Prenup or no nup

During a recent online discussion with Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax, a soon-to-be-bride expressed her disappointment with her fiancé for asking her to sign a prenuptial agreement -- a month and a half before the wedding.

The woman wrote: “We both have said we would never get divorced (and after eight happy years together, I truly believe we’ll make it), but his phrasing is that he analyzes risk for a living and just wants to be extra secure that in the unlikely event of divorce, he is prepared.”

The writer wanted to know that she wasn’t the only one who saw this last-minute rush for protection as a sign that something wasn’t quite right.

“Prenups are wise and necessary in some (very narrowly defined) cases, and I can see why this request for one rubs you the wrong way,” Hax responded.

I’m going to stop there. You can read more of Hax’s take on the situation, but what about you?

This week’s Color of Money Question: Do you think couples need a prenuptial agreement? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state and put “Prenup or No Nup” in the subject line.

Where’s My Gift?

And since we are on the topic of weddings, a reader recently asked Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, if she should have to buy a gift for her niece’s vow renewal ceremony.

Here’s the back-story, according to the letter writer: The niece feels she didn’t get as many nice wedding gifts as did her sister because her wedding was rushed. The wedding was rushed because the niece was living with her man and the niece’s parents were unhappy about the arrangement. So they got hitched in a hurry. Ten years later, the niece wants to renew her vows to get better gifts this time. The aunt (the letter writer) says, “I told my sister and her husband that I didn’t believe it was proper to renew your vows at 10 years and expect guests to bring gifts.” The plans then changed from a ceremony to renew vows to a baby shower. The niece is having twins and throwing herself a baby shower. The aunt chimes in again: “I was more receptive to a baby shower than pledging your vows and expecting a new toaster. Am I out in left field on expectations of people renewing their vows?

Got all that?

So Miss Manners, the wise one that she is when it comes to all things etiquette, weighs in on the expectation for gifts for either event.

First, the renewing of vows: “What the purpose is of renewing vows is something Miss Manners has never understood. Wedding vows are supposed to be permanent (all evidence to the contrary). Where in the marriage contract is the renewal option?”

Then, the baby shower: The niece “simply wants people to buy her stuff, and one excuse will do as well as another.”

People carp about such greed, and yet the gimme, gimme of our culture continues.

I love it when people invite you to celebrate their special events with no expectations of anything. But Miss Manners advises that you stop short of telling folks in the invitation that no gifts are wanted -- a point that I didn’t get at first but do now.

“The ban on ‘no gifts’ is one that Miss Manners hates to have to enforce,” Martin has written. “The idea behind it is so much nicer than the ‘Here’s what you have to buy me’ idea behind proliferating gift registries. But it is impolite because it shows you have been thinking about getting presents, even if you are willing to forgo them.”

Celebrated Self-Help Author Dies

Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” died this week after suffering complications from a bicycle accident.

Often you can point to a book that changed your thinking. Covey was the author of such a book for so many people. Last year, Time magazine named “The Seven Habits” one of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books.” It certainly has a permanent place on my bookshelf.

“Stephen Covey’s leadership training book is widely recognized as one of the best-selling business books of all time,” wrote Stephen Gandel of Time. “That’s funny, because there is very little in it about business or management. Instead, the book is a tour de force on confidence building packaged into seven easily digestible maxims.”

In a tribute to Covey, Tom Peters, a best-selling business author and friend, said this: “Stephen expected the best of all of us — and he provided us with straightforward tools and advice to help us get from here to a better there.”

Covey certainly did that for me.

College Costs Shifted to Students

Undergraduate college students have been contributing more of their own money toward their education, according to a recent survey by Sallie Mae.

The nation’s largest private student lender found that undergraduates covered 30 percent of the cost of college during the most recent academic year — the largest share in four years. They spent an average of $2,555 from their income and savings and took out $3,719 in loans, reported The Washington Post’s Ylan Q. Mui.

As Mui wrote, the tough economy has forced many families to cut costs. The study found that for the first time more than half of college students lived at home. In addition, more students opted to live with a roommate or work longer hours to pay for school.

According to Sallie Mae, families spent an average of $20,902 on college for the past academic year, down 5 percent from the previous year.

Responses to “It’s a Hot Mess”

NBC’s “Today” show aired a segment last week that found that every single repair person they called to check on an air conditioning system wasn’t honest about what needed to be fixed and then overcharged for services.

So, for last week’s Color of Money Question, I wanted to hear your repair horror story.

Here are a few of the things people have had to endure:

“I had trouble with my DirecTV, and the young repair man sent out was woefully inadequate,” said Ruth Jacobi of Arizona. “When I heard a lot of noise coming from the laundry, where the DirecTV service box was, I found him pulling coaxial cable down from the attic to ‘find’ the end. He was sitting on my dryer, with the service box 24 inches away from his left arm, and had never thought to first open the service box. Happily, I had caught him before he had damaged the coaxial cable or its connections, and sent him on his way.”

Steve Kaufman of Takoma Park, Md., wrote about his frustration with an area plumbing company.

“Two years ago, I had a tub faucet that was leaking significantly, called in an emergency to a certain locally-based company, and took off work so I could let them in,” he said. “They sent two employees who didn’t have the right tools. They went out somewhere to get them, came back an hour later and said they couldn’t help me and that I’d have to reschedule. After I begged them (it was seriously leaking and taking off work is a big deal for me!), they miraculously fixed it in all of 10 minutes, and then they sent me a bill for the time it took for them to ‘get their tools’ as well as the actual labor. For all I know, they were out eating during that time period since it was around lunch. I sent a check, but with a note describing my poor service in detail. Not only did the company cash my check and not reply, but they bugged me for a year saying I hadn’t paid the bill, despite me having the cashed check as proof.”

Robin Ann Horner of Strasburg, Pa., needed some painting done. She did what experts tell you to do. She shopped around and interviewed three companies. She still got bad work.

“It was a small job by all standards, what could go wrong, or so I thought?” she wrote. “I allowed the painters to do the job without my me being on site. When I returned home not only did they have paint on things that should not [have been painted]. They did not remove a chair rail that we had discussed. They neglected to fill any nail holes nor did they repair small cracks. There were total areas where the old paint came through and it was light beige! I sat down and cried and then called the owner of the business. He came to review the mess and filled a notebook page with all of the areas that needed addressed. When he sent new painters the job was even worse. I ended up calling a contractor and having the walls sanded and repainted. It was a very sad experience.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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