Miel’s Money Stories – Marriage

Every couple has their own quirks and dialogues about money. Generally these are pretty repetitive. Our marriage is no different. What I have noticed in this post is that what shows up is certainly more “story” than “the story”. The relative present is much more laden with story than what happened years ago.

  • The first thing that has been a bit different about our relationship with money is that James and I have been blogging publicly about money since just before we were married, on DINKsFinance.com  There are very few couples who write about finance jointly and have shared publicly about their finances as we have. This may not change certain aspects, and not everything is aired out publicly, but a public persona related to finance does change your relationship with money in some ways.  You can check out a recent interview at mint.com
  • James and I are both more financially minded than your typical couple, particularly when it comes to goals. We started working towards joint goals pretty much as soon as we moved in together just over ten years ago. We have definitely recognized that when we don’t have a common goal established that we don’t achieve nearly as much. We’ve just recently agreed to a goal of saving $50k over the next year. When we started out ten years ago we could manage to save at least $20k a year when we were making considerably less, so I have faith that we can do it even with a new addition to our family.
  • Despite our working together towards joint goals, we’ve actually maintained much of our finances separately. Last year was the first time we’ve finally established a joint household account where we both put in a set amount and then the rest of our paychecks go into separate accounts that we still maintain ourselves.
  • On day to day finances we most often go with the easiest option of giving each other relative autonomy to do as we like with our own money. However any couple who takes this route knows that it doesn’t always work.
  • Generally speaking this comes about with one of us being annoyed with some financial decision of the other.  Namely James not agreeing with my household purchases and me being annoyed by James paying more than necessary on fees and related expenses that don’t provide value.  Here are two good examples of this repeated dialogue going on lately.  
    • On James’ side he doesn’t agree with my recent purchase of a BBQ. My story is that I’ve wanted a BBQ for 3 years, ever since we moved into our place with a gorgeous private rooftop deck. I finally broke down and got a small $100 tabletop style from Costco. For right now we are at a standoff in our disagreement on the BBQ. My story is that since I know that James will disagree about most household purchases, that when I do decide to get something I make sure that I want it enough to stand by my decision.
    • On my side, I am highly annoyed with James delaying changing over to my family plan for his cell phone. If he had cut his contact a year ago and paid the penalty, he would have started saving money in the second month. He refused to do so, even though it would have saved $130 a month. So we wait until the end of his contract in April and I’ve been hounding him to transfer his account since then. In the mean time he has lost over $1500 in dragging his feet, and it still remains outstanding. While on a much more expensive level, it is very reminiscent of early money dialogues when I would get annoyed about James constantly getting dinged for late fees on DVD rentals (back when we had to deal with those).  This issue came up again last night, as James started to deal with it and again didn’t finish through.  I realize how raw this story is, for both of us, and how pervasive it is.  Neither of us willing to give it up.  My friend recommended just that, give it up, but there is still a big part of me that can’t be complacent about flushing money down the drain.    
  • While the two examples above are typical financial interactions between James & I, I try to consider my father Wally’s advice, in that life is too short to argue about money. We also tend to live by this in the sense that we are more likely to throw money at the problem to fix it than we are to actually spend the time arguing about it.
  • We also disagree about savings, in that for me it is important that we have an emergency fund to tap into if needed, and James doesn’t feel this is as critical. We tend to meet somewhere in the middle to make us both feel secure.
  • We actually spent the early years of our marriage with me as the sugar mama. James started his Ph.D. studies the year before we got married and quit his full time job a few months before we were married. James had a research position and invested in dividend producing stocks to pay for his incidental expenses, but I picked up the groceries, utilities, going out, clothing, and travel expenses for around four years. When I worked in Afghanistan for a year, in our second year of marriage, I sent him back an allowance of $1k a month.
  • I find it interesting in that while I didn’t love having to cover so many of our expenses, I was also more comfortable being the one giving than I would have been receiving. Even as I am now on my second week of maternity leave, I have still managed to work it so I have enough saved to cover my household contributions for the next six months. While clearly it isn’t a matter of fairness or deserving, I still feel better having that financial autonomy.  
  • Another thing that intrigues me is that while James is very financially driven, he is fine with me making more money than him. In fact, even being two years older and having a second masters, I still make 25% more than he does. My sis noted that her husband wasn’t comfortable with this possibility.  
  • We also calculate our net worth regularly, and while we only post our joint net worth, we still calculate the separately and then combine. Both my retirement savings and inheritance have meant that my balance sheet has been the larger of the two for some time. While James would love to see both of ours grow, he doesn’t begrudge me my success either.
  • Speaking of inheritance, one of the things that we put into our prenup was that inheritance funds would be separate even if they are used for joint purposes. Without this in a prenup it means that if you take your family out to dinner on inherited funds that suddenly the entire amount is now half your spouse’s.  
  • This doesn’t mean that we agree on my use of inherited funds. Darcy and I have built our dream beach cabins, but to James he has a harder time seeing the value in the projects since we aren’t cash flow positive from day one. We have 15 year mortgages on the place and will have them paid off by the time we are 50, so I feel good about the long term investment. They have also appreciated well in the short term for their paper value.
  • One of the unique aspects of our marriage is that we are also business partners on several fronts. We’ve owned and managed rental properties throughout our relationship. We just recently sold one of them, so now have two remaining. It takes a lot of work and partnership to keep them running and not to get stressed when things come up, because they always do. We also own a blogging business, which has developed and expanded over the last 8 years. James’ story, which is often too accurate, is that I have been an unreliable partner in that I might very well fly to the edge of the earth at a moment’s notice and drop off the face of the planet in terms of my connectedness. I can’t really deny this, as I know it has happened many a times, even with my best intentions. So when I go to Oregon for three weeks in July, I have made it clear that I will be on vacation and won’t be planning to work on our businesses. He still doesn’t see this as a priority, but for me it is. I took only one week of maternity leave before working from home full time, so I figure it is fair enough.
  • Travel is clearly an area that costs money and is more important to me than to James. I have handled this by making it a priority for me and that is that. There are times when this creates conflict, and say James isn’t thrilled with me spending a weekend with friends in Zanzibar instead of saving the cash, but looking back there isn’t an example where I would rather have the cash. James has been so used to me covering plane tickets that I think for awhile he thought that frequent flyer miles grew on trees. I’ve paid for more of his flights on miles than most people will accrue in a lifetime and a half.
  • As our newborn is only two weeks old, we are still getting used to a child being part of the equation, so I am certain there will be a learning curve. At least we are both in agreement for minimizing excess kid stuff and using second hand when we can, which I appreciate. I do know that James is interested in private school, which is okay on one level and yet I have a problem with the cost of it as well. We’ll see how that ends up panning out, either way I know our child’s education will be a priority, so that is what matters. We are also both in agreement with kids developing a good work ethic and savings ethic, as well as service.


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