Being present. Living in the moment. These important aspects of personal and spiritual growth may sound simple and attractive, but they are far more difficult to practice than they seem. Like many of us, I spend a lot of time worrying about events in the past I cannot change and trying to control events in the future that may not happen.
One thing that took me several years to sort out is that living in the moment doesn’t mean ignoring the consequences of past events or avoiding planning for the future. Being present includes attaching appropriate weight to the way our current lives are shaped by the past. It also involves having clarity about what we can and can’t control today that will positively impact our future.
The best time to prepare for events that carry a high probability of happening is before they happen. This may seem obvious. Why, then, do so many of us have such resistance to planning? It’s common to wait until events are almost upon us before we start preparing for them.
One major life event especially can find people focused so strongly on the present that they ignore the past and neglect to plan for the future. This is marriage. Most engaged couples start wedding planning many months before the big day. Countless details—securing a location, booking caterers, ordering flowers, and finding dresses and tuxedos—must be done well in advance to avoid disappointments. Yet, quite often, couples ignore or avoid discussing essential financial concerns that will have long-term impacts on their lives together. These include budgeting, financial goals, debt and spending patterns, prenuptial agreements, and estate planning.
Consider just one of these issues, a prenuptial agreement. It’s probably a bit late to ask your attorney to knock one out the day before the wedding. Deciding whether a prenup makes sense in a given situation is best done well before you pop the question. The later in the relationship the need for a prenup is introduced, the higher the probability that potential partners won’t be able to agree to one.
Another area that newlyweds tend to neglect is estate planning. Young couples just starting out, with minimal net worth and death seeming too far away to even contemplate, may not see this as important. Yet making wills should be as much a part of marriage planning as picking out wedding rings. For couples marrying later in life, estate planning is even more essential.
It may seem contradictory, but another important aspect of preparing for the future is for couples to share their financial pasts. As well as being honest with each other about debts, financial mistakes, and other financial baggage, this includes talking about significant childhood money experiences and family patterns of managing money. Each partner’s history and beliefs around money will significantly affect their lives together.
For engaged couples focused on the romance and happiness of the present, financial planning may seem irrelevant or too mundane to bother with. Taking time for it may seem like an interruption to the enjoyment of this special time.
Yet when it comes to being present with our money and finances, decisions we make today affect tomorrow, often in profound ways. This is especially true in relationships. Disagreement over money is one of the most common issues that can create conflict and unhappiness in a marriage.
Taking time to look at the financial past and plan for the financial future does not interfere with living in the present moment. Instead, it increases a couple’s chances of building a strong future together and living happily ever after.