One of the local radio stations I listen to has a trivia question every morning as I drive in to work. Many of the questions center on men, women and marriage. I heard something the other day that really surprised me. What was that? – you ask.
It surprised me to hear that 33% of respondents to a survey don’t know how much money their spouse makes. Hello!! It is 2011, not 1911. How can people live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, maybe even raise children together and not know how much money is earned by their soul mate?
In my first marriage we had separate checking accounts and divvied up who would pay which bills. So it would have been easy for us to not know how much each other made – but we did know. In fact we would celebrate every time one of us got a raise. We celebrated with pizza in the early years and advanced to dinner in nice restaurants as we grew older and the raises were more substantial. But the point is we knew what our family income consisted of. How can 33% of Americans not know that?
Even in single income families, both adults should know how much money is available to support the household needs. For better – for worse – for richer – for poorer. Just how much better or how much poorer they are should be a shared data element in the marriage. In fact, why didn’t it come up before marriage?
My first marriage of ten years ended in divorce due to irreconcilable differences (that’s fodder for another type of blog). I was nervous about considering marriage ever again. However, a few years later when I’d stopped wondering if I’d ever fall in love again or trust my heart to a man again, in walked husband number two. He had been married once before as well and wanted no part of games, games of neither love nor money.
I was shocked with his openness about feelings and money. He asked questions that no self-respecting woman would ever ask early in a dating relationship. In hind sight, I am so glad he did. Some of the questions we answered for each other were:
- How long have you been in the type of work you do now?
- How much do you make?
- How much is in your 401K?
- How much debt do you have?
- What is your credit score?
- Do you like what you do?
- If you could do anything for work what would it be?
Those seven questions reveal so much about a person. The answer to the first question (especially for older dating couples) reveals something about commitment – if someone is dedicated to their career they have a higher chance of being dedicated to a relationship. No I do not have any research to back this up – only personal observation. A job hopper tends to get bored easily (with work and relationships).
The next four questions talk about earning power, saving tactics and financial stability. I hear people talking about not getting involved with someone because they come with a lot of baggage. A lot of times they are referring to relationship baggage with exes, children and parents. But relationships are a lot easier to build and repair than financial baggage. Plus once you get married the financial baggage becomes your baggage as much as the other persons. Want to own a home? That is going to be rather difficult if you fall for someone with $20,000 of credit card debt and a credit score in the 500s. Want to retire before social security sets in? Again, that will be difficult with financial baggage.
The last two questions tell you how likely the person is to keep working the current field and earning something close to what they currently earn. If you are dating a teacher who hates kids and despises the administration but would rather be a guided fishing tour director at the local lake, you might want to consider whether or not you earn enough to support you both for the rest of your lives. But if he loves his teaching job and would like to move up in the academic ladder some day, chances are good he will stay on that career path and provide a dependable income to help support the family for years to come.
Granted, money cannot buy you happiness. Nor should financial health be the only factors to consider when looking for the love of your life. But a huge percentage of divorces occur due to money issues. So make sure money is not an issue before you get married. Ask the difficult and sometime embarrassing questions so there are no surprises after you say “I do for better or worse, for richer or poorer.”
I’m guessing I get more comments on this post than any other I’ve written. And that is OK. If I got you to think twice before committing to financial ruin, I’m OK if you think I’m cold and heartless (I am neither). If you have other questions you believe need to be asked early in marriage, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.