WHAT’S IT LIKE to be married to a personal finance expert? Trust me, it isn’t easy—especially if you’re a fiercely independent but less-than-perfect manager of your own money.
Before I met Jonathan, I was a divorcee who hadn’t shared her financial life with anybody for a few years, but who had been bumbling along just fine on her own. When we started dating, we hardly ever spoke about money. The most he knew about my spending habits was that I was very good at justifying purchases, proudly telling him about my latest bargain. I’m a T.J. Maxx-and-thrift-shop kind of person, so that must have reassured him.
Nonetheless, he probably noticed that I visited those outlets perhaps a bit too often. This did not deter him from marrying me. He knew the basics: I wasn’t in debt, my credit score was excellent, and I had been smart and lucky in real estate.
What was in store for us, a couple who were slightly mismatched in the personal finance department? At the beginning of our relationship, I avoided asking for financial advice. That just seemed off limits. I heard him extoll the virtues of various behaviors from time to time, which I’d quietly absorb. I decided to follow his advice about opening a Roth IRA, but didn’t consult him or tell him about it. I just didn’t want our relationship to involve money.
About a year later, I confessed to opening a Roth IRA with Scottrade (now part of TD Ameritrade). He asked me how it was performing. I let him look at the account statement—a huge step for me—and he noted with bemusement that the $1,000 I’d contributed was still sitting in a money market fund and had never been invested. I was embarrassed and followed his advice to roll the Roth over to Fidelity Investments, where my other retirement accounts were. It has since grown and I’m sheepishly grateful.
Once we were married, I opened up a little more, and let him change my investment choices and occasionally rebalance my portfolio. I had total faith in him, of course, but felt a little loss of control. Perhaps sensing my desire to keep our finances separate and private, he didn’t query me very often on how I was doing. All the while, I knew deep down that there was so much I could learn from him, but I wasn’t quite ready.
We’ve now been married for more than four years and have had a few more in-depth conversations about finances, including where we want to live upon retirement, whether we’re on track as a couple, our individual career decisions and how they’ll affect our financial lives, and various ways to cut household spending.
I still rarely ask him for advice, but I think some of his lessons are beginning to sink in. I’m trying to turn myself into a saver, rather than a spender. It isn’t easy, but it is exciting to feel it’s within reach. One of Jonathan’s favorite pieces of advice has begun to stick: “If you have an overwhelming urge to buy something you don’t need, walk out of the store for 10 minutes and see if the moment passes.”
I’m not yet Ms. Thrifty. But I also no longer feel I need to keep my finances to myself—and I realize that, over time, I may adopt some better habits. I think that was my hope all along.