Money is always more than just dollars and cents. So how you answer this question is really important for your marriage. What you learned about money growing up—your money story—is the foundation for your relationship with money now. In other words, your money story determines what your beliefs, values and habits are in terms of earning, saving and spending. The similarities and differences in how you and your wife view money will determine whether or not financial issues will become sources of conflict in your relationship.
How do you identify what money means to you? How do you uncover your money story?
Start by addressing the following questions as clearly and honestly as you can:
- What did you learn about money growing up?
- How did that affect you then?
- How does that affect you now?
- What is your current relationship with money?
- How does money influence your sense of self worth?
Once you understand the relationship you have with money you can then identify how these beliefs influence your behavior and affect your marriage.
For example, my late father-in-law grew up during the Depression. He was one of six children raised in a small town in the South. There was not much money because his father was gone frequently and his mother was the sole support of the family. My father-in-law worked much of his life at an ordinary job and saved most of his money.
My husband’s family did not take many vacations and lived a modest, middle class life. My father-in-law did not spend money on what he considered unnecessary. As a result, my husband developed a pragmatic and practical view of money.
Sometimes his view borders on the absurdity as illustrated by the time we were furniture shopping. My husband was dismayed at what he considered poor quality furniture and decided he could build it better himself. This was fine except that it took him four years to decide he could buy a table saw, and then another four years to find the one he wanted. The process my husband used to make this decision was a direct result of how he was taught to think about money. While he has gotten faster in making decisions over the years, his fundamental beliefs and behaviors about money have not changed.
I also grew up in a middle-class family. I was one of four children raised in a major metropolitan area. We lived in a modest house with the necessities of life taken care of but not much in the way of extras. My brother was handicapped so there were medical bills that ate up some of the money. The usual response to a request to do something special was “We can’t afford it”.
Many of the people I grew up with had their own cars and went on regular vacations. While not deprived, I always felt I was different from many of my peers. As a result, when I went out on my own I tended to indulge myself a bit. I never got into financial difficulty, but I did come to the marriage with some debt. My husband entered the marriage unencumbered.
For us, finances have not really been an issue because I was able to adjust to my husband’s desire to be frugal. He, in turn, was willing to entertain the idea that it’s okay to spend money on things we can enjoy, not just on what we need. We both have a good understanding of what role money played in our lives growing up and how we want to use it now. Luckily we agree for the most part.
The problems arise when couples cannot successfully merge their money stories and collaborate to create a new one. How to talk about money and finances will be addressed in a future blog.