The tale of how I met my husband is — at least on paper — a storybook romance. It happened in a London pub on a Tuesday night, an unlikely meeting place for an American student and an Australian apprentice. I was studying abroad, while Mark was visiting family. That first evening we rode black cabs to the city’s most iconic sites, intoxicated by new love in a new city. Eight years later, we’re still pretty smitten with each other.
Our money differences, however, were evident from that first evening. I was pinching pennies — or pence, as it were — unable to work on my student visa and living off my (quickly dwindling) savings. Mark, on the other hand, had been working for a few years, was financially secure and had a family who could help him if things got rough.
As we started to build a life together, our differences quickly became more pronounced. I had been raised that money was a problem to be confronted — and because of that I believed if I could control every little detail I would be OK. Mark, on the other hand, was raised in a home where money was a tool that was always available. He had a much more laid-back approach to finances, and wasn’t afraid to spend a bit in order to make our lives easier.
We've had more than a few financial frustrations, with him thinking I was being too controlling and me feeling he was being irresponsible.
But we’ve managed to combine our philosophies into a financial approach that works for our family. Here’s how we met in the middle and created a unified plan.
1. WE TALKED OPENLY ABOUT THE PAST
I was raised in an environment where financial setbacks seemed to occur without reason: Money controlled what my family ate, where we lived and even how we bathed when hot water was shut off. Rather than learning to control finances, I learned the many ways finances can control you. As an adult, this left me overly cautious, always waiting for the next financial tragedy.
Mark, however, didn’t have this baggage. He was raised in an upper-middle-class family where there was no need to worry about where the next check would come from, or if it would arrive at all.
To understand where we were each coming from, we acknowledged our financial differences. Telling Mark about my father’s sporadic work history or the times our utilities were shut off helped him make sense of my sometimes irrational behavior, while learning that his family took impromptu trips or that they had a laundry lady helped me understand his more lax attitude toward money.
2. WE DISCUSSED OUR FINANCIAL GOALS
Ultimately, we had the same financial goal: We didn’t want to worry about money. For me, that meant micromanaging our finances so that I felt in control. For Mark, not worrying meant being able to make a purchase or go out to dinner without analyzing how it would impact our bottom line.
3. WE WORKED THROUGH THE NUMBERS
So we made a monthly budget. I needed to know where we stood financially, while Mark needed to be able to spend occasionally without overanalyzing.
With each paycheck we put money into our “Bill Pay” account and our savings. That way, I knew that all our bills were essentially already paid. The rest of the money went into our “Everyday Expenses” account, from which we could draw freely without worry when we wanted an indulgence or dinner out. I had control, while my husband had flexibility.
4. WE INCORPORATED BOTH APPROACHES
Over time, Mark has taught me to see money as a tool, while I’ve taught him to do a bit more planning. Both approaches now work together in our household. For example, when we first discussed buying a home he was ready to jump in right away, while I was intimidated by the process, since home ownership was always out of reach when I was growing up. By working through the numbers and discussing our financial goals, we were able to address my fears and set a price point we were both comfortable with.
Today, Mark and I have more financial security than I had growing up, but less than he had. But we’re comfortable with where we are now. Looking forward, we hope to use pieces from both of our backgrounds to teach our daughter about money: While we never want her to feel dread, we do want her to understand the real value of a dollar and the importance of sound financial decision-making.