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What is Your Financial Story?

Everyone has a financial story. I’m not talking about your top 3 purchases, your credit score, your debt load—though all those are part of your story. This story begins when you’re born, it’s the story that has shaped how you look at everything money.

At first, your parents play a major role. As you get older and start to collect and allowance (or earn money around the house) you begin to write your own story. When you get your first real job, you open a new and critical chapter. When (or if) you go off to college and have to figure out scholarships and student loans and credit cards, you begin yet another chapter. Finding a life partner bring a major twist to the story, as you try to work together your different financial stories.

The older I get–yes, you can laugh that I’m only 23, but I didn’t see these things even a few years ago–the more I can see how early-childhood influences affected me and shaped my financial perspective. Perhaps it’s because now I’m making much bigger decisions than ever before, or because I’m making those with someone who has a very different financial story.

Contrasting My Financial Story With Micah’s

I’ve been thinking lately, about the ways that my financial story contrasts with Micah’s (and the ways in which it’s similar).

1. I grew up with plenty; Micah didn’t.

While my family wasn’t rich by national standards, we were comfortably off. Micah has many childhood memories of not having enough.

This has had some strange and perhaps non-intuitive consequences. I actually stress more about money than Micah does. He knows that he can survive and even be happy (I use the word loosely, it’s not one that’s often applied to my DH) whether or not ends are meeting. I’m used to them meeting and therefore I need to make sure that they not only meet but that there’s something to spare.

I’d also say that my mother played a role in this, as she was quite frugal with our money. We had enough, but we weren’t actually rich and she made she we knew that. She also tried to demonstrate being careful with finances and led us to believe that thrift-storing and hand-me-downs were a normal part of life.

2. My mother didn’t have to work outside the house; Micah’s did.

Micah’s mom is actually a kind of super-mom. She managed to raise kids, form homeschooling social networks, get a Master’s in psychology, and work as a psychologist (and other jobs before that). In her case, finances necessitated that she work outside the. My mom was also a super mom, but she didn’t have to work outside the house. On the other hand, I wasn’t born until she was 40 and she had a career, worked abroad, etc before that.

It may not sound like a financial issue, but the whole thing has financial repercussions. Even if we don’t have kids, Micah would like to be able to support me so I don’t have to work outside the home. He doesn’t want to force me to stay at home, but he wants to offer me that option. I think it’s because he’d like his mom to have had that option.

3. Micah had student loans for college; I didn’t.

This wasn’t part of our upbringing, but it’s had some impact on our lives. There are times where we both accept these loans as a part of our life, as the reason Micah can pursue the career he wants, and as something we’ll deal with together. But I’d be lying if I said they weren’t ever a source of stress.

As I mentioned above, Micah worries less about finances. Sometimes it bothers him I see that financial decisions he made before we were even dating (and after) as my responsibility. And sometimes it bothers me that he has quite that much in loans. It’s one of those marital stresses we work through.

4. Micah had a credit history; I didn’t.

Micah did all those things that average college students do–he had a car, he had a credit card, and of course the loans. Because of my parents’ advice and my personal circumstances (again, more fortunate), I did none of them. This left my finances in good shape, but it also meant that I wasn’t able to get on our lease, I had absolutely no credit history, etc.

I probably should have done what I did more recently–taken out a credit card and used it for one bill so that I built something of a credit history. It’s, unfortunately, easier for college students to get them and would have saved me a great deal of headache later on.

What We Have in Common, Financially

Whatever your feeling on student loans, I believe Micah and I are both financially responsible people. We don’t have expensive tastes we keep our spending within proper limits. Micah’s debt wasn’t consumer (except some from our wedding rings right after we were married). I also had no consumer debt.

Things We Discussed Before Marriage

We talked about a lot of things before we got married, probably because we’d been together for 5 years and there was just a lot of talking in that time. We learned about each other’s childhoods, what happened, how they felt about it. We told stories that didn’t mean much in themselves but gradually created an overall world that the other person was coming from.

We also gave estimated numbers when it came to debt/savings talked about Micah’s loans, etc.

I think it’s critical that couples talk about their current financial situations before they get married. It may not make any difference, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Even if you’ll be keeping your finances separate, you need to know that your spouse/partner is paying off massive debt, for instance, because that will affect your future together anyway.

And I think the best preparation for actually handling your finances together is finding out not just where the other person is now but where they’ve been and their financial story. Because once you know that, you can understand so much more about them, from general attitudes toward money to specific actions.

What is your financial story? What is your spouse/partners? Has that affected your relationship?


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

mapgirl April 7, 2009 at 11:58 am

Excellently timed post. Last night my boyfriend and I had a conversation about blogging about his finances on my blog. I still feel funny about it even though he doesn’t care if I do or not. I think it’s different when ppl are married and you have a combining of funds in a joint account vs just being bf/gf.

Craig April 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Having a similar financial childhood as you I can sort of relate with wanting to have more money saved to be comfortable. I think the way I was raised allows me to budget and save better oppose to some friends I know who have no problem throwing around money.

Penelope @ Pecuniarities April 7, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I’m not married, but my mother was married twice and both marriages were seriously affected by finances, especially her 2nd marriage, which in turn greatly affected my financial habits.

Our stepfather was an incorrigible spendthrift and never thought about cutting back until he got himself hundreds of thousands in debt. Having witnessed the repercussions of his habits, my sister and I are, as a result, ultra careful with our money.

I wrote about ourFamily Financial History on my blog last year which tells of a lot of the financial aspects of our past, including our observations of our parents as well as our own experiences which helped shape our current views and lifestyle.

Moneymonk April 7, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Actually my spouse was a better saver than me, I skipped saving and move to investing–it seemed more sexier, seeing money growing and moving instead of sitting there.

He has made me slow down. He had no debt. I had a car debt

Later got married paied off the car bought a house

We are now at the point in which we can live off one income.

However, he is still a saver, and I like to splurge more. As long as we have needs taken care of, I don’t feel guilty

Stephanie PTY April 7, 2009 at 3:32 pm

It’s a little eerie how similar my sistuation is to yours, Mrs. Micah! Only my past is almost exactly like Micah’s, and my boyfriend’s past is almost exactly like yours. He has no student loans, I do. He only has a credit history now because I encouraged him to get a credit card and use it responsibly while he’s a grad school (while they still hand out credit cards like candy…). The only difference is that we both focus on money pretty heavily. I do it on more of a meta-level, and I am better at the next-step stuff, but he is very good at keeping a handle on his own day-to-day stuff. And yeah, my student loans make him a bit nervous!

Andrew April 7, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Gravatars FTW!!! :)

plonkee April 8, 2009 at 8:03 am

I know Micah is lovely, but the idea that he should support you so you don’t have to work gives my feminist side the creeps (and that’s the whole side).

Practically speaking, it’s helpful for you both to be able to live on one of your incomes, but philosophy professors aren’t paid all that much more than librarians (and you should get your certification at some point), so there’s no intrinsic reason why it should be Micah that can potentially support you rather than the other way round. And, all other things being equal, Micah probably has a slightly higher risk of being unable to work through disability before you (he’s a little older, and male, rather than anything sinister).

To give some context, my grandfather had the attitude that his wife shouldn’t have to work, so she didn’t. It worked well until he was made redundant / had to take early retirement and she had to go out to work to help make ends meet. Of course her skills outside the home were pretty rusty at this point and it caused them a few problems. Apparently, this is part of my financial story – and why I wouldn’t be comfortable being *kept*.

mrsmicah April 8, 2009 at 11:43 am

@mapgirl, I think that when the funds combine, things change, so it makes sense. His finances aren’t yours yet and I understand why it would feel weird to blog about them, even if he doesn’t mind.

@Craig, I’ve found it really helps having more than a basic emergency fund. Even if we never touch the money, just knowing that it’s there makes a huge difference for me.

@Penelope, thanks for sharing your post about your family’s history. I think it’s very cool that you and your sister blog together–I like seeing your similarities, differences, perspectives, etc.

@Moneymonk, sounds like he was a good influence, I’m glad!

@Stephanie, that is a little eerie. It’s a good combo, though, for all its periodic stresses. Micah’s having a credit history made it possible for me to get on his credit card. Plus his peace of mind about money helps me relax.

@Andrew, yes, I added those last night. Glad you like them!

@plonkee, I don’t think I’m going to be dropping out of the workforce–still on the 5-year plan to get my MLS and/or MSIS. But I think Micah will be happier knowing that I’m working because I find it fulfilling than because I absolutely have to to make ends meet. Fortunately, the job I have right now is both fulfilling and makes ends meet, so we’re in a good place.

Kristy @ Master Your Card April 8, 2009 at 10:09 pm

My back ground is similar to yours in that my family was well-off. We weren’t rich by any means, but we had food on the table, TVs and VCRs in our rooms, as well as the large family room, I had my own room, and pretty much anything I wanted – except in the clothes department…we were still made to wear cheaper clothing, no designer stuff in our house.

The difference between your upbringing and mine is that my parents never talked to me about finances and how to manage them. I left the house with the expectation that things would simply come to me – easy come, easy go. I didn’t worry about it until I was in debt and getting the collection calls. When I started in the finance industry, I began seeing all the things I’d down wrong. And, my parents were doing the right things, that’s why they could afford to give to us, but they never shared it.

On the one hand, I wish they would have shared more about money with me growing up. I could have saved myself a lot of headaches and sleepless nights. On the other, I am who I am today because I learned the lessons myself, so I can’t begrudge them that.

I think your parents influence you to a point; however, as adults we take on new information and we experience the world in a completely different way than our parents. Because of that, our experiences with money won’t be the same. It’s like the whole nature vs. nurture argument. Yes, our parents will influence us to a degree, but ultimately we make the choice to be one way or the other with our money.

Kristy @ Master Your Card’s last blog post: IRA Basics – Part 1

fathersez April 22, 2009 at 7:09 am

Hi, Mrs. M,

I have sometimes wondered about how the financial standing of my girls’ intendeds would be. I have also worried about the girls be careless in this matter and not find out till it was too late.

Your post has reminded me yet again. I must do something to advice my girls on this. Any suggestions?

fathersez’s last blog post: Job scams on the rise. It’s always better to be safe than sorry

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