Mercenary? Nah. Starry-eyed romantic. I believe in marriage, I believe in soulmates, I believe in love at first sight, even. How awful when what could have been a lifelong love is spoiled by fights about money. Frugality: so much cheaper than divorce! Financial literacy is a superpower that can keep couples together. Financial security is an attractive trait for singles. Constant anxiety, worry, disappointment, and frustration around money can destroy any relationship, not just romance, but also friendships and family bonds. This is why I say there’s no romance without finance.
We’re primed on a million cultural images of what dating and engagements and weddings and marriages are supposed to look like. How do you know you’re in love? When you look like a fashion plate, eat in the finest restaurants, drive around in the most expensive vehicles, stay in the most exclusive resorts, wear the heaviest engagement ring, have the most extravagant wedding, buy the hugest and fanciest house with the biggest kitchen, and have the thickest credit card statements. Anything less would be... cause for disappointment. I truly believe that lurking deep inside most of us is a vision of marriage perfectly correlated with “endless lifestyle upgrades.” Conspicuous consumption, conspicuous leisure, conspicuous confusion and dissatisfaction, conspicuous divorces.
The marriage I wanted was with the man I talked to for three hours a night. We basically got married because I moved and the phone reception was so patchy at my new house. No matter how old you are when you fall in love, if it lasts, one day you’ll look different. Looks don’t last. What does? Conversation, cooking, and, if you do it wrong, consumer debt. I had zero consumer debt for a couple of years before my wedding day, and I’ve kept it that way. It’s pretty straightforward when your relationship revolves around hanging out and talking every night.
Real marriage is based on affection, trust, respect, and communication. Avoiding conversations about money, debt, cash flow, career paths, and lifestyle inflation is a great way to blast a huge hole in that marriage. How can you trust each other if you won’t communicate about your financial vulnerabilities? How can you respect each other if you don’t share values around earning and spending? How can you even relax and enjoy each other if you’re drowning in debt and you have no retirement plans?
Refusing to get your finances in order is abdicating. That means you dump it off on someone else. If it isn’t your romantic partner, who is it? Your parents? Your kids? The Red Cross? Future You? A talking pony? Being married to someone who spends without limit and earns the bare minimum is really stressful. It’s not fair to treat your spouse like an opponent. If you yourself aren’t financially secure, and you have no plans to deal with it, then that means anyone who loves you has to do double the work. To be with you is to double the effort, double the savings, double the planning, double the stress, double the burnout. If you think you deserve this, you’d better be double-cute, double-nice, and double-affectionate just to get to zero.
Couples who are in it for the long haul need to plan together. We have to share the load. We have to look out for each other. We have to care about each other’s well-being. Our long, busy days are directly tied to the financial necessity of having to go to work. That stress is only increased when we feel trapped in jobs we hate, working for bosses we can’t stand, with unbearable commutes, annoying coworkers, and impossible customers and clients. Debt can make those feelings last forever. How can love last in that environment?
Financial freedom takes the pressure off. When you have plenty of savings instead of debt, it creates a buffer. That “F.U. money” makes such a huge difference! You find yourselves able to pick and choose what type of job you’ll take and what kind of commute you’ll tolerate. You start to feel like you have the power to determine your own destiny, to choose what your average day is like. That’s when you realize that you really have the power to choose your love. I choose you, honey, over and over and over again.
Choose the person. Choose the conversation. Choose the love story you tell about each other. Just don’t choose the debt, the bags of material objects, the unaffordable homes and vehicles. Say no to the stupid marketing messages that destroy loves and hearts and families. Say no to the rings, the dresses, the poisons that make basic long-term affection impossible.
I married my husband in part because he understood I would never want a diamond engagement ring. He got me a temporary silver ring with rhinestones. I took it off and quit wearing it on our wedding day. When I walked up to meet him, I wore a $34 dress. I paid for my half of our wedding in cash. This summer will mark our ninth anniversary, together for twelve years. What does this mean? It means we both care more about being married than we cared about the wedding. Which is the more romantic fantasy? Still actually liking each other and wanting to be together after your hair turns gray? Or one extremely expensive photo opportunity that costs thousands of dollars per hour?
Wedding cake isn’t even that good.
The really great stuff about being in love doesn’t cost anything. Talking for hours, laughing until you snort, looking for shapes in the clouds, learning each other’s life story, the inside jokes you could never explain to anyone else. This is your one irreplaceable person, your sweetheart, the love that money couldn’t buy anyway. Your best reason, if you allow it, to fight the dragon of debt and then ride off into the sunset together.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.