Balancing money and marriage is hard work. I think hubby and I have it figured out together pretty good. Even so, no marriage is airtight when it comes to money and squabbles. When we got married, we didn’t discuss in-depth finances. You know why? Because we didn’t know what investing or what any of that money stuff was. That’s how young and green we were. We agreed to budget with each other and tally everything but we made no verbal or written agreements on the details of the mortgage, emergency fund or investing in general.
It would be easier if the financial ‘offenses’ we’re going to dive into today was less hazy. It would have saved me a lot of time going back and forth from “Am I a pushover if I don’t get mad?” to “Oh, that’s nothing. He did it for the greater good.“
I know the written words a person chooses is a lot more telling but I tried my best to construct this piece with a mild & level point of view of what happened. He’s not in trouble. There is no screaming in this post.
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Table of Contents
The first time hubby made a financial move behind my back was a few months after we had moved into our new house back in 2015. He wanted the mortgage pay off to be even at exactly XX years instead of XX years and 3 months.
Hubby took an extra paycheck or two and sent in a large payment of $20,000 to the mortgage company. He didn’t call in to tell the mortgage company that it was supposed to be a “lump sum payment” so most of it went to the interest on the home loan. D’oh! Plus our mortgage interest was 3.75% and the stock market in 2016 did much better than 3.75%.
I was grumpy with him because he didn’t give a simple whisper about the lump sum payment until 2 months later when I was looking at the remaining mortgage balance online and said: “wait, how did the mortgage loan number drop down so quick?” Then he told me he snuck in an extra payment because he wanted to even out the numbers and I was left going “hmm.”
The second time hubby made a financial move behind my back was last month in February. Except I’m not that mad at him this time (not that I can say I’m over the moon about it either). We front loaded his 401k (all $27,500 of it) in January at the peak of the market so seeing 10% of it go bye-bye within 2 weeks probably didn’t vouch positively for his psyche.
When the market correction happened, he dipped into our emergency fund to the tune of $11,000 and threw it into my IRA for both the 2017 and 2018 year. He was planning to throw money into my IRA eventually but the dip seemed like a good buying opportunity. Unlike the mortgage where I sort of found out months down the road, he told me he’s transferring $11,000 out of our emergency fund the day after he did it. He just said it in passing after the deed.
“I think I’m fairly sane when it comes to balancing control in a relationship. Usually, any financial transactions under $50 we make can slip by without an explanation from either party. A guy needs his own time and his own space just as much as a good steak once in a while. But you know…those money moves at $11,000 and $20,000 each isn’t chump change. That’s quite a bit of money to move without a whisper before the actual execution. And it’s not always about the money, it feels disrespectful to begin with when a big amount is moved without your knowledge.”
“Although they were large sums the directed final goal was for a unified one that is for the whole of our family. It was not squandered on ‘hookers and blow’ but it was put to use on our mortgage and taking money set aside to stuff into your IRA at an opportune time. They appealed to me as universally good moves for both of us so why should I have to ask?”
“That’s more of the point. For a unified financial goal, shouldn’t it be easier to communicate with me even if it was just a whisper? Even if you won’t count my opinion (which is fine, I’m no investment genius) still shouldn’t I at least know before the confirmation and execution of the action?”
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“The household I grew up in was financially controlled in totality by my father. My mother makes the dinner and raises the kids. In their 40 years of marriage, she has never made a splash or shown interest in any finance. She gets an allowance from my father and asks him for money when she needs to buy something.
Although that is not our relationship, the upbringing I had does set a precedence for my passivity in this matter. Plus, you don’t do the bookkeeping of where the money is exactly anyway.”
“From observing the way you do laundry and other basic daily tasks, even unconsciously, I can tell upbringing and the closeness of your family has had profound effects on you. Also, I discounted that engineers are not the most communicative creatures in the first place. I also discounted that you are wrangling with work which makes your time limited – especially during open market hours.
A dangerous thought: you are the breadwinner by a long shot and although that slope is slippery, we both know the slope is there and the financial balance will never be equal. That’s why there was no screaming match.
For reference, I would have definitely vetoed the way you paid the mortgage because 3.75% interest rate vs money invested during a bull run is a no-brainer. I would have also mumbled that the emergency fund was an emergency fund. Market corrections and IRA stuffings are not emergencies. What if you were let go from work and we only had half the amount we needed?”
“From a working professional standpoint in my industry, it would be a hard fight to “get fired.” They would need to put me on a performance contingency for a year before even considering letting me go. The emergency fund that sits there is of no use because our money regenerates very fast as long as I am employed.
The emergency fund concept does not apply as drastically to us since we’ve already achieved a degree of hyperfrugality. And we have multiple sources of income from Airbnb, dividends, petting sitting, and lots of other littler things.
Once the emergency fund is loaded enough, I treat the extra like side cash for market dips like the one we just had. We didn’t have $11,000 worth of extra but we had some extra. The last time I told you about a money move when I sold some stock, you barely cared or had an opinion about that.”
“You didn’t redefine the rules of the emergency fund last time…
In a way, I’m happy you are no longer reluctant to invest compare to when we first started where you took the sure fire 3.75% mortgage. Had you given me the above reasoning of “it’ll take a year of warnings before you’re even close to being fired” I would have agreed to throw $11k of the emergency fund and hoped for the best in terms of calling a bottom.”
“Calling the bottom wasn’t the primary drive. It was one of the last few chances to toss in those pennies for your IRA. The extra “10%” discount was just the icing on top and it was at best only a little tempting.”
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“Mmhmm. Doesn’t discount that you could have just told me.”
“I told you 1 day after, there was still time to reverse the transaction because it hasn’t technically gone through yet. You didn’t tell me to reverse it. When I sold AMZN, or BKE, or got rid of the VRX you didn’t care about hearing those.”
“But when you make a money move without telling your spouse, to me, it just seemed like you were set on doing it. So it seems like I’m coming in looking for a battle if I disagreed.
It’s not even about the money, I just would have been liked to be told about it.
Selling those stocks is money gained to me. The 2 scenarios I’m talking about is categorized as spending because that’s cash leaving for something. In my mind, I frame one as a surefire gain and the other as a potential risk and loss. For potential risks in large sums of over $1,000, I want to know about it.
But I am really happy to see you are controlling the accounts compare to before. I love your determination for unflappable action and I like you don’t have to poke for reassurance on a money move constantly. You’re intelligent and a leveled investor like your father is. I have strong faith in you all the way through but I don’t accept blind faith in anyone. I want a notice and/or footnote in the process for any transaction larger than $1,000 even if it’s to tease my curiosity.”
Well, that was roughly our situation on the whole marriage and money topic. He did agree but it felt like scolding was what got me here rather than a total enlightenment.
I really had a hard time telling myself how to feel. I think we both won and lost something in the end. We won an understanding and lost a layer of ego. The communication (the entire thing you just read) was the most important outcome here. Which team do you side with? If you had to choose one: did I overreact or underreact?
Update from comments:
I really liked this comment below because it highlights another slippery slope between non-communication in marriage. The big downside is it could snowball into things larger and more regrettable later on…
A commenter bought up a really good point I wanted to highlight:
Also, just as a warning, you can be doing something “for the good of the family” and still have it be financial infidelity. My father made a lot of bad investment decisions behind my mother’s back which he thought were for our benefit. He lost e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g not just once but multiple times trying to regain his losses. And it’s not just his losing money that made it bad. Even if he had made a fortune, the lying / thinking he alone had the authority to make these big decisions for the family in itself was unconscionable. Take it from me, that sort of dynamic in a marriage is toxic. Avoid it if you can.
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