Debating between getting married or paying off your debt can be extremely difficult. The little financial advisor that magically appears on your shoulder will insist, “Don’t do it! Be fiscally responsible so you can properly take care of your beloved,” but the idealistic mini-bride or groom on your other shoulder will say, “Follow your heart! People get married so they can take care of each other.” While it feels better to give into matters of the heart, being money-wise is critical to a healthy relationship too; after all, money woes are the number one cause of divorce. So to live happily ever after, what’s a cash-strapped lover to do?
There are a whole lot of issues stacked up against those who want to get married, the one exception being stacks of money. It has been proven that more and more people are delaying marriage as a result of debt. Most people can probably blame college bills as the number one culprit followed by the everyday costs of being an adult. This type of debt is so intrinsic to people’s lives that it affects future decision making; a Pew research report reveals that 27% of male and female singles feel they are not financially ready for marriage. However, debt doesn’t stop people from living either so here’s are a few things to consider when deciding how to balance love and your checking account.
First and foremost, don’t take on new debt for your wedding. Are your bills so high that your savings are suffering? For the love of Elizabeth Warren, don’t get married if it means you’re just going to add to your debt. These are not the smart steps to building a fiscally healthy future together. Besides, a wedding does not have to cost more than the marriage license, anything after that is superfluous. If you can’t afford to have the party of your dreams, just wait till you can; your stress level, bank account and spouse will thank you.
FYI, their debt becomes your debt. Marriage is not so someone can ‘Pretty Woman’ the one they love away from fiscal straits and a crappy job. While marriage is a wonderful team exercise, maintaining a sense of individual responsibility and accountability goes a long way in forming a healthy relationship. Money is one of the top reasons people divorce, next to infidelity. With marriage you get the promise of forever but also the legal responsibility towards whatever type of debt your spouse has. So if in the case of divorce you could take on the costs of a college degree you never earned or the gambling debt you never racked up or the medical bills for that new nose you don’t have… If your spouse has debt as a result of a mortgage, that’s a little different because it’s an asset you might have claim to (unless there’s a prenup). So before you say, “I do” make sure that everything is under control and that you’re not adopting more than you bargained for.
Kill the wage gap. For the ladies, marching towards matrimony might be a longer road due to the wage gap. First, marriage is a more accessible target for college graduates since they earn on average $17,500 more than those with just a high school degree. It’s safe to say that, for example, college debt does not discriminate between the sexes and the descendants of Adam and Eve share similar balances. However, when leaving college women’s earnings are immediately at a deficit to men’s – like 22% (so it’s slightly harder to pay off that debt). And due to inflation, men’s larger income is less capable of supporting two individuals than it was twenty years ago. If couple’s want to remove the fiscal hurdles that delay marriage, eliminating the wage gap would certainly do the job.
Rely on yourself, not others. If you want to get married but it’s not fiscally wise or possible, getting an economic bailout package from the bank of mom and dad or the kindness of your wedding guests through a ‘honeymoon fund’ registry is not all it’s cracked up to be. First, depending on mom and dad completely is also not great for women as it’s basically a dowry system; the practice harkens back to when daughters were the penniless property of their parents and men. Making sure the couple and/or the bride can contribute helps fight sexist dowry systems and the wage gap. Secondly, you’re an adult and part of starting your own family is proving you have the ability to take care of it financially and independently. Sure, having friends and family contribute to the costs is still a good gesture made out of love and support (and that’s okay!), but there’s a difference between relying solely on their generosity and being able to equally contribute.
There’s no matrimonial fire that says you have to get married. With the ever-growing popularity of living together before marriage and the financial benefit of splitting the rent, it is possible to have all the emotional benefits of marriage without the civil paperwork. Luckily today, there’s less stigma and civil punishment against “living in sin” or having a child outside of marriage. And with women able to earn their own paycheck, no one is dependent on marriage to survive anymore. The only downside to not marrying is that family law in the US is still pretty unhealthy (it discriminates against just about everybody). It’s harder for unmarried, but equally committed folk to enjoy the same easily accessible legal benefits that married folk get – inheritance rights, health proxy, etc. The benefit to not marrying, however, is that the individuals in the relationship maintain a strong sense of independence to take care of their own business but are committed to aiding the other when it’s needed.
So when it comes time to decide if you’re ready for marriage, there’s a lot of financial issues to consider before taking the plunge. Talking to your partner beforehand and figuring out each others separate and joint money management styles will certainly help. Besides preparing for your financial future together will help you get one more step towards that beautiful, mutual retirement. Better money management might just lead to it being earlier and all that more awesome, plus think of all the adventures you could have being debt free, now that’s some good motivation.