PreMarital Financial Counseling

As part of our wedding planning, we have been meeting with a minister for premartial counseling. While some folks probably cringe at this -- I have found it very useful and I think both of us have gotten a lot out of it.

A recent session focused on finances. It was very involved -- we had spent the previous several nights going through a Financial Workbook the minister gave to us to take the next couple steps in merging our finances. It was nothing fancy -- but it took us through lists of questions we needed to answer. Here are the discussion points from the 1st page:

  • Banking– Do you both have accounts? Do you want to combine checking and/or savings
    accounts? Do you use a checkbook and register, or ATM cards?
  • Childbearing– How man children do you want to have? How soon? Who will take care of the children? How will you pay for additional expenses?
  • Employment– How do you feel about dual-career arrangements? Are you satisfied with your careers? Are you earning enough money? Are you willing to move for your spouse’s advancement?
  • Clothing– How important is clothing to you? Are you satisfied with the amount, quality, and prestige value of clothing that you have?
  • Food– Is the food you are eating at home the quality you really want? Who should do the cooking and shopping for food? Do you want to eat out more often? Where?
  • Debt– How comfortable are you using credit to buy now, thereby committing future earnings? How much debt have you acquired presently and how do you intend to pay for it? How do you feel about borrowing money or taking out loans?
  • Housing– How much do you want to spend on home furnishings? Do you really want to buy a home, or is renting acceptable? Where would you like to live? Do you have good enough credit to be accepted for a home loan?
  • Contracts– Do you want a prenuptial agreement? Should you establish a will?
  • Transportation– Could you cope by using mass transportation and by having just one
    automobile? Could one car be an inexpensive vehicle that gets higher mileage? If so, who
    would drive it? Do you associate status with the car you drive?
  • Recreation– Would you be satisfied spending less (or more) money on recreational activities?
  • Vacations– What do you really want to do on vacations? Should you consider separate vacations? Do you prefer one long vacation each year or more frequent long-weekend breaks?
  • Future Security– How important are savings? Will your retirement plan actually provide you with a decent (or high) level of living? What would happen financially if you became disabled or died? Do you need life insurance to support your family if you die?

Despite being so basic, this exercise really helped us start the discussion on co-mingling funds, etc. It was just what we needed. We had some heated discussions -- I got hung up on the fact that my fiancee is not willing to buy "used" furniture (even if its really nice) and she got hung up on the issue of her needing to go back to work after she stays home to raise kids.

After the whole exercise I think we were both more comfortable with the idea of combining everything. We still have alot more to work through, but I think we can now both see how it can exist at least initially and be worked on by both of us over time.

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Comments (13)

I'm very impressed with the questions. They may be obvious, but they are direct and cover the biggest financial gotchas. It almost reads like you wrote them yourself. It's great that you both are discussing these issues now before getting married to make sure you are compatible. Too many young couples live for the moment and have trouble staying together when the going gets tough.

Wow! That seems really thorough. I wonder if all couples have to do that....

Wow, that is an interesting wording "she got hung up on the issue of her needing to go back to worth after she stays home to raise kids". "Going back to worth," i would get slapped for that one. Good article, -dan

My girlfriend and I have been together for about a year, and we are headed in this direction (alhough I haven't proposed ...yet). I'm 33 and she's 32. My one concern is whether or not to get a pre-nup. I can't help but feel like this is a pre-cursor to divorce. Both of our parents recently celebrated their 35th anniversaries, so it goes against my values to ask for one. But I think it could protect her as well as me if the worst were ever to happen.

I've managed to accumulate significant assets ($500k+) for my age, while my girlfriend is currently in a debt-consolidation program (-$50k). She is not careless with money, but she's trying to become established in her industry as a freelance photographer. Aside from the external display's of my "wealth", I haven't really disclosed my personal balance sheets to her. I'm not exactly sure how to approach this. I'm afraid how she is going to react to it if I even attempt to boach the subject.

Dan, Wow -- that was a slip! Its fixed.

Reading your posts leading up to your union, I don't get a good feeling. You seem far too analytic, while your fiancé seems too inexperienced in many areas, finance included. She seems to want to spend on worldly goods to improve her impression of her status. This does not bode well for a long-term union. I do hope you wind up proving me wrong.

Here's some interesting reading on divorce:

That's great that you're getting a start on it now. I'm a strong believer in marriage, but how it will work is by doing the things you are doing - talking things out, having heated arguments, but eventually coming to a consensus (sometimes consensus means she wins, sometimes you win, sometimes in the middle.)

Keep talking about the hard things. I'm glad you're in pre-marital counseling. I know that it helped for my wife and I to make sure to talk about some of the things we were reluctant to bring up because we knew they were sore issues. But the more often you talk about them and experience how the other person views them, the easier it gets.

A web site for divorce statistics? That is harsh! 2million, love reading your blog as we are in similiar situations. I got married 4 years ago and it is working out great. The opposites can work together to get balance....
Good luck in these exciting changes.

Interesting, I am impressed with the questions also. I would like to answer them with my future wife. I can only imagine the differences in our views on the questions.

I have to agree with Jojo. 2M - Call off the wedding! From reading your blog these past six months it has become more and more obvious that your fiance does not share your goals.

My husband and I did a similar exercise of answering questions, etc, but it was very detailed, covered finances, household issues and extended family issues. It was a great way to broach subjects you really should talk about before getting married, but that you wouldn't even think of bringing up (who's going to manage car maintenace? food prep? dinner clean-up? saving for vacations? planning for vacations? who's house do you go to for Christmas? etc. etc.

The book was called SAVING YOUR MARRIAGE BEFORE IT STARTS and there's a workbook for each. I highly recommend it.

Wow, that's one smart minister. I never heard of including financial issues in a premarital session but it is really smart. what's the name of the workbook? Is it explicitly Christian, or secular?
BTW, I don't have an opinion on whether you should get married, like some of the other commenters!

What about contingencies? Life is not so neat. Do you like/love her?

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A personal finance weblog of my journey to reach my goal of $2 million + the value of my primary residence.
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