Marriage, Money, and Compromise
You’ve probably heard all of those terrifying warnings and statistics about how financial disagreements and differing outlooks regarding money are one of the most frequent causes of divorce. That’s a very romantic sentiment to share with a newly engaged couple, by the way. Seriously, why don’t they print that on engagement cards? “Congratulations on your engagement! Remember to discuss your debt and spending habits NOW or this just isn’t going to end well.”
My husband-to-be and I have been together for a little over five years, and we’ve been engaged for about nine months. Much to everybody’s chagrin, we still have no firm plans to get hitched. We’ll get there, I promise.
To pour salt in that wound, we’ve lived together for about a year and a half. We made the decision to live in sin before getting engaged for two reasons: one, we’re both paranoid and like to know what we’re signing up for. And, two, we were really excited about disappointing our conservative and religious grandparents.
When you move in with a significant other or get married, the party manners go away and your obnoxious and odd quirks come out of the woodwork. I realized that he had the tendency to leave his dirty socks on the kitchen counter, and he was treated to a daily concert when he discovered that I love to belt out Broadway tunes throughout my morning shower.
As if discovering one another’s weird habits wasn’t overwhelming enough, we also needed to talk about money. I’m a firm believer that discussing finances is never an easy conversation. But it’s particularly cumbersome when you and your S.O. have extremely different philosophies regarding money.
My fiancé and I are almost hilariously different. He works as an Actuarial Analyst, and spends all day, every day crunching numbers and working through equations that make my eyes cross. Further, he is cheap, cheap, cheap. Perhaps “fiscally conservative” is more politically correct.
In contrast, I’m a freelance writer, and I’ve always been a little more relaxed about my finances. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m irresponsible with money. I have zero credit card debt (please pause to give me an extended and deserved round of applause). But I subscribe to the unrealistic, and pretty immature, philosophy that if I want something, I should have it. I always find a way to pay my bills, but I could definitely be more proactive with my finances.
Naturally, with marriage on the horizon, my man and I needed to sit down and have some pretty serious talks about our finances in an effort to prevent any heated future money arguments. When you’re taking the next step in your relationship, whether that’s getting married or moving in together (go ahead and do it “backwards” like us!), you need to remember that you’re no longer just sharing adoring glances and romantic dinner dates. You’re sharing the unglamorous stuff too, like rent, utilities, groceries and laundry detergent.
I think my fiancé and I managed to find a happy medium between our two financial philosophies. And, even better, the road to compromise really wasn’t all that rocky. Here are a few of the things we kept in mind to achieve a balance that works for both of us.
I would hope this is common sense, but in order to reach a healthy compromise, both parties need to be completely honest. If you have an overwhelming amount of student loan debt or the tendency to blackout in Target and spend your entire paycheck on plastic, pastel watering cans and infant tiaras in the dollar section, your significant other deserves to know this. Lying about your finances or sugarcoating the truth will only complicate things in the long run.
Establish a Plan and Budget
One of my hilarious old roommates used to proclaim, “There, we compromised. Now EVERYONE is unhappy!” While his flair for drama was always entertaining, that doesn’t necessarily have to ring true.
In order for you to effectively budget or plan your finances, you both need to have a good idea of how much money is coming in and how much is going out. Keep in mind that you’ve not only combined incomes but also expenses. Sit down and take a detailed look at your income, debt, and routine bills, and have an open and honest conversation about your typical habits with money.
One of our biggest struggles was compromising on food. My parents say that I was “raised in restaurants.” I have always loved going out to eat. It’s a social experience for me. My fiancé, however, thinks going out to eat is a big ol’ waste of money. He would probably honestly prefer if we ate beans out of a can every night.
While he wasn’t willing to fork over the cash to eat out six times a week, I wasn’t about to give up going out to eat altogether. So we compromised and now eat out a reasonable two times per week. Even better, now it’s something we look forward to doing!
Shopping with one another was a super easy way for us to get a handle on each other’s financial habits. I think you can find out a lot about a person by how they function in a store. My significant other is one of those “run in, grab what you need and get out without ever making eye contact with someone who can sell you something” sort of people. However, I like to take my time, browse through all of the departments and end up wandering out with a scarf, kitchen towels and a car air freshener that I didn’t even know I needed.
By making shopping trips together, I learned to make a list and stick to it, and he learned that it’s not against the law to occasionally splurge on an unexpected set of headphones or a Duck Dynasty loofah. Really, those exist.
Have Realistic Expectations
Out of all of these tips, this one is probably the biggest. And, arguably, it’s the most difficult. Having practical expectations for how much your partner can and will change can be a tough pill to swallow. But it’s absolutely necessary.
If your partner is a little looser with cash than you are, you simply can’t expect them to flip a switch and cut out all frivolous expenses overnight … or ever. Vice versa, your significant other can’t anticipate that you’ll be raring and ready to go for a night out on the town, popping Cristal in a rent-by-the-minute Hummer limousine. Have realistic expectations of each other. It will lead to a much smoother transition, and a lot less disappointment.
Meshing together two different financial outlooks can seem overwhelming. But because of our conversations and compromise, I’m now a real, bona fide adult with a savings account and a 401(k). Even better, my fiancé is a little more relaxed about his finances and willing to eat the occasional meal at a restaurant or splurge on the patio furniture I couldn’t live without.
So have the money conversations, even if they’re tough. You don’t want “for richer or for poorer” to be the first time you ever talk about finances.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer and blogger, who sometimes feels like she lives her entire life behind her computer screen. When she manages to escape, you can find her binge-watching “The Office” or talking in a high-pitched voice to her rescued terrier mutt.