To try to glean some financial tips for newlyweds, MyBankTracker didn’t want to consult another think tank armed with statistics about millennials.
We already have a pretty good handle on the stats. For example, millennials are postponing marriage. The median age of first marriage rose to a record high of 29 years for men and 26.6 years for women, according to Census Bureau figures. Millennials also are putting off having babies. The number of births in the United States has fallen 8 percent from 4 million. And they are deferring home purchases.
No, this time, we simply wanted to go directly to the source and sit down with someone who would give us his or her perspective on facing the financial future as a newly married person.
We were fully prepared to talk to someone loaded down with student, car, and credit card debt, not to mention unpaid engagement ring, wedding and honeymoon bills. Rather, surprisingly, our candidate is a 30-year-old accountant, who with his wife, a media sales rep, make about $250,000 annually. Hardly the stereotype we had in mind!
The Los Angeles-based couple they live in a two-bedroom apartment, paying rent of $2,600 a month while continuing to wonder what the future will bring in terms of being able to buy a place of their own, raise a family, and how they’ll manage to pay for it all.
MyBankTracker sat down with Jim to learn more about his life-altering decision and how everything’s been going financially now that he’s a little more than a year into his marriage.
Did you talk about finances before you got married?
Luckily, we were smarter than most about our own individual finances. Part of this had to do with having a long-term, committed relationship where you don’t need to go to the bar and blow $150 on a bar tab to impress a girl or $30 on fancy lunches three to four times a week, as many of our friends frequently do who are at the same or lower income level. About 90 percent of the people we know that live and work in Los Angeles, spend almost all the money they make. People we know that make $60,000, people that make 90,000, people that make $110,000, many of them have less than $5,000 cash in the bank. They like to live in the moment and buy what they want or spend what they want when they want it, and not think about the future. It’s the mantra of L.A.’s YOLO (you only live once) pop culture.
But, to answer your question directly, no, we never officially had any finance conversations before marriage. But I think having an eight-year relationship before marriage makes us an exception to most. There were no secrets. I knew about her small student loan balance and one credit card. She knew (LOL) about my 20 credit cards (all never carrying a balance that I used for lucrative sign-up bonuses and maximizing reward-spending categories) and my small student loan balance. We both had paid off cars bought with cash and no loans. We both knew what was in each other’s savings accounts and both knew that we would have to pay for the majority of the wedding together. We both knew what each other’s career goals were and what kind of income expectations we both had. It all goes back to being together for so many years before getting married — much different than people who meet when they are 28, date for six months, then get engaged. I’m sure there are a lot more conversations that need to take place in those cases to make sure there are no surprises.
In college, were you or your spouse in debt? If so, what type of conversations did you have?
We both worked (dining commons and spa receptionist) and had good spending habits in college, so luckily we didn’t go into much debt compared to some other people, and our parents also thankfully helped us with the majority of expenses. Also, city college transfer saved money and also taking University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) summer school saved a ton on tuition. She has $7,000 in student loans and I have $1,500 left. At this point, that’s not too bad.
Did the lack of finances delay your decision about getting married at all?
Yes, we always knew how much weddings cost and that we would have to pay for ours, so that played a role in realizing there was no need to get married when we were 25 or 26. It’s all about being at the right time in your life, factoring in your job, savings, living situation, etc.
Weddings take a ton of time to plan and if you aren’t in the right place, you won’t enjoy the whole process leading up to it. For example, our current jobs are a lot crazier and have more responsibilities, so no way could I even imagine how we would have time to plan a wedding right now. So the timing has to be right both financially and you just have to have the available time to get married. And, of course, you cannot ignore the peers-getting-married-factor. Once people in your social circle start to tie the knot, it snowballs and then everybody realizes that it’s time to enter that phase of life and start to do the same.
How did you obtain the money for the ring, wedding, honeymoon and rent for your first place together?
Solely from W-2 wages at my employer. No tricks here. I saved a couple grand a month on average just from spending wisely and keeping monthly living expenses under $1,000. I always had a roommate before getting married. Probably could have spent less on modifying my car and more on new clothes, but I have good principles instilled to where I watch every penny that goes out and the net result on average is a solid personal savings rate.
I am not in the stock market (other than about $15,000 in my 401k), which is obviously a mistake, but I knew I had a lot of cash expenses and was interested in real estate investing so I wanted to be as liquid as possible and ready to invest. But obviously, I haven’t bought anything yet and cost myself investment returns from only having a crappy 1 percent savings account in the meantime.
What was your biggest financial adjustment after getting married?
Combining all the accounts and coordinating who checks the statements and pays the bills. We have been too busy with work to be organized enough to get this streamlined, and it has been a last-minute frantic mess each month. We are finally almost getting there after more than a year.
We both still buy what we want when we want to buy it and trust each other for the most part, although I admit I’ve held back on some larger purchases that in my “single” days I would have pulled the trigger on without hesitating. Now, I have to sell her on the idea first.
Now that you’re married, do you have a budget or a financial plan?
The plan is to figure out where we want to live and buy something in a non-inflated market. If we can’t find anything that makes financial sense to buy in the Los Angeles market close enough to our jobs, we plan to buy something in a market that does make sense as an investment. We just need time to analyze investment opportunities in other states or areas of California. We need to get a better return on our $150,000 in cash savings.
How often do you talk about finances now?
Other than talking about buying real estate somewhere, and saving for a first home or investment, not all that much. For now, it’s save, save, save, and live as reasonably as possible within our means. That is our number one goal… and to continue to kick ass at work to expedite the process.
Do you still keep separate accounts?
Not by choice, we still have a few old ones open, but what we actually use day in and day out are all 100 percent combined/shared accounts. All expenses are put on rewards credit cards and we pay bills out of joint checking.
Would you consider taking a second job to help you meet your goals faster?
You often hear that your generation feels entitled. Even though you have a good paying job now, would you consider taking a second job to help you meet your goals faster?
If I could find a second job that would pay me at least 75 percent of what I currently get paid on average for an hour, yes, it would be worth it to me.
For example, real estate deals on the side or private CPA work on weekends/night would be ideal, but I haven’t found good opportunities yet. Working at retail for the holidays would not be worth the extra cash.
In marriage, what has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make?
What was the hardest thing you had to give up to save money?
My free time. I used to have way more free time to do whatever I wanted (pursuing some hobbies that my friends probably think are ridiculous and obsessive). Living under the same roof as someone else who also has her own hobbies and things they like to do, while also spending time together. It is tough to find a balance. Working crazy, exhausting hours exasperates this problem. My wife also sacrifices for me, so it all balances out and has been a good maturing and learning process.
As for big financial sacrifices, thankfully, we haven’t really forced ourselves to give up any expense of major significance… just small things here and there to watch every dollar that goes out. But actually, since we have been merging lives officially the past year, lots of additional expenses like new furniture, new pets, etc., have probably caused us to save less money in the first year. But part of having a dual income with no kids is that you don’t feel like you have to save as much as you should, although we still feel like we are pretty frugal compared to most.