Lessons From Grandma: Make Your Marriage Last by Talking About Money

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Don’t learn how to succeed in marriage by failing. Instead, learn from a couple who did it right for decades.

Before my grandfather passed away eight years ago, my grandparents were married 53 years. My grandmother, Thelma, tells me stories about her life, and most involve my grandfather and their life together. Now 80, she’s been an accountant and helped run a few businesses, including the woodworking company she and my grandfather had together.

With money conflicts being the No. 1 reason for divorce, I asked my grandma how to deal with finances to make a marriage last a lifetime. Here’s her advice…

1. Unite bank accounts

When a couple marries, they aren’t only united by law, they’re united by money. Sharing a car, home, kids, and bed isn’t enough. According to Grandma, you’ve got to share bank accounts too.

“One person in the marriage will want to say, ‘What’s mine is mine and not yours,’ and you can’t do that with money in your marriage. If you’re going to be bound together for life, that includes your finances.”

While some experts disagree on this point, suggesting couples are better off with at least some money to call their own, combining savings creates common goals. So at least open a savings account together and discuss how much you both can contribute regularly.

2. Live within your means

“Handle money together,” says Grandma. “Sit down and decide how much money you are going to spend on your mortgage or rent, electric, dry cleaners, and food.” In their first few years of marriage, my grandma says she had $20 a week budgeted for them and their newborn daughter (my aunt). “We ate a lot of hamburger,” she says.

3. “We never fought about money. We both knew exactly what there was.”

When she told me this, I was surprised. Fifty years is a long time. How can a couple never fight about money when so many married couples apparently do?

“From the time we were married, he handed me his paycheck,” Grandma said.

It’s good to have at least one person in the marriage handle the finances. If you’re not going to do it together, one of you should know every bill and obligation. My grandfather – out of habit from watching his parents live the same way – worked five days a week and when he got paid, he gave it to my grandmother. She paid the bills, gave him a weekly allowance for cigarettes and car fare ($10 a week in the ’50s), and took $20 for food. What remained was saved, with the occasional splurge on a vacation or dinner out.

4. Buy only what you need

While the cost of living was much lower 60 years ago, the importance of putting something aside hasn’t changed. What has, however, is what many consider “necessities.”

I’ve convinced myself I need the latest technology: an iPhone, a MacBook, and an iPad. So I worked a little extra and hustled a little longer to support my premium gadgets. But that also means I spent less elsewhere, or as my grandma puts it, ate a lot of hamburger. It also means I saved less.

My grandparents? The only extra they budgeted for was cigarettes.

If you want someday to own your own home, or pay down debt, consider what’s really “necessary.”

5. “A marriage is a business. You have to learn to be honest.”

When you get married, you essentially become a partner in a business. If you’re hiding money (spent or saved) from your spouse, you’re undermining your partnership. Would you hide money at work?

Before getting married, learn if your potential partner is financially stable and has a handle on saving and spending. There’s nothing wrong with talking about it, and there shouldn’t be secrets.

Discovering who your partner is doesn’t stop at favorite color or the shampoo they like. It also means uncovering personal issues, including finances. If you’re prone to keeping secrets, you aren’t ready to begin a 50-year partnership.

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