When my husband and I were first married I was pure Californian, forever keepin’ up with the Joneses. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t afford it; I wanted it. See it, own it; see it, own it. The hubby was quite another story. Though his cash-flush family spent-it-up with the best of ‘em, he joined ranks with the “richie rebellion,” full of efforts toward saving what he got and making it stretch.
When we said, “I do,” we had some work ahead. How can you synthesize spending and get on the same page? Check out the advice I learned the hard way below.
[FIRST. FIND THE SOURCE]
Though the hubby and I have been married eight years now, we’ve known each other much longer. Get ready to be sickened with sweetness; yes … we were high school sweethearts. This means we’ve watched one another’s financial savvy since way back in the day. But all this time watching doesn’t count for much, that is, unless you were watching the right things. We weren’t. We watched one another—at dinner, on dates, at the beach—not the ways by which we generated funds to posture for our paramour. I paid little attention to the fact Daddy financed the frugality that made him seem so content and serene. He paid little attention to the fact Uncle Visa was bankrolling my boisterous spontaneity. Long story short: Know where your cash is coming from as a couple.
[SECOND. WATCH THE FLOW]
Get real with the cash coming in, and going out, each month. Without any idea of what you make in comparison to what you spend, you’ll find yourselves in the red every time. This problem can be public-enemy No. 1 for young couples. Living month-to-month or paycheck-to-paycheck creates stress that can grind even the giddiest couples into the ground. A watchful eye goes a long way in managing money. Be a hawk about the flow of funds.
[THIRD. KNOW THE TIME FRAME ON YOUR FUNDS]
Some young couples are kept afloat by funds from afar. Daddy-siphons, scholarships, loans, grants, trusts, fellowships or other temporary paychecks often keep young couples in the flush. However, these funds don’t last forever. If you’re currently relying on funds from afar right now, you need to know whether you can afford to pay for the life to which you’ve become accustomed when the bill is on you. Check your current budget and locate those items being kept afloat by temporary money. Be real about what your lifestyle will cost—and what you can afford—when this money runs out. Case in point: My friend recently told me how he and his wife were planning to live off his tiny stipend as a medical resident (read: they’d pick up the tab for the sophisticated look she’d been sporting for years, thanks to her parents) After all, he reasoned, her salon hair, waxed brows, svelte bags and first-season shoes were only things she paid for, like a few times a year, right? (Girls, please kindly explain the real math involved in this equation if you know a guy like this.)
[FOURTH. GET REAL, BE HONEST]
Though it was tragic to reveal to my husband how many pairs of shoes I actually owned, we had to go there. Taking honest stock of what you have, what you want and what you buy is the only way for couples to get on the same page. Know and consistently review how much each partner’s material expectations cost and what type of life you’d like to live as a couple. Do you want an upscale life with Expeditions and all the extras? Or, do you hope to dwell downscale, embodying more modest means of existence? An honest look at what both of you spend (or save…my aunt is a secret saver, storing bits of cash away from her hubby) can reveal your priorities. Guess what I figured out when I looked at all my shoes that day? Think I felt lame? Yep. Think I cut back? Yep-Yep. Honesty is painful, but necessary to healthy finances. Be accountable to one another, and to the type of life you’re seeking to live.
[FIFTH. MANAGE YOUR FINANCIAL HEALTH]
When you get hitched, don’t expect things to stay the same. Your expenses will rise and fall; you’ll get jobs and loose them; you’ll save and then be wiped out by emergency. Change is inevitable, and that means your financial health will sometimes take a turn for the worse. If your relationship becomes ill after loosing the funds that used to buy dinner on the town and a weekend at the beach, you need to check it with regard to reality. Ups and downs are the norm. You might be back in the black in no time, but be prepared to set up shop in the red if that’s where you find yourself for the time being. Don’t let the state of your financial health be a parasite on your relationship otherwise.
[FINALLY: GET GOD OUT IN FRONT]
Don’t try to take the lead. The demand God makes on income is well documented in the Old Testament command to give of the first fruits. But, I’d advise an additional strategy. A la the New Testament, embody the advice of Jesus to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love comes in many forms; don’t kid yourself, or your marriage, by thinking finances have no part to play here. The dictionary lists “love” and “charity” as synonyms in the Christian tradition. If we seek to follow the advice of Jesus, I suggest understanding these terms in the same way. If you love yourself (are charitable to yourself) with your finances (keeping yourself healthy and provided for) do the same for those in need around you. Make a regular commitment to put money aside, releasing it as “yours.” The money now belongs to God; spend it in love to your neighbor.
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