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?