My husband grew up, quite literally, in a one-horse town. Technically, his town had hundreds of horses, thanks to a horse farm located within its city limits; it did, however, have just one traffic light – a blinking red one at the intersection of two rural highways that split the town and its 300 residents into quadrants.
To say my husband was a “little bit” country is an understatement – he was a lot country. He was calm, laid back, and didn’t take life too seriously; life was good as long as he had a beer in his hand and was accompanied by his pals. By comparison, I was all rock-n-roll. I moved fast, thought fast, and reacted fact. I was impulsive and hard-headed, and raced through life like it was a competition.
Donnie and Marie may have talked about who was country and who was rock-n-roll, but it was another entertainer – Paula Abdul – who told us that opposites attract. And when I met the man who would become my husband ten years ago, no surprise, I fell hard and fast, no matter how different we were.
Merging Financial Styles
A lot is made about merging finances. There are debates on whether it’s wise for partners to combine accounts or household finances before marriage, or whether it’s even necessary to take those steps after tying the knot. When that country boy became my husband, there was no question that we’d tie the financial knot right away.
It was easy to set up a joint checking account and add his name to my existing apartment lease.
It was far harder to negotiate our very different financial styles.
His Personal Finance Philosophy
Before we got married, my husband had never been in charge of his own money… ever. He didn’t have a checking account, a savings account, or even a credit card in his own name (he had a copy of his father’s, but since the account was also in his father’s name, he didn’t have any credit of his own). Because my husband had attended college on an athletic scholarship, he’d never needed student loans – a fact that led to one big pro and one big con. The pro was that he didn’t bring a single penny of debt into our marriage; the con was that, because he’d never had student loans or a credit card, he didn’t have a credit score, which made it difficult when we applied for a mortgage for our first home.
His financial philosophy was just as stunted as his money management skills. His parents had never really taught him about handling money, a fact that was magnified when his older brother spent himself into massive credit card debt in his 20s, without really understanding that making the minimum monthly payments would exacerbate the problem. If he had money in his pocket, he tended to spend it. In the early years of our marriage, I never allowed him to carry cash in his wallet, because if he did, he’d buy something with it – usually a can of Mountain Dew (I’m not kidding; this is a long-running joke in our marriage).
Big picture finances didn’t occur to him. He’d never given any thought to saving for a down payment on a house, putting money toward a rainy day or emergency fund, or investing for his retirement. He figured his future children would attend college the same way he did – on scholarship – and didn’t see the sense in establishing college savings accounts in their names.
In other words, he didn’t really think about personal finance at all.
Combining Our Financial Lives
My father, a man with so many three-letter abbreviations after his name that I can’t remember them all, is a financial professional. He taught me about managing my finances from a very young age. We opened my first savings account at the local bank when I was just eight years old, using all the money I’d received from relatives for my First Holy Communion. I was encouraged to save my allowance, putting the majority of it into my savings account, and leaving only a small portion of it for my own wants. When I started working part-time as a lifeguard in high school, my parents forced me to keep it in a separate savings account, and refused to let me get an ATM or debit card to access it.
In other words, I was a money hoarder who’d married a spendthrift.
After our marriage, I tried to follow more traditional gender roles – like I’d witnessed in my own house growing up – and let my husband be in charge of the finances. But after our power was shut off in the midst of the biggest heat wave in Upstate New York in years because he’d forgotten to pay the utility bill, I was forced to take over. (I’ll admit, it was a hostile takeover.)
I implemented a regimented budget for our little family. There was no “fun money” – instead, every penny was set aside for a specific expense. We had a budget for clothes, dining out, even alcohol. I became a “no man,” forever telling my husband we couldn’t afford to do this, or didn’t have the cash for that, even if that wasn’t technically true. Sure, we had extra cash – but I’d allotted it to go toward our savings account or house fund.
It was a tough deal for my husband. He struggled to understand why he couldn’t spend money he worked to earn. I argued that he could spend it once he really started to understand the concept of responsible spending. I can tell you exactly when that happened.
It was the day our daughter entered the world. Becoming a father suddenly gave my husband the chance to see things “big picture,” to understand that managing finances was more than just buying the latest gadgets or eating dinner at a restaurant when you’re too tired too cook. It was at that moment that he finally saw money as a means of upward and forward mobility, of building a safe and secure future for your family. He was finally able to see money beyond his own needs and wants, and instead see what he needed and wanted his daughter – and later, his son – to have as they grew.
Reader, did your personal finance philosophy change after you got married? After you had kids?