What Being Married Has Taught Me About Money

The good thing about marrying somebody you dated for five years is that you don’t spend a lot of time before the wedding worrying about surprises. That’s not to say there aren’t any — I’ve certainly learned a thing or two about Husband in the last ten months — but you have a pretty good idea what you’re getting into.

The one big thing that scared me about married life was money. I wasn’t afraid of not having enough; we’ve been through that and survived before.  I was afraid that we would fight about it. And I was afraid that all those little fights would add up to something big and destructive. All those flimsy relationship articles backed by flimsier divorce statistics started jumping out at me and seemed to ring at least a little bit true. I mean, I’ve seen firsthand the strain that money — money shortages, unbalanced money/power dynamics, and divergent spending habits — can put on a marriage.

I started bookmarking articles and making lists of big talks to have before marriage and sat down with Husband. Our initial attempts at navigating these waters did not bode well: in fact, they ended at an impasse because, although we both knew we wanted to merge finances, we kept our money in different banks and both refused to move. [Note: there is absolutely no good reason for our loyalty to our respective financial institutions, just pure stubborn contrariness.] Things eventually got easier because they sort of had to. For example, instead of forcing a decision while we were engaged, we had a wedding, kept our money in separate banks, and eventually one of us ran out (I’ve mentioned that time we were unemployed, right?) and let their name be added to the other person’s account.

We’ve agreed on the few major things that pretty much everybody does  — we hate debt, but we’re stuck with my student loans and a mortgage seems okay someday and savings are smart to have — but mostly we take things as they come. And it mostly works out. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

After I had a few panic attacks in the home section of That One Store Where All Engaged Couples Register, we realized that I need to know exactly how much money we have to spend before buying anything that doesn’t seem absolutely necessary and even some things that do. Now we have a budget that includes household and personal items and we are able to buy things like lamps and laundry detergent without sending me into an anti-consumerism fury. Also, we realized that while I am good at making money, I am terrible at spending it. Now we leave errands and grocery shopping to Husband and we enjoy delicious meals without me turning into a ball of stress.

This arrangement works very well, although sometimes it leads to conversations like this one that happened when Husband and I stopped at Whole Foods this weekend to pick up some cheese and crackers for a dinner shindig. Since we were in the right aisle, I decided to grab a can of soup. I know canned soup is not that amazing and it’s especially weird to eat in the dead of summer, but I’m a creature of habit at lunchtime and I eat it pretty much every day. The thing is, because I never buy it, I have no idea how much it costs. So I picked it up, and then got canned soup sticker shock and quickly put it back down.

Me: This soup is so expensive!

Husband: It’s only .70 more than the soup you usually get.

Me: Then the soup I usually get is too expensive!

Husband: It’s $3. You can eat a $3 lunch. You don’t work at the public defender’s office anymore.

I’m pretty proud of the fact that I still eat $3 lunches even though I don’t work at the public defender’s office. In fact, I’m the only attorney on my floor that uses the microwave in the kitchen instead of taking advantage of the incredible dining options around our office. And you can’t call me cheap because, hey, I’ll spend $3.70 on a can of organic soup because it tastes a little bit better than the $2 can one shelf down. Maybe one of these days I’ll even be able to accompany Husband on a trip to Target without having a panic attack watching the five items in our basket ring up to $50.

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