Ask Meg: Marriage and Money, Part I

Because I am insane, I thought we’d end the week with the one-two punch of sex and money. Nice, right? Never say I don’t take on the big stuff. Aiiii…. here we go.


Let me tell you about me and money: I stayed up the other night worrying if buying a (nice) new couch that we could totally afford (because my grandmother told me to buy a nice couch so I only had to buy a couch ONCE,* you see) was as irresponsible as buying a half million dollar house with only 8% down and a dubious income.** If I bought a full price couch, would I eventually end up in foreclosure? We rent, but never mind that.

That sort of sums it up. My relationship to money involves: hording, good solid puritanical values, and being haunted by my grandmothers. One of my grandmothers supported a family of 10 through the great depression as a typist, the other watched her family fortune disappear during the same period. Both women did, and one still does, think about money a fair amount. So there we are.

I think it’s fair to say that we all have personal baggage around money, though some of us have more than others. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and I did grow up in a family who’s values around money had been set somewhere in the mid-30’s. David likes to say that I’m the only person in our generation who grew up during the great depression (which has actually turned out to be good training for the last few years). So, as soon as I figured out that I could earn money, I discovered that I liked to earn it. Earn it and save it, earn it and save it. Because for me, money is security, and personal freedom.

David is, thank god, more spendthrift than I am. If it weren’t for David, I wouldn’t be staying up nights worrying about new couches, because we’d be sitting on the floor. David is good at making me un-clench my little fists, and give up the money I saved for vacation… so we can actually take a vacation. David is good at making sure we diversify our money, because my strategy of savings involves, roughly, shoving money under the mattress. The virtual mattress, but still.

So, when it came to merging our finances when we got married, things got a little rocky. Why? Well. I wouldn’t put David as a co-signer on my checking accounts until the week before the wedding (and he was lucky he got on that early). I wouldn’t talk much about a married budget till a week before the wedding. I was maybe having a tiny problem with sharing my income up until a week before the wedding. Which, for the record, I don’t recommend. Financial surprises, even small ones, are not delightful 7 days before you’re getting married.

At the point where we were getting ready to set up joint accounts, and I was freaking out, I was looking frantically for advice. How had other smart women done it? How were there accounts set up on a practical level? How had they negotiated sharing money on a more philosophical level? What was hard? What was easy? What had they learned?


I couldn’t find any smart women who had written, even in general terms, about the pros and cons of sharing money in married life. My mom told me how they had their accounts set up (theoretically if not practically helpful, since it involved so much pen-to-paper checkbook balancing as to make my plugged-in head spin). But when it came to emotional advice, my mom didn’t have a lot to offer. “I donno,” she said, “I think that was one of the easier things getting married young and poor. We didn’t really have any assets to merge, so there was nothing to stress about.” Well, let me tell you, merging finances at 29, when you have both assets and a considerable amount of student loan debt in the equation? Stressful.

But. After surviving the stress, I can also tell you it was the single most revolutionary act of getting married for me. It changed my life, and I loved it. So next week, I’ll share a little bit of my story. Hopefully it’s the first of many discussions about smart women, married life, and money. Till then, feel free to throw around your own questions and thoughts in the comments.

*My grandmother has had her couch since she got married in the early 50’s. She said she saved to buy it on the TOP floor of the department store, where the nice couches were. She’s re-upholstered it probably 15 times by now, and lucky for her, mid-century is back in style in a huge way, so half of you would probably give your eye teeth for her pristine, picked-by-a-trained-artist, mid-century couch. I wouldn’t. Because mid-century looks… like my Grandmothers couch, to me. But, we’re dedicating our first couch purchase to her, none the less.

** We just saw a HGTV show where this happened, which more or less devolved into me yelling, “STOP! You can’t afford that house! Sttttoooooppppp!” Over and over again.

 Intro photo by Zachary Hunt Photography.

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