‍All the statistics indicate that lack of alignment on finances is a top reason why many relationships struggle. Opposing attitudes towards money also prove to be a challenge.

Marriage and Money: Why Debt Did Not Do This Couple Apart

marriage, money, debt, financial education

One of the least discussed aspects of marriage is another M – money.

All the statistics indicate that lack of alignment on finances is a top reason why many relationships struggle. Money ranks Number 1 on the list of what partners argue about. Opposing attitudes towards money also prove to be a challenge.

The state of a couple’s finances can deeply influence the state of their marriage. An excess of money or the lack of it, erratic spending habits or excessively thrifty ones, debt, financial abuse, and other scenarios, trigger a range of emotions in both partners.  

In this interview, I explore some of these emotions. I also seek to understand how new-age couples can make sense of their financial lives in the context of their relationship. To get insights, I spoke to Prema and Hermann, a couple who experienced extreme distress due to financial difficulties.

But unlike many couples in a similar situation, these two took charge and were able to transform the relationship to be stronger, more resilient, one where love compounds.

What did they struggle with, what steps did they take, and what did they learn from this experience? Here’s what I discovered…

I met Prema Gurung, a baker by profession several years back. As I got to know her better, I realised that she has an intriguing story to tell about her relationship. Prema hails from Nagaland and is based in Delhi NCR. She met her husband, Hermann, a German pastry chef, at her workplace.

“I got attracted to him because of his kind nature towards everyone and respect for women (which I had rarely seen here in India),” shares Prema. Hermann was attracted to Prema’s self-confidence, her never-give-up attitude, and her strength of character. A “beauty with brains” is how Hermann describes his wife. He also found her “jolly nature” to be infectious. They fell in love, got married, and now have a three-year-old daughter.  

No money conversations

Prema and Hermann dated for five years before getting married but in all that time, they had never once had a conversation about finances.

Right from the early days of the marriage, the couple struggled with financial difficulties. Despite their “double income, no kids” status, Prema and Hermann were unable to capitalize on it financially. The couple is passionate about baking and aspired to start a home bakery. But their financial condition brought several challenges. “Living paycheck to paycheck did not allow us to grow or enjoy our life as we wanted. We did open a home bakery, which I later had to manage alone because we felt the need for one fixed income, “ shares Prema.

Living paycheck to paycheck

Living paycheck to paycheck means that you are dependent every month on your current salary to pay for your expenses. It also means that after paying for all fixed monthly expenses and some variable ones, you have no money left over for savings, investments, and pursuing other financial goals like buying a house, creating an emergency fund, or paying for adequate health insurance. One of the outcomes of this lifestyle is the accumulation of debt. This is because there is no emergency fund to dip into curing a crisis such as a hospitalization, or job loss. When Prema and Hermann experienced a crisis, the couple was plunged into growing debt.

How money impacts emotions

I was curious to know what impact their financially fraught lifestyle had on the emotional aspects of their relationship. “When we were not financially educated the impact was negative - less love, less affection, little to no communication, and no future direction” shares Prema. According to her, money was the cause of stress in the relationship, and no communication was the reaction. “The result was that our relationship was getting bitter each day, “ she says candidly.

It is not easy to make oneself vulnerable and share intimate details of one’s life. Hence at this point, I want to take a moment to acknowledge Prema and Herman for being brave enough to share their story. In India and many parts of the world, we are not comfortable talking about financial difficulties, and even more, in the context of marriage. But perhaps Prema and Hermann’s story can awaken the drive to get financially responsible early on, in others.

financial education, marriage and money, couple finance

A light bulb moment

Even though life was tough and it was easy to get trapped in a cycle of debt and resentment, it was during those very days that Prema had a light bulb moment.

She realised that neither she nor her spouse had the financial knowledge to emerge from the situation unscathed. What they needed was financial education, that could help them build a healthy relationship with money, and then reclaim their relationship with each other.

Prema made the brave decision to invest in building her fiscal literacy. She joined the Women On Wealth community, which supports women in building financial skills. Here she learned the basics of budgeting, saving, and investing. She learned how to make financial decisions, communicate with her partner/ family about money, and build an intimate relationship with money. As Prema grew her knowledge, she was able to bring financial leadership into the relationship but only because her spouse welcomed her input.  

Financial Management in our country is often treated as a gendered activity. Women are discouraged from building financial knowledge, while men are demonized for their lack of it. Luckily, in Prema and Hermann’s relationship, there was no place for the ego to define the gender roles in financial management. They made their own rules!

The reinvention of their money life  

The impact of financial education on their emotional state and financial goals was immense. The first step was debt clearance. Progressively the couple purchased land, an emergency fund, and a robust investment portfolio.  

As the pandemic struck, hard times lay ahead for the couple. But they were ready for what life had in store.

“Our emergency fund was a blessing during COVID-19; we survived the entire time on it, and it is now being rebuilt. Our child's education fund is ready for the next seven years and the higher education fund is in progress, “shares Prema.

From being in a place where they were riddled with debt, the transformation seems phenomenal. “The impact on our relationship is more love and oneness. We are debt-free and stress-free, fulfilling each other's wants. We also take each other's goals as family goals, “she shares.

From resentment to trust…  

Improved, deeper communication is the core outcome of their journey. “Since we have all the financial plans in place, and are taking action month on month, now we talk more about other areas of our life than finance, “she shares.

Trust is another beneficiary of the relationship. Herman recognises that his wife is very astute when it comes to handling their finances. “I tell my wife - you are the in-charge and expert in finance. I hand over 80% of my salary, “he admits.

In turn, Prema maintains their financial files. “I read him important information once a month. This includes net worth growth, which goals were fulfilled, progress on our child's education fund, and status of investment goals, “she shares.

Golden rules for couples in love

Couples have diverse rules. I was curious to know what rules worked for Prema and Hermann, and this is what they shared…

  • The couple believes that it is important to have a source of steady income. Both Prema and Hermann dreamed of starting their own bakery business someday. But they were faced with a tough choice – how could they fulfil this dream without some job security? So, while Prema managed their bakery business, her husband continued working in a job to help manage cash flows until they were in a better place.
  • Prema has made it a practice to keep track of their finances *. Over time, this practice revealed unmindful spending patterns that plunged them into debt. Now, they have completely dispensed with unnecessary spending. Instead, they plan and practice intentional spending (including leisure), which has led to a fulfilling, secure, stress-free life.
  • The couple has created a safe space for conversations about their individual goals, which they take turns in fulfilling. For instance, one of the most important habits is listening. During conversations, it is advisable to avoid interruption, and allow one’s partner to complete what they are saying. 

These collective practices have led to a feeling of transparency in the relationship. It has enhanced the vibe, energy, and quality of communication. Today, Hermann describes their communication as open, honest, and trusting.

* Today, there are a slew of apps such as Money Lover, which empower you to track your finances, effectively. Record all expenses and earnings, every day, to get a clearer idea of where your money is going. Based on emerging patterns, couples can then evaluate their spending habits and divert more cash toward needs and goals.  

They’re advice to new couples…

Prema: It is important to share how you feel about every aspect of your life whether it be finance, family, future, work, friends, or society. Resolve issues with an agreement/ alignment. Do not carry forward the conversation next time.

Hermann: At least, one partner should have strong financial knowledge and skill. If it is the lady, then the (male) partner should set aside their ego, and trust and support them.


The takeaway

Financial alignment is a continuous journey. Once it becomes a habit, the peace, joy, and fulfilment in the relationship compound just as quickly as the financials. 

Before signing off, I would like to take a moment to wish Prema and Hermann, luck in their journey of love!

About the Interviewer
About the Author
Merril Diniz
Merril Diniz is a full-time freelance writer, blogger, and digital interview host from Goa. She blogs about Women & Money at MsTress Of Moolah, and sustainable, toxin-free lifestyles at The Conscious Way.
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