Fruclassity Commandment #6: Financial Equality in Marriage Partnership

DH = Dear Husband

Fruclassity: Frugality with a touch of class … for the not-so-badass. If you’ve been reading recent posts on this site or over at The Frugal Farmer with Laurie, you’re getting familiar with the concept of fruclassity. Humbled by an honest recognition that Mr. Money Moustache’s badassity is awesome – but out of our league – Laurie and I are inspired to define, flesh out, and explore the different facets and expressions of our frugality brand.

Today, I’m going to delve into yet another of the 10 Commandments of Fruclassity:

#6. If you are married, approach your finances as a team of two equal partners. One person might have more money savvy, but to have success in your financial practices and goals, both of you have to be committed to them. The number one reason for divorce these days is conflict over finances, so take this one seriously! Find that balance between flexibility and structure – between tenacity and accommodation. Maintain high levels of detailed communication. Get on the same page financially, and write your story together.

DH & Prudence

1. Our dismal starting point: Chaos & control

Before DH and I married, we hardly talked at all about our respective financial plans or ideals. After all, we were in love. Mundane, not to mention taboo topics of income, budgets, savings, and investments had no place in our romance. And love conquers all, right? So we married with our financial heads in the sand. Mine was dug in quite a bit more deeply than his. For my part, I had a warm, heart-felt certainty that some day, I would be a stay-at-home mom of a large family, and DH would climb the ladder of high-tech success. A rather 1950s vision for a self-professed feminist, but I saw the value in having a parent at home, and it was what I truly longed for. It didn’t translate, for me, into the powerlessness of the stereotype ’50s woman. I would be an equal partner as a stay-at-home mom. We’d have a beautiful home, happy community life, and ample funding for travel, frequent dining out, and generous giving to church and charity.

Ha! That’s almost funny.

I didn’t bother to consult DH with regards to these fantasies of domestic bliss. If I had, I would have discovered that his vision was quite different from mine. He looked forward to a two-income lifestyle with one or two children, and plenty of time, money, and energy for the “good life” – as modeled for us by ads featuring yuppy ideals of the times.

In one of my first posts, I wrote about the respective money blueprints that DH and I brought into our marriage. In a nutshell, DH had, without being aware of it, come to an acceptance that money was something to worry about – and to control. So whenever there was a threat of healthy finances, he would spend lavishly to get himself back to the requisite baseline of worry. As for my blueprint, I had learned that money came from “the man” (some feminist!), and that by making a fuss, I could dip into as much of it as I wanted. I spent according to mood and I brought a chaotic force to our finances. So control married chaos; worry married moody. “Carelessly in debt,” I wrote in that early post, “I married a man who was always worried about money and anxiously wanting to control it.  Mind you, he was in debt too.  Eeeek!” One thing we had in common was a taste for the good life. Great.

2. Our unhealthy patterns: Building a weak foundation

I believe that both of us accepted DH’s position as financial manager in part because he, a full-time high-tech professional, was earning significantly more than I was as a part-time teacher. Furthermore, I was not at all inclined to deal with our accounts, and was glad to leave them with DH – except for when he didn’t want me to spend as I chose. There was a constant irritation between us even in the early days, characterized by his knee jerk “No!” and my carelessness. My rare attempts at rational money talk were not trusted. Occasional relief would come when DH would suggest a splurge – which I always eagerly encouraged. A trip out west with the kids. Renovations. A week-end get-away for us.

3. Financial distress: Bitterness & frustration

After DH had gone through the roller coaster of the high tech bust, everything had to change. Now, we were both worried. Our household income plunged, and we agreed on a strategy of frugality. Still unaware of our money blueprints, however, we continued to function according to them. When I think back, we made some crazy big expenditures over those years that we blatantly could not afford: an expensive, time-consuming interest course for DH, a new car for me, and a pure-bred dog for our daughters come to mind. We kept ourselves in awful financial stress through a combination of denial and reaction in our accustomed unhealthy patterns of financial management – even as we “tried” to be frugal. Our marriage became strained to the breaking point. I was bitter about my dashed hopes for staying home with our three children, and I was resentful of the control DH continued to exert – even though I was the one keeping us afloat. DH experienced the extreme frustration of not having the answers.

4. Recognition of a need for change: Stepping up

When DH’s home-based business started to succeed, we could hardly believe it. Were things going to go back to normal? No. “Normal” wasn’t good. We knew that much. I stepped up in terms of my willingness to engage in the management of our finances. DH stepped up in terms of releasing control. We shared ideas and discussed possibilities. We were becoming a team – but in a sloppy, unfocused game.

5. The road to debt-freedom: Platform for an equal partnership

Our game plan became crystal clear after we had listened to the CD version of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. We would get out of debt! And we had a strategy to do so. It is remarkable, now that I think about it, that I was the one who first got excited about Ramsey’s advice – I, who had been so dismissive of finances for so long. And it is equally remarkable that DH was completely receptive when I said, “You have got to listen to this!” – he, who had been so much in control, was humbly listening, willing to learn.

The Ramsey mandate gives us a context for our ongoing plans, discussions, and – yes – disagreements. Right now, we disagree about whether expenses for my mother’s 90th birthday bash should be funded from our discretionary or shared accounts. I say the celebrations fall into the “needs” category. He categorizes them as “wants”. Sure we disagree – but we can discuss it rationally. Our awareness of our own and each other’s pitfalls allows for more effective decision making. When DH wanted to splurge (that old pattern again) on an anniversary get-away, I did not eagerly accept it. I challenged his idea, and we opted for a different plan. And when I’ve wanted to “help” one of our daughters out of her own poor money management, I have not only accepted DH’s “No,” I have learned to be grateful for it.

How about you?

I wonder how much grief we would have spared ourselves if we had done the “mundane, unromantic” work of financial discussion and planning before we married. Have you ever struggled with finances in a significant relationship? Do you know of anyone who actually had this all figured out before marriage? And what do you think? Do my mom’s 90th birthday celebrations fall into the “needs” category or the “wants” category? (I’ll let you know who wins out on this one.)


Comments are welcome!


 

 

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  • Good work on your evolution as a couple. We also casually fell into shared finances 16 years ago when we married. Oddly, I’ve always been the financial planner in our house and also earn more each year. My DH works away and deposits his earnings into our joint account. I pay the bills and allocate to various savings accounts – however we are both self employed so most of that ‘saving’ goes back to the Feds for our income taxes and HST quarterly. Recent changes I implemented and DH agreed with have the line of credit now at zero and a big chunk waiting to be sent off for Q4. No more playing catch up and just ‘putting it on the LOC’! We’ve reduced monthly costs…even DH agreed to basic cable! And we are off contract with our cell phones. Seems small, but adds up. My DH was easily convinced to keep driving his 8 year old work van since its paid for! No need for a more fuel efficient truck that will have a monthly payment! 2014 overall has worked out well for us! Little conflict and super increased awareness. Maybe in 2015 we can actually save a chunk for ourselves; either to spend or put into RSP!!

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Elizabeth. It’s not “odd” that you are the financial planner. I’ve read that in 50% of households, the woman is the principal financial manager. And in about a third of households, the woman earns the higher income. Great that your line of credit is at 0! All the best in keeping it that way. You’re right about those “small” changes – they add up! Is your “no conflict” scenario relatively recent? Coming in with your increased awareness? Or have you been a fairly conflict-free couple all along? Either way, you’ve got a good thing going!

  • Grandma celebration? I’d have to say that’s a “need”. My mom’s 87. They won’t be around forever. If they were closer to 70, maybe we could give this one to DH. 😛 As far as money goes, I haven’t shared much about Jay and my financial adventures, mostly out of fear of being driven out of the blogosphere. I may in the future, but only after I’m assured that no one has a stash of tar and feathers. We did everything wrong. Then we’d think we learned. Then we’d do everything wrong again. We seem to be on a pretty even keel right now, but we have a tendency to throw the deck of cards up in the air and have to pick them all up again. Unfortunately, 1 or 2 will end up under the couch and we don’t notice until the next time we play (all figuratively speaking, of course). Love this series, Prudence! It’s really thought provoking. 🙂

    • Thank you, Kay. I actually said to DH as we were discussing the 90th birthday disagreement this morning, “Kay from Lifestyle Voices agrees with me. She says . . . ” In the end, we agreed that all expenses from Saturday (present, food for party, decorations) will come from our shared accounts, and only the brunch from today (Sunday) would come from our respective discretionary accounts. I’m happy with that compromise : )
      I’m interested in what you have to say about your history with money management. My prediction is that by blogging about it, you’ll keep your awareness so high that you won’t be as likely to slip this time around. Looking forward to following your progress.

  • I always enjoy hearing about couples that have gone through a similar journey as mine – not because of the difficulty it caused, but because it makes me overjoyed to identify with other couples who come to the same realization, and also overcome. That foundation of communication is so important, and so powerful. I hated worrying about money…hated it. Now that Vonnie and I talk about our money on almost a daily basis, I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. I still get butterflies everytime I pay for something with cash, and think to myself how that would need have been a card swipe not that long ago….!

    • I know that you’re not exaggerating when you say that it feels as though “the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders” as a result of better communication with your wife. So many other things are tied up in financial communication between spouses besides money. Who knew? Thanks for your comment, Travis : )

  • How cool is that?! You have taken control of your finances together and turned debt and money worries (the thing which ends more relationships than anything else) into something which has brought you closer together with a common goal for the future. Outstanding!

  • Great post! I was going to suggest you compromise on the 90th ~ but I can see you already got there. That’s great and what working together is all about. I feel inspired to post about our money blueprints. Might do it. I have already hinted at some of our “journey” in other posts about our Divorce Game (it is more fun than it sounds – but can only be played when everyone is feeling secure.) DH and I talked about money from day one and went into a marriage with eyes wide open – or so I thought. We were extremely frugal from day one and as great as that sounds, we still had our fair share of conflict. We got off the frugal path for a bit but are working our way back – together – trying to find a happy medium.

    • The “Divorce Game” doesn’t sound like much fun at all! I’m curious though – I’ll have to do a search on your site to find that one. Although you and your husband have had your conflict, I can’t help but think you’re better for having talked about money from the beginning. It’s no guarantee, but it’s definitely a proactive step in the right direction. I hope you do post about your money blueprints. I’ll look forward to reading about them. Thanks for your comment, May!

  • I’m a saver and he’s a spender. When we were dating he got into debt and I helped create a budget for him and helped him live within his means. Right now he’s making the money and as a stay at home mom I’m in charge of the finances. I think communication and equity between partners is important for all aspects of a relationship. We try to talk about money often to make sure that we’re both on the same page and that we’re both heading in the same direction.

    • You’ve got a great set-up, Emily. Honestly, to me it sounds like you’re living the dream. It’s true that communication is important for all aspects of a relationship, but I’m finding that money matters touch upon so many of them – either directly or indirectly. Does your husband recognize the value of your good money management and what it has done for you both? I hope he does. Great to hear from you Emily! Thanks for stopping by.

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