In amongst the usual depressing crime and war stories, our local paper recently carried an article about a couple who has been married for seventy years. That’s such a rare feat that the U.S. Census doesn’t even track the number of couples that make it that far. The census stops counting at fifty years of marriage. Anyway, the interviewer asked the couple how they’d stayed married so long. The woman said that, aside from love, friendship, tolerance, etc., they’d made it so far because they’d always lived below their means. “We knew what we could afford and we were happy with it,” said the wife.
It may seem like a small, throw away comment, but to someone who studies personal finance it’s a big deal. One of the top causes of divorce is money problems. Whether it’s that one spouse spends more than the other, that both spouses have a desire for more lifestyle than their paychecks can cover, that one spouse wants to help family and the other doesn’t, or that one wants to stay home with the kids and the other one wants both spouses working, money fights can often get ugly. When no compromise can be found and money stress is causing problems in everyday life, someone often starts looking for the divorce lawyer.
Contrast that style of living with this couple. First, they knew what they could afford. This means that they had some sort of budget, even if they only carried it in their heads. They knew their income, how much their expenses were, and how much, if any, they had for extras. That’s great and something not enough people do, but it’s the second part of her statement that’s more telling. “And we were happy with it.”
Too many couples aren’t happy with what they have. They always want more and it’s the wanting more when there isn’t any more money that causes the problems. Either one spouse hides things and spending from the other or both partners just spend too much. Couples may find that they can have more by resorting to credit, but that’s a temporary solution. Eventually the bills come due and when the money isn’t there to pay them, the fights begin. Before whipping out the credit cards, many couples need to learn to be happy with what they already have. Being happy with the partnership is the main thing. Being happy with the blessings you have as a couple, whether it’s good health, a supportive family, friends, kids, pets, a roof over your head, or a decent job is important. Being happy over a pile of stuff, bigger houses, newer cars, expensive vacations and the like is unimportant.
In the article, this couple talks about making sure they ate dinner at the table together every night with their kids. Now that the kids are gone, they still sit down together at the table every night. Simple, home cooked meals provided the background for genuine conversation and fun times that cemented the relationship. They vacationed on budget, often choosing camping over more expensive options. It gave them time together and time with their kids which made them happy. It wasn’t about the money spent, it was about the time together, the memories, and the connections that were forged.
This seems like a simplistic attitude in today’s fast paced, more, more, more society but it’s a formula that still works. All of the couples that I know who have been married twenty-plus years live below their means. As their means have grown over the years they may have bought bigger homes or more luxury goods, but they’ve always avoided the overspending, debt, and lying that leads to money fights.
There are enough challenges to a healthy marriage. Couples that go the distance will face illnesses, deaths of loved ones, problems with kids, job losses, and many other stresses. Some of these problems are out of the couples’ control. It only makes sense to take control over your money and live below your means. It’s the one thing in a long marriage that you can almost totally control and thus reduce its ability to stress you out and make you fight. Take the advice of a couple who’s gone the distance and then some. Know what you can afford and be happy with it.