Four Decades Later

Richard Connor

LAST MONTH MARKED 40 years of wedded bliss for my wife and me. I’m amazed at how fast the time has gone. I still remember the day we met. It was at a party celebrating her high school graduation. I gave her a ride to pick up a pack of cigarettes, all the while lecturing her on the dangers of smoking. I believe I saved her from a lifetime of smoking. She saved me from everything else.

We’ve been blessed these past 40 years with a large and wonderful family, friends, great careers and now the chance for a happy retirement. We’ve had our challenges for sure, including early financial struggles, family troubles, illnesses, elder care and career hiccups. Through it all, we worked together and got through the tough times.

I’ve heard it said that love and a long-lasting marriage are a choice. I know there were many days my wife woke up, and decided to stay in love and married to me, even though she may not have liked me very much that day.

Both of our parents had long marriages. They were hardly perfect, but they showed what it meant to stay faithful and committed, despite lots of flaws and challenges.

This shaped my wife and me, and seems to have rubbed off on our two sons. They both married fantastic women—beautiful, strong, smart, loving, independent. Just like their mother. They have given us near-perfect grandsons—grandpas can say such things—and they’re excellent parents. We couldn’t be more proud.

Lest you fear that I’ll keep waxing poetic about marriage, let me be a bit more prosaic—and mention the economic benefits:

  • Cost of living. They say two can live more cheaply than one. Sharing a home, utilities and real estate taxes helps reduce a couple’s per-capita expenses. In my classes for the Certified Financial Planner designation, we were told a couple’s shared expenses were typically 1.67 times that of a single person.
  • Tax advantages. Parts of the tax code favor married couples. For instance, a spouse who doesn’t work can still contribute to a tax- deductible IRA if the couple meets the income qualifications. Also, if the spouses have very different incomes, the lower-paid spouse may help the higher-paid spouse stay in a lower tax bracket.
  • Estate planning. Couples get the benefit of provisions such as the portable estate-tax exemption, no dollar limit on gifts to each other and more flexibility with inherited IRAs.
  • Health care benefits. Many companies provide health insurance at favorable rates to not just the employee, but also his or her family.
  • Social Security. Spouses are eligible to receive up to 50% of the higher earning spouse’s benefit as of full Social Security retirement age, which is age 66 or 67, depending on the year you were born. This is extremely valuable for couples where one spouse doesn’t work outside the home. A widow or widower can also receive survivor benefits.

Succesful relationships are about a lot of things. To me, that includes love, attraction, friendship, respect and shared values. Financial hardship is a common reason for divorce, so it’s important to be on the same page when it comes to money.

If one partner is frugal and the other is a spendthrift, a couple needs to figure out a happy medium. We were lucky. Neither of us is a big spender, although we like nice things. We both believe in being generous when we can. But we never let money problems stop us from doing the things that are important to us.

When we were a young family, expensive vacations weren’t in the budget. But with a Coleman tent, some Sears sleeping bags, a borrowed camp stove and a cooler, we explored Pennsylvania’s state parks, Virginia’s Blue Ridge region, the Adirondacks, Niagara Falls and coastal Maine. Those trips are some of our best memories. We’ve worked hard to provide for our retirement. Now that it’s here, we plan on making a lot more memories.

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