In 1986, The Legend of Zelda hit the scene on the Nintendo Entertainment System and spawned generations of loyal fans, myself included. Just one of the moments that are etched in the “favorite memories” section of so many brains around the world is referenced above. Link, tasked with rescuing the kidnapped Princess Zelda, wanders into a cave at the beginning of the game, where he finds a wise old man. We know he’s wise because he has a beard and a robe, of course. The old man has advice for Link on his journey: “It’s dangerous to go alone!” He can see that Link will face danger in the days to come, and that he’ll need a trustworthy, capable companion– a sword in this case– by his side at all times to help him succeed. That five-word warning, and Link’s adherence to it, applies to so much more than fictional quests, and especially so in finances.
His Money, Her Money
As I get deeper into the world of personal finance through others’ blogs, professional columns, research articles, books, podcasts, vlogs, and all the various places in between, I’ve noticed that there are wildly differing views on how a married couple should approach their money. Last year, CNBC ran an article about a survey that found 35% of couples reported that money was the major cause of the relationship stress they experienced. Everyone and everyone has advice on how to avoid this stress. Much of it comes in separating finances in some form or another, such as having “his, hers, and ours” bank accounts, or just taking out a portion of every paycheck in cash for personal purchases and leaving the rest for shared expenses. I’ve heard that both partners need to work out equal proportions of the bills based on income, so that the bill split is “fair.” I’ve even seen advocates for opening up completely separate accounts that are basically hidden stashes that the other partner doesn’t know about as insurance in case the relationship goes south. I get what this advice is intending to do, and part of the reasoning behind it is something I can get behind. Couples, even in marriage, need some sort of outlet for individuality. What I don’t get is building separation or even deception into the equation as if that will somehow improve the togetherness of the couple.
Choose Your Sword Wisely
Granted, Link didn’t have much choice in that cave with the old man. He was offered a sword, and he took it. But Link depended fully and constantly on that sword all the way through his journey, right up to defeating Ganon and rescuing Zelda, restoring his homeland of Hyrule to peace in the process. He never gave up, complaining that his sword wasn’t as strong as the other swords, or hiding a gun in his pocket just in case his sword didn’t… cut it. **Pause for laughter** When R and I stood facing each other at the altar, we gave each other something equally as dependable: our trust. We promised that we would, to the best of our human ability, always put each other first in our thoughts and actions. We committed ourselves to each other completely and fully, without reservation or backup plan. We did that based on our knowledge of who each other was. If I didn’t know who R was as a person, I couldn’t make an informed decision to trust her completely with everything I have, and vice versa, her for me. She is my wife, and I believe as it says in Mark 10:8, “and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” Everything we have is shared except for clothing, but that’s only because her shirts accentuate my shoulders all wrong. For us, this includes our money. If we claim to trust each other with our lives, but still keep separate bank accounts, do we really trust each other? **Disclaimer: as of right now, we do have separate bank accounts, but only because our bank offers budgeting tools that have made it incredibly easy to follow the Total Money Makeover, and does not currently offer joint accounts. This was a result of efforts we made to get better at our finances before we got married. They are rolling out joint accounts, and as soon as we’re able to, we are switching to one of those and closing our individual accounts. We have access to each other’s account whenever we want, and have both accounts enrolled in Mint so we can see where our money goes. We don’t view it as my money and R’s money, it’s just currently, inconveniently, stored in two different accounts.
Restoring Peace to Hyrule, Together
In this horribly strained analogy that I’m too far along in the post to change, R and I are Link and his sword, and our debt mountain is Ganon, holding our financial freedom in its clutches much like Princess Zelda. In order to have a successful journey, we absolutely have to depend on each other and work together toward a common goal. We can’t get free together if we are secretly working against each other. Her priorities have to become my priorities, and my priorities have to become hers. Some people see this as “losing your freedom,” but I disagree. If anything, that argument would only hold water at the altar, but that’s a choice we both made. We made the choice to quit being single people and to be each other’s spouse. We made the choice to make every future choice as a unified couple. If you have two people working toward the same thing, you can get there twice as fast. There’s also the added benefit that if I get sidetracked or lose focus, I’ve got my closest friend right beside me to put me back on course. As for the needs of each partner as an individual, just talk about them. I get that sometimes, R needs a night out with the girls. I get that she’s interested in stuff that I would rather not do if given the choice. As long as she communicates those desires to me, I’m fine with building them into our budget if we can. I would be much more hurt if I found out she was trying to subvert our stated goals in order to have fun on the side than I would be if she said, “Hey, I think this is dumb, and I don’t want to spend our money on it.” Even if you’re not married, having an accountability partner will work wonders for your progress, no matter what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to lose weight, find a gym buddy. If you’re trying to get out of debt, give your budget to your new unofficial accountant. If you’re trying to advance your education or career, get with a mentor who will prod you along. Doing things alone, although not impossible, is tricky work, and leaves a lot of room for discouragement and failure. Find someone who will love you enough to not let you fail, and then get to work filling up your to-do list.