Before I proposed to my future wife in college, we decided it would be a good idea to talk about our finances. In talking with friends, I’m often shocked at how little planning and understanding they have of each others finances before tying the knot. There are definitely some things that are good to know before you become a joint entity. Not that most financial situations should keep you out of a relationship, I just think it’s smart to know exactly what you’re getting into.
I had worked through the summers in college doing door to door sales and had a lot of success. In 6 months of work I made enough to completely cover my schooling costs (and a certified used Corolla with cash). I had even maxed out a Roth IRA two years in a row by that point. Compared with my peers, I was far ahead of the game.
My wife, on the other hand, was always taught to save, but didn’t know much about investing. That’s pretty normal, most college students are scraping by and investing is the least of their worries. She had been a piano teacher in high school and made fairly good money. She had financed her own education up to that point, along with part of a mission trip and an English teaching program in Russia.
At the time we had our talk, her funds had dwindled to the point where she was taking out her first student loans. I was explaining my various investments inside a trust (self-funded) and in retirement accounts.
Use a Credit Report As a Starting Point
I showed her my credit score on the Credit Karma app, and while I can’t recall exactly, it was around 700 or so. I requested to see hers, so she downloaded the app and showed me her score. Just this simple exercise gave us a good look into each others financial situation, saving habits, and money knowledge. We continued to explore each others attitudes about money.
Seeing that I was worth about 50k and she was about to go negative in net worth, we knew that we should have money on our mind as we were finishing up school, and try to come into our marriage as well prepared as we could.
Money and Marriage Problems
It is well known that money problems are a huge factor in divorce. Yet so many people are basically going in blind. Many people have different habits and attitudes. Even if my wife wasn’t similarly frugal, I should be comfortable with her habits before making such a big commitment. It’s a balance, and it’s important to maintain, or build trust if needed.
Some of my youngest memories are of my mom and dad fighting over money. I can remember being 4 or 5 with my mom crying while my dad was cutting up yet another credit card. He tried for years to teach her and make things work, but it was too much to overcome after 16 years. Eventually they split up and my mom went on a spree, spending 60k in the first 6 months after the divorce. I recognized how much stuff we had that we didn’t need, even as a kid. Growing up, much of the money disappeared, and my dad, or us kids didn’t understand where the money went.
Because of these experiences of my childhood, I knew I didn’t want to find myself in my situation. At the same time, I am quite traditional, as is my wife. We have a joint accounts and small personal ones. We have completely unified finances. Every 2 weeks we share our credit score with each other and check each others personal capital. If there was a new credit card on there, we would know. If there was debt, we would know.
This kind of transparency helps us remain accountable to each other. When we buy gifts for each other, we try not to look at whichever credit cards statements for a while. We treat our finances carefully knowing that we will have to account for our actions on a regular basis. Any breech of trust would be quickly exposed and bring on an uncomfortable explanation. It is important to be faithful in this aspect, and is a great source of peace in our marriage.