It’s officially February 14th, and yet I still haven’t posted my January net worth or spending updates. The numbers have been ready to go since the first day of February. So, why haven’t I posted anything?
Well, because a lot has changed since my last net worth update. Actually, a lot has changed in the past six months. And I should have been sharing all of it. But every time I started, the words just never came. Or too many words came, and I got to the point where I was boring even myself.
Hopefully I won’t get too wordy with this post. I want to fully explain how I’m feeling right now, which covers a lot of topics (and time) all connecting back to our new financial situation.
All relationships are unique and complex, but I can’t help thinking there’s an added layer of complexity when two people get together later in life. Young couples have a different perspective, starting their adult lives together. But when you’ve already been established as an adult for years?
I’m a planner (worrier?) by nature. I feel more relaxed knowing that I’m prepared for at least the most possible outcomes. Starting to date Bryan in my mid-30’s, and us having a 20 year age gap, only intensified my desire to be prepared. It didn’t help matters that Bryan’s favorite way of joking involves reminding me he “could be dead tomorrow”. Yeesh!
Ladies, let’s be honest: Even if you marry a man the same age as you, statistics say you’re more likely to outlive your male counterpart, even if only by a few years. Marry a man 20 years your senior? It’s almost a given that you’ll be spending your golden years without him.
Yes, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow (why is that analogy so popular? how many people actually get hit by buses?). Or I could get cancer and die. And I’ve planned for those situations with life insurance, and ensuring that Bryan has access to all of my accounts immediately upon my death. Which the banker who oversaw my account changes informed me was “morbid” and “concerning”. Really?!?! I would have thought it was common for people to make arrangements for what should happen upon their passing with their financial institution?
I hope that Bryan and I have a long and happy life together. But the reality is, Bryan’s a smoker, and a drinker. His line of work is dangerous. There’s a good chance that, in his later years, I’ll need to physically take care of him in some capacity.
Aside from that, some day Bryan will want (or need) to retire. Operating heavy equipment is hard on the body, with the added bonus of dealing with the elements. Bryan has already had back surgery, and continues to struggle with the pain. We enjoy spending time together, whether it be traveling, working on projects around the house, or just sitting around and relaxing. It drives him crazy this time of year, when he’s at home on layoff, and I’m at work all day. I want him to enjoy his golden years. And I want to enjoy that time with him. After all, you can never get those years back!
Even prior to retirement, those Winter months of layoff are difficult to deal with. Bryan’s job is ideal for someone who wants to be a snowbird. Fishing in Florida. Walking the beaches of South Carolina. Enjoying the dessert air in Arizona. We both dream of the day we can escape the cold Midwest Winters.
All this meaning, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be working until “normal” retirement age. At least not working a traditional job.
Being in the same union for 30 plus years, Bryan has an awesome pension that leaves him in excellent shape for retirement. And me? Well, this is where I start to get uncomfortable. Bryan’s plan is to claim his pension in a way that I could continue receiving benefits if something were to happen to him. It’s unlikely that Bryan will retire any time soon, maybe in the next 5 to 10 years. But, given that I don’t have a pension to fall back on, his pension is the only way we’d be able to live the life we want to live together.
I can’t help but feeling the burn of every negative, sexist comment that’s ever been said about a younger woman marrying an older man who is financially secure: Gold digger. Leach. User. Whore. But that’s rarely the whole story, is it?
I’ll be honest, Bryan’s secure future is a big part of what spurred me on to improve my own financial situation. I felt the rush to pay off all of my debt, so I could really ramp up my retirement savings. After all, given our age difference, it’s likely Bryan’s pension payment would take a huge hit if he tried to leave an equal payment for me. And it’s unwise for someone my age to bank on social security. I’ll need retirement savings of my own to support myself in my old age. Especially given that I have no children. And, if I save enough, it could help us have a more comfortable retirement while we’re both able to enjoy it.
So, Bryan’s financial future is much more secure than mine. But, over the last few years, as my present financial situation improved, Bryan’s grew worse. He lost a job making almost six figures, and the ridiculous perks that went along with it (Free vehicle, gas and insurance. Free apartment. Free cell phone and computer.). As I was paying off my debt, he was racking up new debt. He’d never seen the need for savings, so he didn’t have anything set aside to get him through the months of layoff. And then, this past Summer, he got an awesome deal on a great truck that was only a few years old. We bought it through a good friend, for at least $8,000 less than a dealership would have sold it for. But it was still a lot of money. And, to keep his interest rate low, I cosigned on the loan.
The last few years, the gap between where Bryan and I are financially has been widening. It was really important to me that we communicate about where we both were, and what we were planning. But as I was discussing becoming debt free, Bryan’s debt was increasing. And he was still in the phase that most people in debt go through, where they bury their head in the sand and mostly ignore things, never looking to see how bad things actually are.
Bryan doesn’t have a lot of interest in personal finance, but he knew he needed to get serious about improving his financial situation. I tried discussing different strategies with him, but it didn’t provoke much change. Around the end of last Summer he started bringing up the idea of having me take over his finances at the start of the year. I was okay with that, but we had a lot of discussions about how me paying the bills wasn’t enough; if he wanted his situation to improve, he’d need to make some serious changes.
Any couple where one person is a spender and the other is a saver can tell you how difficult it can be to reach a point where you’re both comfortable and in balance. When I became debt free, I really started to struggle with what my new financial priorities were. Obviously retirement. But I felt like I needed some shorter-term goals. I wanted to start planning for our more immediate life together. But Bryan wasn’t comfortable weighing in on what I should be doing with my “extra” money, when he was barely managing to cover his bills. Conversations about money became more and more uncomfortable.
As the Holidays approached, and Bryan went back on layoff, my spending increased. At first, I was trying to even back out our spending. And then, something else started to happen. Without me even realizing it, I started to compensate for the spending Bryan couldn’t do. I worried about being the person always telling him “no” when it came to spending, especially when I had money to spend. So, I started using my extra cash for every want that came along. New camera and computer? Sure! We started discussing new pots and pans, a bigger TV, a trundle bed for the extra bedroom.
It didn’t even occur to me what I was doing until we bought the recliners. I suddenly found myself digging into my emergency fund to buy new recliners, which I’d promised myself I wouldn’t even consider until I got my tax refund. And we were still discussing other purchases! Big purchases! Like we had an unlimited cash flow! I realized that I wasn’t helping Bryan to make any real changes by continuing to buy every whim that crossed our minds. It wasn’t sustainable. Plus, I’m not by nature a spender. I was spending money to avoid making him feel any discomfort. Which suddenly started to feel really patronizing.
In January, I finally sat down and figured out Bryan’s debt. $57,984. Ooof! It’s not an impossible amount. After all, I paid off $29,916 in debt in just under 3 years (from my highest point in October, 2013, to finally becoming debt free in April, 2016). I ball-parked that it would take Bryan 5-6 years to pay off all of his debt, if he could stick to a plan.
I let that sink in, and quickly realized I wasn’t comfortable being in completely different financial situations for the next 5 to 6 years. That’s a lot of awkward conversations, and resentment, and hard feelings. I didn’t want that. We share everything else in our lives. We’re on the same page, and work and plan as a team. Why shouldn’t our finances be the same?
It took some convincing, but I finally got Bryan to agree that we should make it both of our priority to become debt free. We decided to combine our finances. We’re each going to get the same amount every week of “spending” money, which we each will have in our own checking account. Both of our names are on both accounts, but we’ll consider them as separate. All of our bills will come out of one shared checking account. We have a $5,000 emergency fund. Once Bryan’s back to working (in a few weeks!), I’ll start putting some money away towards next Winter’s layoff, and the rest of our “extra” money will go towards paying off our debt.
It’s going to be on ongoing process, with lots of tweaks along the way. But honestly, it’s the most comfortable I’ve ever been with our financial situation. We make really close to the same amount of money each year; My pay is just spread evenly each week throughout the year, whereas Bryan’s is condensed into 9 or so months.
No more figuring out who’s paying for what, or how to make our expenses more “fair”. It’s all our money, aside from what we’re each given to spend. And, even then, we do most of our spending together.
So, I’m officially back in debt. Probably the most debt I’ve ever had. And I couldn’t be happier!
- Cindy W.