There is one thing that can change your financial path forever, and it’s not betting on the share market. It’s not entering the Gucci store. It’s not even buying a house.
It’s walking down the aisle.
When you get hitched to a partner, you’re hitching your wagon to their financial future. And even if you’re already married, please read on, because this is literally one of the most important posts I am ever going to write on here.
I know it’s easy for me to sound like the bitter divorcee who lost money in a divorce settlement. (I did, but I am less bitter about it these days).
That’s not what this post is about. I’m at the age (40) where marriages are starting to fall apart. I see it among friends, acquaintances and friends of friends. After all, the most common age for getting a divorce is 45.5 for men and 42.9 for women (ABS).
Like any long-term decision, marriage is a calculated risk. There is a 1 in 3 chance it will end in divorce. If someone offered you a raffle where 1 in 3 tickets offered a prize, you’d jump right in.
And yet, so many people get married without even considering the ‘what if?’. The suggestion of a pre-nup, or to not change your surname, is taken offensively.
We are socialised to believe that romantic love is the most important part of marriage. This is a relatively recent development (it took off with the rise of the Romantic novel in the 18th century).
For thousands of years, though, marriage was an economic and child-bearing union. (Well, more of a takeover than a union, because the man got to control all the woman’s wealth once it was done).
Our ancestors were generally more clear-eyed about the fact that marriage is about far more than love. And in the age of Instagram weddings, it’s easy to forget there’s a shitload more at stake than a perfect photo album.
Once you’re married, everything you earn and own belongs to you both. Louder for the people at the back!
This is fantastic when you’re sharing and building together. But if it falls apart, everything you have worked for can be pooled together and a line drawn down it. (And that line may not be in the middle.)
Not only that, you will likely have to start over in a practical sense. New life, new home, new furniture, new insurance, new kitchenware. The things I own today bear very little resemblance to what I owned five years ago.
There is another big complicating factor in all of this: children. If you bring kids into the picture, there’s a good chance you’ll take career breaks that mean you earn less, reduce your super and even stunt your career progression.
Sorry, I know this sounds terribly unromantic and depressing. But hey, we aren’t just here for the LOLs; we’re here for the learning too.
A little bit of planning goes a long way
So I want you to consider marriage (or even de facto living) in this way: there’s a high chance it will be great and last forever. But there’s also a chance that it won’t.
It’s like car accidents – you really hope you won’t have one, and mostly you don’t. But guess what, you have to insure that vehicle every year anyway.
So I want to position this concept as Independence Insurance (thanks to a friend came up with this phrase, you know who you are).
This is the kind of insurance you take out regardless of how happy your relationship is. Because you just never fucking know.
Bae might come in one day and say s/he’s leaving. Maybe you catch them cheating (hey, if Beyonce isn’t safe, who the fuck is). Or the red flags you ignored before, gradually become so big and red you can’t stay, without harming your mental health or your kids’.
The progression of every break up is different, but the one thing they all have in common is the sense that ‘it wasn’t meant to end like this’.
So what does Independence Insurance involve? Well, the good news is, you don’t have to buy it or renew it or find the paperwork for it every year. It’s more about keeping some things in your control.
Always have at least one bank account in your own name. Up to you how much you have in there. I think at least a couple of thousand is a good start. Not only can you buy surprise presents with it, you can also get the fuck out of dodge if you need to. Honestly, this is such a simple thing to do and if I could go back and change one thing about my marriage, it would be this.
Have a car in your own name. If you only have one car, you may have to battle this one out. But if you have two, have one in your name. In NSW you can’t have two owners on the registration (not sure about other states), which is bloody annoying. But if things turn bitter and your partner has their name on both cars, guess what, s/he can keep them both. Happened to someone I know. Her ex has their two cars sitting in the driveway and she can’t do anything about it until they go to court (some years hence).
Don’t stop investing in your career and earning power. I know, this one is a lot more work than opening a bank account. But think of the women you’ve seen struggle after divorce because they put their own career on the backburner, to raise kids. It’s true, childcare is eye-wateringly expensive, but you need to think about the cost of not working. Not in today’s salary terms, but in the many decades from now if you’ve fallen behind your peers. Or you’ve kept low-stress, flexible, low-paid part-time jobs and now find you’re stuck there.
As my friend said, she never again wants to wake up and feel like she’s trapped in a relationship because she can’t afford to leave.
Take an interest in the financial paperwork. If you’re the spouse who leaves this stuff to your partner, it might seem like they are doing you a favour. But it has a lot of risk too. When I was married, I was the only one who knew how to access our mortgage redraw. If I was a bitch (which I am obviously not, ok), I could have easily drained thousands of dollars out of it, spent it, and he would neither have known nor had any recourse. Paperwork and banking is the worst, but it’s also the key to staying in control, as it gives you full visibility of your position.
Ok let me stop now and apologise if I sound a little preachy. I just want us all to be the best version of ourselves, and that means being realistic even as we are hopeful. I have more on this topic, so stay tuned.
And let me tell you I very much believe in romantic love. Just not as it applies to me haha.