Financial Rules of Engagement

Dear Blissfully Betrothed,

Congratulations on your engagement!!! Now is your chance to ensure you lay a solid foundation for a lifetime of wedded bliss. Soon, you two love birds will become one- spiritually, physically, and yes- financially. Since I’m a wealth manager I have a special little gift for you: I’m going to invest some time outlining how to successfully marry your finances. It’s an area often over-looked when it comes to marriage preparation. But with more than 50% of marriages ending in divorce (sorry- I don’t mean to be grim), and financial incompatibility being one of the primary culprits for marriage dissolution, we can’t ignore the potential threats. I’m here to tell you, if you can become one financially, you can conquer anything together. You can establish the right foundation for your marriage if you adhere to these financial rules of engagement:

1. Invest in pre-marital counseling. This is the biggest investment you can make for your marriage. Retain the services of a professional, objective, disinterested, third-party- someone experienced and competent in the area of pre-marital counseling whom you both trust and respect. They’ll help facilitate a healthy dialogue between you and your intended spouse regarding various aspects of marriage. Of specific concern are your financial deal-breakers (gambling, financial affairs, and overspending, to name a few). Some insurance policies may cover a limited number of sessions (and some churches also provide counseling sessions at little to no cost to their members). Just don’t skimp on the sessions- better to spend the time and money investing in your marriage for a few months (yes, MONTHS- not just a few sessions!) than spending your time, money, and energy filing for separation/divorce later. Just sayin’ 🙂

2. To tithe or not to tithe? Just because you and your intended spouse are both Christians doesn’t mean you both agree on the concept of tithing. Now is the time to start talking about your beliefs. Do you tithe off of your gross or net income? Is tithing a priority or do you put it on the back burner? Have a heart-to-heart talk about your views on tithing and what you will do if you disagree. The tithe represents just 10% of your gross income, but it can become the root of countless arguments if the two of you aren’t on the same page.

3. Should you get a pre-nup? This is an awfully touchy issue. Merriam-Webster defines a prenuptial agreement as “an agreement made by a couple before they marry concerning the ownership of their respective assets should the marriage fail.”  While I’d like to think that no one goes into a marriage expecting it to fail, I know that some folks want to protect themselves just in case. I’m not going to tell you what to do in this instance. All I’ll say is that if you’re concerned about being taken for “half” if your marriage doesn’t last, you need to address your concern with your fiancée/fiance. And definitely bring that up in counseling!

4. Save more for your marriage than for your wedding. Ladies, I know some of you have been planning your dream wedding since your were like 4 years old, but let’s be realistic about it. Your wedding day will only last a few hours. Your marriage is supposed to last a lifetime. Spending your entire savings for a few hours of fantasy- well, that’s just foolish (and you’re too fabulous to be foolish!).

5. Discuss your credit scores and credit history. Obtain your credit report and score from all three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (you should do this at least once per year anyway). Now, swap reports! These reports will shed a lot of light about how your loved one handles their money. Are they drowning in debt? Have no credit history at all? Chronically pay bills late? These are all arguments waiting to happen if they aren’t dealt with from the door. And knowing one another’s credit scores will prepare you for making future purchases. The higher the score, the lower your interest rates. This means more money in your pocket. Check out www.privacyguard.com for your comprehensive credit report and scores (there is a fee for their service). Oh, and whatever you do, don’t go co-signing loans or going into debt for one another. No need in both of you being held responsible if one of you makes a bad financial decision while you’re engaged!

6. Discuss your spending habits. If you’re like most couples, you probably discovered by now that opposites attract. Chances are, your spending habits are at the opposite end of the spectrum as well. One person is a spender and the other a saver. Be open about who you are, what you like to spend your money on, and how you view saving for the future. Be sure to discuss your views and experiences during your counseling sessions. How you reconcile your conflicts is a major indicator of the strength of your union. [SIDE NOTE: Don’t be caught up on how much money your significant other makes. How someone handles their money is far more important than how much money they handle].

7. Draft your team goals. You and your spouse will be a team. What goals do you want to accomplish together (buying first home, building your cash reserves, planning for retirement, having children, paying off debt, etc.)? What role will each of you play in advancing your team (who balances the check book, who pays the bills, who stays home with the kids, etc.)?  And please, please, please, discuss whether or not you will be merging your incomes together. Some couples like to keep things separate, but I’ve found that the most financially successful couples merge everything together (it limits the likelihood of financial affairs). This may be difficult initially, but the long-term results far outweigh the short-term discomfort. When you operate as a team, you can win as a team.

8. Work with a professional. Consider hiring a comprehensive financial advisor (someone who takes a look at your entire financial picture, not just your investments and/or insurance) to help you each get your individual finances in order during your engagement period. Once you’re married, you will implement your plan together. Working with a competent professional will significantly increase your ability to reach your financial goals. And you’ll be less likely to make mistakes in the process.

9. Devise a plan to live off one income. Yes, you read that correctly… ONE income! In these tumultuous economic times of high unemployment rates, rising health care costs, and reduced employer benefits, chances are at least one of you will be unemployed (possibly more than once) for an extended period of time during your marriage. I’m not suggesting that you live within a cloud of gloom and doom. I am suggesting, however, that you learn to live well below your means. There is no financial peace living paycheck to paycheck. Live on one income, and save and invest the rest. When times get hard, you’ll have access to a storehouse of savings. And you’ll be able to live quite comfortably in the meantime. Now is a good time to start working towards this goal. Begin to reduce your spending/expenses now so you will each be in a better position when you’re married. Take baby steps. You’ll be walking confidently before you know it!

10. Schedule weekly money dates. Money is an emotionally charged topic. Each partner brings to the table his/her own set of experiences, values, and fears regarding money. That’s normal. You can create a high level of financial intimacy with your intended spouse by scheduling weekly dates to talk about your finances (same day, every week, for a pre-determined amount of time). Again, this may be challenging at first. So, take baby steps. Start with a 10 minute conversation and build on that each week/each month. Work your way up to having a 30 minute conversation on a weekly basis (continue doing this throughout your marriage). Talk about your fears, your progress towards reaching your goals, any challenges you face, your monthly budget, and anything else that your partner should know. Financial intimacy requires vulnerability. The more you can become “naked and unashamed” with your finances, the more your partner will delight in covering your flaws.

Remember, the two of you are striving to become one. Now is a great time to start laying a solid foundation in preparation for a successful financial future together. GO TEAM GO!!!

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick

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Crack Kills

Dear Struggling and Strung Out,

One more hit. Just one more rush. It’ll be your last time, for the last time. For real this time. Just one more intoxicating high and you’re all done. At least that’s what you tell your self… and your friends… and your kids. But before you know it, one hit turns into two and two hits turn into too many tomorrows and suddenly, you see your self years later- still strung out. You tried to let it go, but the lifestyle keeps calling you back. You risk all that you have for the comfort of just one more hit. Hooked, you give in for the last time- again. The hole in your heart cries for mercy, but you cave- yet again, to the false security of empty promises and lust-filled fervor. You’re looking for love in all the wrong places and filling the void with temporary pleasure. Instead of self-improving, you’re self-medicating… diseasing your mind in the process. You want more. You deserve more, but just can’t imagine life without the fantastic lies you’ve grown accustomed to. And so you settle- once again- for a life of loneliness and shame. You settle for a cracked life. No drugs necessary- you are addicted to the stability of your comfort zone. Yes, you’re cracked at the core, filling every crevice of your being with nothingness. No, no drugs necessary. But this crack does kill.

Crack will have you dressed up, stressed out, standing still, lying down, living for lust and dying for love. You’ll find yourself doing things you never thought you would do. Who or what has you open like that? Who’s got you climbing the walls and leaving a piece of your soul in their bed every time? What’s keeping you from your Promised Land? What cracks are in your foundation? I know- you want to do better, but you’re stuck. It’s like the world is turning so fast and you want to get off the ride, but you’ve grown accustomed to the cycle. It’s familiar. Some of the symptoms may be physical, emotional or even financial, but the core issue is spiritual. And unfortunately, withdrawal is short-term when sobriety seems impossible. But take heed to the following and you will overcome your dysfunction once and for all.

1. Acknowledge Your Problem– I know, that seems too simple. But it’s true. If you don’t acknowledge that you’re engaging in self-destructive behavior you’ll never be able to get the help you need. Face it- you’re strung out on him, her, a high-maintenance lifestyle, maybe even the rush of pounding your fist to someone’s face. Your life has become unmanageable. Everyone sees it, and you’ve refused to believe it. Stop making excuses and you’ll start making progress. Crack kills, but it doesn’t have to kill you.

2. Kill it at The Root- When you truly want to be free of something, you eliminate every trace of it. Otherwise, even the smallest seed will begin to grow by simply watering it with your attention. When the children of Israel were preparing to enter the Promised Land, the Lord instructed them

“to destroy their enemies totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7:2)

Now, please don’t get it twisted. I am not advising you to kill anyone (besides, our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood but of evil spirits in heavenly places. See Ephesians 6:12). What I recommend is that you destroy all ties to anyone or anything with a poisonous presence in your life. If it’s a person, get rid of their souvenirs (gifts, clothes, etc.). Stop staring at their picture. Delete their number from your phone- it’s only going to remind you of them every time you scroll by. Take their e-mail out of your contacts list. Stop calling them, and stop accepting their calls. No more text messages, DM’s, in-boxing or on-line chats. Defriend and unfollow. They don’t love you and you don’t need them. Love doesn’t live in double lives and secret seductions. It doesn’t dwell between the sheets of manipulation and abuse. And it certainly doesn’t hurt…. Perhaps you have an issue with overspending. Stop carrying the credit cards in your wallet. Discontinue the e-mail reminders for shoe sales and special events. Stop negotiating with the negative forces in your life. You can’t afford to flirt with temptation. Destroy it before it destroys you!

3. Expose The Cracks- Take some time to discover who you really are and how you got to this low place. What cracks are in your foundation? What led you to fill your void with false love? If necessary, seek professional help. The sooner you expose the hurt, the sooner you can mend your brokenness.

4. Seal The Cracks– This is the last vital step to take. You have to seal the cracks. Just ridding yourself of the temptation isn’t good enough. You can get rid of every booty call in your phone book, but if you don’t change your environment, break free from your circle of “friends”, and begin to see yourself as worthy of true love, you’ll find yourself attracting the same parasites all over again. Likewise, you can clean out your entire closet and one day find yourself binge shopping because you never got a healthy dose of self-esteem. You don’t see yourself as more than enough- without all the external clutter. Jesus warns,

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes several other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:25-26).

If you have tried to rid yourself of the temptations in your life only to find that you are worse off than before, it’s probably because you never sealed your cracks. You left your spiritual house unoccupied. The moment the next good-looking person glances your way, you find yourself right back in a compromising position (or two). And so your downward spiral begins- again. You must seal the cracks. Spend time discovering what God says about you and the gifts and talents He has placed inside of you. Allow the Lord to fill all the empty spaces in your life. He has created you for a purpose. When you fully understand what that purpose is, you will begin to walk in victory. And that victory won’t have time to wade in defeat.

God has created each and every one of us with a secret place that only His love can fill…. this is the God Spot. Allow Him to seal your cracks and fill your empty places with His love. I promise you will never be the same again. With His help, you can live a life of abundant joy and peace. Don’t worry about how you’ll get there. Just take it one day at a time and commit to the process. Yes, crack kills, but it doesn’t have to kill you.

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick

P.S. If you are dealing with domestic violence, or you have been involved in a pattern of abusive relationships, help is available to you! Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or log onto http://www.thehotline.org. Advocates are available 24/7. Anonymous and confidential.