It was a little over 5 years ago this month that Paul and I sat down for our first marriage counseling session with our preacher. Several of the sessions had been over the phone because we live in Houston and the preacher was in my childhood church in PA. And honestly, that barrier helped with some of the awkward questions being asked (yes, you can run with your imagination if you’d like).
But this particular session was in person, in the preacher’s office, a place I had never been before.
One of the things our preacher wanted to talk about that day was finances.
Brilliant, I thought. Wait until I show him how “up” on our money we are.
He asked something along the lines of how we were going to budget, and how we were going to handle money as a couple.
Like I used to do in the front of my classes, buttocks on the edge of my seat, hand gleefully in the air in anticipation of answering with the exact correct responses, I chimed right in.
“We’ve decided to combine finances. And to keep us both feeling like we have some freedom and autonomy, we agreed upon $XXX amount each month that we both can spend on whatever we would like plus some extras that are needed for the household. And our plan is to pay off the remainder of both of our debts before we walk down the aisle because we know that money can be a big issue in marriage.”
Booyah. Nailed it. Let’s move onto the harder stuff.
My smug demeanor immediately left when the preacher did something I could never have prepared for. Like, ever.
He turned to Paul, and asked, “and how do you feel about all of this?”
There literally must have been a bewildered look on my face. I mean, didn’t I give all the right answers? Wasn’t I steering our household finances in a beautiful direction?
Ah, the start of Hard Knocks school for Couple’s Finances.
Lesson #1: It’s Not All About You Anymore
I learned pretty quickly, probably with the help of that preacher (thanks, Pastor Kelly!) that when you sign up for marriage nothing is all about you anymore. And this is probably more true when it comes to finances.
Even if you ‘know’ you have the right answers because you love money and finances and you can see the long-term and you want to get your family there with you…you have to realize that it is their money as well. Even if one of you is not working and the other is. Even if you decide to not combine finances.
And if you begrudgingly bring along someone by overriding what they really want, then there are going to be protests and problems down the road. Just look at the financial friction we experienced in our marriage as an example.
Rule of Thumb: Include your partner in big financial discussions, and also in one or two discussions a year where you hash out the smaller stuff like everyday spending so that you’re both on the same page. And no railroading! Otherwise resentment will grow.
Lesson #2: Working on Financial Goals Together Will Make You Stronger as a Couple
June 18th, 2009, we got engaged. Quickly thereafter, we decided two things: we did not want a long engagement (and ‘long’ to us meant a year or more), and we did not want to start our marriage off in debt.
These two decisions changed the course of our marriage and lives for the so-much better! Over the next 10 months we secured a home with a decent down payment, we planned a wedding that we paid cash for, we planned an amazing 11-day honeymoon to Austria that we paid cash for, we combined finances, and we combined debts. It turned out that together we had $25,000 remaining in non-mortgage debt ($10,000 in student loans @ 1.25% interest, $12,000 on a car loan @ 6.325% interest, and $3,000 for the engagement ring @ 0% interest if paid off within 12 months). I say remaining because initially with the debts we individually had taken out in our twenties, we had been $59,496 in debt.
We worked together. Did we always smile about the sacrifices? Of course not. Did we have a few tiffs over who was spending out of the checking account instead of through their budget they had taken out for the week? You bet. But this experience truly built part of the solid foundation we have as a couple today.
We were a team, and we were going to leave no person behind.
It turns out that with all of the other costs we were paying that year, it took us slightly longer to get out of debt. But come September 1, 2010 — less than 5 months after walking down the aisle — we declared ourselves to be non-mortgage debt free.
Triumph!! And we haven’t looked to debt since.
Rule of Thumb: Even if you don’t want to combine finances, work on something financial together. Include your partner in your financial goals, ask what their financial goals are, and then figure out financial goals as a couple. Whether it’s picking out life insurance together, renovating a room and working on the budget/saving money/work together…really anything to bring you both together as a team on something.
Lesson #3: Learn How to Communicate About Money
It can be really difficult for some couples and some people to open up about money. I’m speaking from experience! I thought money would be an easy subject in our household thanks to me being a strong anchor for us.
And yet, we struggled to find our couples’ money voice.
Part of the problem was that it was difficult for Paul to broach the subject. He didn’t like to talk about it. And the other part of the problem was I liked to talk about it too often.
Rule of Thumb: You’ve got to meet each other in the middle. Talk about finances on neutral ground if things get too heated. Turn the television off when you do it, and make it into a real occasion. Ask each others opinions and really listen. You guys can do this!
I am happy to say that Paul and I have great financial intimacy now. So much better than when we started out!
Happy 5 Years, Sweetheart! I can’t wait for the next 5 + beyond.