WHEN I MARRIED for the first time, I didn’t think much about it. I was in my 20s. My new husband (and future ex-husband) and I had already been living together for nearly a decade. Neither of us had any items of real value, so the financial implications of joining our lives meant very little. Marriage, it seemed, was just the obvious next step in our relationship.
When I married for the second time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the implications. Emotionally, I didn’t want to make the same mistakes I made in my first marriage. Financially, my husband and I each entered into our relationship with considerable assets. Having lost half of a lucrative state-funded pension plan in my divorce, the financial risks of remarriage weighed heavily on my mind.
Adding to my anxiety were the different spending styles my husband and I have. He’s more impulsive with his purchases, while I tend to contemplate—and track—every penny I spend. I worried about our financial compatibility to the point where I couldn’t sleep at night. I wondered if my goal of retiring from my fulltime job at a relatively young age would be helped, or hindered, by getting married again.
A scientist by training, I approach most changes in my life in the same way I approach a research project. I begin by writing down all the information I have available to me, and then carefully evaluate the data. In this case, I compiled a list of all the assets my husband and I would bring to our relationship.
My husband has a solid, stable, monthly retirement income. His pension and Social Security benefit provide a larger net cash flow into our checking account than my monthly paycheck does. He also owns a mortgage-free home that generates rental income. He still works a couple of days a month to stay active in his field and earn some additional spending money.
My contributions include the regular income from my job, as well as my employer-sponsored health care benefits. Since my husband is 13 years older than I am, he’s eligible to enroll in Medicare. But instead, he’ll be able to stay on my health insurance until I turn 65. After that, my employer will pay for Medicare supplemental plans for both of us, a benefit that will continue for the rest of our lives.
The house I recently purchased still has a sizable mortgage. But I’ll likely recoup all of my down payment, and perhaps make a little money, when we sell in a few years. I’ve built up a decent-sized emergency fund. I also have my own pension, as well as an employer-sponsored retirement plan, with a current balance of $330,000.
Once I had a balance sheet in place, I realized our financial profiles were complementary to one another, rather than being in conflict. My husband provides long-term income stability, while I contribute short-term liquidity.
We’re now almost a year into our new marriage. I no longer stay up at night worrying about our future. Even though our spending styles are different, they also seem to mesh well with one another. Left to my own devices, I’d likely squirrel away every penny for a rainy day. My husband’s impulsiveness, while initially making me nervous, has instead made me realize saving and spending can be done in balance. The occasional splurge on a desirable item won’t necessarily lead to financial doom.
Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college. Her previous articles include Prime of Life, School’s Out, Six Years Later and State of Change. Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and their three dogs.