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Ask Dave

Warning! You Need Premarital Counseling

Sandra and her fiancé make $90,000 a year. They want to start a family after they're married, but Sandra's fiancé wants to buy a boat soon after they're married. Dave gives Sandra some tough love.

QUESTION: Sandra in Louisiana and her fiancé are getting married soon. Together they make $90,000 a year. They want to start a family after they’re married, but Sandra’s fiancé wants to buy a boat soon after they’re married. Dave gives Sandra some tough love.

ANSWER: To start with, until you’re married, there’s not a “we.” It’s “you” and “him.” You need to clean up your medical debts and build your emergency fund. He needs to pay off his stupid truck or sell it and pay off the $4,000 in personal loans he’s got—while you’re engaged as much as possible. If there’s debt left on one of you when you get married, now it is “our” debt and “we” make $90,000 to attack our debt. But don’t you be paying this guy’s truck off. You’re not married to him. It’s a good way to mess up your relationship. It’s also a good way to get taken to the cleaners.

I’ve heard it all in 25 years. I’m sorry. Give me a break. Do not pay people’s debt off who you’re not married to. Dumb idea. You will change the tone and the tenor of your relationship, especially an old boy driving a $30,000 truck who intends to buy a boat before he buys his family a house. Wrong.

I smell little boy in grown-up body here. This is a danger sign. It really is, so you guys need to get in some detailed, in-depth pre-married counseling where you are in agreement about being grownups and handling your money. It’s a big-time important thing here because you have dramatically different ways of viewing money, and let me tell you, the number-one cause of divorce in America today is money fights and money problems. You’re heading straight into them.

You need to get some detailed, in-depth pre-marriage counseling where you agree on things like budgeting and so forth.

Here’s the deal: I’ve got a couple of boats. I’m not against boats. I like boats. Boats are fun. I’m a lake guy. I’m a water ski barefoot guy—all that stuff. I love the water. Every time the sun comes out here in the spring, it’s hard to get me to come into work. I want to go to the lake—still that college student down inside of me that wants to run right straight down there and not work. I’m all about getting a boat. I want him to get a boat. I want you guys to get a boat. But I don’t want the boat to get you, and you certainly don’t put a boat ahead of a house. Boats go down in value. Cars go down in value. Trucks go down in value. We simply do not do down in value before we buy up in value.

Were I in your shoes, here’s what I would prescribe—and he’s not going to do this, but this is what I would tell him to do if he called me. If he’s found the girl of his dreams, I think he ought to sell his $30,000 truck. I don’t know what he makes, but a $30,000 debt on a $30,000 truck tells me problems. Problems. And I think he ought to sell that and pay off the truck debt and get an inexpensive car and get his debts cleaned up so enters into this marriage debt-free or close to it and on his way. That’s a hug way of saying, “I think so much of you, I love you so deeply, that I care so deeply about our future that I’m going to sacrifice things I care about for the good of us as a couple.” He’ll get another truck, and he’ll get a boat later.

I’ve got a couple trucks, and I’ve got a couple boats. Not against either one. This is not about that. This is about you buying crap—when you’ve got a whole bunch of toys and you don’t yet have a wife and a house, hello! Something’s going on here, guys, especially when they’re not all paid for. I’m going to tell you to avoid that.

While you’re in pre-marriage counseling, let me tell you the number-one reason for divorce is people aren’t on the same page about money. Get on the same page about money. The other three things that you need to look into . . . There’s all kinds of research and statistical evidence that indicates if you’re in agreement on four things prior to getting married—I mean in deep agreement, have really talked it out, have really thought about it, really understand in-depth what the other one feels, thinks, and what the background of your family of origin is and his family of origin is on these four areas—one is money. Two is religion. If you’re in agreement about religion, you’re in agreement about money. Three is in-laws. You’re in agreement about how you’re going to deal with family issues—extended family—and boundary issues. Both of you have crazy somewhere in your family. Everybody does. I don’t know how far extended out there crazy is, but crazy’s in there somewhere, and how are you going to deal with crazy as a part of the in-law equation? And the last thing is kids. Are you going to have them, how many, and how are you going to treat them? Are they going to be kids that just run wild, or are they going to be overly disciplined? What’s your view of raising children, and “I want 16 kids,” “I don’t want any kids”—you need to know this prior to getting married. You need to discuss this.

The four things—in-laws, money, religion, kids—you need to get into in-depth discussions and detail on that before you get married, and the money one in your case—big warning sign. Remember the old show in the ’60s or ’70s, Lost in Space, and that robot? “Warning, warning, warning!” That’s what I’m hearing in this discussion right here. It doesn’t mean you can’t get married, but you’ve got some work to do, or you’re heading into a nightmare.