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Often times opposites attract. That may be fun and cute until you realize that you have just married your financial opposite. Research says that money issues are the #1 reason for divorce, so how do you work together when you are complete opposites? I wanted to share our story with you – I am a spender and Mark loves spreadsheets and budgets. We argued a LOT at first about money, but now we have a pretty good system.
We want to be transparent with you, it hasn’t always been easy, but we learned how to communicate about it.
This is part 1 of the story, how we met and how we realized after we were married just our different our view of money was. We hope that we can teach you all how opposites truly can work together to make it work.
I met my husband Mark as a sophomore at a state university in Upstate, New York. I too was from New York, but from Saratoga Springs, a town known for its Thoroughbred racetrack, white pillared houses and upscale boutiques along Main Street, fancy restaurants, resorts, and money. Everywhere I looked, money offered the promise of “the good life,” and everything that went along with it.
Mark’s smaller hometown was worlds away from the Saratoga bling I saw growing up. It’s in New York’s proverbial “rust belt,” where major businesses have moved away, leaving high unemployment, closed shops on Main Street, and a largely blue collar population. But it’s also a place where people know the value of a dollar, love their hometown, and continually work to revive their community.
My state school was my college of choice for three important reasons: the Criminal Justice program was strong, and this was my major; I had been recruited for the field hockey team there; and finally, my parents had gone there, met and fallen in love on that campus. Little did I know what else fate had in store for me in that decision, which turned out to be the best of my life.
The summer between my sophomore and junior years, I decided to stay in my new college town rather than going home. I worked a job bartending, and worked with the college theatre program. I was learning to love this town where highlights included an annual summer festival, a three-day celebration of music and food, where bands played into the night along the shores of Lake Ontario. Life was simpler here than back home, and I enjoyed it. Most of all, I was falling in love with a guy I saw playing drums in my church, a talented guy I’d heard about from his sister who was in the youth group.
While I was nicknamed “The Princess” by my family for my uptown tastes and somewhat lazy ways, Mark was truly a prince–hard-working, academic, attending college on a scholarship in economics and math, and a musician–who loved drums and the rock group “Rush.” He valued family, wanted to make his parents proud with his achievements, and saw education as a way to move up in the world and better his life.
Then I came along. It’s significant that we met in church, for despite some outward differences of background and geography, our Christian faith was and still is our first priority. It’s what brought us together, what binds us and forms the foundation of our lives on a daily basis.
While I came from a town full of money, my family and Mark’s were more similar than one might guess. My parents were hard working. My dad was first a school teacher and later was employed by General Electric. He and my mom built our home together from scratch. I grew up with a mother who knew the value of a deal, loved bargain hunting, and taught me the tricks of the trade. Whenever we went shopping, we always checked the clearance racks first, and rarely paid full price for anything. She was, however, quick to pull a credit card from her wallet to pay for those “deals.” My father’s work ethic, very much like Mark’s, and his father’s, was engrained in me from my earliest years. It took me a long time to realize that I was smart and a hard worker. It wasn’t until I met Mark who challenged me in many ways I never had before, that I realized my full potential in life.
My parents provided all the necessities and more. While I was, as my sisters insisted, a “princess,” (I’ve since lost that title!), I always knew that if I wanted something “over the top” extra, like a designer purse, I had to work for it. From the age of 16, I was bussing tables and working in local shops in town. I never wanted to go without the things I dreamed about, even from an early age.
Mark came from a family of similar values, but lesser means. His father owned an upholstery business, and his mother, who had a Master’s degree in Education, chose to stay home and raise her four children. While Mark never went without, he knew from an early age that if he wanted anything extra– toys or a bike, he’d have to work and save for it. His family never used credit cards and taught him to live frugally. At the age of nine he had a paper route, and used that money to buy anything extra that he wanted. In high school, he was given $100 a year for clothes. If he wanted anything beyond that, he had to work and pay for it himself. This habit stayed with him in college, where he worked summers for spending money, and bought his first car with cash–a rusty, used Nissan Stanza. It was practically falling apart, but he paid for it with cash – a foreign idea to me at the time. Education was important in his family. He studied hard, earned excellent grades, and received an academic scholarship to college.
He was a saver, I was a spender. He had his dreams too, like driving an Audi, and maybe living in a high-rise apartment in New York City. But he never expected to get those things without hard work and thrift. He lived according to those values growing up and into college. He was on track to make a good life for himself, and had no thoughts of marriage when we met, telling me that he didn’t want a wedding until he was 40. He assumed it would take time to build a career and a solid savings account.
And then we started to hang out and soon after began dating. From the minute I laid eyes on him playing in the band at our church, I found myself falling in love. I had dated enough jocks and jerks in high school to know that this guy was different. Quiet, considerate, studious, serious, and of course handsome!
Mark had no intentions of marrying young. He was going to move on and away from his hometown, follow his career path, and steer toward The Big Apple. But apparently, he was falling in love too, and we became inseparable. That summer in 2001 we knew we were going to get married. We even started making wedding plans, although many discouraged us by saying that we were too young. After the summer we met, I visited him at his college frequently, horrified to find nothing more than frozen pizzas and some Ramen noodles in the cupboard. I spent much of our time on those weekends filling up his pantry, then taking him out to dinner.
I remember one of our first arguments was over a bag of Doritos. On one grocery store outing, Mark tagged along, and was shocked when I tossed a full priced bag of Doritos into the cart. He couldn’t believe I was so casual about buying a $4 bag of chips, something he never allowed himself. “What are you doing?” he blurted out. I remember staring at him like he was crazy. I just wanted to eat Doritos, what did he care? He also found it odd that I insisted upon wheeling the cart up and down every aisle, with no shopping list or plan about what to buy–just picking and choosing as I walked along. It was then I discovered that Mark bought about six items a week, and knew exactly where they were in the store. Six items! That was no way for a Princess to eat. I got my Doritos. Looking back, we can laugh about that now, yet in some ways it was a tiny blip on an important radar screen that we ignored. We never realized we handled money so differently and how this issue would play a huge role in our relationship and future.
We were in love, and despite Mark’s initial life plans, we decided to marry even before graduating from college, at the young age of 21. I should tell you that to buy my engagement and wedding rings, Mark sold his beloved drum set. And it was just the first of many sacrifices he made for me.
Once when we were married, we lived in a small student apartment. Thoughts about how to live never concerned us. We were together. We were young, full of dreams and energy. Anything was possible. And we didn’t need much apart from each other. Or so we thought. Our wedding gift money kept us afloat for a while, and income from odd jobs. Mark tutored, I worked at a winery, and we were getting by. When we needed or wanted things out of reach of our cash flow, we found it easy to charge on credit cards, or I should say, I found it easy. Mark was not quite on board for the credit card life yet.
Mark finished out his last year at college as a magna cum laude with a double degree in math and economics, a wife, and Doritos in the cupboard (despite what he thought about my purchases). Following his graduation, we moved back to his hometown, and purchased a small house. Since Mark had been such an excellent student in college, he was awarded an internship at an actuarial firm where he got a job immediately after graduation. Credit was not hard to come by with his employment and income. Even though we had no idea how to handle credit cards, loans, how to budget, or plan about next year, let alone next month, we were offered credit and loans at every turn.
We just didn’t worry,
or think much about money,
we always assumed we would have it.
We didn’t know at the time that our differences would lead us to poor communication about money and over $40,000 in debt just 3 short years later.
Can you relate at all? Does this story sound all to familiar?
Part 2 Coming Soon…..