Twenty years ago, after a 5 year research period, I took the leap on the best investment of my life. Since then, I’ve had unbelievable returns that just keep getting better. It’s like a dividend stock that triples its yield every year. Only instead of just financial gain, it pushes out personal growth, quality of life, and emotional security, too!
Like the stock market, it has ups and downs – unexpected highs and sudden scary lows. Also like the stock market, the trajectory has been inexorably upward. Everything I’ve put in has been returned in shocking multiples.
I’d love to tell you that you can get in on this investment, too. I’m not a selfish person and want you to be prosperous. But – I’m keeping this one to myself!
I’m talking of course about my marriage. This week TFI and I celebrate our 20th anniversary. There is no way I’m not sharing this important milestone. As a financial independence writer, I felt the need to couch it in ridiculous financial terms…
I’m doing so with the full knowledge and permission of my partner who is a wonderful, powerful, sentient woman who contributes to a full partnership. She is a glorious person and not a commodity or financial product. Partnership has incredible benefits (and risks) but reducing marriage to a pure financial decision is, frankly, stupid.
(Also, she graciously proofreads all my posts so she can change any of this if she disagrees!)
Relationship Choices are Personal
This post is a celebration of our 20 years of marriage and all the benefits we’ve experienced as a result.
It is explicitly NOT a recommendation that everyone should get married or that marriage is a requirement for financial freedom or personal fulfillment.
My childhood observations of marriage made me very skeptical of the whole thing. Every first marriage in my family (immediate and extended) ended in divorce. Some got it right on the second try, but others kept trying despite repeated failures.
I won’t judge the reasons for the failed marriages, but I can speak first hand of the financial devastation and challenges I saw. My amazing mom had to start from scratch with three kids and responsibility for my father’s tax liabilities. I saw other, even more extreme circumstances that resulted directly from the decision to marry.
It all led me to believe that marriage could be positive but was far too often catastrophic, or a way to manipulate and take advantage of another person. I refused to do either.
Small wonder then that TFI and I dated for 5 years before deciding to formalize our sharing of debt.
If you find a partner who is a match, it can lead to incredible financial benefits. Similarly, if you are misaligned financially it can create problems even if everything else is perfect.
I’m incredibly lucky to have found exactly the right partner for my life and financial journey. Our partnership wasn’t without missteps (you can read about how we had to unwind our lifestyle inflation) but it was absolutely a huge benefit.
Do what works for you: personal finance is personal. Your relationship choices are too.
Financial Benefits of Marriage
I wrote about our recent net worth milestone and our journey from broke to nearing financial independence. We certainly didn’t get it right from the start. We could have done it better or faster. Yet, our marriage enabled us to make mistakes and fix them to get where we are today. Here are a few examples of how we’ve benefited financially from being married for 20 years:
Supported Job Changes
Three different times one of us earned a degree while the other worked to support our living costs. Yes, we took on some debt but much less than we would have otherwise.
Shared Housing Costs
This isn’t specific to our marriage, but shared housing costs are a big benefit. This is especially true if you resist the urge to upsize. (We didn’t and had to downsize later!)
We have both always worked. Very hard.
At different points in our marriage, she has earned more. Other times, I’ve earned more. It’s never mattered. We are both contributing to our finances and challenging each other (in a good way) to earn more.
Perhaps the biggest thing people miss when assuming that anyone can take the risks necessary to take charge of their finances is the presence of a safety net. Whether it’s family or a significant other, it’s a huge benefit to know that a failure won’t be catastrophic.
We’ve each always known we would cover the other should we lose our jobs or try a new job and fail. One could cover our minimum costs and health insurance while the other got back to work. I’ve taken huge advantage of this with some riskier career moves into jobs that aren’t as secure as a unionized teacher.
Fortunately, we’ve never needed to lean on each other this way. But it was always there. That’s a huge benefit.
This is a fairly recent development, but a big one. In the last few years, we’ve gotten on the same page financially. We set mutual goals and challenge each other to stretch. Every year we’ve stretched farther – and always exceeded our initial goals.
At first, this was usually me pushing us to save and invest more. Then, suddenly, she was pushing and stretching as hard. Downsizing our home, the biggest financial choice we’ve made, was her idea!
All of these things together enabled us to make dramatic financial gains, even if our course was somewhat winding. We are nearing financial independence and a level of security neither of our families have known.
Of course, there is no guarantee when entering into a partnership. We work hard to communicate, maintain trust, and stay on the same page. We also have navigated some risks present in any marriage.
Financial Risks of Marriage
Any investment comes with risks! This is absolutely true in marriage. Of course, the fundamental risk is total failure and divorce. Some choose to cover this with prenuptial agreements. We didn’t.
Even if it works, you’re assuming a lot of risk when agreeing to formalize your relationship.
Our marriage is a huge win – but it’s hasn’t been without its dangers.
We both brought debt into the marriage. Our money merged fairly early on – several years before we got married. So, this didn’t seem like a big leap. But the reality is that when choosing to get married we both accepted responsibility for more than $50,000 the other held in debt.
It took us awhile, but we managed to get it paid off and build positive net worth.
This is a big risk. It’s also an area we didn’t explore enough in our five year “research period.” We knew we liked to spend money together and that we both valued work and earning money.
Unfortunately, we didn’t dig deeper or explicitly discuss our financial goals. Doing so would have gotten us on the same page faster.
Instead, we stumbled around for awhile. We learned that TFI views money as status, and I view it as security. This is hardly shocking given that she grew up in a lower-middle class immigrant household and went to a private school where she was judged by rich peers. I, of course, was impacted by growing up in poverty.
We were lucky to work through our differences and get on the same page. I know others aren’t so fortunate.
I’ve always tried to be open about the financial instability in my family. My family history says I’m likely to be more of a liability than an asset. She willingly took on the risk.
Even if I turn out alright (which I think I mostly did?) there is still a high chance that my family will require economic support at some point. Fortunately, my family is explicitly not demanding socially or emotionally.
Her family is the opposite. While they’re more economically secure and less likely to strain us that way, they are far more demanding in other ways.
While these were risks, and challenges, early in our relationship, they somehow have made us stronger. Our relationship has become the calm in the storm on both sides of the family.
For now. Family is always an unpredictable risk.
This could be a long and incredibly sappy list. No one wants to read that. I just need to say that while the financial benefits are powerful, the intangible ones are far more so.
It’s an amazing thing to be connected with someone who both supports and challenges you. Who shares your highs and lows, your struggles and achievements, your pleasure and your pain. And is always there.
Who you can’t bear to let down while simultaneously knowing they will forgive you if you do.
I’m fortunate to have a partner that pushes me to new heights both as a person and in our finances. I hope I do the same for her.
We’ll reach financial independence and use it to make our lives, and hopefully the lives of others, even better. And, we’ll do it together.
It’s been a great 20 years, and I can’t wait to see what our future holds.