The Finances of a Marriage

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Back in nineteen sixty eight I was a not quite yet twenty year old bride barely two years out of high school. The reality is that I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, I was winging it from day to day, playing a role for which I was not fully prepared. I approached each my life as a wife with a wing and prayer, thinking that I had my future all figured out as long as I had my handsome husband by me side. 

Both of us were still attending college at the University of Houston so plan A was to find an apartment close to campus. Things cost a great deal less back then so leased a nice one bedroom space for one hundred ten dollars a month. Utilities were included in the price. In spite of such a fabulously affordable rate, we were cutting it close with my two hundred dollar a month salary as a teachers’ aide. If not for my mother’s tutoring in living on the edge financially I suspect that we would have been broke and on the curb in a couple of months. Instead I knew how to cook frugally and account for every penny like a miser. 

That first year was an acid test of our commitment to one another because there were literally times when we had nothing to eat in the house but a can of pineapple chunks and a head of cabbage. I’d literally manage to get two meals from our meager fare and make safely to the moment when I held a paycheck in my hands. By carefully spreading out the timing of our visits to our former homes, we managed to actually get some hearty home cooked meals from our mothers, along with leftovers that tied us over for another day. 

Somehow we did indeed manage to survive and when our first summer as a married couple came my husband worked as an electrician’s helper with his uncle. His days were very long because they were stationed at NASA where preparations were under way for the first moon launch. Sometimes he would work sixteen or more hours a day, seven days a week. We felt rich and squirreled away lots of cash in a savings account knowing that the fall, winter and spring months would be lean by comparison. When the new school year came my husband landed a position as a teaching assistant at the university while pursuing his Masters degree. We believed that the worst of our economic woes were over but we would learn soon enough that surprises came along that stretched the budget to a breaking point.

When our second summer together came he landed a job at a downtown bank. We were overjoyed that he earned a whopping four hundred dollars a month. We actually felt wealthy and able to splurge now and again. When he decided to continue working full time at the bank our coffers swelled, at least in our minds. Those horrific moments of wondering if we were going to make it to the next payday were finally gone, but not our need to be careful with how we spent what we had. 

I suppose that it is human nature to have a bit of dissatisfaction with one’s fate because it was about that time that I began to dream of being rich, which in nineteen seventy meant to me having a one thousand dollar a month income. I wondered if we would ever get that close to living a luxurious lifestyle. Even though it seemed so untenable, I kept up hope and did my best to make what we did have work for us. 

My husband moved up in the ranks at the bank and I took care of the home front which eventually included two little girls. I also did odd jobs here and there while earning my own degree. Before I accomplished my goal I had worked in a daycare center, watched children in my home, worked as a pre-school teacher and served as the Director of Religious Education at my church among many other little gigs here and there. Along the way we had reached the one thousand dollar a month milestone, but by then it was no longer the kind of salary a wealthy person might enjoy. My goals reached ever higher as the cost of living increased for everyone. the days of twenty dollar grocery bills and twenty five cent gasoline were long gone. Fortunately we had purchased a lovely home for twenty thousand dollars before housing prices had gone up as well so we just hunkered down and let life proceed. Eventually I became a teacher and together with my husbands salary we felt comfortable, but never rich. We learned that money was a necessary component of feeling secure, but we were content with the jobs and the budget that we had.

I suppose that when two people fall in love and decide to get married they don’t always consider the financial aspects of the partnership. Sadly it’s something that can make or break the relationship if times get too tough. I applaud the young people today for being more conscious of that kind of thing than we were fifty four years ago. Without sacrifice and determination we might have ended up going our separate ways after only months because we had not realistically determined our course. Living on the economic edge is a major strain on a relationship and it was much more difficult that we had ever envisioned.

The younger generation is getting married at an older age than we did back then. it’s no doubt a wise move. My husband and I were still just kids, quite immature if truth be told. We managed to grow up together but might just as well have grown apart because of the stresses that were so much a part of our early years. In many ways we simply got lucky as we stumbled our way through very adult situations. Today’s youth seems to be much more aware that joining together can be lethal without a plan.

I suppose that my mother and my husband’s mom quietly had a great deal to do with our success. They never once indicated that they were worried about our well being, but I know they must have been quite anxious. They found surreptitious ways to keep us afloat without criticizing our efforts. They were as responsible for our ultimate success as a couple as we were. Their surprise visits always came with gifts that kept our pantry filled or provided us with extra breathing room. They did these things with such grace and love.

I suspect that success in marriage requires effort from everyone, including the extended family. If we truly love and support each other it’s possible to overcome great challenges. We did that but knowing that we were never totally alone made the difference we needed to keep striving. Now we sit in comfort reminded of how fortunate we have been. In retrospect I’d recommend waiting until there is a firm plan for paying for the joint venture, but I’d never change what we ultimately decided to do.