Why More Money Doesn’t Make Me Happier

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Here’s another great post from our friends at The Billfold:

Our first stab at Grown-Up conversation took place in the summer of 2008, after my boyfriend graduated with his Ph.D from Berkeley. We picked out his first real suit—a terrible, baggy, navy blue thing—and I sent him off to his first job interview, which is a funny thing to do and say about someone who has had facial hair for over a decade.

The unofficial offer came back with flattering speed. Before the call with the official offer came, we spent a few minutes trying to decide what salary he should take—oddly enough, without consulting Google. Because that is the kind of naïve idiots we were. “$80,000?” I asked.

“I’ll ask for $90,000, but settle for $85,” he decided. This was the absolute biggest number we could think of. The kind of people who did the kind of things we did for a living—research and write—toiled in cluttered labs and crowded apartments all over Berkeley and San Francisco for a pittance, waiting to hit it big with a VC or the Nobel Prize. Only old people earned this kind of money! Or, like, Mark Zuckerberg.

So it’s understandable that when the initial offer came back, it blew our tiny little minds. This was the kind of number that applied to the population of Caribbean islands, or the square footage of Angelina Jolie’s French chateau. Not a number that would be on a real check, deposited in a real bank account, that either of us could access at any time.

Within two months, we gleefully packed our U-Haul and trekked to Portland, Oregon, a serene, soggy little city where we set about acquiring all those trappings of maturity—two dogs, a little red house, and a marriage certificate, in that order.

Before I got married, I had this belief (garnered mainly from old country songs and the opening montage of the movie Up) that being married isn’t really that expensive.

After all, you’re operating as a single efficient machine. No paying separate rent (and our mortgage is only $600 a month, anyway). Neither of us watches TV, so we don’t have cable, or even a Hulu Plus account. It’s easier and more efficient to shop and cook for two people when one of them (me) lives mainly off Food for Rabbits (just cook Food for Rabbits and bake a chicken on the side).

Another thing that’s saved us some money is that we’ve found every time one of us wants to buy something from a joint account, there’s someone holding you accountable. The knowledge that someone else would see the line item “galaxy print silk-screened screaming gorilla face T-shirt dress” on our PayPal account was enough to hold me in check. At least, until he came back in from the garage and enthusiastically seconded it.

Making the kind of money we make now, in a two-income household, I would expect that a certain amount of lifestyle creep would become inevitable. Not the Kardashian, Louboutin, half-drunk bottle of warm Cristal kind of creep, but maybe I’d start buying a better brand of facial moisturizer. Or even clothes that weren’t from Goodwill! Instead, I found that while we ourselves didn’t change when we get married, the world and its expectations did. For example:

1. You’re a different person to the government. My husband deferred his student loans while he was in grad school. When he graduated, they came back with a vengeance, of the extreme, tuchus-chomping variety.

2. No one expects a single 23-year-old, making survival wages in an expensive city, to buy Christmas presents for all thirty of her cousins between the ages of zero and twenty. But a married matron of 27, with a husband who makes a decent salary? Hella payback for all those years and all those $10 Barnes & Noble gift cards. My mom presented me with my Christmas shopping list, practically the day after the wedding. Which was in August. That was thoughtful of her, because it gave me time to make cookies to send to all my grand-uncles and grand-aunts, as well.

3. We looked at real estate listings for over a year, until we settled on a miniscule (1,000 square feet) fixer-upper in a not-so-fashionable part of Portland. It seemed like the jackpot. But in a revelation that is so tired that it is a cliché, I had no idea that even small repairs—putting up a fence; replacing peeling shingles—add up. The inspector didn’t tell us the roof needed to be replaced. Are those carpenter ants, or termites?

4. Travel was the kicker. No one expects a grad student and a freelance writer to travel to exotic locations. But a married couple with a large income? The +1s to destination weddings started rolling in. Where before we organized and paid for our travel separately, now we have to buy two plane tickets instead of one wherever we go.

To read more about Adrienne’s revelations about money and marriage, read the full article at The Billfold.

  • KB

    I am so sorry, but are you really complaining and unhappy because: you need to re-pay your student loans, give gifts to your family, maintain a house and travel??!!!! So sorry that your life is filled with misery now that you are married with an income. It is called being a grown-up. 

  • Usiyire

    It’s true that now as a 2 income family you have a lot more disposable cash sitting around, burning through your pocket and begging to be spent.  Society as a whole expect you to step up and become the consumer you should be given your household income.  But you and your husband as individuals could be smarter than the average consumer.  You could say no to the destination invites, citing your fight in repaying student loans.  You could be creative about gift giving and not spend a fortune every year. You could become knowledgeable in home repair and save money in that aspect.  Just because you now have more money, doesn’t automatically mean a life style inflation is in order.  Please pause whenever you think: “well I have to do this now that I have more money…”  You can still live a version of your past student life, save money and become financially independent sooner than most people :)   Good luck.