As I consider my approaching marriage to the Queen, there are two topics that scare the shit out of me: kids and money. Both are dripping with danger and disagreement for obvious reasons, and because of that, most remarrying couples don’t give them the attention they deserve, until it’s too late.
In the latest episode of He Said She Said with women’s life coach, Laura Campbell, we begin a new series about the financial aspects of remarriage. During our conversation, Getting Started, we talk about how dangerous money is in marriages and particularly so for second marriages. I start out that conversation mentioning my fear that money can, and usually will, derail a relationship and, trying to prevent that, how intentional the Queen and I have been preparing for our financial lives as husband and wife. I want to tease that out more here.
I am a numbers person, always have been. I think excel sheets and financial calculators are sexy. For the past six years I have used this passion to remodel my financial house in such a way, God willing, to have a comfortable retirement. Getting here, however, has required I put myself under a sometimes uncomfortable, albeit rational, financial budget. This will probably come as a shock to most, I can tell you where and how much I have spent every day since March 1, 2008. Every. Single. Cent. No exceptions. That pack of gum on 8/15/11, it’s written down. Admittedly this has made me a bit psychotic and anal. I can’t go too many hours without updating the spreadsheet with my latest purchase. But this approach is also the reason my financial life is not chaotic like the overwhelming majority of American households. It’s a habit that is as much a part of my life as working out. And like the gym, I will continue doing both after I’m married and until I’m whisked off to the other side.
The Queen is not like this. She dreams in design and color, pixels and abstract. For her, spreadsheets carry the appeal of root canals. Understanding her aversion to this I’ve been diligently working to tone down my militaristic fervor while achieving the same results.
We live in separate households with separate financial lives. But a marriage will change all of that, and therein lay my concern. How do take two distinct financial varieties , blend them, and create an elixir that won’t leave a hangover? Our lives are a bit more complicated than the recent college graduate or thirty something single whose has only worried about themselves. One of us pays child support the other receives it. We both have mortgages, medical bills, and everything else that comes along with electricity and indoor plumbing. We also have a decade of financial independence that has been limited only by a credit limit or checking account balance. We have been answerable to no one for what we do with our money.
So the question now facing us, and what we must answer before next summer, is how do we bring those pieces together without resulting in one of our untimely deaths? How do we take our individual approaches to finance and create a workable plan for our marriage?
This is where, I feel, so many couples contemplating remarriage get the money thing wrong. They ignore the topic entirely until after the marriage when they run aground of a financial crisis, then all hell breaks loose. They don’t think about these questions early enough in the relationship, while dating, while there is still ample grace and emotional margin to get through it. There’s a funny truth about human nature; preparing for something is done through discussion, fixing it is usually done by argument.
The Queen and I are convinced we can’t begin after the ‘I do’s’. Our starting point must be right now. Our wedding is next summer. That’s twelve months of runway to figure things out, measure how far apart we are on issues like saving, investing, and spending, then work to bridge that gap. Is this a bit premature? Most would say we’re being overly dramatic. In response I would point to a 60%+ divorce rate for second marriages, where money is traditionally part of the root cause.
To solve for tomorrow we must begin with today. When it comes to money that means sharing with each other our individual financial pictures. What we spend, save, invest, and earn; everything in our financial landscape becomes transparent, wide open, crystal clear. If that level of scrutiny into your wallet by a future spouse feels unsettling, I encourage you to get help with your controlling personality or reconsider who you are marrying. Transparency in money and matrimony is nonnegotiable.
This openness is a necessary step as it proves if our walk is the same as our talk. If I claim to be a saver but don’t save anything, that may be a problem. If you marry someone then realize he had tens of thousands of dollars in debt, you should be just as upset with yourself as him. If you go to buy that first home together only to learn your new wife’s credit report looks like it’s been through a shredder, you can’t only blame her. Discovering your new spouse is a financial train wreck will never make an enjoyable wedding present.
Don’t take another step towards the altar until you are completely upfront with each other about your financial lives. If you get nothing else from this article, don’t forget that.
After we’ve made it through this, we next take our financial information and put it together and see how the picture changes. If she and I were to be married tomorrow what would our finances look like?
This is where it’s good to be in the 21st century. There are free software programs and apps that allow users to consolidate financial accounts under one view. We’ve chosen Mint. There are countless others. Within Mint we’ve loaded every account we have, checking, savings, credit card, mortgage, everything and put the app on our phones. I can now see what she spends, earns, saves and she can do the same for me, at any time. Besides getting a better financial understanding about the person we will spend the rest of our lives with, it gets us comfortable to the fact that another person will be peeking into our wallets.
For the next 12 months we will continue using Mint to track how we spend on things such as groceries, gas, electricity, clothing, dining out, and all the little things that are a suck on our wallets. But perhaps most important, the beginning of each month we will sit down and review the prior month discussing how we fared. How much did we spend in this area versus that? What did we do good in? What needs cutting back? It forces us to talk about money; something few couples do.
The aim with all this is that by the time we actually are married, we’ll have worked out the kinks and come up with an approach to finances that meets our long term goals while letting us both feel we haven’t lost all of our independence. But most important in all of this effort is we will have taken a big leap away from a danger trapping too many other couples that forgot the importance of remarriage and money.
Click here to read other posts in the series.