The Bluth-McDucks: Merging Our Finances and Debt

I got drunk with Jake and ordered a Google Home last weekend.

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I’d been considering the purchase, having decided against the Amazon Echo, after Jake made me listen to some comparison reviews. He considered both products frivolous and excessive, but really didn’t want me to spend $50 more on the one with worse reviews. So, after a few drinks, I finally came to the conclusion that I had to have a Google Home. Fortunately for me, the purchase only went through once, because I do vaguely recall confirming the order three or four times. So, all in all, it was a well-researched decision, but still… I got drunk and ordered a Google Home last weekend.

As a 29-year-old Millennial, I’m constantly reading articles about people my age wailing over an inability to find a job utilizing their degree in feminist dance theory, refusing to show up on time or display any real work ethic when they do, and despairing over the injustice of having to pay back the money they knowingly borrowed to do so. I saw this immaturity firsthand when I was wading through the sea of Lost Boys that was online dating: grown men living with their parents and “still trying to figure it all out.” I even witnessed it in my year as a manager, when I had to explain the importance of not wearing pajamas to work to 25-year-olds.

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My OKCupid search results from 2011 to 2015

So, yeah, I’m familiar with the generalization that anyone born after 1985 is fundamentally irresponsible… and it still kind of pisses me off. Gail’s a mail carrier who graduated high school and entered the workforce, never borrowing a dime to find her place and discover a career she loves. I, myself, took the more stereotypical Millennial route: entered college at 18, borrowed six figures, and got a masters degree in a field everyone assumed would have no career path. Then, I got a great job making about 50k a year in one of the states with the cheapest cost of living in the country. I pay my private and federal student loans on time, am eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in 2024, and carry a small balance on a credit card, which has helped to raise my credit score above 700. For every gum smacking 20-something ironically ignoring you for their phone behind the customer service desk at Wal-Mart, there’s another Millennial working their ass off to make their own way… and I’ve always been the latter.

I had two jobs all through grad school, worked up to 65 hours a week and still found time to write papers and complete my portfolio. When I wanted to splurge a little and buy something I didn’t really need, I never felt bad about doing so, even if I didn’t have the money right then. It would all come together somehow and I would be the one solely responsible for making that happen. No one else was effected by my financial decisions… until I got engaged to Jake; and while I may not consider myself to be bad with money, I’ll admit I’m pretty much Lucille Bluth next to Jake’s Scrooge McDuck.

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At 32 years old, Jake has zero debt and quite the nest egg. Though he’ll spend his money on the things and experiences that are important to him, he’ll neither touch his savings nor take out any credit to do so. He’s determined that we continue to live this way as a married couple and it’s not like I can really argue with that. Over the next year, we plan to live as frugally as possible, so we can buy a house sooner rather than later, but… I think we might have different ideas of what “as frugally as possible” looks like.

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As I mentioned in my last post, I’m finding some truth to the idea that when a couple marries in their late twenties/early thirties, the learning curve for existing with another human being can be a bit longer. We’ve already faced this with home décor tastes and communication styles.

Me: “I love you, but I do want to take premarital counseling, because if you don’t get better at communicating, I’m going to fucking cut you.

In a few short months, though, Jake and I will have to blend our finances, which means adjusting to the idea of consulting one another on how we spend our hard earned money after making those decisions all by ourselves for our entire adult lives. When my Gramma asked me last fall, what Jake thought of my having taken out an Amazon payment plan to buy a Kindle Fire, I told her it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t his money. While Jake asked why I needed my Kindle Voyage and a Kindle Fire, making no effort to hide that he thought it was a superfluous purchase, he never told me not to buy it. Similarly, when I spent $80 on my Fitbit Alta, he thought it was silly and that I wouldn’t use it, but he also acknowledged that it wasn’t his business… nor was the final cost of redecorating the bedroom… and ultimately buying a Google Home after too much whiskey.

Likewise, when Jake insists on $3000 worth of catering and bar service for what I consider an overly lavish wedding, I keep my mouth shut. That’s his money, which he earned without me and he can spend it as he wishes. At present, we operate on a more or less unspoken agreement that as long neither of us is accruing more debt, the other doesn’t get a say… and on that note, on May 06, 2017, not only do my future financial decisions effect Jake, so do my past ones. While I’ve been careful not to charge up my credit card or get behind on my car and student loan payments, since we’ve met, I still have a lot of debt from my college days… and now so will Jake.

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While I might be able to control any future urge to buy matching Kirk and Spock costumes for the cat and dog… I mean, why would I need to again?… I can’t change the fact that at 18 years old, I began accepting thousands of dollars a year to pay for college and life in general, when my ex-husband wouldn’t work. Honestly, I don’t even think I would. That money fed and clothed me. It put gas in my car and rebuilt my life after my divorce. It got me my dream job of librarian. I am where I am because I took out student loans and I’m not sorry. I’m not bitter that I have to pay them back, either. I’m bitter that Jake has to pay them back, retroactively taking care of miserable and lost 21-year-old Belle, because my debt will become his debt. Any and all interest accrued will no longer be mine, but ours, which is why Jake wants to spend a huge chunk of his nest egg paying off all but my federal loans from day one. Why rack up interest over time, when he can pay it all off now? Well, because it’s mine.

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It’s so tempting to stamp my foot and insist that Jake can’t clear my financial name, because if he pays off my debt, not only does that mean I can’t take care of myself now, but that I never could. When I consolidated my private loans, agreed to a terrible interest rate on my car, signed up for my credit card, I did so with a bit of begrudging pride, knowing that one day I would pay it all back, because I take care of me. Despite all my jokes about how I’d let Christian Grey hang me from the ceiling and gut me like a deer if it meant paying off my student loans, I never thought I’d actually meet someone who saw value in ridding me of that debt. I would happily pay a thousand dollars a month for a couple of years, from my own paycheck, but Jake would rather we spend that money building something than trying to dig me out of a hole, which makes a lot of sense. It’s just… it’s my hole.

So, as a compromise, I’ve insisted on adding this bit to the prenup we’ve already agreed to sign for the sake of the family ranch. If Jake wants to take care of my past self, I insist on taking care of his future self, by legally agreeing that I’ll pay him back if our marriage lasts less than 10 years. I’m too pragmatic and quite frankly, I love him too much, to let romance get in the way, here. If he can protect me from further financial ruin, I can protect him. Still, it wounds my pride far more than being told I don’t need another cat costume… and I always need another cat costume.

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Things I Will Not Do as an Adult, Wife, and Mother

Gail’s engaged, y’all.

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I know, I know. After she’d lived with Terry for three and a half years, we’d all pretty much lost hope, but there it is: my best friend is getting married. Some people do buy the cow.

While some of the most pertinent to me, Gail’s pending nuptials are hardly the only big life news being announced. It seems anyone who isn’t planning a first wedding is subtly reclaiming their maiden name. What can I say? We’ve got a lot of twenty-something divorcees, here in the South. The rest are planning babies… possibly numbers two and three. We’re growing up. My Facebook feed is no longer flooded with beer pong photos and 4/20 shout-outs, not even college graduation pictures and new job announcements. Even the engagement announcements are usually for the aforementioned divorcees or some of mine and Jake’s younger friends. Today, it’s all babies and mortgages… and that’s awesome. Truly.

Everyone I know is complaining about getting older, but I would so much rather be 28 and where I am than 22 and where I was. Life is good and I aim to keep it that way, which is why I’m baffled at why so many of my peers are doing such awful things they don’t want to do. I’m sure many who read this will chuckle with a patronizing “Oh, you’ll see, when it’s your turn,” just as my parent acquaintances who hear me say my kids won’t have cell phones chuckle with the same comment, while wondering why their own children are such lazy assholes. I don’t care, because there are pins and posts all over Pinterest and Facebook that make both adulthood and parenthood sound awful and exhausting. Adults today are screwing themselves and if Future Belle reads this list and shakes her head, I hope she’ll at least consider the reminder of the things she once swore were neither healthy nor beneficial to anyone involved. Such as…

Having an Elaborate Wedding
Y’all, when Gail told me about her upcoming wedding, I immediately started hyperventilating about my own. It wasn’t because I expect Jake to propose soon, but because if ever and whenever he does, at this point, I know I’ll say yes. My stars, does it sound wonderful to actually be married to such a genuinely good man… but the part where we get married? I’ll pass. Is passing an option?

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Jake loves weddings, so it’s really not. Yes, I found the one man who thinks weddings are so hunky dory that he’s been in like ten of them. That’s not even an exaggerative Belle-isim. I frequently joke that his online dating headline was “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” For Jake, a boy, a wedding is an awesome party where he and his best friends dress to the nines and enjoy free food and booze. Not until he got himself a researcher for a girlfriend did Jake know that the average cost of a wedding is $26,444.* When I look at pictures of other people’s weddings, the obvious expense stresses me out. It’s a party, y’all. It just happens to be one where I’m expected to spend $200 on engagement photos, $900 on invitations, $1,500 on flowers and decorations, and $700 on wedding favors.*

You know what my wedding favors are going to be? Free food and booze. That’s it. I’m not paying hundreds of dollars to have flash drives or plastic stadium cups or even cutesy Hershey bars made that no one will remember. That also means no programs, or rustic wooden backdrops, or burlap… ugggggh, the fucking burlap…, or twinkle lights, or mason jar chandeliers, or lace tablecloths. I’m not spending the first hour of my reception taking photos that look like I’m cutting a cake, even though I’m not really cutting a cake, and another 30 minutes personally thanking each person for coming. My perfect wedding plans involve butcher paper, crayons, and Sam’s Club cupcakes and if Jake will let me get away with it, that’s what I’ll do. I want to have fun and I want to do it on the cheap. I’m not missing my own wedding, because Pinterest told me I’d forever regret not taking a photo where Jake and I spell out L-O-V-E with our hands while laughing in a field of blue bonnets. I’m also not going into debt for a party. I. Will. Not.

Altering or Defending My Choices About Adulthood/Mommyhood
Jake and I talk about money more than I would imagine most married people do. I think it’s great that he’s so opposed to any and all debt, but this means that we would likely not buy a house until my student loans are cleared, in which case we’d buy outright. Now, as heartbreaking as a future without Jake sounds, I have always maintained a Belle Goes Solo version, as well. In this, I still wait until my loans have been cleared, because only at that point can I afford both a mortgage and a new roof. In short, with or without Jake, I will not be a homeowner until I am at least 36 years old.

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For some reason, in the South, owning a home is the pinnacle of adulthood, regardless of whether or not you can afford it. I’ve been told numerous times that renting is “wasting money,” but until you’re paying on the principle, “owning” is exactly the same, except for the part where you replace your own roof. While Solo Belle likely wouldn’t have any other choice than to take a mortgage, Jake and I wouldn’t be “wasting” any money renting that we wouldn’t be paying in interest and upkeep. For us, buying outright is the most desirable option. That wasn’t the case for Gail and Catherine, who are both thrilled to have recently bought homes the traditional way and more power to them. I’m not going to defend my choice not to buy before I’m ready, though, to anyone with whom I wouldn’t discuss any other financial matters. Nor will I defend my choice not to roll the existing loan on my used car into the price of a new one, which I might add is terrible advice, Dad. While we’re at it, I’m also not defending the aforementioned student loans, because it’s my money that I dedicated to build my career.

It amazes me that people will ask a near stranger about their finances, but this pales in comparison to the audacity it takes to ask a woman about her Mommyhood choices. My birth plan is to be high as a kite. I’m going to vaccinate. I will never breastfeed. In regards to my birth plan, anything and everything involving my vagina is and will remain private. I’ve had friends criticize me for my breastfeeding decision, though, and I don’t have children. I had a reduction at fifteen and can’t breastfeed, but it’s bizarre to me that I’m supposed to explain this to a nosy woman in the grocery store who tells me “breast is best.” I swear on the sorcerer’s stone that if anyone ever says that to me, I will at the very least respond with “so is minding your own business.” I’ve heard women complain that a stranger scolded them for not having shoes on their baby in a carrier, in July. I’ve listened to friends complain that a lady at the gas station mocked them for extended rear-facing.

I didn’t say a word when Jake and I had hibachi for dinner the other day with a four-year-old who spent the entire time loudly laughing at a tablet, even though I thought it was unimaginably rude to ignore the chef’s show and disturb the other diners. It’s not my business or my problem that you’re raising a disrespectful little shit, just as it’s none of yours that my child will have horrible detachment issues, night terrors, a desire to harm small animals, or whatever it is that people think results from formula feeding. Why are we, as capable adults, answering to these rude and nosy people?!?!

Spending More Time and Money on My Children’s Happiness than Mine
Oh em jingles have parents today made the whole gig harder. I admit, I’m not a parent, but that means I can be entirely objective when I ask: why are you people exhausting yourselves over your Pinterest orders?!?! Y’all can’t just wrap presents as a couple, while eating cookies, on Christmas Eve. You have to spend the month of December coming up with increasingly complex and elaborate Elf on the Shelf scenes. You can’t just take everyone’s favorite fruit snacks to pre-k. You have to stay up all night making strawberries that look like lady bugs, because heaven forbid your children eat anything non-organic. You can’t buy the one time use Halloween costume at Wal-Mart. You have to spend $120 on Etsy, so your daughter can look more like Elsa than the 47 other Elsas at the church carnival. I don’t know about you guys, but my skating rink birthday parties, where someone else made the cake and did the cleaning, made for great memories. Your children don’t need tiered cakes to make them happy, or at least they didn’t until you started convincing them that tiered cakes were for anything other than weddings.

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I understand that some people genuinely love making cutesy snacks or complicated costumes or designing unique family t-shirts for the Disney trip. I, myself, will be the parent who plans elaborate birthday parties, because I love birthdays. I struggle with the idea that anyone genuinely enjoys being expected to do all of these things. Maybe it really does fill you with joy to buy your seven-year-old that pair of $120 basketball shoes or give your 12-year-old the Uggs she so desperately wants. I’m not saying that I’m never going to do nice things for my children or enjoy making them happy. I’m saying that I’m not going to spend all of my time and all of my financial resources satisfying their every whim. I’m not neglecting my marriage or my retirement fund for my children, with the exception of some life-threatening illness. I’m not going to scratch my head over why my sex life is nonexistent as I, once again, lie in a bed with all three of my children between my husband and I. I’m not buying the newest game system, planning a trip to Disney World, and paying for brand new fencing equipment for my beginner fencer.

By today’s standards, maybe it makes me selfish to say it, but building a happy marriage and strong financial future will come before my children. If we took a family vacation one year and only have the means for one big trip the next year, the kids can have a fun-filled week with grandma and grandpa, while mom and dad remember why they got married. Given the choice between a good night’s sleep and my child having the most convincing costume for Dress as Your Hero day, I choose sleep. I also choose $80 worth of groceries over $80 worth of costume supplies.

It’s wonderful that our society cares so much about children, but we’re all so fucking miserable, because we’ve been told we’re supposed to stop caring about ourselves. I’ll tell you from experience though, that having mentally and financially stable parents who loved each other would’ve trumped the MacBook every day of the week.

Citations

http://www.costofwedding.com/