I’m a smart woman. I’m a magazine editor, I have two popular blogs, I live in a home featured twice in a décor magazine, I’m married to a wonderful man, and I’m the mother of two beautiful sons. You’d think I have it all but I’ve got a dirty secret: I used to be a credit card-aholic.
I believe I would’ve stayed in debt were it not for my husband who, a few months into our happy marriage, asked about my credit card collection. “Why do you have so many cards? You only need one, maybe two.”
I replied, “My credit limits are so small so I applied for new cards.”
He laughed. “Don’t be silly. Just ask for a credit limit increase. It’s hard to manage many cards.”
“I’ve tried. Nobody gives me an increase!”
My husband stopped smiling. For perhaps the first time since he first saw me, he looked at me with not-so-adoring eyes. “Why wouldn’t you get a credit increase? Don’t you pay off the full amount every month?”
The answer to that was a very quiet no, and what followed was a very loud discussion of my spending habits. Before I knew it, my husband was poring over my credit card bills. He summarized my situation coldly: My total debt wasn’t very large, after all, because all my cards had a small limit. But he insisted I stop using my cards, pay the full amount every month, then cut up all the cards.
As he put me through financial rehab, I thought to myself, “Why did I get married?!” It was a truly painful year for both of us, but by the end of it, I was debt-free. No savings yet (and definitely no new shoes and clothes!), but I was debt-free, and now very much in control of my credit and spending.
My marriage taught me important lessons about money. With the help of a few of my married friends*, I hope these can help you as well: Live within your means. Simple in thought, difficult in deed. But Nancy, a housewife, and Bert, who works for a credit card company, have managed to do it with this agreement soon after they wed: every payday, Bert would turn over his entire salary to Nancy, and every month, they would sit down together as Nancy shows him their bills so that they’re both aware of how their money is spent. “Nung start, sabi niya, ‘Bahala ka na sa pera.’ But I wanted him to be aware kung saan napupunta ’yung pinagsisikapan niya,” says Nancy. They share a joint credit card that Nancy uses for all household expenses and for emergencies. They make sure it gets paid in full every month. “Bert says it’s important to have a good credit history in case we want to take out a loan one day for a business, which is our dream.”
Savings are an expense. Colette and Marcus, a freelance writer and a programmer, respectively, decided even before they got married to treat savings as an expense. That meant depositing 20 per cent of their salaries to a joint account every payday, and it eventually paid for their wedding. They continued the practice after they got married, and Marcus said their savings grew as a result.
Another couple, entrepreneur Dara and TV producer Rick, shared that his salary covers the household expenses, while her money goes straight to savings and investments. Dara says, “We also keep separate accounts so that we can buy our own luho without feeling guilty. Some of our friends say too many bank accounts can be confusing, but this arrangement works for us.”
Honesty is always the best financial policy. A man and a woman will sooner shed clothes and inhibitions than talk about their income and savings. In Linda’s case, she brought it up ASAP because, “I like making money.” Her job in market research and analysis and a small business supplying raw gemstones to fashion and jewelry brands allowed her to make investments that included real estate by the time she turned 27. When she and her boyfriend Abet celebrated their first anniversary she brought up the issue of money. “He wasn’t pleased.”
Abet, an owner of a computer parts and repair shop, recalls, “I thought it was rude. I felt insulted when she asked me about my income and savings.” But he eventually became impressed with his girlfriend’s money-making capabilities, and he has even learned to manage his finances from Linda. “I fell in love with her more. I knew she was smart but when I found out just how smart she really is, I knew I had to marry her!”
Financial preparedness makes dreams happen. Having grown up financially insecure, nothing terrifies me more than a sudden expense -- a school project or illness. My husband didn’t understand this fear because his parents were always financially prepared. It was only natural for him to apply the same principles to our money. He insisted that we should have savings -- both personal and joint. We’re still educating ourselves on investments with the help of our financial planner, especially because we want to have a secure future not just for our children but also for our retirement.
Already, my husband’s plans are working. We’re debt-free, and we have a little saved up for our boys’ future. We can afford a few luxuries, and if anything untoward should happen to us, we have life insurance policies to cushion the blow. This financial preparedness has definitely eased my fears. In fact, for the first time since I was a child, I can sleep easy. I can say I’m at peace and I’m happy because the present is fun, and the future is secure.
You and your spouse can have that peace of mind, too. Remember that you are a team. Remind yourselves, “This is our money, for our family, for our future, for our benefit.” When you both realize that the magic word is “our,” then working together for a financially stable future is easy as one, two, three.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Good Housekeeping Philippines and adapted online on FemaleNetwork.com. Minor edits have been made by SmartParenting.com.ph editors.