Love and money make poor bedfellows: a cautionary tale
I got married when I was nineteen. It wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dumbest thing I’ve ever done either. Poor decisions can always get worse.
Speaking of poor, my husband and I were broke, which shouldn’t be surprising since we were both teenagers on our wedding day. He worked at a grocery store, and I worked at a bank. Neither of us made much more than minimum wage.
Mirroring the successful way I’d seen my mother manage the household finances, I decreed that my newlywed husband should bring home his uncashed paycheck every week. Then I’d deposit it into our joint checking account and pay the bills, buy the groceries, and distribute spending money like it was an allowance.
For a few weeks, the system worked like a well-oiled machine. The bills were paid the moment they landed in our mailbox. Our cupboards, refrigerator shelves, and freezer were stocked with our favorite foods. We even had beer and wine that our 21+ family members assisted us in procuring since we weren’t old enough to buy alcohol.
And then everything changed
One day, instead of bringing home his paycheck in its entirety, my husband cashed it at the local bank near his job, spent half, and brought home the rest. Added to my own paycheck I earned as a teller at a different bank, it was insufficient to cover the bills in full.
I paid the rent. We got into a fight. The next week, he did it again. He cashed his check because he wanted money for chrome parts for his motorcycle. The following week he wanted money for drugs. Then it was more chrome motorcycle parts. He spent more money on chrome and weed than we spent on the rent.
No amount of discussion got him to bring me more than the dregs of his paycheck every week. I was lucky to get any money from him at all. It’s not like I was asking him to pay for manicures or pedicures. I just wanted to pay for electricity and heat.
And then everything changed again
My husband lost his job after we bought a house. He insisted he needed a fishing boat so he and his cousin could collect shellfish to sell daily at the dock. Using a personal loan in my name, he got the boat.
While I worked two jobs, he and his cousin went out on the water, drank beer, smoked pot and cigarettes, and occasionally caught enough seafood to bring home twenty bucks a day.
Around the same time that his weekly income crashed and burned, his mother told him that she thought he was making a big mistake by allowing me to be in charge of paying the bills. On her advice, he opened a new checking account in his name only and decided that I would pay the mortgage while he paid everything else. That made my portion of the bills disproportionately higher, but he stood firm.
My paycheck barely covered the mortgage, but I still paid it dutifully every month sometimes leaving less than ten bucks to spare.
My husband used his newly minted checking account to write checks without depositing funds to cover them. He seemed genuinely baffled when he received overdraft notices in the mail on a daily basis. The overdraft fees swelled into the hundreds of dollars. Every month.
All the fighting in the world couldn’t undo the financial crisis he created.
Our marriage ended shortly thereafter for reasons unrelated to finance. Before our divorce was finalized, the bank foreclosed on our house, and I had to file bankruptcy.
That’s why I shudder when I see anyone looking for advice on merging their finances as a couple. What couples should be asking for is advice on how to keep their finances separate.