In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to spend a little time in recounting some memories from the by-gone days of when we were still childless, unmarried, and dating.
We may write about personal finance now, but we weren’t always exactly in lockstep financially, and it took us some time during our dating phase to figure out our financial compatibility with each other. And as a confession, I was the one in need of more change than her. To illustrate what I mean, here are a few episodes that occurred as we figured things out together.
Episode I: The Grocery Bill
When we were dating, both Deb and I worked on the campus of a boarding high school. I was a teacher and she was assistant girls’ dean and also an administrative assistant. We both lived on campus and since we were in such close proximity, we were able to have a lot of meals together during this “getting better acquainted” phase of our relationship.
We also did our grocery shopping together, and little did I know that this would be the cause of one of the first real conflicts in our relationship.
After one of our early shopping excursions, during which we shopped not only for our own groceries but also for some of my roommates, I sat down and divided up the bill between all the parties—including Deb.
Not long thereafter, I got an email from Deb. You see, we hadn’t been dating that long, but I had already learned that when she’s got something serious to say, she prefers to do so in writing. In her letter she expressed in no uncertain terms that she believes it is the MAN’S responsibility to provide for the lady, and that she was disappointed that I was trying to split the bill with her when she was pretty much doing all of the cooking for us already (of which I was also eating by far the majority of it).
Still adjusting from my bachelor ways, I immediately started trying to justify in my mind how we always split the bill with friends and all that. Fortunately before I did something I would regret later, better judgment got a hold of me, I swallowed my piece of humble pie, and I’ve been paying for the groceries ever since. (To be perfectly fair, Deb’s been feeding me ever since too—for which I am very grateful!)
Episode II: Reforming the Spender
I haven’t always been the frugal crumb saver you see before you today. In fact, there were periods in my younger years when my parents were quite concerned with my spendthrift ways. I didn’t think carefully about money and when I worked my high school jobs, I would often spend every dime I earned on video games, shoes, or other vain stuff.
Deb on the other hand was born with the frugal gene and has been thrifty since the day she was born. She’s the type of kid that would rather save her candy than eat it! Needless to say, even though I had matured a great deal by the time we started dating, it didn’t take long in our relationship before she sniffed out my loose tendencies with money. She didn’t say much about it (we actually didn’t talk as much about money as you would imagine) but she would carefully observe what I chose to buy, where I would take her when we would go out, and how savvy I was in snagging deals. (In my defense, I will say that despite paying for all the groceries for both of us while on a low teacher’s salary, I was still saving money from each paycheck.)
I am told that her concerns weren’t completely dispelled until a specific incident after we got engaged. Which leads me to the next story.
Episode III: The Secret’s Out
Shortly after our engagement, Deb realized that it was time to get everything out in the open and to make sure there were no money secrets. And she was hanging on to one giant secret.
When she told me she needed to talk, I could tell it was serious, but since she wasn’t confronting me in writing I figured it probably couldn’t be THAT bad! I was secretly bracing myself for something like a big loan or something like that. But quite the contrary, Deb informed me that she had, through her intense crumb-saving ways, amassed a HUGE sum of money in savings!
She shared that she had a dream of being able to pay for her first home in cash, and so had been saving up like crazy ever since her first job out of college. (While we weren’t able to buy a house in cash, we were able to pay it off in 2 years largely due to Deb’s pre-marriage savings that comprised the vast majority of our home down payment.) Very wisely, she waited until she was confident that the dynamics of our relationship weren’t going to change with the revelation of this big news before breaking it to me. She wanted to be sure that I wasn’t going to only want her for her money, or that I was going to have strange ideas of how to waste it when she wanted it to go toward securing a financially independent future for her family.
So what was my reaction? A number of things went through my mind during this exchange. First, my jaw nearly hit the floor because I knew Deb was never in a highly paid profession. And to realize that she saved so much while earning so little really brought conviction to me to become more frugal myself. Secondly, I grew in admiration for this incredibly disciplined woman who was to be my wife. I’m not going to have to worry about her spending me out of house and home! Yes!
But these weren’t actually the things that I said to her then.
One of the first things I asked was how much interest she was earning on her savings. She had it socked away in a Bank of America CD earning only a fraction of a percent. To which I responded that she could have been earning at least several times that if she had just switched to a CD at Ally Bank or something like that.
She didn’t get upset or offended at what I said, but had a rather unique surge of mixed emotions. First she was aghast in horror at how much money she had left on the table (she was a life-long crumb saver, after all), but she also experienced a wave of relief that she was marrying a financially compatible guy. She realized that while she could amp up the savings, here was a guy who can handle the investing to make it go even further! We’re all set!
As I’ve told many people over the years, marrying Deb was the single best financial decision I have ever made in my life. She completed my reformation from being a spendaholic, and has kept me on the straight and narrow of frugal living ever since. Who knows where I’d be without her?
So as we were wrapping up that big money conversation, Deb slyly asked me, “So do you still mind paying for all my groceries?”
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are two other posts we’ve written before on money and relationships: