Apr 4, 2011

Money and Marriage, Part 1 (Guest Post by Alisha)

Hi! I’m Alisha. I’m a 20-something newlywed pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology. When I'm not toiling away at schoolwork, I love going out to restaurants, taking on home design projects, practicing yoga, cuddling with my husband, and catching up on my favorite television shows. I'm a city girl at heart and my husband is a transplant from the mountains of West Virginia. Right now we live in a small condo in the heart of Chicago and love being in the middle of it all, but one day we'll move to our forever home with two floors, a yard, room for a dog, and . . . a girl can dream. I blog at Married in Chicago.

I’m a long time reader of Frugal Wife = Wealthy Life and so I’m absolutely thrilled to guest post here this week! I’m not very good at keeping an organized pantry or getting a month’s worth of cooking done in one day (although I really wish I was), but I can share with you the financial story of my marriage.

Sometimes, one of the hardest things to negotiate in a marriage is money. This can be a struggle in any relationship, but marriage adds the complex layer of fully joining finances (or not). And as it so happens, money is also one of those things that polite society just doesn't talk about. It can be tricky to talk finances
with family and friends and I've noticed that, at least in my own life, when it is discussed people tend to paint broad strokes and avoid sharing the nitty gritty details. Think about it, when was the last time you told your friends exactly how much money was in your retirement account?

This hesitancy to divulge makes total sense. The number in your checking account or on your credit card bill are personal. But for me, I think it also has to do with the nagging fear that my numbers don’t match up with what everyone else has. I get anxious just thinking that maybe everyone else on the planet is saving gajillions more dollars than me or that my credit card balance is exponentially larger than the
person’s next to me. Yikes!

With all of these feelings about what each number means and with the hush-hush money shroud of secrecy, it can be HARD to talk money with your significant other. Really hard.

No wonder people fight about it, right?

So, I thought I'd share with you the money history of my relationship with my husband, Neill. Am I little nervous to share so much information with you? Sure. But, if sharing my story helps just one person feel less alone, anxious, or concerned it is worth it. Plus, I think our society needs more open discussions
about the different ways people handle finances in a relationship.

My husband and I have been together now almost six years. But, I’m going to start at the beginning of our relationship so that you can see how our finances have changed over time. When Neill and I first started dating we were in very different points in our lives. He had already started his career, while I was a college student who worked during school breaks. He lived in his own apartment and was completely financially independent, while I lived in a dorm and was on a meal plan that my parents paid for. Many of these differences were because of our age difference. When we first met, he was 26 years old and I was only 19.

The first two years of our relationship we dated long distance. While only seeing each other every other weekend was difficult, I think living in different cities protected us from dealing with difficult money issues too early on in the relationship. For example, I don't think we talked about how much money we
had in our savings accounts, if we had credit card debt, or Neill's income. I knew Neill had a “good” job and Neill knew I basically had no job, but that was that. We each had a personal checking out and a personal savings account. I had some small mutual funds that were set up for me by my family and Neill had a retirement account started. Our finances were completely separate. When we saw each other, Neill usually paid for dinner or whatever we were doing. But, once in a while I would use the cash I had to pick up the tab.

A few weeks before I graduated college Neill officially became a homeowner and when I was finished with school I moved to Chicago, officially ending our long-distance status. We had some general discussions about what he was expecting financially from me, but the expectations were pretty low. We knew we wanted to live together and so we figured we would make it work somehow. At this point, Neill paid the mortgage and all of the bills. I, on the other hand, was an unemployed college student with my eye on graduate school. I wanted to find a paid position working on a research study, but I couldn't find anything. So in order to get the experience necessary to be accepted into a competitive clinical psychology doctoral program, I started working on a volunteer basis in two different research labs. Yup. You read that right. Volunteer. As in for free ninety-nine. As in Neill was pretty much completely supporting me, with a few hundred dollars from my mom every once in a while.

I am so thankful for Neill’s support because this arrangement let me build my CV and helped me get accepted to a clinical psychology program. But, living completely on Neill's dime brought up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings for me. For example, I remember when we would go grocery shopping I felt like I had to ask Neill's permission before I put anything in the cart. Plus, with taking on a mortgage Neill's monthly expenses went up. Even though Neill has always been extremely generous and never once made me feel like he differentiated between what was his versus what was ours, money was tight. I hated feeling like I didn't have any money of my own to spend however I want.

Thankfully, after six long months I finally found a job. I wasn't making much, but it was a full-time salaried job with benefits! Even though Neill still made about five times my salary, bringing home a paycheck made me feel good about being able to contribute to our household. It was during the first few months of my new job that we made our first household budget -- an excel document that I still have
saved to my desktop.

In my next post, I'll share how we made our budget and how we decided to open our first joint checking account. Until then, I'd love to continue this discussion in the comments. How did you and your partner handle finances in the early stage of the relationship? Have you ever been in the position of not earning an income or being the breadwinner? Is it easy for you to talk about money with family and friends?


Carly said...

I don't like talking money with most people in my family. It always feels touchy!

My husband and I opened a joint account within a few weeks of getting married and haven't looked back since. In the beginning I was more of the "breadwinner" with a full-time job until our son was born. Since then I've stayed home and not contributed finacially to our bank accounts. But I definitely feel like it's "our" money in there. We live on a tight student's budget, but we work together, communicate pretty well, and have joint financial goals... so it works for us!

Thanks for sharing your story!

Married In Chicago said...

Thanks for sharing Carly! I think it feels weird to talk money with family too. But, I can talk about practically anything else with my mom, so its weird that I can't talk money with her! I wish it wasn't like that.

Karina said...

It's ridiculously easy for my spouse and I to tell the world our exact financial accounting. And it's not because our finances are great either. In fact, we failed so miserably at one point that perhaps that is why we feel it's good to be so open and learn from others. I know that we're strange, though. I'm happy to hear someone else share their story so openly. Thanks Alisha.