I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “You’re a financial planner. You can’t possibly have any money fears about marriage.” You know the ending to that story…I’d be rich by now for sure.
I probably have more money fears surrounding marriage than most people can even think of because I am a CFP and see it all the time with my clients. Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans have “secret” debt that their partner isn’t aware of? It’s no wonder that the two reasons most couples split up is over sex and, of course, money.
It wasn’t until my husband, and I went to premarital counseling (which I highly recommend) that we talked about the ins and outs of money – not how much we have or didn’t have, but what our philosophies around money were. It’s a bit complicated in my situation because we had both been married before, and, as anyone who’s been divorced will tell you, not only do you have heaps of emotional baggage to deal with, but you also have a nice trunk full of financial baggage. Things like paying off credit card debt that didn’t belong to you and making alimony payments can erode any savings you might have built up.
In our case, because we were both previously married, neither of us were interested in keeping financial secrets because we knew first-hand the damage it can do in relationships.
Back to those money fears, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few after the bliss of the wedding day wore off and reality was upon us. Although many fears come and go, I’ve faced three major fears in marriage that I’m sure many of you can relate to. Rest easy, though, because there are solutions.
Budget Breakdown Fear
Why is it that no one likes to budget? It’s a pretty simple answer – we don’t like to be told what we can and can’t spend our money on. I learned about budgets the hard way as a 19-year-old when I started my first business while in college. I knew very little about how to manage a large sum of money, but somehow I navigated the process pretty seamlessly. Fast forward to marriage, and I can tell you that operating a budget for a business is a lot easier than operating it with two people who have their own sets of saving and spending ideas.
The hardest part about budgeting I’ve found both personally and with clients is setting up an easy-to-use system where one person is the day-to-day money manager, and the other person is what I call, back-up relief. For us, it’s all about the K-I-S-S system (keep it simple, stupid). We use Quicken to keep track of our spending, alongside a monthly budget that I’ve created in Excel, and post it notes (it’s the system that works best for my husband, but any way that works for you is A-OK) in one central location to keep track of our daily spending so we can stay in budget each week. It’s easy when it works, but the fears emerge when the budget breaks down, which, unfortunately, seems to happen more times than not.
My fears around budgeting don’t ever go away, but I know what works and what doesn’t work.
The best way to alleviate fears around budgeting is just getting back to basics. When we get off course, we have a quick, “let’s talk shop” meeting where we get refocused on why in the world we budget to begin with. These meetings are short and painless for us, usually lasting at most 15 minutes. It’s just a time for us to get on the same page and regroup. We talk about what went off course in our budget that week, what’s coming up for us next week and set a weekly savings goal. I’m a big challenge person, so setting a goal is always fun for me.
For you, try finding even just 5-10 minutes a week when you have your “let’s talk shop” meeting. Make it fun, have a glass of wine, or light some candles and give it some ambiance. Make sure it’s a safe space for each person to address any money issues that have come up during the week and always leave your meeting with an action plan for the week. Think of it like being a football player and regrouping with the team before the big play.
It was so easy to dream about our future kids when we were planning the wedding because in our world it would all work out perfectly. When we were a year into the marriage, we figured it was time to start trying since we were both on our second marriage and hadn’t produced any cute babies yet. Turns out life had a different plan in mind.
You learn a whole new language when the doctor tells you that one or both of you have complicating factors to having kids. There are tons of acronyms and special names, but if you keep your sense of humor, you can make a difficult situation a bit easier to swallow.
Long story short we were told we might not be able to have kids because of me, (still hard for me to admit), and then out of the blue, bam, we were pregnant. To add a topper to all of this, we were pregnant with twins. As a CFP, I imagined two of everything and a vanishing retirement fund that was already bleak due to divorce. It’s hard to turn off my money brain, even in happy situations. Soon after though I was picking out colors for a nursery, and we were in bliss with these unexpected miracles.
In what felt like a blink of an eye, we had a miscarriage at 10 weeks and lost our little ones. Miscarriage can lead to countless blood tests, examinations of what went wrong and an exploration into the land of infertility.
What I can tell you from my brief tiptoe into that area is that infertility is pricey. Scratch that, it’s downright expensive. There are hardly any health care plans that cover the costs, and unless you’ve planned properly, you could be weighing the options of draining your accounts and maxing out your credit cards against wanting to have a baby, which somehow just doesn’t sound humane to me at all. We’ve had to really sit down and think about our priorities and our finances and have a game plan. If moving ahead with infertility is the option we want, then we’re both ok with moving funds around to make this a priority. This is couple specific though, and it’s really important that you both are on the same page.
Deciding What Works For You
When I’m working with clients this conversation topic is never easy. Often times when you’re at the point of talking about infertility you’ve already experienced a few heartaches. For every client the recommendation might be different. Do you have an Emergency Fund saved? Do you have good health insurance that covers certain infertility costs? Does your monthly budget allow for large infertility expenses? Are there any other funding sources like family and friends that might help along the way? All of these questions are important in making the decision of whether you plug forward or not. If there are no other funding sources, then I often recommend loans through lenders like Med Loan Finance or Prosper Healthcare Lending.
The only way I’ve found to counteract this fear is to communicate with your spouse about what you are feeling, what you are willing to do and also what life looks like if you can’t or choose not to have kids.
I’ve been my own boss since 19 when I started my first business, a national student film festival, besides a short stint in corporate life. I’m just not a flourescent lights, Monday AM meetings kind of a girl. My husband, on the other hand, entered into the big-bad world of self-employment a month before we got married and the thought of having two self-employed dreamchasers has sent chills down my spine more than a few times in the last few years.
There are a thousand pros and cons with being self-employed, and I would argue it is the best job out there because you are the CEO of you. However, you’ve got to be tough and ready to weather the storm. It can be a feast or famine life, and the most important piece is whether your spouse is willing to go along for the ride, or in my case, jump in the boat with me.
I can’t tell you that the fear of being a self-employed, married couple has ever gone away. What I can tell you is that we’ve designed the life that we are living, and it’s what happiness looks like for us. Instead of seeing our finances in black and white, we look at our financial future in a range of colors. We don’t have the ease of being W-2 employees that get a paycheck each week. Instead, we’ve got to hustle each and every day to build our businesses and continue to grow. Financially, this is both scary and ultra rewarding all at the same time.
For us, having life insurance is key so that the other person could keep their entrepreneurial business flourishing. If one of us were to die unexpectedly the other could invest the life insurance proceeds and live off the interest from that money. It would provide much needed cash so the other person wouldn’t have to worry about money – which we feel like should be the last thing you have to worry about if you lost your spouse.
Additionally, having what we call “smart” debt (debt that we can get at low interest rates like car loans, student loans and even 0% interest credit card debt) has become the norm and doesn’t freak us out because we understand leverage and the ebbs and flows of debt. At the end of the day, it’s communication and constantly checking in on our goals that we set out each year that allows us to move forward, healthy and happy, with our self-employed careers.
Relationships and Money
Relationships and money aren’t an easy combination. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that with a good partner many fears can be eliminated almost as quickly as they arise if you communicate and create an action plan together. The trick is that you can never stop learning nor stop growing together as a financially aware couple. Look for articles and education online for any topics that you are struggling with or simply want to master. Whether it’s from an online blog like this one, or a publication like Money Magazine, it’s never been easier to educate yourself. I also host a podcast called Millennial Money on iTunes, and one of my favorite topics to discuss is marriage and money (amongst many other topics).
Your Turn to Share
What we really want is to hear your own marital financial questions and fears. We’ve got a little poll below to uncover your financial fears and for you to submit your most pressing questions and frustrations. In my next post with Haven Life, we’ll choose five or so questions for me to answer. Remember, there are never any bad questions, and chances are someone else is curious about the same marital financial issue that you are.
Shannah is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and is a millennial money financial strategist. She runs the blog Your Millennial Money, and is host of the Millennial Money iTunes podcast. Her husband Jeff is a travel journalist, but when they aren’t traveling she loves to challenge herself in the kitchen by creating a culinary masterpiece worthy of Food Network fame (she can make a mean risotto).