for the last few weeks i’ve been posting emails that i am sending to some young friends of mine for whom i am officiating their wedding ceremony. they are getting premarital counseling from a great guy who is geographically closer than i am but i still felt like i would be remiss if i didn’t make sure a few things were covered. i’m actually 99% sure that the counselor will cover this stuff but i would rather send a useless email than not have some things covered.

anyhow, here’s the fourth email.

hello again guys. i write this to you from a warm coffee shop with 10″ of snow outside the door. wow, life is tough! i hope things are going great for both of you and that the ceremony plans are going well but aren’t completely taking over the your holiday season. just think next year you will celebrate our SAVIOR’s birth as a new family.

anyway thus far i have emailed you concerning what i view as the purpose of marriage, relational defaults, and how to fight. now let’s talk about money.

according to many marriage counselors and studies money is reason numero uno for divorce. it’s a big deal and therefore, as a soon to be married young couple you really need to deal with it. i’m going to just hit on a couple of issues (the first being the most important) and encourage you to read some books on personal finance for more in depth advice. there are some excellent sources out there. just like my belief that the couple that works hard at their marriage will have a successful marriage, i also believe that the individual/couple who works at controlling their finances will be successful at it.

1. you should determine your lifestyle rather than your money determining it

the majority of people live the way they do because of the amount of income they have. that’s why there is not a great deal of difference between the savings rate of the highest and lowest earners in america. in my opinion it’s pretty easy to determine who your god is if your lifestyle is determined by how much much you make. i.e. you should control your money rather than it controlling you. what this means is that you should determine how much it will cost you to live (i.e. a budget – insurance, school, food, transportation, clothing, housing, entertainment, etc.) and then live off that rather than just spending based however much you have in your checking account. if you control your money you will soon find that you will have saved money that you can then use to do whatever GOD directs you to do. this is actually why i believe the tithe is so important – not because GOD needs our money, because HE doesn’t – rather it is because it helps us to always determine who we put our trust in – the amount of money we have or the LORD WHO longs for us to acknowledge HIS LORDship.

2. know how each other operates monetarily

it is exceptionally important that you both sit down and talk about each of your attitudes toward money, spending, debt, and savings. the chances that you will both naturally agree on everything is basically nil. you have both gone through families that had their own unique views and understandings of money. you are both coming into your marriage with those views (either ones that you saw in your parents and decided you liked or ones that you saw in your parents and you decided you wanted to avoid). having different views is actually a good thing because it will help to balance out your marriage rather than allowing it to swing to one side or the other (hoarding and gluttony are both things that a CHRISTian should avoid). you need to understand where each of you is coming from. the worst thing that can happen is that you don’t talk about these things and then assume that the other person agrees. one of you may have a tendency to penny and dime money away much more than the other. one of you may have an inherent fear of debt while the other has no problem with it. one of you may prefer generic items while the other has a psychological need for brands (and this could just be on certain items). know each other and then correct what you both believe needs to be corrected and understand the rest. communication is key here. talk it all out.

3. begin saving now

i’ll mention retirement in a moment. what i’m talking about right now is just developing the habit of regularly saving money. this doesn’t necessarily mean money that you never touch (consider that retirement money). rather, what i mean is consistently placing money aside for when needs arise (and they will) or opportunities arise (i believe you will be more open to seeing the needs around that GOD wants you to met when you have been consistently saying “no” to random luxuries and wastes within your own life). establish a savings account and start placing money from every check into this account. this will be your first option when an emergency arises.

4. credit is not evil – but it’s close.

credit is a very easy way to get the things that your parents spent years gathering (i.e. matching furniture, etc). it is also an easy way to get into a great deal of trouble. i’m sure as college students you have already experienced how easy it is to get credit. that’s not necessarily a bad thing. credit has it’s place, but please approach the use of it with fear and trembling. the credit card companies are not out to help you. if anything they want to reduce you to the status of indentured servants. use credit as a very last resort and use “i don’t need that” as your first resort if at all possible. don’t believe the “same as cash” and “no interest” statements because these are merely lures and we all know what happens to a fish when it bites at a passing “lure.” if you are entering your marriage with debt (on either side) bring it out into the open and establish a plan now for getting rid of that debt.

5. start retirement as early as you possibly can.

at your age compounding interest is your friend. if at all possible you both should start setting aside a little money for retirement. if you do this at your age you will be amazed at how quickly it will grow. the reason for this is compounding interest. it will make a huge difference if you start early and very little difference if you start late. so start early.

it’s homework time! since we have just spent time talking about controlling money within our lives (actually i’m the only one talking but we can pretend) i’m going to recommend brown bagging it this time. make a meal (almost always much cheaper than buying one). make it a good meal (still usually cheaper) and go some where scenic and talk about how you each approach money.

  • talk about what fears and assumptions you have concerning money and how you approach it.
  • talk about what expenses and income you will have.
  • together develop a budget. you won’t really know if you can live on this budget until you’ve tracked expenses for a couple of money but start off with it anyway. then when you’ve been married for a couple of months, and you’ve tracked your expenses, redo your budget and really look into how you are spending the income you have.

my run for the day

    distance – 3.0 miles
    time – 27:43
    pace – 9:15/mile
    weather – 18°/snow

relational defaults

last week i posted the first of the series of emails i am sending to some young friends of mine for whom i am officiating their wedding ceremony. they are getting premarital counseling from a great guy who is geographically closer than i am but i still felt like i would be remiss if i didn’t make sure a few things were covered. i’m actually 99% sure that the counselor will cover this stuff but i would rather send a useless email than not have some things covered.

anyhow, here’s the second email.

Last week I wrote you concerning what I believe to be the ultimate purpose of marriage (and life for that matter). Now I will begin to write to you concerning some of the things that I believe are important for living out your marriage. Basically I’ll just write on the subjects that I would normally cover if we were meeting together for premarital counseling. The subjects we would cover together are

• Relational defaults
• Fighting
• Money
• Sex

So let’s talk a little about “relational defaults.”

What I mean by this has a lot to do with your experience of your parents’ marriages. I know a good bit about your family life (name removed to protect the innocent) and a little about your family life (name removed because of the witness protection act & his testimony against the mob) and from what I know I would assume that you both feel as though there are parts that you would like to emulate and there are parts that you would like to completely avoid. That’s why I would like to talk about “defaults.” You will not automatically become your parents (for good or bad) but the experiences you have had in watching their marriages will help to form you for good and bad. In my opinion those experiences can form “defaults” that you naturally go towards.

What this means is that how your parents fought, treated each other, communicated, parented, etc. are all a part of who you are and you will have a natural tendency to coast toward those behaviors. If your mother had a tendency to horde money, or your father had a tendency to love his yard more than his children, or your parents had a tendency to fight with the goal of slashing each other’s throats, or one spouse had a tendency to humiliate the other spouse in public, etc. then you need to watch out for those behaviors within yourself. You are not doomed to become your parents (or for that matter blessed to naturally become your parents) but if you do not watch out for some of the behaviors that you don’t like in their relationships then you will find them slowly creeping into your lives. After all your parent’s relationship with their spouse is the closest you will ever be to studying someone else’s relationship. You have learned a great deal for good and bad from watching those relationships so carefully. If you don’t watch out for it you will probably find yourself doing the very things that you had always hated when your parents did them to each other.

I don’t mean for this to be a cut on your parents because we all have our faults and the goal is for our kids to get better at things than we are. I know that one day Adam and Noah will look over at me and think “Dad should be treating Mom this way” and hopefully their marriage will be even more successful that ours because of it. Should you have children the same will be true with them.

Overcoming our negative defaults takes work. We have to constantly be on the look out for them and also be willing to do what is necessary to overcome them. Obviously we head towards these defaults because they are easy for us. That means overcoming them will probably not be easy. I am a firm believer that successful marriages are such because of work (and I don’t merely define successful as staying together). The couple that purposely works at loving each other is usually the one that stays loving each other. Working at overcoming our relational defaults is one item that a couple needs to work on so that they will continue loving each other as well as they possibly can.

If we were meeting together I would assign you both some “homework” for us to talk about together the next week. We’re not meeting together so we can’t really talk about this together but I think I’ll still assign the homework. The first week’s normal homework would be to go out to eat somewhere and write out answers to the following questions and discuss it:

1. What is it about your parents’ relationships with their spouse that you dislike the most and wish to avoid in your marriage?
2. What is it about your in-laws’ relationships with their spouses that you most dislike and wish to avoid in your marriage?
3. How can you help each other avoid these behaviors?

I try to encourage each couple I talk with to give each other permission to lovingly (and that is most important) call each other on behavior when they begin to act out on the behaviors they have discussed. How to do that comes under “fighting fair” and typically we would talk about that the next week. In our present case I will simply email you next week.

Until next week.