[A series of posts based on a letter to SJ from 18 months ago]
Money isn’t everything, we like to say when we’re in love.
If I just had more money, I’d be happier, might sometimes have crossed your mind.
I wish I didn’t have to worry so much about money. A common sentiment.
I’ll never have to worry about money again… said no one ever.
There are lots of biblical references to money. Love of it isn’t good. We give to Caesar what is his (taxes). We can’t serve two masters. All we have is from God. We should tithe it (give back a tenth to God/to help others).
The next part of my “big” letter to SJ had to do with money.
We all place different values on money: Save it for the future; enjoy it while you can; spend it when you have it; give some away; and everything in between.
Like it or not, it is necessary to live. We need it to pay for housing, food, clothing, medicine and health care. Telephones, cars, education, hobbies, luxuries, vacations.
After I left home at 21, I didn’t spend anyone’s money but that which I earned for myself. I’d started making money at 12 with various small jobs, babysitting, and part-time work in high school and all summers. But practically speaking, I was off the payroll completely by 21, until I married at 34. I always hated asking my parents for money, it usually came with a lecture on how undeserving I was, or how unwisely I spent it. My family seemed stingy about money; my reaction was not to be.
When I married, by mutual agreement (and temporary insanity), I gave up a well-paying career to become a stay-at-home-wife/mom (SAHW/M), and SJ was the primary breadwinner. In my head, “primary breadwinner” gets to make the spending rules. I didn’t care to discuss money too much for this reason, but he was always willing to share information, and show me “the budget.” My “dependent spouse” role lasted all of 3 months, and I reinvented myself into a new career path, and started getting a paycheck. SJ still paid the lion’s share of our living expenses, those “invisible’ bill payments to the mortgage, utilities, insurance, cars, medical, etc. I worked part-time when the kids were preschool; and full-time after. My compensation was nearly 1/2 less than my prior career, but I needed not only the external stimulus, I needed some financial autonomy, to not have to feel accountable for my spending decisions, or for ordering a soft drink instead of water. Something nice for the house. A fun family vacation. Clothes, hair styling, an occasional pedi. Gifts. Shopping therapy.
Let me be clear. My “issues” with finances in marriage were not because of my husband… they were because of my own issues with control, independence, trust, and submission. Well, and perhaps less interest in living really lean (for SJ, this is almost a competitive sport, he actually enjoys seeing how little he can get by on).
It’s tough to always agree on how to use money in a marriage. Financial disagreements account for the most disharmony among couples and families. I was grateful that my husband was wise about money, but at times I didn’t enthusiastically support the frugality. He also initially kept a budget that seemed more appropriate for a single man, not a family (and he willingly worked through that when I brought it to his attention). I definitely am more carpe diem, but not above saving money in the moment with coupons and deals. I do exhaustive searches for the best deals in travel and other big-ticket items. In the early years, SJ gave me my household funds in envelopes. He wouldn’t think of eating out without a coupon or a kids-eat-free deal. He’d arch a silent eyebrow if I ordered a bar drink that cost more than $4. We honestly were good counterpoints for each other, but it still wasn’t easy. I felt silent disapproval a lot (and for a girl who seeks approval, this isn’t good).
But… in retrospect, all that frugality allowed us to retire at a ripe young age. And we never once faced the awful specter of uncontrollable debt. We didn’t spend on credit save for mortgage and cars. I married a very, very financially wise and responsible man. He has managed money for one of the largest companies in the world, he has followed Godly principals on personal finances. And to his credit, he has said of our financial portfolio, “It is OUR money.” I trust him to manage it, which I know isn’t always the case in all marriages.
(Let me just say this to anyone who has yet to marry: it is better to have a partner who is thrifty and financially responsible, not in debt, and instead generous with things other than money; if he/she is a generous person in other things, money will not be an impediment as long as it is within the realm of wise stewardship).
These were my issues on money and finances 18 months ago, and how we worked them out:
Although at times it is hard for me to wrap my brain around it, you have told me what is mine is yours (and conversely). My head goes, “he went off to work for 35 years, approximately 2/3 of which I shared with him. He worked hard, he dealt with stress and crap, so, how is any of this mine?” I try to justify with marriage, we became one. I think, “Well, I gave up a well-paying career to move, marry, and have children, so that was my contribution. I also worked and earned a smaller amount of money that supplemented our budgets and which kept me “off the payroll” for some line items (I self-funded my personal expenses, because I felt I shouldn’t ask you for clothing, haircuts, Starbucks, makeup, pampering, home decorating, hobby money, money to buy gifts, vacations, etc.). All I’m saying is that it’s been hard for both of us to get our heads around this “it’s all ours” thing. I want to go there with you. I trust your leadership in financial planning, I always have, and I’m blessed by it. You are good at it and better than me. But as we move forward together, make decisions on how to make that money last and work for us, we need to be making the decisions together. I will try my utmost to trust and submit to those things you feel strongly about.
- Future support for the kids’ “whatevers.” I suggest that it seems reasonable (and generous) that we say “for one year from your undergrad degree, if you can’t support it, we will support cell phone and car/health insurance (but not Rx?). But upon graduation you need to have a job/means that pays all your other expenses, with plans to take on the phone and insurance a year after graduation.” I also think maybe we should get in mind an amount we will set aside for each of the kids’ “whatevers.” Maybe we don’t have to tell them how much this amount is or even if it exists. We just know what we’re prepared to budget for… We give the clear message we expect them to become self-supporting after graduation (job; pay for grad school; TA, internships, loans, etc). It may be they won’t need this money in the near term. But we have a budget plan. This bears further discussion. Maybe they DO need to know the limit.
Outcome: we did discuss an amount to set aside for each of our kids for post-grad start-up costs. Mentally this a good practice, you don’t deal with the inevitable hands-out or bail-out syndrome without a plan. SJ just recently told me what a good idea this was, and that he is keeping an accounting of what our recent grad has “drawn down” in our financial support. Six months out of graduation, he’s also informed our employed young adult that car insurance and cell phone bills are his now. We question if it’s better not to reveal this “fund” yet.
- When we talk to kids about money (or anything), we do it together, as a team. We make it clear to them this is “our” money, and “our” decisions. Dad and Mom do not have separate wallets. It all comes from the same place.
We are still working on this. SJ has made an effort to say “Mom and I…” and I’ve made an effort to say “our kids” rather than “my kids.” This Christmas, the “one-size-fits-all” gift of cash was transferred directly to their bank accounts; but under the tree were envelopes containing copies of paper money with Mom and Dad’s picture pasted in the center.
- I will do my utmost to stick to our agreed upon script and not contradict you in front of the kids. My hope is to have a unified front, and to go in prepared with whatever that is. I may not always “get my way” on a decision, but when we go before the kids, we are together, unified. There is no “I’ll go to Dad privately and ask for money (and not even “Dad sends some spending cash and it’s just from him.” Honey, doing that really divides us. It’s like saying, “I want to give you cash but your mom doesn’t).
We talk more about our stances before we go to the kids, develop a unified front, and most of the time I give SJ “the floor” to discuss it with them, on behalf of us. I don’t know that I’ll ever change the perception that their Dad was our primary breadwinner and responsible for supporting them… and nor should I. I remind them how they should be grateful for a Dad who supported them so well. But it’s nice when SJ acknowledges the things I did for our family were equally valued and supported us all.
- This [aging parents] is a whole other issue, but have you and your sibling put this all in a spreadsheet and figured out when your parent’s money runs out, and how much you two potentially will need to supplement in various scenarios? Seems like a good financial planning thing to do now, because I do believe you will be supporting your parents at some point; and we need that info for our planning.
This is an issue we’ve yet to resolve. There is a bit of denial and unwillingness to face the issue, to even have to think about it, the hope that perhaps it will never be necessary to think about it. Without question, SJ will financially support his parents if need be. But, it does affect our future spending plans, so I hope SJ (and his sib) will confront it.
Money and finances. How does this work in your marriage? What ways have worked and what are the issues you face?