Marriage Preparation

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 can be an entire day of discussions, and so much needs to be brought forward by both members of the couple.

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! I read this and was very pleased to see it. 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.

Not to cast a shadow on things, but remember also, that 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. How will financial disagreements be resolved? I realize this is a hard one, but discuss this beforehand.
  8. Are either of you planning on going back to school ? Taking a sabbatical from work? These kind of large life changes maybe should be discussed early on in a relationship.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Emergencies, yes they will happen. Once you have your financial plan, will it work with only 1 of your incomes? What if there is a single income planned, 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.
  12. 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?

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Financial Skeletons in the Closet?

A valid theme for a Halloween, are there financial skeletons in your closet?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, honesty with money is the cornerstone of any relationship. If you go into any relationship with secrets that you can’t, or won’t tell your partner, will the relationship last? I have no bloody idea, in general, I am the last person anyone should talk to about relationships (I am lucky I found Mrs. C8j, and am astounded most days that she remains with me), however with money I feel more confident in my advice.

Dishonesty about money with your spouse or partner about money always ends badly. Hiding details about your financial world is much like the following example:

Take a 4 foot long and 8 inch wide tray that is about 4 inches deep, fill it with water, and pick it up. Now attempt to walk 100 yards without spilling any water, you will fail. 

The example is actually taken from a real world example from my Father, when he worked in the BBC Canteen in London, and he had to do that exact thing, and yes, as soon as you are out of balance it all goes to heck in a hand basket.

T-Rex
Now this is one heck of a skeleton to have in your closet

What kind of skeletons?

  • A massive credit card debt that you are bringing into your relationship, that you are sure you can pay off soon.
  • Impulse issues with buying things, or spending money (I believe you should watch the TV series Hoarders on how that can end up).
  • You claim that you are a highly paid civil servant, when in fact you are poorly paid civil servant

The list can be much longer.

Are there skeletons out there that you have heard of, or worse, you have in your financial closet?

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Celebrate the Slow Thinkers

Many of my friends think of me as a fast thinker, in that many times I have very snappy answers to their quips or stories, but it took me a while to figure out that while I do have a quick mind, my initial ideas and response to most problems that I am confronted with is wrong!

That is correct I am a quick wrong thinker, but I am a much better slower thinker, if you give me enough time, I will eventually figure out the correct answer to a problem.

I used to think not getting the correct response right away was a sign of a weaker mind, but now I realize that some problems need time to view all the possible different angles, before they are acted upon. There are a few remarkably quick and smart minds out there, but there aren’t that many out there (trust me, I have met many folks who think they are quick thinkers, but they are usually as wrong as I am).

Countless times I have made “snap” decisions which at the time seemed great ideas, but in the end they were wrong (or effectively wrong) when I look back on them. There is no shame to ask for time to think about things, and if someone pressures you to make a snap decision follow the advice of a noted child psychologist, who says that when  your child confronts you with a snap decision simply answer:

If you need an  answer now, the answer is NO, if you want to wait a while, we’ll see what I decide.

This is the mature way to deal with any decision (now I am not saying get into over-think gridlock, however, under thinking a problem is just as bad).

The next time you think that someone is somehow inferior because they take longer to make decisions, ask yourself if they end up making good decisions or not, that is really the real barometer. As my wife points out to me many times, if, instead of listening or looking at a problem, you are attempting to formulate a quick “solution” you are in danger of choosing the wrong “solution” or worse the right “solution” for the wrong PROBLEM.

The Great Wall of China Did not Get Built Overnight, it took a while, just like a good decision!

This is a great picture my brother took when he visited China. Sometimes good things just take a while, so be patient, and don’t rush things too much, you might not like how the rushed version turns out.

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Adventures in Car Buying (or Now that is Chutzpah!)

For a while, Mrs. C8j and I have been hunting for a new family vehicle. We have had many arguments discussions about what type of vehicle we wished to purchase. I think we will not need a van for much longer and she sort of agrees but thinks we still need one for the short-term so we should get one, and after a great deal of consternation consultation I we agreed that a van would be the best way to go. I must admit that we did try a few SUKs SUVs and while they felt OK, they did feel a bit “truck-ish” for my liking.

We have been dealing with a smaller dealership who had in stock the van we were hoping to get (used) a Sienna from Toyota (please don’t treat this as me endorsing this model, or that I have received any compensation for this story). The salesman at the dealership seemed a nice personable chap, although maybe a bit slick for my liking, but we thought that might be where we wanted to make our deal.

We had decided before we got too far into this process, that we would purchase a used vehicle this time (we purchased new last time, but I decided a used vehicle was the way to go). We borrowed from the Ottawa Library the Lemon-Aid books and saw that in fact the Sienna from ’07 on seemed to be a good choice. If we were going to buy a used car, I was going to have my mechanic who I trust in these situations, to have a look at whatever we might choose to buy (I simply do not trust dealerships that much).

I mentioned to the salesperson we were dealing with that we wanted to take whatever vehicle we were thinking of buying to my mechanic to have a look at it, and the sales guy kind of got twitchy (i.e. tried to dissuade us), but eventually relented, figuring that he might lose a sale if he didn’t agree (smart guy).

I then called my mechanic and said I would like him to have a look at a vehicle and he said he would, and he asked who I was thinking of buying from, and when I mentioned the name of the dealership my mechanic hesitated. After a short pause he said he had had some dealings with the dealership and gave me some advice about possible issues getting the van off the lot and to his garage. When my mechanic makes that kind of statement the hair on the back of my neck starts to raise up. I thanked my mechanic and said I’d call back when I had decided on a specific van.

Time passed and eventually we decided (after consulting CarFax on line) on a specific Sienna that our original salesman had on his lot. My wife called up to talk to our salesman, but he wasn’t around, so she spoke to the “Owner” of the dealership.

Now this is Chutzpah

My wife asked the question, “What do we need to do to take a van to our mechanic to have him inspect it before we buy the van?”.

After a short pause the Owner’s answer was classic chutzpah, “First you buy the van, and then take it to your mechanic and whatever he may find that needs fixing, we’ll fix.”. This is most definitely not what had been discussed previously (we had been told no worries, it should be fine, you can have the car inspected BEFORE you buy it).

Let’s analyze this amazing piece of chutzpah, you want me to give you a large amount of money, have the car licensed into my name, and then once I am owner of the vehicle and my mechanic finds something, I should trust you that you will fix these problems? I do realize that in Ontario a bunch of new rules are in place dealing with used vehicles, but I am also not naive enough to believe that they will somehow protect me in this situation.

I guess it all comes down to who(m) do I trust, a car dealership that I have never dealt with (that I have heard some odd stories about), or do I trust my mechanic, who has fixed my cars for 20 years? As you can guess, we did not call back this dealership.

We have since found a similar vehicle with a larger dealership, which may cost a bit more, but they are fine with us taking the van to my mechanic (if I leave a deposit, and my current vehicle) and will abide by whatever my mechanic says (and will find another van if my mechanic finds an issue with the van). The CarFax report on the van suggests there should not be a problem.

Financial Moral of the Story?

None really, just that I am a very untrusting person and that if you try to sell me things, it doesn’t take much to get me to go elsewhere, or completely walk away from the purchase.

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TV Trends: You are wrong!

From my viewpoint most of the “self help” shows on TV these days consist of an expert telling a dupe (or dupe couple) that they are wrong,

The array of shows seem to follow the following formulas:

You Aren’t Wearing That!!!

Two people treat you like the “cool” kids did in High School (i.e. they berate you for your taste in clothing and ridicule you until you agree with them). While this is entertaining, I suspect I could well be one of their victims, as I am not a “victim of fashion” (to quote Rough Trade) I wear what is comfortable to me mostly (I have suits that I wear when I need to show I can dress like an adult).

You are FAT!

There are a bunch of these shows that either take morbidly obese folks and attempt to get them to lose weight by making them exercise a lot and change their lifestyles or something similar to this. These shows typically are like the jocks in high school making fun of the “geeks and fatties”, except the hosts then attempt to help them lose the weight. I applaud the attempts, but they all seem superficial and I would be very interested to see follow up shows 1, 2 and 5 years after to see if folks keep off the weight.

I’d fit into one of the “hey you need to lose those last 30 lbs” shows right now (under full disclosure).

You can’t Drive or Fix Your House!

There aren’t that many shows about this, but they are quite funny to watch, but in a very  mean way. You watch folks who just don’t understand how to drive or how to do any kind of “home fixit” things and you watch the hosts laugh at them about it, and attempt to fix this issue.  I must admit I do watch these shows and laugh, but I also feel guilty for doing it. I am also not a “fix it” kind of guy unless it is a computer, then I am ok with that.

You Spend How Much Money?!?

This last type of show is more in my neck of the woods, but again it is painful to watch them. The hosts usually try hard to show the couple or person the folly of their way (I like Gail Vaz Oxlade’s show, but can’t watch it because the stories of how the people got into debt drive me insane).  It is important to help these people, but it is important that these people realize that all of this is a lifestyle change, not just a quick fix. Again, follow up with these folks after a while might be very interesting.

I am astounded at some of the folks who go on this show and let their financial misfortunes be put on TV for all their friends and family to see. I think I would sooner see naked pictures of me on the net, than publish all of my financial failings (fear not, I suspect there are no naked pictures of me out there, and if there are, nobody really cares).

Congrats Preet!

Why am I writing about this? Preet over at WhereDoesAllMyMoneyGo won the W Network Expert challenge so he will be doing his own personal finance show pilot and we wish him the best of luck on that.

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