7 Things I Wish I’d Known About Money Before I Got Married

7 Things I Wish Id Known About Money When I Got Married.jpg 7 Things I Wish Id Known About Money Before I Got Married

For those who have read my family’s story about getting out of debt, you know that it thankfully has a pretty happy ending.

While I don’t regret the struggles that we went through — because look where we came out! — I do often wonder what would have happened if I knew then what I know now.

If, instead of having to crawl our way out of $30,000+ of debt, we’d never gotten into debt in the first place. If, instead of starting to save for retirement in my 40s, I’d started squirreling away money in my 20s.

If I could go back in time to the eve of my wedding and tell my almost 31-year-old bridal self a thing or two about money, here’s what I’d have wanted me to know.

#1. Budgeting isn’t a bad word.

Budgets have gotten a horrible rap. People think that they don’t need a budget if they’re not in debt. Or that they can’t be spontaneous if they have a budget. Or that it will take hours and hours of time they don’t have.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong!

A budget is your roadmap for your money — even if you don’t have any debt! In fact, especially if you don’t have debt, because when you don’t have monthly payments, you have a lot more money with which to intentionally spend, save and give. Having a budget doesn’t hamper your spontaneity; it give you the freedom to spend (and save and give), guilt-free.

If you don’t have a budget, you’re letting your money slip through your fingers. Get on a budget and be the boss!

P.S. Make sure you have a category in your budget called Blow Money. Each of you gets some amount of money, every month, that you can spend as you wish — without having to be accountable to anyone about it. Even if you can only afford for that amount to be $10 each, it’s a breath of autonomy that I know you’re going to crave.

#2. Tracking your expenses in real time is the only way to make sure you stick to your budget.

A budget is your very best, most educated guess as to how much you are going to spend this month. Tracking is what happens in real life.

That’s why you need to to track in real time.

It’s not enough to look back at your bank statements or credit card bills at the end of the month — because if you’ve overspent, there’s nothing you can do to fix it at that point.

Regular (even daily) tracking of your spending provides a warning sign when you’re about to go over budget. If you are, you can either stop spending, or readjust another category in your budget to “absorb” that overage. Tracking ensures that your budget stays balanced, every month.

P.S. It used to be that the only way to track your spending was to write it all down — drudgery. Today, it’s so much easier! There are all sorts of software and apps to seamlessly integrate tracking into your day-to-day life. (The two I recommend are Mint.com and YNAB.com (You Need a Budget). Mint is free, YNAB is $60 but if you click through this link you’ll save $6. I switched from Mint to YNAB two months ago and am loving it. I’ll write another post soon about that change.)

#3. Spend the money this month that you earned last month.

Back to budgeting for a minute, dear bride.

Remember when I said a budget was your best, most educated guess? Well, there are two parts to every budget — the income and the outgo. The outgo part, by virtue of the variability of life, is your best guess. You may think you’re going to spend $100 on your electric bill, but if they raised your rates and you didn’t know it yet, that bill may actually be $120.

The income part of your budget, however, shouldn’t have to be a guess or even a prediction. It should be a fact. And the ONLY way to guarantee that it’s a fact is to budget with money you’ve already earned.

I figured out the trick of living on last month’s income through much trial and error with our variable income budget. But even if you get a regular paycheck, this is still good practice because it puts a buffer between you and life. It means that you’ll be okay this month, even if you lose your job, or the bank loses the check, or your company falls on hard times and cuts everyone’s paycheck by 20%.

You won’t be okay forever. But you’ll be okay this month.

Getting a month ahead won’t be easy. It may take you a few months — or more — to work up to this. But the sooner you can reach this goal, the easier budgeting will be. And remember, when you’re budgeting, you’re the boss!

P.S. Along these same lines, sink funds — for future expenses — are going to make your life (and your budget) a whole lot easier, too.

#4. Life is unpredictable, so save some money for those rainy days.

The only thing I can guarantee you, sweet bride, is that life is going to surprise you. Sometimes the surprises will be good. But other times they won’t.

When you have money — a big pile of money (like more than $10,000, which I know right now sees as impossible as human flight) — sitting in the bank, you are far better equipped to deal with life’s unpleasant surprises.

Now don’t misunderstand me. No amount of money can inoculate you from the sometimes gut-wrenching pain of living a full life; but it can allow you to focus on what’s most important, rather than getting all twisted up in knots over the finances of a particular situation.

And for the non-gut-wrenching, regular-rainy-day-type situations? A pile of money allows you to be more rationale, more loving, and more calm in your decision-making. Trust me: When the sliding glass door shatters, your emergency fund will keep you from screaming at your kid and blaming your husband.

P.S. As a wedding gift to each other, set up a thirty-year term life insurance policy. Seriously consider disability insurance, too. Again, no amount of money can mitigate the emotions of a calamity that would cause you to cash in on such a policy, but if G-d forbid you should have to, you’ll be supremely grateful for that responsible foresight.

#5. Avoid debt like the plague.

Debt is a noose around your neck. You may think it’ll make your life easier to just buy it now and figure it out later. It won’t make it easier. It will make it immeasurably harder. Freedom and debt are conversely related. The more debt you have, the less freedom you have.

Even if you really, really, really need something right now, stop, walk away and figure out a plan to pay for it right now. Resist every temptation to put that new oven on a payment plan.

Waiting until you have the cash means you’re not going to be carrying around an albatross of debt. But more so, waiting mean you’ll be making better, more rationale choices. It’s far easier to spend someone else’s money (ie the credit card’s or financing bank’s) than it is to spend your own cash.

But guess what? That loan is actually your money, too. Or it will be. For the next 60 months or so until it’s paid off.

And all those interest payments? That’s also your money. Money that could be going toward living your life, but instead is going toward paying off your past.

Don’t buy now, pay later.

Save now, buy later.

And P.S. If you already have some debt, then make it your #1 priority in life to pay off that debt as fast as humanly possible.  Debt-free = freedom.

#6. Save now for your retirement.

I know retirement seems impossibly far off on the horizon. But here’s a tip that I wish I’d been smart enough to tell you ten years ago.

Thanks to the power of compound interest — which Albert Einstein supposedly called “the most powerful force in the universe” — the earlier you start to save, the richer you’ll be.

Interest rates will vary, of course, but let’s say you can get a historic return of 9.5% and you want $2 million at retirement. If you start saving when you’re 20, you only need to put aside roughly $375 a month for 45 years. What if you don’t start saving until you’re 30? Then you’ll have to set aside $600 a month to get to that $2 million by retirement. And if you don’t manage to get your act together to start saving until you’re 40? $1000 a month.

If you started out saving $1000 a month from the time you were 20, you’d have somewhere around $8.4 million at retirement (assuming a 9.5% rate of return)!

P.S. Your results will vary, of course, depending on the compounded rate of return. The point is to start as early as possible, invest consistently, and do it for the long-haul, in order to build that nest egg.

#7. Talk with your husband about money. Often.

Did you know that fights about money are one of the top three reasons for divorce? (Money fights share this dubious distinction with fights about religion and fights about family.)

Figuring out how to talk about money in a healthy, respectful way is easier for some couples than others. But know this: Everyone has some baggage about money and they all have to work through it to get to that stage in life we call “being an adult”.

Just like you and your future husband will probably have different ideas about what constitutes a clean kitchen or effective discipline for a two-year old, money is something that needs to be negotiated.

One of you may be better at the “math” of money than the other (and therefore handles the ‘technical’ side of making and maintaining the budget), but both of you have to make the choices together.

That’s what being married is all about. It doesn’t matter who earns what. As soon as it hits the bank account, it’s both of yours — and you both have to decide how you’re going to allocate it.

Remember at all times that you love each other. That you respect each other. And that your future is tied to your ability to get on the same page with each other.

When the two of you decide on your budget, that document is your word. And you must commit to honoring your word. If you agree to spend $100 on clothing this month, you can not spend $150. And you also can not guilt trip him into “letting” you spend $150. Same goes for him.  If an XBox isn’t in the budget you both agreed on, then it’s not in the budget. Period. End of story.

P.S. If you find yourself arguing with your husband over money, then that’s a sign that you aren’t talking enough about money. Make talking (not arguing) a regular habit by scheduling a time to do it — after those future kids of yours have gone to bed.

P.P.S. I recommend wine and/or chocolate. It helps with the talking.

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Devorah says:

    What interest rate are you using that yields $8.4 million dollars after 45 years of depositing $1000 a month (12,000 a year)?

    • Mara Strom says:

      9.5%, compounded quarterly, Devorah. 7% would be $3.7 million and 12% would be almost $21 million!

  2. Brocha says:

    What types of retirement accounts these days yield 9.5%? I don’t think our IRA comes close to that.

    • Mara Strom says:

      Brocha – As I said in the post, interest rates fluctuate. Compound interest, however, is the name of the game when it comes to building wealth — and the sooner you start, the better off you are, regardless of the interest rate. Invest consistently for the long-haul was my point!

      • Devorah says:

        That was going to be my next question. :)

        I’d love to find a bank account that offers 1.5% interest! (Do you have any good ideas?)

        • Mara Strom says:

          Devorah: I’m not a financial planner, but do want to clarify that there’s an important difference between saving and investing. Investing is for the long-haul, on things like retirement and college for your children (and general wealth-building). That should be done more aggressively, through a mutual fund, for example. Savings accounts at the bank are good for your emergency fund and sink funds (since you want immediate access to them with no risk of loss of principle).

  3. galileegirl says:

    Excellent post! Forwarding it to my newlywed sister.

    LOVE the wedding photo!

    • Arielle says:

      Mara. You are right on the money (pun intended) again. It is so important for a couple to be able discuss money together. I think a big issue is that many of us were raised learning that it is not polite to discuss money – EVER. So we never did, until we needed to. I will tell you, that one of the best things financially that has ever happened to me, was that my boss at my first job, held my hand and marched me down to HR to fill out my 403B paperwork. I was too lazy to do it but she forced me to do so. I was 21.

      • Mara Strom says:

        You are so right – it’s culturally taboo to discuss, and that does seem to extend even to marriages often times. I hope KOAB is changing that a little bit. ;-)

    • Thank you!!! <3

    • Mara Strom says:

      Thank you! And mazel tov to your sister!

  4. Thanks so much for this post. My husband and I were just discussing the other day how Mint doesn’t do it for us and we need a better budgeting software. Will try the free trial for YNAB and see how that works.

    • Ita – Be sure to take advantage of all their free webinars. There is a bit of a learning curve – it took me about two weeks to get the hang of it, but now I love it! And I just upgraded to the paid version a few weeks ago and got my husband signed into it as well.

  5. Love this post Mara! (And your wedding picture is just beautiful too) ;)

  6. These tips are such a good reminder for all of us, no matter our age or life situation! Thanks for sharing.

  7. That is essentially what I was going towards, the whole get a month ahead thing. I had been thinking well if I can just float some money in the account it will account for the differences in the bills each month. But getting a month ahead is genius! That way you don’t have to worry about waiting until each pay check comes in. Thank you so much for this advice!

    • Mara Strom says:

      Great! So glad that helped you. It’s not always easy to get to month-ahead-budgeting, but once you’re there, it’s golden!

  8. Michelle says:

    Wondering about mint.com and if you felt it was safe to give them your bank information as well as password ?

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