In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with an opinion on a financial topic. These are their opinions, not ours, but we welcome a constructive, thoughtful discussion.
Couples are supposed to discuss their finances before getting married, so you can set expectations and get to know the financial side of your sweetie before you walk down the aisle.
Anyone who has been married for more than a year knows that we have a lot of good intentions before we say “I do,” like promising to divulge financial secrets, share every bit of money fairly and never spend a dime without the other person’s approval.
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Here’s what my husband knew about me before we got married: I like to spend money.
And here’s what I knew about him: He doesn’t. But somehow, nearly 20 years later, we are still together ... even though he still hates the way I spend.
Why We're So Different When It Comes to Money
My hubby comes from a family of middle-class savers. Despite having money, his parents rarely spent it. In fact, my deprived guy went on just one family vacation during his childhood. That’s it. One trip in 18 years. It's understandable if money had been tight, but they had the resources, so why deny themselves?
That’s where my upbringing comes in.
I also grew up in a middle-class household with two working parents, but we spent a good deal of our income--and went on at least two or three modest vacations (think Holiday Inn) a year. We also ate out a couple times a week, got new cars every few years and pretty much bought whatever clothes we wanted, when we wanted.
My parents probably didn't have as much saved as is recommended these days, but they considered themselves providers--and wanted their kids to have the things that they didn't.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that not all families were like that.
So when I met my would-be life partner in my early 20s, and he wanted me to save more than I spent, well, let’s just say that didn’t make for automatic marital bliss--at least for the first few years.
When Our Spending Habits Come Into Conflict
I say more power to couples who are totally in spending-saving sync, but that’s just not us. Usually, my husband holds steady when it comes to big spending decisions, but every once in a while, I manage to convince him otherwise.
Sure, there have been arguments along the way--like that new Gucci watch I just had to have back when they were the "it" status symbol. We argued about it for weeks . . . and eventually put it on our credit card. It took months to pay off, and it's now a decision that I, too, regret.
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A few years later I just had to have a red sports car, and after badgering him about it for months, he finally caved and we bought something that we definitely could not afford. Looking back, that was an even dumber decision than the watch.
But it's hard not to argue when my husband's immediate reaction to any trip or major purchase is "no." Without even taking the time to listen or review our budget, his first response is usually, "We can't afford that." Sometimes he is right. But other times there's room for compromise. Would it be better to save more? Sure. Am I willing to only give our kids one childhood vacation? No.
I like to think that we're still growing and learning about money management and our core values as a couple--and as a family. We aren't in debt, we don't use credit cards and we have a retirement account, so we're doing enough to satisfy both of us, which is what really counts.
What Our Differences Have Taught Me
One of the biggest lessons that we have learned: If one of you is a spender and the other one isn't, it’s not time to call the divorce attorney.
We all know that money is the number one thing that couples fight about--in fact, a recent survey revealed that couples argue, on average, three times a month about finances. But, for us, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve had our share of I-want-to-buy-this-no-you-can’t fights, but each of us “wins” about 50% of the time, so it’s all fair in love and money.
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For example, last summer, I really wanted--no, needed--a vacation to the tropics. (OK, no one actually needs a trip to a tropical island, but I was severely burned out at work and had to get away.)
My husband immediately started to stress about our finances. “We’re poor,” he said. So I broke out the spreadsheet--and the wine--to show him precisely how much we had in savings and where the money would come from for that vacation. In the end, we compromised and settled on a trip to a more affordable spot in Costa Rica, where the hotel was only $40 a night.
Another important lesson we’ve learned is to keep some play money for ourselves. From day one, we’ve combined 75% of our finances, leaving the rest for personal “mad money” that each of us can spend how we wish. This way, we’re both contributing to the bills and our savings accounts, but we still get some spending money.
Speaking of spending budgets, we also like to use an “approval limit." This means that both of us have to agree on any purchases over $100 using our combined money. So I can’t just order that comfy new couch and claim that it came out of our “home improvement” budget.
This is what works for us. Of course, other couples handle their finances differently, which is fine--except that some of my friends confess that they lie to their mates about their spending, which is definitely not OK in my book.
And they’re not alone: A recent survey found that half of all couples have kept money secrets from partners. In other words, they lied, which is a bad idea all around.
Sure, it’s been tempting for me to say, “Oh, these old things? I’ve had them for years,” when my husband notices the fabulous new pair of red pumps on my feet--but lying about your spending just creates a lack of trust.
And given that all of our finances can be tracked online, he knows how much I’ve spent before I even walk in the door.
Incidentally, that same survey revealed that both men and women think cheating is cheating, whether it’s financial or sexual.
As the old saying goes, cheaters never win.
*The author's name has been changed to protect her privacy.
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