Read an Excerpt
In all the years I’ve been a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post, I’ve received scores of letters and e-mails from couples (many during the regular online discussions I host). I’ve had the chance to see how many couples mismanage their money.
Again and again, I see what happens when couples fail to communicate or compromise, marry people who don’t share their financial goals, or act like they’re roommates, not people partnered for life.
I’ve heard from couples with good incomes who are near bankruptcy because they can’t budget. I’ve heard from couples who make major purchases without consulting their spouse. I’ve heard from couples who hide purchases. I’ve heard from couples who try to outspend each other like children fussing about who got a bigger piece of pie.
I’ve heard from women who boast about having secret bank accounts because they don’t fully trust the men they chose to marry. I’ve heard from couples who argue over who should pay what percentage of the household bills. I’ve heard from couples full of resentment because one person makes more than the other.
I want to smack them.
Here’s a universal truth about your money and your man: Money may not buy love, but fighting about it will bankrupt your relationship.
How is it that people can proclaim to love one another, sleep with each other, and even have children together, yet won’t do what it takes to stop fighting about money?
I know why.
And deep down, you know why, too.
Couples fight about money because they have “issues.”
Perhaps your husband was overindulged as a child. As an adult he feels entitled to the best this world has to offer, regardless of whether he earns enough to pay for it all. Or maybe your boyfriend grew up not having much of anything, and worries now about having enough money all the time. The result is, he’s so frustratingly frugal that when he pinches a penny, he dents it.
The fights are not about the money. They are rarely about the money. For example, I received a letter from a reader who wrote: “I grew up very poor and never wanted to live a ‘poor’ life as an adult. I was able to get myself through college and get a decent paying job. I married quite young, at twenty-one. He was twenty. Twenty years later, we are getting divorced. And the number one reason was the issue of money.”
Specifically, the woman wrote, the divorce was precipitated by her husband’s unplanned purchase of a truck. “He just went out and bought it,” she said. “I feel horrible to have my marriage dissolve over something like this, but I felt like he had a total lack of respect toward the family financial situation. We had $20,000 in credit card debt and no money in savings. On top of that, he purchased season tickets to a major sports event. I emotionally left the relationship at that point. My family is broken. My heart is broken.”
You might think this couple’s marriage was ruined by money problems. Sure, the letter writer’s husband put his family deeper in debt by buying a truck they couldn’t afford. But the breakup wasn’t really about the money. It was about this couple’s failure to work as a team. The husband wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. Damn anybody else.
It was the last line in this woman’s letter that confirmed what I’ve always known about love and money. She wrote: “In my case it was a case of disrespect from my spouse.”
It’s a lack of communication and compromise that torpedoes relationships, not a lack of money. Many couples think that if they made more money, their financial issues would go away. They wouldn’t. The problems would just become more expensive.
This book is aimed at women in two different situations. It’s for women who need to start paying attention to the red flags that indicate they’ve got some serious money issues with their boyfriends or fiancés. It’s also for married women who know that issues precipitated by money may be weakening their marriage or, even worse, destroying it.
Although there is little data showing that money conflicts lead directly to divorce, money is still one of the top reasons why couples fight. Surveys show that the biggest strain on a relationship is managing finances, followed by compatibility issues.
A well-known children’s rhyme comes to mind when I think of couples and money:
First comes love,
Then comes marriage,
Then comes baby in the baby carriage.
With that rhyme in mind, I’ve written Your Money and Your Man in four parts. The first part, “First Comes Love,” addresses the financial issues that often drag dating couples down. One of the most important lessons from the first part is to watch carefully how your man handles his finances. His money management is the best barometer of what’s in store for your relationship in the long term. If he jokes about not balancing his bank account or that his credit cards are always maxed out, most likely your man is not going to keep his money right. Trust me, Prince Charming won’t seem so enchanting when he’s messing up the checkbook and the two of you are being hit with bounced-check fees every month.
In the first part, I’ll also discuss the dangers of cosigning for your partner before marriage, prenuptial agreements, the financial pitfalls of shacking up (oh, sorry, I mean cohabitation), the dos and don’ts of sharing intimate details of your finances, and the financial conversations you should have after getting engaged.
In the second part of the book, “Then Comes Marriage,” I’ll discuss the foolishness of overspending for a wedding, as well as joint accounts, secret accounts, and household budgets. I’ll also talk about getting out of debt.
The third part, “Then Comes Baby in the Baby Carriage,” will give you tips on how to teach your children about money and pay for their education.
Finally, the fourth part, “How You and Prince Charming Can Spend Well and Live Rich,” addresses saving, investing, retirement planning, and financial priorities—as well as what to do when living “happily ever after” means “separately.”
Ultimately, what I hope is that you and your man will find a way to have a relationship that is financially balanced. That balance can happen if you follow these three simple Cs—communicate, compromise, and set common goals.
When it comes to your money and your man, you will not live rich if you don’t find a way to communicate honestly about your financial differences. You will not live rich if you don’t learn to compromise. And you will not live rich if you don’t set common financial goals.
Follow the three Cs and you will be able to trust your man with your heart and your money.