I met my wife at gifted and talented camp in the summer of 1989, when I randomly put my head in her lap and asked for a kiss.
Boy, did I get lucky.
I got lucky because we are both CFs—something I wrote about last week. And we didn’t even know it. We didn’t fill out a questionnaire on money habits before we kissed.
Some people have the misfortune of being a CF who falls in love with a high roller.
If one person in a marriage is a CF and the other is a high roller, you might say they have different philosophies on money. But that isn’t quite accurate.
The CF is psychologically hardwired to be a CF, and the high roller is hardwired to be a high roller. It is highly unlikely that either person will change, outside of a significant emotional event.
If you’ve ever been married and tried to change your spouse, you know how that works out. That’s why it’s important to talk about money before you get married.
Again, I cannot emphasize how lucky I got…
When I graduated from business school in 2001 my wife, my mother, and I went down to this magical place called Bix on Gold Street in San Francisco.
Bix had a speakeasy feel to it, and I remember ordering my first-ever martini. We walked out of there with a $72 tab—at that point, my biggest of all time. I was wearing a new Men’s Wearhouse suit, and I felt like a high roller.
I was 27.
Now that is CF behavior. If my wife was someone who ran around dropping thousands of dollars in high-end department stores, the marriage just would not have worked.
We all know married couples where one person spends and the other saves.
Most of the arguments devolve into “you worry too much” or “you don’t worry enough.” Whenever the unhappy couple goes into a store, there is tension.
Dishonesty arises—one person will hide money from the other person in the marriage, creating secret accounts to keep it safe. And the other person will go to great lengths to attempt to conceal their spending.
The problem becomes less about money, and more about trust.
Fights happen spontaneously, out of nowhere.
As I have said before, CFs can be unreasonably cheap and high rollers can be unreasonably extravagant. It is almost impossible to meet in the middle when it comes to this stuff. There is only black/white, right/wrong.
People get divorced over money. Hell, people die over money—especially people with gambling problems. This is serious business.
I don’t have the answer for everyone, but I can tell you what worked for me…
Keep your money separate.
Before we moved in together, my wife and I agreed to keep our money separate—really separate. I have my money, and she has her money.
If I want to spend it on something ridiculous, like a luxury backgammon board, there is not much she can say about it. It is my money.
If she wants to buy three dozen dresses, there is not much I can say about it. It is her money.
We split common expenses. In the old days, we split stuff 50/50. Then I started making a lot more money, so we split stuff 80/20 or 90/10. If we go out to eat or do something fun, I pay.
If that seems complicated, maybe it is. But guess what? We have never fought about money.
Some people get all heated about this… “Your spouse is not your roommate!”
True, but you can still work toward shared financial goals without pooling your money. I know because we’ve done it—with houses, cross-country moves, different jobs, you name it.
Even if keeping our money separate is an accounting fiction, so what? It’s kept us happy for well over two decades, and that’s what matters. If we combined our money, then we probably wouldn’t have the luxury backgammon board, and one of us would carry a resentment.
The important thing is to have a system.
It doesn’t have to be precisely like my system, but it has to be an agreed-upon set of rules that creates the minimum amount of conflict. And if pooling your money works for you, then great—I’m glad you have a system.
I can tell you what not to do: Don’t do what doesn’t work. If it’s not working, do something different.
P.S. Marriages collapse for all kinds of reasons. But the worst reason of all is money problems. More often than not, those problems include debt, which can feel overwhelming—or even debilitating. It’s a common problem, and I’d like to show you a path forward. Click here for more.
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