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Financial Infidelity

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Get yer filthy paws awf my moneys!

The other day I came across an article about “financial infidelity”. Wikipedia defines financial infidelity as “a term used to describe the secretive act of spending money, possessing credit and credit cards, holding secret accounts or stashes of money, borrowing money, or otherwise incurring debt unknown to one’s spouse, partner, or significant other. Adding to the monetary strain commonly associated with financial infidelity in a relationship is a subsequent loss of intimacy and trust in the relationship.”

Basically, according to the Internets, married people are cheating on each other with money.

Dude.

Within a week of our moving in together, Mike had added my name to his checking account and I’d closed mine out and deposited all of my funds into his account. Now, I wouldn’t recommend this to all couples, in some situations that could be a really stupid thing to do. But in our case it made sense. For one thing, I had excellent credit and a knack for data entry, while Mike made lots of money that he never took to the bank. He used to get all his bills in red envelopes, not because he couldn’t afford to pay them but because he never had money in the bank. Instead, all his money was scattered across the kitchen table, shoved into cracks in the walls to keep out drafts, tucked into books like so many bookmarks, and wadded up in the dryer lint catcher. It drove me crazy. So when we agreed to move in together, we agreed to a joint bank account so that I could manage our finances. And manage them I did! Every night when Mike came home from work he would put all his cash in a cigar box we kept next to the bed. Every morning I would deposit his cigar box cash at the bank. I paid all our bills, balanced the checkbook, and watched our budget.  By the time we married we had zero debt and a nice little nest egg. Then we moved to New York and blew it all. Then we paid down our debt again, built another nice little nest egg, and moved back to California.

The value of a man who, without complaint, hands over his paycheck every week, is not lost on me. I know how lucky I am to have a partner who is so careful of his spending, so sincere in his desire to help me build the future we want for ourselves. It’s a blessing to know that we have the same goals in mind and that we’re both doing the best we can to meet them. Which is why the thought of financial infidelity is so absolutely horrifying. Aside from death or actual infidelity, I can’t imagine many things more terrifying than discovering that my husband has secret credit card debt. Or secret gambling debt. Or secret anything.

I thought about this when I read the article, then I googled “financial infidelity” and found 809,000 more articles, and with each word I read I climbed higher and higher on my money-management pedestal. Patted myself on the back and told myself how superior we are because we would never lie to each other about money. We’re better than that. And then I remembered the parking ticket.

If I get a parking ticket and send the check off and don’t say anything to Mike about that $55 – is that financial infidelity? What if I go shopping and tell him I only spent $100, but I actually spent $350? Or like, we each have a budgeted personal allowance of $80 a month and Mike never spends that much, he hardly ever spends more than forty bucks, but I sometimes spend three times my allotted amount and I’ve never told him (until now.) I just let him think I stay within my budget because I don’t want him to get mad and it’s not like he ever looks at our budget sheets, because he totally trusts me to take care of it – so am I cheating on my spouse with money?

AM I A CURRENCY INFIDELITE?

What do you think? About all of this, I mean, not just whether or not I’m cheating on my husband’s bank account. How do you handle money with your partner? Not that that is any of my business, no siree. Oooh, touchy subject, this is. Money! Scary stuff, I know. But I’m curious. What do you think?

Budgets for Lovers

This weekend, for the first time in weeks, Mike and I found ourselves with a free afternoon. We used to have regularly scheduled budgeting sessions, much like our regularly scheduled dates, but since we moved across the country for the second time in four years, all that has fallen by the wayside. So how did we spend our free afternoon? We sat down with coffee and cookies and we drew up a budget.

I don’t know if you’re big on budgeting your expenses, but we definitely are. It’s a habit we got into when we wrote our pre-nup, and we’ve found that whenever we slip out of it, life starts to get really stressful. Money can be frustrating enough, but when you’re in the dark about how much is coming in and how much you’re spending and whether or not you can make the bills next week, it’s hard to focus on much else. Alternatively, when we’re staying on top of our finances, everything else seems to fall beautifully into place.

The first two years in New York we didn’t have a budget. Sure, one had worked before, but I didn’t need that crutch anymore! I could just keep track of our finances in my head! Why waste time writing a budget? Budgets are for sissies! Those were the years. The years of expensive restaurants, shopping sprees, and crushing guilt. The years we lived off frozen soybeans and microwave popcorn because we’d spent that week’s grocery money at a bar. The years our debt stacked higher no matter how much we paid on the balance each month. The wilted salad years.

When we were both laid off in 2008, I discovered Crazy Aunt Purl’s Budget Worksheet. It was serendipitous, if you ask me. We were in dire straights and one day, on a break from searching the Craigslist job ads, I got curious and clicked a link and there it was, in all its automatic built-in mathematic glory. I plugged our numbers into the appropriate cells and discovered that we were spending waaaaaaay more than we were earning, and had been for a long, long time. Which explained the credit card situation.

That was when we started getting hot and heavy with our finances. In 2009 we made less than half of what we’d made the year before, but because we were living by our budget, we felt like we had more income than we’d had in ages. Our budget included money for dates and personal spending, and when we stuck to it we had everything we wanted and more. That budget enabled us to get out from under our debt and save enough money to move home.

Then we moved and stopped paying attention to our finances all over again, so yesterday was a real eye-opener. But I’m glad we did it. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, even if the news isn’t what I hoped it would be, to know what’s going out and what’s coming in, instead of ignoring the bankbook and crossing my fingers. And I swear, budgeting goes hand-in-hand with romance because when we’re not worrying about money we can do other things that are a lot more fun.

Whether you’re married or single, knowing exactly where your money goes every month can help you redirect your funds so you can live a life that’s congruent with your goals and dreams. At least I think so. And because I think you’ll dig it too, I’ve attached my version of Aunt Purl’s Budget Worksheet. It’s basically exactly the same as hers, except I added rows for things like Date Night and Savings and renamed it Budgets for Lovers. Click it! It’s downloadable!

Budgets for Lovers

If you’d rather download her Personal Budget Sheet, click here, then scroll down past Archives and past Categories, until you get to Knitting Recipes. You’ll find it there.

If you’ve downloaded Budgets for Lovers, you might be wondering where you’re supposed to come up with the numbers for the cells. That’s what this baby is for:

Weekly Budget Worksheet for Lovers

I drew that one up myself, so it’s not nearly as fancy and automatically mathey as Aunt Purl’s, but it does its job. At the end of every week I sit down with my checkbook and all the receipts from Mike’s and my wallet, and I plug in everything we spent and what it was spent on. Then at the end of the month I plug the totals from my weekly sheet into Budgets for Lovers and voila! An eye-opening glimpse into the real-life mysteries of an American couple’s spending habits.

How do you take care of your finances? Is it something you pay close attention to? Do you make lists and notations and use a calculator? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants and let things work out as they will? What helps you feel like your finances are under control?

Ask A Serious Girl

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Something interesting has happened.  I’ve received more emails about my prenup post than I’ve ever gotten about anything I’ve ever written.  Ever.  I was nervous posting it.  I thought for sure if I got any email it would be hate mail berating me for planning my divorce before I was even married.  Whereas I see our prenup as a testament to the strength of our marriage, most people I meet only have to hear the word “prenup” before they start frothing at the mouth.

You, on the other hand, have completely surprised me.  All of a sudden I’m getting emails and phone calls and requests for more information about prenups.  And you really sound interested .  One person even asked a very good question.

This marks the seventy-ninth time I’ve tried to sit down and write another prenup post, but each time I’ve tried I write five or six pages before I realize that there is no way on earth I can say everything I want to say in one post.  So here’s what I’m thinking:  Since so many of you seem to be looking for more prenuptial information, and since I have a giant crush on prenups, I’m going to write weekly prenup posts.  At least until I’ve run out of things to tell you about them.  Which could be in two weeks or six, I have no idea, but I am really excited.

This week I’ll start with the person who asked the really good question.  I’ve received permission to post the question and my answer here, and since I’ve always secretly wanted to write an advice column, I’m going to pretend that’s what I’m doing.

Q: My fiancé and I just got engaged a few months ago.  We’ve lived together for a year and we’ve kept all of our accounts separate. We’ve never talked about money and I’m worried about what will happen when we get married.  I know she has credit cards but I don’t know how many or what the balances are and she doesn’t know about my debts.  I have no idea if she has any savings but I know I don’t have much.  I showed her your prenup post with the hopes that it would get us started talking about money but she immediately put it off as being “unromantic”.  How can I get her to talk about our financial goals without freaking her out?

A: If she feels like it’s unromantic, make it romantic!  I’m not kidding.  When Mike and I talk about our finances we open a bottle of wine, put of vase of flowers on the table, dim the lights and light candles.  It makes the conversation much lovelier.  Set aside a night just for the two of you.  Buy a nice bottle and a bouquet of flowers.  Don’t drink?  Make hot chocolate.  Turn off your cell phones.  Start the conversation by telling her how much you love her and how excited you are to spend the rest of your life with her.  Then start asking her questions. Ask her if she wants to buy a house and where she hopes to buy it.  How big would it be?  What kind of car does she want to be driving in five years?  When does she want to have kids?  Does she want children?  How many?  Will she want to be a stay-at-home-mom or will she want to work? Where does she see herself in ten years?  You need to get her talking about the kind of life she envisions for her future because it’s the life she’s envisioning for your future too.  Then start telling her about your goals.  Where do you see yourself in ten years?  What’s your timeline for children?  Do you want to buy a house?  She needs to know these things about you.  You both need to figure out where you have common lines and where your ideas are different.  You’re bound to have some different plans, that’s only natural, but where can you come together in happy compromise?

I realize that you specifically asked how to start a conversation about finances, but the plain truth is that your future depends on your finances.  The financial choices you make today affect the kind of life you have tomorrow.  When the two of you have decided what kind of life you want tomorrow, you can begin to talk about the financial decisions that need to be made today.

A very good lawyer once told me that most people spend more time planning their annual vacations than they do planning their lives.  If you don’t plan your life, someone else will plan it for you.  And you probably won’t like their plan.

UPDATE:  2/19/10
Sometimes I get all up on a high horse thinking that my way is the best way and I need to remember that isn’t the case.  This week I had to eat crow when I heard from a woman who just broke off her engagement because her fiancé wanted her to sign a prenup so awful four different lawyers told her she’d be making a terrible mistake if she signed it.  She pointed out that the prenup showed her exactly what her fiance thought of her and she was glad for it, but I suddenly worried that I’ve been really insensitive about the topic.  So now I’m rethinking the weekly prenup posts because, geez. I feel like a jerk.  Though I promise I will answer the emails from those of you who asked specific prenup questions.  (Your answers are coming!)

Preface to a Prenup

Last week I mentioned how Mike and I have periodic romance-infused financial meetings, but I didn’t go into the how’s or why’s. We had our first financial meeting within a few weeks of getting engaged because we had to if were going to write a prenup.

The last time I told someone that Mike and I have a prenup, I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone ever again. But I’ve been thinking about it lately, especially after last week’s financial post, and the fact is that a prenup isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Our prenup is the reason we were debt-free less than a year after we married. Our prenup is the reason we have never had an argument about money. Our prenup is the reason I got to move with my husband to New York and live out one of my wildest fantasies. The last time I told someone we wrote a prenup that person grimaced as she said, “Why would you do that? Why would you marry someone you’re just going to divorce?”
“What?”
“Obviously if you need a prenup it’s because you know you’re just going to divorce the person.”
“What? No, it’s not. I don’t –”
“That’s awful, Tricia. That’s just awful. I’m really surprised.”

She was actually that appalled, I do not exaggerate. And she’s not alone in her feelings. Enough people have had that reaction that when she had it, I decided our prenup was something people just didn’t need to know about.

Except now I’m telling the entire Webisphere.

I’m working on learning how to stand up for myself. Today I’d like to announce that my husband and I wrote a prenup before we got married and contrary to what you might think it was not because we were rich or because we were planning on getting divorced. We had a lot of debt and our only assets were each other, but we sat down and we worked out the complications of our finances and in doing so, he learned how important it was for me to have the opportunity to run with my dreams. I learned how important it was for him to save money so that one day he could have an old sprawling house to fix up and build furniture for, with a treehouse in back for the grandkids and five big-headed dogs. And when I learned that, I knew I really did want to spend the rest of my life with this man, because no matter what happened between here and now, we really did want the same thing.

Writing a prenup was a way to protect ourselves from divorce. Everyone has different feelings about money and no two people feel exactly the same way. Money is a tender, delicate thing that dances with pride and envy. It can be used to hurt just as easily as it can be used to help. A brilliant family lawyer once told me that money is the last thing couples talk about and the first thing they fight about. I was determined not to have a marriage that could be damaged because we never talked about money. You can’t write a prenup without talking about money, and so we used it as an opportunity to have a very honest and very real discussion that would go on to help us shape our lives. And it’s true, we could’ve just had the conversation without ever writing the contract, but the fun in writing the contract was including provisions like:

“Prior to filing for divorce, the parties must agree to a minimum of one hour of marriage counseling, once every week for twenty-four consecutive weeks. If, after twenty-four consecutive weeks of marriage counseling the parties still agree to divorce, either party may file the Petition without effect. If one party files for dissolution without completing the agreed upon counseling, that party agrees to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs in full.”  (Except a lot fancier because it was translated into lawyer-speak.)

I really do believe that if both parties commit to marriage counseling for six months they won’t need a divorce. And if they really still want one, then maybe they do need it. However, if one person isn’t even willing to give counseling a shot, then they should pay the damn legal fees.

Wet Hot Saturday Night

In honor of the New Year, Mike and I spent last Saturday night going over our financial records, making a budget, and figuring out how to climb out of the debts of despair. While you may not think a financial meeting is a good way to spend a Saturday night, for us it was much hotter than a night on the town. All right, neither of us really enjoys nights on the town, we’d both rather stay in and watch a Law & Order marathon, I’ll admit it. If we’re feeling really crazy we’ll pick up two different pints of Ben & Jerry’s and swap flavors back and forth until both cartons are empty.

Whenever people tell me about how much their social lives changed when they had kids, I feel a sense of relief because it’s one less thing to worry about. We love not having social lives.

Where was I? Right. The New Year. Climbing out of debt. Thanks to Saturday’s meeting, we now have a Pay Our Debt plan and are fairly confident that by December 31, 2010 we will be credit card debt free. We also have a budget that includes weekly allowances, bi-monthly dates and ice cream.

Is that not the most exciting thing you’ve heard in weeks? Are you jealous? It’s ok if you are, I’m not weirded out. Because here’s the thing: When we moved to New York City three years ago, we had just spent the last year and half busting our asses to pay off all of our pre-marriage credit card debt. You read that right. When we moved to the City, we were credit card debt free. (I specify “credit card debt” because we were still carrying my student loans, loans that I am scheduled to pay until I am one hundred-three years old, and since they are an expense my great-grandchildren will inherit, they don’t count.) To be once again saddled with debt feels like a giant step backwards. We want to be taking steps forward, not backward. It’s about progress, people.

We love our financial meetings. They give us hope. We’ve been having financial meetings since our engagement in July of 2005 and they have always been a way for us to connect and remind one another that we have the same goals in mind. Having the same goals reminds us that we’re part of a team and being a part of team makes the wild ride of life a lot more fun.

If I had to explain why it is that a Saturday night of financial planning with my husband is something I find irresistibly sexy, I’d say it’s because it gives me a sense of safety. That my husband and I are taking equal measures to take care of one another, to plan for the other’s future, to plan for our future family, makes me feel taken care of. It makes me feel like I’m married to someone who wants to see me happy and fulfilled, a man who cares about my best interests in addition to his own. And that is incredibly sexy. Also, I have a thing for data entry.