No Romance Without Finance: Making My Own Rules About Marriage & Money

 

 This article was contributed by Valerie Wade

There we were, spring 2016, deep in the frenzy of wedding planning. I decided to stop procrastinating and make some progress on our wedding registry. I strategically caught my husband-to-be on an evening when there were no sports on television. I plopped down next to him on the couch with my laptop and a couple of catalogs. He glanced at them and shared a knowing look with our terrier. “She’s at it again,” his eyes said. The dog sighed in agreement.

“We have to get to work on this,” I tried to cajole him into some semblance of excitement about the task at hand. “We get to pick out gifts! I’m sure there’s something you want.”

Bless his heart. He humored me for a bit and slowly flipped through one of the catalogs. I pointed out a few small things that we might add to our registry – some color-coordinated bath towels, a new memory foam mat for the kitchen. But we both quickly realized that this was an impractical endeavor for us.

“This all just seems like…a lot.” He waved his hand at our small kitchen and snug bathroom. “Where would we even put all this stuff?” He was right. We already had all we needed in our modest one-bedroom apartment. We had no use or space for a Keurig machine, Le Creuset cookware, or a full set of Wüsthof knives. Agonizing over the standard wedding registry fare was not how we wanted to spend our precious time.

I thought about the two irons in our hallway closet and the multiple saucepans in our kitchen cabinets. After a stint of living in different states and a couple of long-distance moves over the course of our relationship, we were in no mood to add to our hodgepodge of housewares. “How about we just put this off until our housewarming party?” I laughed. Hey, at least we were on one accord!

We had cohabited (or “shacked up,” as my mother derisively says) for the majority of our relationship. By the time our wedding came around, we simply didn’t need a gift registry. Luckily, we weren’t the only ones who faced this quandary. We realized that an entire industry had developed to replace traditional wedding registries. Honeymoon registries fit our needs perfectly because they were less gauche than outright asking people to give cash instead of gifts. This aspect of our wedding experience led to some interesting conversations about finances and marriage. It encouraged us to articulate some guidelines for our marriage. We decided that we would do things our own way, regardless of “normal” timelines. We would value experiences over possessions. We wouldn’t be bothered by people making judgments on our devotion to each other based on what they think they see from the outside looking in. Lofty ideals, huh?

Pre-marital cohabitation may be normalizing honeymoon registries, but people still make many assumptions about women, money, and love based on a one-size-fits-all approach. I firmly believe that wedded bliss looks different for every couple, and that’s totally okay. Life decisions are deeply personal, but money undergirds them all. Do you want to maintain two separate apartments while engaged or do you move in together? Gotta think about money. Do you want a big wedding or a small one? Gotta think about money. Do you want to have no kids, one kid, or five? Gotta think about money.

 My husband and I took our time with each other before diving into marriage. This “slow love” phenomenon accounts for later marriage ages nowadays. Getting married after spending years paying my own rent, having accounts in my name, and doing my own taxes meant adjusting to a new normal. In many ways, my husband and I have made our own rules for our relationship so far, so why not take our time to figure out how we want to conduct our finances as a married couple? Below are five lessons that I’ve found useful for maintaining financial balance as a newlywed. 

  1. Communicate

As a woman, I struggle to maintain the sense of independence I worked so hard to cultivate in my 20s while also developing the spirit of teamwork necessary for a successful marriage in my 30s. I’m so used to my money being my private business, and he is accustomed to feeling the same about his funds. But we are officially in this for the long haul, so we make every effort to get over ourselves and communicate. Oddly enough, our most honest and productive money conversations occur when we are walking our dog. These are our little check-in sessions. We answer questions like:

  • How much are you bringing in each month, and how much are you putting away for savings?
  • What’s your retirement plan looking like?
  • How is your life insurance set up?
  • How are we progressing toward the down payment for our house?
  • What are our student loans and other debts?
  • What large purchases or travel plans do we have coming up?

Of course, we discussed these things before our wedding. But it is so useful to keep bringing these topics up.

  1. Do What Feels Right

I think that every newlywed couple should take the time to figure out what works for them. When things get contentious (and they will), I think back to those moments like our wedding registry conversation. We decided on a course of action that felt natural for us no matter what tradition dictated. The same goes for our finances. We try not to force things if they just don’t fit with what we need. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we give ourselves space to learn. For us, marriage isn’t about rushing to merge all our accounts or hurrying to buy a house before we are ready because that’s what people say we are “supposed” to do. 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Tell People to Mind Their Business

Everybody will have advice. Most people don’t mean any harm, and they respect your boundaries and don’t take it personally. But others will be very adamant about you doing things their way. There are people who assume we have money to burn because we are childless and employed. Then there are people who are convinced I’m destitute because I drive a 10-year-old car. (I’m committed to Team No Car Note.) And you know what? I let them think whatever they want because it’s really none of their business. They don’t know anything about the details of our income, our savings, or our expenses. Marriage is stressful enough without people thinking they can tell you how often you can eat out, what kind of car to buy, or when you should have a baby. It’s great to seek advice from others, but be careful about letting people feel that they have a huge say in how you use your funds. Focus on developing a financial plan with your partner  instead of your entire circle of family and friends.

  1. Don’t Remain Stagnant

With automated bill payments and savings transfers, it is very easy to put your money on autopilot. However, I am learning to imagine financial growth as a journey. Our financial journey looks very different from the journeys of our parents and grandparents. Transitioning from singlehood to a long-term committed relationship to marriage means that my relationship with money has to mature right along with my relationship with my husband. Sometimes, you have to re-examine your road map and change paths accordingly. It might mean switching up your life insurance policy, opening a retirement account, or learning about the stock market. It might mean spending more money on a chiropractor instead of manicures. Just be flexible. Don’t be afraid to try new things with your money from time to time. 

  1. Have Fun!

Marriage means you have a buddy for life! Y’all better take some time to have fun together. Life is all about balance. Spoil each other. Go on trips. Indulge in your hobbies. Don’t fall into the trap of never going out or treating yourself because you’re so focused on saving. You will end up being the grumpy bitter auntie with premature wrinkles and split ends because she refused to pay for an occasional facial or salon appointment. Money is a tool. It is not something to be hoarded or wasted on frivolity, just use it wisely.

I know that money might not be the most fun topic to discuss with your partner, but being practical and honest is key. What tips do you have for managing money in a relationship?

 

 About the contributor:
 
Valerie Wade is an archivist and historian who grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas. She earned her B.A. in African American Studies and Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. She went on to study United States History at Duke University, where she earned her M.A. She can usually be found at a park with a good book. She loves crafting, day-hiking, and hanging with her husband and their dog.

 


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