In the countdown to her daughter’s May wedding, Trish Perry is relishing her mother-of-the-bride duties.

She accompanied her daughter Hannah to select a gown, joined the bridesmaids on an outing to pick out their dresses and went along to scout reception venues.

“We haven’t had one argument,” said Perry, of Minneapolis. “I stay out of it unless she asks.”

But Perry and her husband did offer some guidance that her daughter didn’t request.

As an engagement present, they paid for Hannah and her fiancé, Erik Nash, to take a “Couples and Money” class from veteran St. Paul financial educator Ruth Hayden.

“We took the class when we were years into our marriage because we were not aligned on finances and we couldn’t get on the same page,” Perry said. “The knowledge was so helpful that it was a gift we wanted to give to the kids, to help them build a healthy, respectful relationship without money arguments.”

Perry was aware — as most of us are — that different attitudes about sex and money are the top reasons couples split up.

But while moms and dads might not be comfortable talking about what their children do in the dark, some parents are turning to financial counselors and classes to shine a light on a young couple’s financial compatibility.

“Parents of adult children have influence but not control,” said Hayden, author of “For Richer, Not Poorer.” “They’re always looking for ways to help make their children’s lives better.”

And it goes beyond parents realizing “the potential danger around money,” she said. “They also realize that they may have passed on their own values with money that are sometimes not healthy or even destructive.”

Today, more couples get hitched without any sort of formal coursework to prepare them for their romantic — and financial — union.

Religious institutions historically have offered or even required marriage readiness classes for engaged couples before solemnizing their vows. Such clergy-led programs typically address a range of issues including finances, putting spouses-to-be through their paces and challenging them to examine their behaviors and beliefs to better prepare them for marital harmony.

But according to wedding planning website the Knot, only 22 percent of weddings in 2017 were performed in churches or synagogues, down from 41 percent in 2009.

The decline in the number of young adults who are formally affiliated with houses of worship means fewer religious weddings and fewer betrothed couples enrolled in their premarital courses.

Practice makes perfect?

Many entering marriage today conclude that they don’t need such formal help, since they’ve managed their money as de facto spouses before making their relationship legal, said Sophie Ross, assistant editor the Knot.

“Our survey showed that 77 percent of couples now live together before they get married, so more of them have signed a lease or even bought a house together. They’ve likely had those discussions about debt, budgets and combining their incomes,” said Ross.

Nine out of 10 couples today also pay for all or part of their weddings, according to the Knot’s surveys, a change from the era when parents, traditionally the bride’s, were on the hook to pay the freight.

“The planning process is intense and requires them to get on the same page about their spending priorities,” Ross added.

“It’s an intimate act to chart a future and merge your finances. We recommend premarriage counseling, but couples may feel they’ve looked at their financial expectations and compatibility without needing a formal class.”

Money opposites attract

Before their December wedding, Heidi Dickson and Molly McNeil took Hayden’s “Couples and Money” class at the urging of their therapist. (The five two-hour sessions cost $325.)

“Our therapist saw two strong, independent women who’ve both lived on their own and needed a framework and language to deal with money so there would be less friction,” said Dickson, 34. “It’s the best wedding present we could give each other if it helps us build security in our future.”

A health care strategist with a corporate career, Dickson outearns McNeil, 39, a yoga instructor and new real estate agent.

“I saw that we are very different in the way we view savings, spending and earnings,” McNeil said. “I haven’t always made responsible financial decisions and I’ve had some painful come-to-Jesus moments. In the class I faced some of my money hangups that I didn’t want to bring that into my marriage.”

In Hayden’s experience, including in her own long marriage, money opposites attract, which explains why spenders and savers are so often head-over-heels in the first blush of the relationship.

“You fall in love with each other’s differences; they are so fascinating. Then later you wish you had fallen in love with your clone,” she said with a laugh.

In her three decades as a financial educator, Hayden has seen some couples who go the distance despite their money differences and some whose conflict over finances drives them apart.

She’s found that it’s never too late — or too early — for couples to commit to banking on their relationship.

“They have to have a commitment to do this together, to be able to talk and to listen with respect, trust and compromise,” she said. “That takes practice.”

 

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis based freelance broadcaster and writer.