In these past 7 months as a young wife, I have discovered countless things and learned many lessons. One of them is that you can learn a great deal about yourself by looking at how you handle finances. Another, more important discovery is: how you and your spouse work together when it comes to money says an awful lot about your relationship.
Growing up, and even as I prepared for my own wedding, people would always say, “There are three main conflicts in marriage: sex, money, and children.” I had an idea how parents could disagree regarding discipline, privileges, etc. of their children, but I never really understood the whole “money and sex thing” until I got married. The money aspect just did not make sense to me. For as long as I can remember, I have been a “compulsive saver.” Whether I would earn $5 for helping with a project, or I would get $40 as birthday money from my grandmother, it did not matter. It was going into my savings. Actually, I didn’t save – I hoarded. I rarely ever spent money unless I absolutely, positively had to. It was a sad time for me when I had to buy a car, pay for gas each week, pay hundreds of dollars for college textbooks, and spend money left and right for our wedding.
I thought, “Welcome to adulthood where saving doesn’t really get you anywhere.” My dad tried explaining to me the concept of a “cash flow” – money comes in, and then goes out again. I still liked the idea of a “cash stay.” I liked putting money in the bank where it stayed until I found something I deemed worthy of spending it on.
Then, I married my husband who saved as an afterthought. Usually, after he got the things he needed, he’d put what was left over into the bank.
- In every relationship there is a saver and a spender.
Do you know which one I am? When it came to moving into a new house with a new spouse who does not mind spending, there are two ways the saver can react. A) Panic and refuse to spend any money, or B) say “whatever” and go on your merry way spending money however it should happen. I did a little of both. I had sorely underestimated how much start-up costs would be when moving into a house in another state. We received lots of generous gifts for our wedding, but it hardly covered anything. Not only did I need a can opener and a fry pan with a lid in the kitchen, but I needed a new driver’s license, lisence plate for the car, etc. Then he said we needed a lawn mower, a mailbox, tools, etc. I was overwhelmed. Everything was going on a credit card and every time I walked out of the house, I heard dollar signs – cha-ching! Cha-ching! I swear, for the next month, we spent more time in Walmart than in our new home.
Early on in a relationship, determine who the spender is and who the saver is. Often it’s easy to tell which is which. Decide also, how the spender will curb their desire to spend, and how the saver will not be such a stickler. Reach a compromise. Brian respects how I feel and asks me before he simply buys something, and genuinely waits for my honest opinion. I have tried to loosen up too, and not always say, “We can live without it,” or “it’s not a need.”
- Debt does create strain.
Because I had no idea how money – or the lack of it – could affect a marriage, I was rather surprised at first when we had different opinions on how to use Brian’s weekly paychecks. I wanted to pay off the credit cards as soon as possible and he wanted to put money into the savings account. While I did, of course, want to save money, I was also tired of staying up at night thinking about the loans that loomed over our heads and the interest we were paying on them. I wanted to get them out of the way first, and then, after they were gone, put everything into savings. We frequently disagreed on these perspectives. I was also irritated that his paychecks were going straight back into the business – tools constantly broke and had to replaced, the truck was often in the mechanic’s for no less than $300-$700 a pop, etc. While we have never argued or fought, this did create some level of tension at times.
- Communicate and be willing to listen.
When we got married, I was added to his bank account. While he makes far more than I do with his business, we still share all the money in that account. It is ours. Therefore, it is crucial that we confer and communicate with each other on how we are spending our money. We frequently discuss the condition of our bank account and talk about where the money is going. We have no secrets – unless it’s a Christmas or birthday gift of course.
I am so blessed to have a man who so willingly listens to me. He asks for my opinions and genuinely wants them. He is slow to speak but quick to listen. Thankfully, he is also this way when it comes to finances. Before he makes a purchase, he asks my opinion. He listens to why I do, or do not, think it a wise investment. He then tries to see it from my perspective. If he still deems it necessary or important, he will explain his position so I can understand what he is thinking. When we can see the other’s point of view, it makes the decision easier, and it is a sign of a strong and healthy relationship.
(I will give you a tip though: Do not, I repeat, do not wait until 1 a.m. to discuss the desperate, lacking condition of your bank account. If you are standing there staring at the figures on a piece of paper and they are blurry and spinning – you’re too exhausted to even think –just go to bed. Discuss important things, like finances, when you are both rested and relaxed, not exhausted and irritable. It will get you nowhere.)
- Honor each other, even when something is not important to you.
Often, what is important to one is not to the other. Obviously, to Brian, things like candle-warmers, Tupperware, or shoes are not a big deal. Those things he could live without. I however, want my house to smell nice when people visit, I want containers that do not leak when tipped, and I want a pair of heels to wear with my dresses. Even if these were not small and very occasional expenses, Brian would allow me to buy them without a second thought. I am not so lenient and usually have to remind myself to loosen up when he wants to get his deer mounted, needs another pair of hunting boots, or another tool set. While his items are unarguably more costly, these purchases mean something to him. I have to remind myself that the buck at the taxidermist’s is the biggest deer Brian has ever bagged and it is immeasurably important to him. While I frankly couldn’t care less about having a head on my living room wall, how can I say “no” to something that means so much to him? Yes, its money, but it surely is not the end of the world. By agreeing to get that head mounted, I can honor my husband and show him how very proud I am of him.
- Compromise when possible.
Compromise is not a bad thing, just so long as morals are not in question. Marriage is not 50%-50% but is instead 100%-100%! Relationships, especially married ones, are a lot about sacrifice. Agreeing to get a nail gun even though we own a hammer, is a sacrifice for me – it requires spending a good bit of money, but I know it will make his job easier. Sacrifices of love are about denying yourself so you can honor your spouse – and both people need to do this. A marriage will never work if it is one-sided. I cannot always have my way, and he cannot always have his – there must be a give and a take.
But what happens when neither one can agree on something? This is where you [peacefully] talk it out and come to a mutual agreement that you can both live with. This “plan B” is a compromise.
Compromise simply means “to meet in the middle.” I have learned that when it comes to a married relationship, compromise is a good solution if we come to an impasse (which rarely happens.)
I have never been across the U.S. on a road trip and Brian wanted to take me while he was laid off from his job for a week. I desperately wanted to go, but I knew it would be a lot of gas from Ohio to California and back, hotel stays are not cheap, and fast food costs a pretty penny. I expressed my concerns and my husband listened. Finally, we came to a compromise. We would go on the trip if he allowed me to pack food to cut the costs of eating out three times a day. He was not entirely thrilled by the idea of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or cold ham for dinner, but he agreed nonetheless. This was a compromise on both our parts – but we agreed and had a blast! (Although, I will be glad if I never have to eat another ham sandwich in the next decade.)