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Monday, September 15, 2008

Love, Marriage, and Money

Hat Tip: Larry Lennhoff

The NY Times business section published an article "The Key to Wedded Bliss? Money Matters." This article underscores the importance of couples being on the same page financially and gives some practical guidelines on how to achieve such. I will give this article a recommended mark. It is a short, quick read.

I am a firm believer that speaking about finances before marriage is a must. However, when I get involved in a shidduch and ask about the other party's approach to finances, I get the distinct feeling I am asking for too much information (never mind that it is a-ok to discuss how much the parents are willing to do for their daughter/son). Somehow every other aspect of a person's life can get analyzed, but no one wants to delve further into this hashkafah/behavior although it is certain to affect the couple one way or another way.

The NY Times article begins, "IF you ask married people why their marriage works, they are probably not going to say it’s because they found their financial soul mate." Perhaps I'm the anomaly, but I am certain our marriage works because we are clearly on the same page in this arena and knew this going into our engagement.

If we were not on the same page, it would be hard to face pressure from parents/in-laws/siblings who don't share the same views regarding how we should earn and/or spend out money. If we were not on the same page, we would have far more difficulties when it comes to raising children. Finances come into play in so many parenting decisions, e.g. do we pay for the textbooks our kids lost or hold them accountable for the payment? Do we take a second job so they can go to camp or do we make do with alternative arrangements? Where do we draw the line on extra-curricular activities and trips? To what extent, if any, do we give support to our adult children? Do we say yes or no to optional school lunches perhaps making our thereby dooming our children to the status of "nebs" (see discussion at this post)?

Something the NY Times article does not touch upon when addressing finances as a couple is an issue that I wish I would NOT have to blog about, now or ever. But, sadly, I don't think there has been a frum fraud free quarter since I started this blog. That issue: none other than Yashrut. (Of course, this is not just a frum issue, although I do believe the pressures of a frum life make the issue a very relevant one).

For the second time in only a month, there is a major financial fraud case involving a "frum" Jew. The first case is the now famous Wextrust case involving $255 million of theft, much of the money stolen from the pockets of the Orthodox community. The newest case involves Leib Pinter. He plead guilty to mortgage fraud of $44 million dollars and it isn't the first time he has run into serious legal trouble. It seem the book he published through Artscroll is no longer available (I believe it was pulled between this morning when I started penning this post and this evening when I returned to finish the post). Hopefully he has a copy of Don't Give Up to help him get through the next 10 years.

I hate to have to have to put forward the same message again and again. . . . . but how your spouse earns money is your business and it is important business at that. And, this is an issue that I'd like to take more time to discuss because in certain circles there is no mesora for women in particular to make themselves full partners in the household and business finances. In the last letter I posted Mrs. A writes, "Believe it or not, there is even a mindset among parents that one must not discuss money issues with children because it will cause them unnecessary anxiety." There is also a mindset that women should be left in the dark about finances. . . . which obviously isn't working out too well. I do hope that my blog brings awareness of the importance of discussing finances BEFORE marriage and continue to come to function as a team regarding finances into marriage.

And, ladies and/or gents, if you know your spouse is walking a risky line, file separately. It won't save you or the kids from the consequences of a jail sentence in the case of a conviction, but it could save you from facing IRS charges yourself.


rachel in israel said...

"if you know your spouse is walking a risky line, file separately."

...and find a good therapist and a divorce lawyer...

excellent article SL.

Anonymous said...

I have a frugal son who plans to start shidduchim in a few months. I told him to include plenty of discussion about money matters with whoever he dates since it bothers him to see people overspend. It won't help to base the decision on her parent's lifestyle. Some people grow up in wealth but are minimalists who barely buy anything because they want to save the environment and some grow up deprived and end up spending every cent that they earn on narishkeit. I have seem people who are examples of both approaches.
Being that he is male, it is also important for him to understand that while he only needs one suit, women are usually not happy with wearing the same outfit every Shabbos.

Anonymous said...

I agree but...people can and do evolve in their financial views. Hopefully one spouse can have a good influence on another. It's ironic that with all the talk of shidduch difficulties, another criterion is being raised. You don't need to decide whether or not you will support your future children in kollel at the time of your own engagement. Chances are you will have your views changed many times, for many reasons, before that moment comes.

triLcat said...

tesyaa: indeed, there is room for compromise and change.
However, for example, if the wife thinks that it's essential to have everything in the height of style, including a new wardrobe each season, and the husband thinks that maternity clothes are an unnecessary expense because you can just buy bigger clothes to begin with, you're setting yourselves up for trouble.

My husband and I are not quite at these extremes, but my husband didn't understand why three skirts and 5 shirts wasn't enough for a full maternity wardrobe for Shabbos and the week, summer and winter, for two pregnancies.

Thank G-d, we do some compromising, I'm not terribly fashion-oriented, and my parents decided to give me an early Rosh Hashana present this year...

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous, I'm laughing a bit because my husband was quite frugal when we met. His commitment to saving was one reason I felt we were highly compatible. . . .but at a certain point I had to insist on a couch and a table that sat more than four people.

tesyaa-Of course financial views evolve, as do views on many other subjects. And of course they don't have to make decisions about potential future events years in advance.
But the framework for discussions and making tough decisions should be in place. . . . and when it isn't in place there will be trouble.

SephardiLady said...
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Lion of Zion said...

"Hopefully he has a copy of Don't Give Up to help him get through the next 10 years"

you have so many qualities . . . and apparently a sense of humor as well!

i think one obstacle to being open about finances prior to marraige is that so many people get married years before they can even think about working? you can't blame them if they look at you strangely when you inquire about their attitude toward fincnaces.

Anonymous said...

How about doing a credit check on potential spouses -- only when it becomes serious, of course? Most people will think that is too intrusive. I mean, do you get a background check on prospective spouses?

Sometimes I wish I had done that before I got married. My husband has many great qualities, but how he handles money isn't one of them and we definitely didn't discuss this enough before we got married. He was actually in default on his student loans and I didn't know it! He claims he told me. His approach to money has changed somewhat since then, but mine has changed much more drastically. It saddens me greatly that we are not together in this area. :-(

Mike S. said...

I agree one should discuss approaches to money, although it is a little silly to discuss every possible expense that might arise. However, I can't help but notice that all your examples are about whether or not to spend money on the kids. Perhaps that reflects the stage of life you are in, but the discussion is much broader than that. I have found flexibility in adjusting to varying circumstances more important than how frugal you are. There are times when you need to save, and times when it is appropriate to pull down savings.

Mike S. said...

Also the discussion should include one's approach to earning, as well as spending.

ProfK said...

For me it would not be how thoroughly a couple discussed their attitudes towards money and spending before they got married that would be the most important element. The most important element would be how capable was the other person of compromising when push came to shove. My choson and I set up a highly itemized budget before we got married. We accounted for everything, or so we thought. Then we got married.

There is simply no way to know what married life is going to be like for you until you are married. You can't know what the unexpected is until it happens. How you handle these "unknown until experienced" happenings will depend on the ability to be flexible and compromise. A budget made before marriage is simply not going to take you through all the various stages of marriage; adjustment is constant. How capable you are of adjusting is a big factor in how happy you are going to be.

Just as an example. We budgeted for possible repairs/replacements when we bought our house. We couldn't possibly have known that the stove, the washer and the brakes on the car would pick the same two-week period to die in, the same two-week period in which my baby sister became a kallah. Only because we were both flexible could we reach a compromise as to how to adjust our spending.

rebecca said...
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SephardiLady said...

Mike S-My examples were just based off links on very recent postings. I am working on a more comprehensive list. And given one bad dating experience I had, I do have more ideas for the topic.

Anonymous said...

LoZ wrote: i think one obstacle to being open about finances prior to marraige is that so many people get married years before they can even think about working?

For the Win. The idea that a person who has not been gainfully employed is fit to be married is laughable. I think we could solve a lot of problems in both the shidduch and financial portions of the community by just having a 5-year ban on anyone entering kollel.

Esther said...

It may be uncomfortable but I think one specific item that needs to be discussed (at a late point in the relationship, but before actually getting married) is what specific debts the person has, what specific expenses the person intends to have (could be regular clothing or sefarim purchases, they expect to fly out to see their family four times a year, etc.), and what their actual job/earnings are.

I have a friend who is unforunately getting divorced, and the primary issue is chronic unemployment of her spouse. She said she never would have married him if she had understood that he wasn't actually employed at a real job, but rather working in a business arrangement with a friend (which ended almost immediately after their wedding, and her husband has not held a regular job since. And this is not a learning-in-yeshiva situation.) We know of another situation where one of the spouses supported their parents before the marriage, and didn't make this expectation clear before getting married.

triLcat said...

Thegameiam - you have a valid point. One of the things that kept me from marrying the man I dated before my husband was that he couldn't maintain a steady job (he was 35+)

My husband had been working at his job for 5+ years when we met.

Of course, he got the short end of the stick, as I was working a terrible job (but one which paid ok) and quit the moment I got the ok from him to quit, and I haven't really worked much since.

Ariella said...

there is actually a quiz on one's attitude to spending versus saving in the current issue of Kallah Magazine as the Money Matters feature. The intro and conclusion touch on striking the balance as a couple. An extreme spender would find him/herself in a great deal of conflict with someone who tends completely the opposite way. You can read it in the pdf of the issue here: