My husband and I are complete opposites in a lot of ways. He likes chocolate, I like vanilla. I’m a little high strung while he is calm and cool in every situation. This made for quite an adventure in the early days of our marriage. Many times during our first year I sat across the table from this stranger and thoughts like these ran through my mind: “Do I even know this guy? How can he eat those? Why would he spend our money on that? He doesn’t even know how to do laundry!” Side note: Our first few weeks of marriage he dyed my mother’s yellow towels blue.
At times it felt like a struggle to find even one thing we agreed upon. Living a single life for the first 25 years will do that to you. You develop your own lifestyle that meets your individual preferences. Morning person or night owl? Spender or saver? Clean or messy?
All that has to change when you get married, and it can be a tough transition. You have to make room for another life to merge with your own, compromising and placing someone else’s needs above your own. Somehow we covered topics like how many kids we wanted to have one day or what our dream careers would be. However, one thing we failed to discuss early on was how we would handle our money. Oh, how much easier things would be if we had. Why didn’t we? Here are some reasons I concocted as to why we never brought it up:
1. Discussing finances makes you vulnerable.
2. You can’t hide numbers – what you spend, what you make, and how much debt you have.
3. It’s highly personal. What someone spends their money on reveals a lot about what kind of desires they have.
It only took us a few years to realize our arguments continued to follow the same pattern. I would get upset because we couldn’t go on vacation. He was upset that I expected him to handle all the bills and balance the checkbook. Neither one of us had a realistic picture of our finances; what we owed, where our money was going, or when we could purchase a home. Blame and unrealistic expectations hindered our once-quality communication on the subject.
One Sunday night I had enough. “I HAVE TO KNOW!” I said. “We can’t go on any longer like this.” I told him to gather all his pay stubs, electronic logins, and our bank statements for the last six months. We each grabbed our laptops and settled in for a long night on the office floor. Before we began to dig into the numbers, we set some boundaries to facilitate our honest communication. There would be no judgment. Whatever we discovered were facts, and the important thing to focus on was the outcome: we were putting a plan in place. We resolved to be open and respectful when talking about our expectations and goals. Several hours later, we had six major breakthroughs! The results of our budget plan?
1. We armed ourselves with knowledge. There were no questions about where our money was going or if we had each had equal parts of “fun” with our cash. We both came face to face with what our bills were each month, and how much was leftover. It’s as simple as that!
2. Our goals were united. We both wanted a house. We wanted to get rid of college loans. And who doesn’t want to plan and take a vacation? We set up saving strategies to slowly work towards the things we both agreed we wanted.
3. Joint accountability. No longer could I point my finger at him and tell him I wanted to know if I could spend $50 on new shoes. Check the numbers! I knew what we had for entertainment or fun money that month. We agreed to have a little piece for each of us to do whatever we wanted with. Save up for something bigger or spend it now. We found freedom when the responsibility of our finances wasn’t placed on one set of shoulders.
4. No hiding anything. Having a budget eliminates any guilt. No hiding receipts. Our one Sunday night meeting turned into a monthly affair. That’s the thing about budgets; they only work if you actually do what you plan. You have to check in! We decided to share that responsibility too so there were no questions. Each month we could start over if we didn’t succeed in achieving all our goals.
5. No more worry. We built up an emergency account that was for things like tires blowing out, unexpected air conditioning repairs (that IS an emergency in Texas), and medical bills. Having a cushion for surprise bills when things inevitably break brings us a great deal of security and comfort. No more arguments or stress when the car fails to start, the dog gets sick or the plumbing decides to act up.
6. We celebrated. Do you know how good it feels to accomplish financial goals? Turn it into a celebration. For even the smallest of things. It could be making a bigger student loan payment, spending less on going out to eat, or getting creative with date nights. It became a reason for joy and happiness.
I wish we had been more strategic in communicating about our finances and expectations even before we were married. Once you take away shame, blame, and insecurity you realize that money is simply a means for daily living. I had to slowly teach myself to remove emotion from the equation, and we both had to learn to take ownership of our finances. Getting comfortable talking about finances has helped our communication in other areas too. When you can successfully talk about money, you can talk about anything! Don’t get me wrong; budgeting isn’t a magic fix-all. We still face hard months and difficult decisions like everyone else. The difference is how we handle it. Living without a plan, or worse, ignoring your finances, imprisons you. You become trapped by the “what-ifs” of living paycheck to paycheck. There is no question about it: cars will break down. Someone will get sick. Pipes burst. The washing machine won’t run forever. Why not be prepared?
Find freedom in putting together a financial plan or a budget, no matter how basic. It is a humbling process when you come face to face with how you spend your money. This process showed me how much I need someone like my husband. Turns out those opposite qualities aren’t too bad, after all.