For Richer, For Poorer
Ah, love. Exciting and new.
So many possibilities. So much chemistry. The whirlwind romance, plans for the future.
Cohabiting, vows, babies — and no, it doesn’t have to be in that order (or at all).
But then there’s the bank account.
Do you have one, or maybe two? Does your partner have one? Should you combine them?
And before you even think about doing anything jointly, have you had that crucial conversation about money?
It’s so easy to fall in love, but why is it so hard to have a heart-to-heart with your amour about finances?
To Have and To Hold
Back in the olden days — a respected farmer would trade his eldest daughter for a decent milk-giving cow. And that was a good deal. Everything she owned (which most likely wasn’t much) would go to her new husband. And she was expected to honor and obey him. Love was not part of the equation. It was all about the money.
The groom would get to have everything previously owned by his bride and hold onto her dowry for “safekeeping.” That’s very different from how it works in our current day and age.
Most of the time, both parties are earning their respective paychecks before two become one.
As individuals, you’re managing money, paying bills and (hopefully) budgeting enough for a single person.
Even if you’re a single parent, you still have complete control over where your hard-earned money is going.
And then you pair up with another person, and the negotiation begins. They say money conflict is the second leading cause for divorce. One person may be a spender, while the other is a saver. Or maybe one partner gets in over their head with bills or credit cards and tries to hide it from the other half.
Many possible money issues can cause trouble in paradise, especially if the communication component is not there.
We think we know what we’re doin’ / That don’t mean a thing / It’s all in the past now / Money changes everything
– Cyndi Lauper
For Better, for Worse
My partner and I have been together for 20 years. And I will be perfectly upfront by saying we started those first few years incredibly poor.
I was one year out of college and had a small-ish pile of student loans. He was a single dad of two young boys, living in his parents’ basement.
We had high hopes and low assets. Or no assets, in my case. But we wanted to be a family.
He was living rent-free but had minimal privacy and issues with daycare. I was living in an apartment and was getting used to the whole “adulting” thing. Which is funny because that word didn’t even exist in the ’90s. So I guess I was learning how to be a “grown up”.
We decided the “smart” thing would be to move in together. That way, we could split the bills, have a structured home environment for the boys and begin investing in our combined future.
So we bought a condo.
It was cheaper than buying a house, wouldn’t require much maintenance, and was located in a cute little town with a reputable school district.
Little did we know we’d be in over our heads. Somehow, in our doe-eyed, naive innocence, we’d vastly underestimated all of our bills and accountabilities.
Our condo had electric baseboard heat, and our first winter there was a cold one. Our first electric bill was $950, just for a single month. Boy, was that an eye-opener.
We quickly enrolled in our electric company’s budget billing plan. And we learned to dress in many, many layers.
These were days when fast food was considered a luxury purchase. When it came time to pay the bills, there was no budgeting for restaurant or entertainment expenses.
And did I mention the two toddlers we were entirely responsible for? It goes without saying their needs were the priority.
We were just a couple of young kids ourselves — and I had jumped directly into the fire, with an automatic family (something else I will fully admit I was not ready for.)
But somehow, we figured out how to make it work. Or at least we made it out alive, fairly unscathed. There were some tense moments. Times we didn’t have money to pay the after-school sitter.
Awkward parent-teacher conferences where we were asked if we wanted to apply for financial assistance. But we got through it.
In Sickness and in Health
Money was always an issue. The constant challenge of making our paychecks stretch until the next one came in.
I’d sit down at the kitchen table with our pile of bills and the checkbook.
And I’d slowly work my way through each envelope, watching the dollars and cents in our check register dwindle to practically nothing.
Often, we’d only have $50 remaining until our next payday.
That was our grocery money.
There was nothing left for anything else.
Ugh. Even now, my stomach is churning just thinking about it.
Back then, I vividly remember stressing about the price of toilet paper.
Yes, toilet paper.
It was more cost-effective to buy the big multi-pack. For example, a 12-pack of Angel Soft toilet paper would cost roughly $5.99, sometimes $4.99, if on sale at Walmart. And that amount stressed me out.
Six whole dollars on one item? Never mind that it was a necessity.
So I’d make our proposed shopping list, with an estimated dollar amount scribbled next to each item.
And I’d somehow figure out how we could buy food, plus toilet paper, within our $50 budget.
To last for two whole weeks, until we got paid again.
I remember being thankful when Hamburger Helper packets were on sale at 10 for $10.
Ah yes, processed foods — horrendous for your health, but perfect for your pocketbook.
To Love and To Cherish
Over the years, we’ve been incrementally increasing our income as both of our careers have grown.
So now we have more of a buffer and can breathe for once.
And because of this, I understand if he is hesitant to cut expenses.
We went without for so long, and I can see how it now feels we’re “owed” something.
We both are making decent money right now, and he wants to finally enjoy receiving the bounty from all of his hard work.
I get that. I also like to splurge every once in a while.
This girl would never say no to a spa pedicure —
But I also know that nothing in life is guaranteed, including our paychecks.
We both survived some massive waves of layoffs over the years with our employer.
Some of our peers were not so lucky.
Isn’t it so much wiser to learn to live on less and not owe a dime to anybody else?
That is the place where I would like to get to.
Yes, we can afford car payments, a mortgage, satellite television and lawn service.
But do we need those things?
My goal is to be happy with less.
To do something I love. Which might bring me less income than what I have right now — but I’d be happier and less stressed. I’d have more time to be present, to be thankful, to be alive.
So how do we get there?
That’s the million-dollar question.
I may not have a lot to give / But what I got I’ll give to you /
I don’t care too much for money, / money can’t buy me love
– John Lennon / Paul McCartney
For All the Days of Our Lives
I wish I had a tidy little ending to this story. I’d love to impart some wisdom to demonstrate how to get you and your partner on the same financial page.
It goes without saying that communication is key. Even more than that, you need to know where your partner is coming from—their hopes, their fears, their present and their past.
Because not every love story goes by the book. All relationships are different and unique.
But if you want to create your happily ever after, you’ll need to work for it. And compromise.