatical from work? These large life changes must be discussed early on in a relationship.
- Have you gone grocery shopping together? That is a surprising “adulting” exercise to go through together. Is one of you a list person and the other an impulse buyer? This will teach you both a lot.
- Do either of you (or both) have pensions? How is that going to work in terms of your retirement planning? Yes, retirement planning better be an early discussion for a couple, or it will be a big sore point later on.
- Emergencies, yes they will happen. Once you have your financial plan, will it work with only 1 of your incomes? What happens if that disappears? Kind of important things to talk about, because if you haven’t and something goes wrong, you don’t want to start a plan at that moment.
- A mention of the available resources to learn about your finances would be good too, like: Financial Basics with Ellen Roseman (very good)..
Any other topics I have missed that folks think should be included in terms of Finances for a Marriage Preparation course? The important part is being honest with the questions. If you are dishonest, these will be big problems throughout your marriage.
The best gift you can give to a newly engaged couple-send them to marriage counselling. Some Churches make this mandatory. All of the above mentioned can help to learn what your partner is expecting, your expectations, how to handle important issues, if you are compatible or if the marriage is not ideal.
When my husband and I had pre-marriage counselling with several other couples, we also had a big finance section that included all the questions that you’ve had. Luckily, we had already discussed it all by that point so it was easy to confirm our stance. But, looking around us, there were some heated discussions from all couples which the leaders then pointed out that they needed to take some time at home to go through it. The purpose of this was to start the discussion and bring up things that was automatically assumed only because of how they were raised.
I applauded the leaders for ensuring this was brought up and did tell the other couples that it did take us a while until we were on the same page. Just make sure you discuss it regularly and it will help. They were grateful for the insight and apparently, all of them made it through okay at home!
We had a small section in our course, and to be fair it is trying to cover a broad spectrum about relationships. I have passed on my suggestions to the course owners, and have offered to help if they wish. We shall see how it all goes.