Is Money The Secret To A Happy Marriage?

The New York Times had an article this weekend called The Key to Wedded Bliss? Money Matters*. It was kind of hit and miss for me, but I did like one particular quote:

“A lot of the debates people have about money are code for how we want to live our lives.”

Money itself isn’t important. Money is simply a tool to achieve what you want. As long as you and your partner want the same things, then in general I think the rest falls into place. You just have to realize that money spent in one place takes away from another desire. However, if you don’t agree on what you want, you could be billionaires and unhappy.

My wife and I remind each other all the time about our primary goals:

  • Work less.
  • Be able to spend time with children.
  • Travel and experience the world.

With this in mind, neither of us bug each other very much about most material things. I don’t ask for a BMW. She doesn’t ask for stuff from Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. If our wallets start to wander, then we keep each other in check.

(The rest of the article talks about little things like having a weekly financial meeting, rotating the financial responsibilities, hiring a mediator, and other minor things that I feel aren’t nearly as important. We don’t do any of those things.)

This article caught my eye because my wife and I are currently very close to booking a week-long trip to Spain, pending vacation time approval. It was weird because many of our coworkers’ reactions were “Jeez, big spender, where did you get the money for that?”. I wanted to say something along the lines of “Remember the 18 times last month you called me cheap? Yeah, that’s where the money came from!“.

More appropriate might be “How much did your [new car] cost again? Mine depreciates less than $1,000 per year. Subtract the difference, and that’s an extra $1,000+ for me every year, which is an international trip.” They make fun of our old car. ;)

What’s the point of all this? Having aligned goals is awesome. Oh, and I love my wife. :)

Comments

  1. best part was the line you wanted to say to co-workers about being called cheap, as I can totally relate.

    As for the article, I can not relate as I’m not married,

  2. Quite honestly, you should have said that to your co-worker.

    Being frugal or “cheap” is not negative.

    It’s too bad the rest of the US isn’t/wasn’t “cheap” because we might not be in this economic mess had that been the case…

  3. cheap does have such negative connotations. but because Im cheap Im able to take trips throughout Europe while Im living in Sweden. and it is well worth not going out every weekend if it results in a long weekend in Madrid.

    Enjoy Spain, it’s a beautiful country.

  4. A lot of the debates people have about money are code for how we want to live our lives.

    Yes! Hallelujah! This is so good to hear from mainstream media.

  5. Money isn’t everything, but it’s very important. Look out the window, look at how much gas and real estate cost in the Bay Area.
    Money buys time. I do most of home repair myself, my wife calls me a handyman. I could be paying someone else to do the work and spend the time playing with my kids. The money I save, I take my family on a vacation, etc.

  6. OK, let’s do a logic game here. If !A -> !B then A -> B. Overwhelmingly, the evidences show that failed marriages often has money (or lack of thereof) as a major factor of the dispute. So if not having money lead to unhappiness, then having money will have some correlation to happiness then.

  7. “Subtract the difference, and that’s an extra $1,000+ for me every year, which is an international trip.”

    Small detail: A round-trip ticket to Spain doesn’t cost $1000, it’s more like $1300, specially from the West Coast

    Two tickets that is $2,600

  8. Related to this topic is something I’ve always found interesting. There have been statistics floating around that couples who cohabitate before marriage are more likely to end in divorce. My thought has always been, that a BIG reason people cohabitate before marriage is financial. It doesn’t make sense to pay for two apartments if you are on a tight budget, as many young people are.

    I guess where I’m going with this, is that some people (often claiming moralistic reasons) suggest the higher divorce rate is due to cohabitation, while my personal belief has been that people who cohabitate are often not as well off financially – which leads to higher divorce rates. They say the majority of divorces mention money as one of the major causes.

    Not to sidetrack the thread, it just seemed related.

  9. haha, that is too funny. i get the “cheap” stare all the time, esp. driving around in my old caddy…either that, or head nods with the occasional “that’s where it’s at boyeeee”.

  10. @bigmouth:

    Your logic is flawed, there. If !A -> !B, then B -> A. If you negate both, you switch the direction of implication.

  11. bigmouth: Overwhelmingly, the evidences show that failed marriages often has money (or lack of thereof) as a major factor of the dispute.

    I think you may be misinterpreting the causality of the situation. Is lack of money the cause of problem or is lack of money the result of other relationship problems?

    The typical American family makes significantly more than just “survival-level” income. Barring major medical or insurance catastrophe, the average US family should have “enough”. We don’t have droves of people starving and unemployed with families breaking from the stress.

    What we do have are people who are over-extended. People who are stressing to “make the bills” while attempting to achieve the lifestyle they think they want. The average American is overweight or obese, the average American is operating on little or negative cash flow. They work long hours (more than 40), they have extensive commutes in high-stress traffic.

    Yes at the end of the day, it “looks” like money problems. But these money problems are brought on by the decisions the couple makes. These decisions are at the heart of a relationship.

    Giving money to an unhappy person doesn’t suddenly reverse the trend. We have a history of lotto winners gone broke to show otherwise. Happy people generally find a way to make the money work.

  12. Ian, thanks for pointing that out. So No Money -> No Happiness => Happiness -> Money. That sounds reasonable.

    Gates VP, I don’t disagree with you. I was merely saying restating an old saying that money can’t buy your happiness but it surely makes your life a lot easier.

    What I am fascinated here is the notion of right and wrong. Everyone in this forum obviously have a sense of better judgment for those new car buyers and over spenders. On the other hand, we rarely look into the mirror and try to critique ourselves on some other things we obviously missed. I mean, Lehman Brother probably has some of the brightest minds among us, and I’m sure most of them are not the overweight, overspent, over-commuting average people. They think they are doing the right thing. Confidence is important. Self-examination is also important.

  13. Colin Harrington says:

    The love of money is the root of all evil, but the lack thereof is a close second.
    (paraphrased from Bishop Wayne R Felton, who paraphrased it from?)

    Anyone know the original source?

  14. Being cheap in terms of eating out less and driving a less luxurious car is the way to go because the experience of traveling the world and being able to relax (even for just a week at a time) is priceless. They can have fancy lunches and drive nice cars but if you never get out of the US, what’s the point?

  15. @ IVSPORT, because “they” don’t necessarily want to travel the world, and maybe to them eating a fancy lunch is relaxing?

    I’ve been out of the country multiple times, and while a great experience, not something I’m saving up for. I’d rather eat a nice (if somewhat more expensive) meal every day than skimp for months to go out of the country once.

  16. Bigmouth – you can’t really apply the mathematical rules of logic to real life things in that way, as you try to do with “So No Money -> No Happiness => Happiness -> Money.” Yes, the two are logically equivalent, but that does nothing to figure out whether either statement is true.

    Try a different example – “If George W. Bush is not President then there is not life on Mars.” That’s logically equivalent to “If there is life on Mars, then George W. Bush is President.” Just because both statements are equivalent doesn’t make either one of them TRUE.

  17. Hope you enjoy Spain. I just posted on my blog about a way to get a free vacation in Spain.

  18. I am also called “cheap” in my office. I have old cell phone, I don’t have a car, I walk to the office, earlier was commuting by public transport.

    On other hand, I have been working in the US for 3 years, and I have saved $120k :-) I came here in 2005 with $3500.

  19. I do have to put in a plug for the weekly financial meeting. Well doesn’t have to be strictly financial, but as I do all of the finances it’s nice to have a sit down and let the hubbie ask questions like how are we doing? How’s our vacation savings coming along? Did we book those tickets etc. I also give him a little financial chart like the one that is on MyMoneyBlog once a month. It works really well to keep him up to date even though he doesn’t touch any bills.

    Oh, and my car is a ’92. Gets me where I need to go!! I should bake it a cake on it’s 20th birthday.

  20. heather… your car is old enough to drive itself!

    you guys sure are beating up on the people that spend all their money, lived off credit, and helped keep the stock market and your 401k’s ticking along for years. someone had to buy those new cars from GM, Toyota, etc.

    here’s a big thank you to those folks, and a big kick in the … for getting in too far over your heads with your mortgages. if they had stuck to cars and boats we all may be better off.

  21. Gates VP – Great comment. In the majority of countries people live on a lot less than Americans do. Somehow they have a higher success rate when it comes to marriages. One reasons I’d have to assume is our flawed legal system that benefits one of the parties when they divorce and another would be trying to keep up with the Jonses.

  22. The guys who go out to lunch instead of going on the vacation are not necessarily making poor decisions.

    You decide to go on a trip once a year for $2400.
    Someone else decides to buy 240 $10 lunches.

    Who is happier?

  23. I have been called cheap too and I probably get giggles that I bring a lunch to work every day, but the last couple of years I have gone on some very nice vacations – Bahama, Mexico. I like it that I am getting the last laugh on my co-workers and our net worth grows everyday.

  24. JackandJillsMoneyBlog says:

    Shared goals are essential! My wife and I set our financial goals. Our overarching goals are similar to yours – retire early, work less, and travel the world. We haven’t had kids yet, once we do, i’m sure you’re other goal will make our top 5 too.

    We try to split finance duties – she does the budget and keeps us to date on our expenditures, and I keep us up to date on our net worth targets.

    Having shared goals keeps us on the same path, making decisions easier, keeping us happy. :)

  25. Let me count the ways how *cheap* I am.

    I don’t own a car. Even though I travel around a lot. Walking, public transit, and paid drivers sometimes (paid drivers are cheaper than taxi) save me at least $15,000 a year.

    My favorite shoe store is “all shoes $3.99″: http://is.gd/2b0P

    I don’t remember when I purchased a book or a movie. And I read, listen and watch non-stop. Between my local library, inter-library loans and the Internet, I never run out of things to read or to watch.

    And I have “cheapo” friends too. One of them is a millionaire, owner of a few renal apartment buildings. He and I often go shopping together at Cuban neighborhoods in Miami, known for its discount supermarket and cheep food.

  26. Let me count the ways how *cheap* I am.

    I don’t own a car. Even though I travel around a lot. Walking, public transit, and paid drivers sometimes (paid drivers are cheaper than taxi) save me at least $15,000 a year.

    My favorite shoe store is “all shoes $3.99″: http://is.gd/2b0P

    I don’t remember when I purchased a book or a movie. And I read, listen and watch non-stop. Between my local library, inter-library loans and the Internet, I never run out of things to read or to watch.

    And I have “cheapo” friends too. One of them is a millionaire, owner of a few renal apartment buildings. He and I often go shopping together at Cuban neighborhoods in Miami, known for its discount supermarket and cheep food.

    As for my husband, we never even have to discuss money issues, we totally in sync there. He has a nice balance of being reasonable saver, never waster and yet not overzealous in his efforts…

    For example, he wouldn’t read a personal finance blog. To him it would be an overkill.
    LOL… But, well, oh, well. We are different, we enjoy reading this and other financial blogs… LOL

  27. Also.. As for my husband, we never even have to discuss money issues, we totally in sync there. He has a nice balance of being reasonable saver, never waster and yet not overzealous in his efforts…

    For example, he wouldn’t read a personal finance blog. To him it would be an overkill. LOL… But, well, oh, well. We are different, we enjoy reading this and other financial blogs… LOL

  28. There are two problems when it comes to marriage and finances: 1.) When one spouse wants to spend much more than the other. 2.) Neither spouse wants to live below their means.

    Living above your means is a recipe for disaster, regardless of whether you are single or married. Living with someone who has grossly different financial goals is another recipe for disaster. Years of frugal living can easily be blown away with a single impulse buy of the other spouse. In summary, live at or below your means and marry someone who will do the same. Otherwise, you’re in trouble.

    I once heard a wise man say the following: “You shouldn’t be concerned about the future income of your potential spouse. You should be concerned about how much below his/her means he/she lives.” After 3 years of marriage, I firmly agree with this statement.

    Money is overrated. Financial independence and happiness through hard work and thrift is underrated.

  29. Perhaps it is most important to see what really makes your partner “happy” and “fulfilled”. Is it stuff? It is having more stuff than your neighbor? Is it food? Is it religious work? Is it physical fitness? Is it lots of money? Is is who has the most friends?

  30. I agree with this article and with You. Cut Your loses and go for something YOU REALLY want, not just for something which everyone else want. That’s what I call wisdom.

    After all we’re all gonna die sooner or later, so why we should be sad about being not rich? Instead just enjoy Your life and don’t let the debts worry You too much. I’m hapy to see another happy marriage :)

  31. Being still recently married I find this post very informative. Thanks for the information.

  32. Anyone tried pre-marital counseling? Is money matter discussed there?

  33. This makes me think of two things:
    I knew a guy who was 32 when he finally got his law degree. He was in college for 14 years. He had the time of his life. He said that his father told him to. His father’s advice: Why not spend everything you have when you are young and can enjoy it rather than save it, get too old to enjoy it? So, the guy had a great college life and bartended for money. Little worries.

    The other is a movie quote:
    “Someone tells you that money is root of all evil, doesn’t freaking have any. Money can’t buy you happiness? Look at the smile on my face! Ear-to-Ear, Baby!

  34. Great Post here Jonathan. I’m getting married in February (yay!) and we’ve already talked about our goals and how we spend money. We share the same values, and I believe we’re off on the right foot.

    My fiancee and I went to Australia together and just got back. It was awesome. Have fun on your trip!

    You should do a post about how to be safe with money while traveling. Traveler’s checks vs. other ways to keep that stash safe.

    Cheers!

  35. I love your car example. My friends are so hung up on getting new cars with such small incomes. So many times they comment on when I’m going to get my car changed. Its like they can’t grasp the rapid depreciation of automotives.

  36. Your wife sounds like a rare woman, and I don’t mean that in a sexist way. I think the nesting instinct has gotten all screwed up with materialism. However, tell me this: how much was the wedding ring? I haven’t met a frugal girl yet who didn’t think a small ring wasn’t a reflection of her worth or her guy’s love for her.

  37. I would love a small ring. Less likely to get caught on stuff : ) I’m not a big jewelry person to begin with though, so maybe that has more to do with it than frugality?

  38. When I married 21 years ago (I am female), it never occured to either of us to blow big bucks on a stoopid ring – I still wear the simple wedding band. Seen too many divorces after big fancy weddings to equate $ with “love”!

    I still drive the 1972 Datsun that I bought in 1985 for $250, but only around town. I drive a 1996 VW Golf on trips. But we have 12 motorcycles. Why waste $ on boring cars, I say. You only live once.

    Regarding lunches: if I had to eat with my coworkers every day, I most definitely would not go out to lunch. But I wait until 2:30 when outdoor tables are available, and enjoy my solo lunch with some reading material. I figure I blow $30 a week doing this, and it keeps me sane. No sense in having a mere $120 extra each month if I was headed to the loony bin!

  39. I don’t think money is everything, but money brings happiness temporary. With money you can acheive many goals and it makes life easier. Without money, there will be problems and you can’t do the things you want to do which sucks! You can still vacation, just have a financial plan. Who says you can’t eat out wherever you want to dine? You can do whatever you want as long as you budget your finances. Be wise about it. What’s the use of being cheap all the time and save, save, save? You won’t get to enjoy life and what if you pass away, then all that will go to waste. The key is to enjoy life and save a little for your goals. It could be to remodeling the kitchen or going on a vacation, etc. Just be smart about it and not cheap all the time.

  40. I just got engaged and we bought partner rings (a ring for him and me) for very cheap(we will only wear them till the wedding) to show our engagement and then we will buy simple plain wedding bands. I think if a guy is not convinced about spending a lot on a ring he shouldn’t marry a girl that needs a super expensive ring

  41. dougs money blog says:

    When my wife and I got married we went to a hock shop or pawn shop and spent a grand total of $70.00 on our wedding bands.

  42. Money is the topic where the relationship dynamic comes up and becomes the problem. Money is stressful…and then add in poor communication.

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