Saturday, April 11, 2015

Variety is the Spouse of Life

When I first got married, many moons ago, my husband said something that, had I been a lot smarter, would have set off alarm bells in my head.

We had been married only a few months when we determined that both of us couldn't have pickup trucks. Since his was bigger and in much better shape than mine, we decided that I would trade mine in and get a practical 4-door car. As we were driving off the lot with it, my dear one turned to me and said, "I think we will always have a car payment".

What frightened me about this was that he said it like it was a good thing. He was smiling - actually smiling! Did he mean that being in debt is a good thing? How can that be? What kind of monster did I marry?

This left me highly confused, and it took me a long time to understand what he really meant.

See, my dear one and I came from very different backgrounds. I came from a family of educated liberals who consider thrift a virtue. My dad may pay cash for cars, but you'll never see him drive anything more luxurious than a Toyota. On the other hand, my dear one grew up very, very poor in Appalachia. Like food stamp, clothing from the church donation bin kind of poor. He managed to rise up to the middle class through a combination of the U.S. Army and the G.I. Bill, and the idea of actually buying a brand new car off the lot was, at the time, a measure of success for him. He knew how to make a great dinner for three bucks, but he didn't understand that debt is not a good thing.

I mention this because it took a very long time - about 15 years - before we got to a point where my desire to be debt free and his desire to have nice, new cars all the time found a balance. In reality, the balance is that he lets me manage the finances, and whenever we take on a debt, I pay it off immediately. I don't allow him to keep a rolling balance on a credit card and I don't tolerate store cards at all. But I know that if it were up to him, we'd be back up to our eyeballs in debt in no time flat.

Why am I going on painting my dear one in such an unflattering light? Because our marriage is a good example of how, in spite of our best intentions, having our finances combined with someone with different spending habits can lead you in to money habits that we wouldn't have if it were just us on our own.

In my case, we have been in and out of debt for most of our 20 years together, but it hasn't been disastrous debt. We've gotten underwater on credit cards a few times, made a lot of car payments, and never seem to get that damn student loan paid off, but I've seen much worse. Ever see someone married to a spouse who shops for entertainment? The wife who thinks it's funny that she has so many shoes that she hasn't worn them all, or the husband who isn't a real man if he doesn't drive a Porsche?

I'm not saying that if your soul mate doesn't have the same money values you do, you should give them a toss. If it's just an imbalance, and they're willing to work with you on it and compromise, then you can make it work. Just remember to keep paying yourself first, even if you're doing it from a joint bank account.

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