Let’s face it, sometimes marriages don’t work out, Grownups — Blogger Bridget Casey discusses some of the financial pitfalls of the marital construct.
Last year, my husband and I made the decision to separate. As a young couple that hadn’t been married for many years, we didn’t have too many financial entanglements. Nevertheless, our split taught me some important love and money lessons to carry forward.
My ex-husband and I both cared about money but in completely different ways. He was frugal and risk averse, while I was spendy and focused on growing our wealth. Our different approaches sometimes provided a suitable balance in household money management, but at other times our disconnected strategies and values fueled major arguments over spending and saving. It might be impossible to find someone with the same financial mindset as you, but it is not impossible to find a way to disagree. My ex-husband and I combined finances because we thought that’s what married couples do, but in retrospect, I know keeping separate accounts would have spared us a lot of stress and arguments.
When we were married, my ex-husband and I tracked spending, saving, and debt repayment together. We used a shared spreadsheet that we updated monthly. This meant we both knew each other’s bank balances down to the penny. It might seem like over-sharing, but knowing exactly where we stood, individually and together, meant there were no secrets or hidden accounts that could become a point of contention later.
I came into my marriage with tens of thousands of dollars of savings, and my ex-husband had virtually none. Because of this, we decided to focus on building his retirement accounts to catch up to mine. Our thoughts were that, since everything would ultimately be shared anyway, it didn’t really matter which accounts we put the money into. Over two years, my savings stagnated while his ballooned, and so did my resentment. A healthy couple is a fair partnership, and one person’s financial success shouldn’t come at the expense of the other.
Personal Emergency Fund
As an entrepreneur, I should have stashed 3 to 6 months of cash to carry me through lulls in my business. Instead, I knew I could rely on my husband’s income if anything went wrong. It never occurred to me that I could actually lose that second income. When we separated, I had only a measly $3,000 emergency fund, which was enough to support my move into a new apartment, but not enough to manage that plus an inconsistent income. In retrospect, I wish I had made saving a larger emergency fund a priority to protect me, not only from unexpected expenses but also from the sudden breakdown of my marriage.
You would think that few things will make the money spent on your wedding feel wasted like getting a divorce, but that didn’t turn out to be true for me. And I think the reason I don’t regret spending money on our wedding for my now-dissolved marriage is that we didn’t have any lingering debt from it. My ex-husband and I saved up for and paid for our small wedding in cash, which meant we didn’t have to drain any savings accounts or rack up any credit cards. There is never a good reason to go into debt for your big day, and the fact that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce is just another reason to stay in the black.
Like with most life experiences, I did some things right and made some mistakes when it came to finances in my marriage. Now I’m moving forward with a better understanding of money—and relationships—for the future.
Bridget Casey writes for MoneyAfterGraduation.com.