The idea that “opposites attract” is something I’d heard all my life, but only when I got married did I truly appreciate the truth of it. I had previous boyfriends before I met my husband who were “opposite” in some way or another. But I hadn’t hitched my financial wagon to any of them. So, this marriage and dealing with finances together was a whole new ballgame.
I had already started my career as a financial planner when I met my husband Greg. At that time, I had little to no money, so managing it was a piece of cake. But I had my own ways of doing things, and like so many things when you suddenly find yourself sharing your life with someone, compromises needed to occur. We were both older when we partnered up, compared to many of our contemporaries. In 1998 when we married, I was 29 and he was 30. That gave us each about seven or eight years of having lived as adults separate from our families, and as such, we developed our own ways of doing things.
In the early days of our relationship, I read a book by Olivia Mellan called Money Harmony*. In it Mellan describes several money personality types. Then and now, I would consider myself to be a blend of amasser and hoarder, and Greg is, without a doubt, a spender. I have always been very disciplined and diligent about managing my finances, while Greg is much more of a “free spirit,” shall we say. While we were dating, he would call me during his lunch break, while he was wandering around Walmart. Just for fun. I would spend my free time creating spreadsheets for everything. That easily sums up our opposite-ness.
When we were first together and started to combine our meager financial resources, some conversations ensued. We both had some debts: mine were credit cards and student loans, and his were credit cards only. We bought our first home — the epitome of a “starter home” if there ever was one — in 1997, and we took out our first loan as a couple. For a while, we continued with our parallel money management. He paid his bills, and I paid mine. Without much discussion, however, I took on the joint bills. Perhaps being a financial planner by trade made me the obvious choice, or it just happened by default. Whatever the reason, I was totally comfortable with it.
Getting married, however, ties your financial life to another person in a new and (mostly) permanent way. Therefore, as we rolled along, I would check in repeatedly with Greg to make sure he paid things on time. I was concerned about our credit, and I was just an anal-retentive geek about money in general. This quickly got old for Greg. As it was still in the early honeymoon days of our relationship, however, we were able to sit down and come up with a workable plan. I basically told him he had two choices – he could continue to manage his own financial affairs, and I would ask him about it every single month, or he could let me take over paying all the bills. He swiftly saw the wisdom of Door #2. (Did you see what I did there?) Ironically, I was feeling like the queen of awesome marital compromise.
Setting my less-than-stellar marital compromising skills aside for a moment, this actually worked well for both of us initially. He found no joy in managing money, while I relished in getting organized, making files, creating lists of payment deadlines, and working out a plan to get us out of debt. On the plus side, despite our relatively low-to-medium income (he was the breadwinner then, as I was barely squeaking out poverty-level wages in my new career), we started digging ourselves out of debt.
My income increased
After a few years, our income picked up some. I started my own financial planning and investment management firm, but due to 1) one year in, the stock market tanked for three straight years and 2) starting a business is HARD and you make mistakes, I still wasn’t making very much net income. However, we worked well together as a team to make goals for spending money on home improvement, and we continued to peck away at our debt. I should note here that while our personal debts were improving slowly, I was racking up business debts.
Fast forward a few more years, and my contribution to the household finances started to eclipse his. This was a turning point psychologically, and long- but low-simmering irritations about our money personality differences began to surface. I could sugar coat this, I guess, but honestly, I was a judgmental bitch. Period. I’m smart and educated, and I pretty much think I’m right about many, many things, many, many times. Greg is also smart and educated and thinks he has the right grasp of things. This combination, as you might imagine, caused some conflict.
I started getting very irked about the (in my humble opinion) wasteful ways he spent his (our!) money. So, I proposed a solution – an allowance. We would each get a certain amount of money each month to spend on ourselves, as we wished, with zero requirement to justify our purchases with the other. This $200 per month allotment allowed Greg to indulge in his hobbies without my questioning him in a snarky tone about his expenditures. I, too, got this allowance, and while I spent mine on books from time to time (this was pre-Amazon, people!), I tended to accumulate my monthly stipend. Regardless of our different approaches to managing our individual allowances, this arrangement allowed us to keep the peace.
How our childhood forms our money ideas
We all know that our childhoods have much to do with what values and behaviors we develop as adults. In my family growing up, there wasn’t a money problem on the surface. We were middle class, and while I wouldn’t consider us spoiled, my sister and I pretty much got the things we needed and wanted during childhood – maybe not immediately, but eventually. My parents did not discuss money in front of us that I recall, but looking back, there were patterns that I can see pointed to opposite money personalities for them, too.
I can remember some occasions when my mom would take us clothes shopping for school, and some purchases were to be hidden so my dad wouldn’t see. At the time, we just took that at face value and went along with the ruse. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that dad would eventually know that money was spent – we believed it would remain a secret.
Layaway was big back then, and I can remember picking out clothes and having them held on layaway for a few weeks. This was common practice at the time and as a kid, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. Now, as an adult, I can see clearly that my parents disagreed on how money should be spent, that they had conflict about money, and that they lived beyond their means. I think I internalized the pattern even before I fully understood the message.
It’s often said we “marry our parents” and we “become our parents” and I think that is quite true in many instances. Certainly, it holds true in my house. Essentially, I married my mom – my mother and Greg are the spender personalities of the household. And I became my dad – the money worrier, the breadwinner, the one that wants to give his/her family everything, but stresses constantly about money. Greg would tell you, I believe, that he became his mother, a spender, and married his step-dad – a domineering personality.
But this is my blog, not his, so I’ll leave it at that. 😀
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