The secret? There are no egos involved!
I am many things. I am a woman. I am a Millennial. I am a first-generation immigrant from Vietnam. I am a hard-worker. I'm also someone who thinks about the value of money, because growing up that wasn't something that myself or my family had a lot of.
These days, I think about money a lot. That's not just because I have a career in the finance industry, but because in my marriage, I chose to. I am the wearer of the theoretical “financial pants." While it's not the most “traditional" or romantic role that I fill in our relationship, it's one that I really enjoy - even when it means making difficult financial decisions for me and my husband. To fully unpack what it means to be the financial “pants wearer" in our marriage and how we came to this agreement, I think it's important to go back to square one and look at why I'm more inclined to this role in the first place.
I grew up in Vietnam, a wonderful and vibrant country that I'm extremely proud to be from. That said, when thinking of the most financially prosperous countries in the world, few would put Vietnam at the top of that list - and rightfully so, workers in Vietnam average $148 a month in take home salary.
While my family was lucky enough to earn more than that, we were not frivolous. We recognized that our material comfort came from my parents' hard work and aggressive saving on a middle-class income, so that they could afford quality education for me and my sister. We were fortunate to be around when money was discussed at the dinner table, among other topics that my parents believed we would benefit from knowing from a young age. We were a team after all, they said. Instead of treating ourselves to meals out, we got an annual membership to a warehouse club that gave us access to quality ingredients and bonded over cooking our own meals.
My mother agonized us over buying a new handbag, but never said no when my sister needed tutoring lessons.
I thought we had everything we needed. But that all changed when I enrolled at a magnet high school further from home, where my friends' parents were executives and government officials at places I had only heard of on TV. I started to realize that we would need more than my parents' middle-class incomes for me to attend language immersion camps, among other enriching experiences that would have real impacts on my future success. For the first time, I was made aware of the very real disadvantages that not coming from a lot of money may have in my academic and life progression. It was then that I vowed to give my own kids the opportunities that my parents couldn't always afford for me and my sister.
I made do with what I had, and won a full-ride scholarship at a liberal arts college in upstate New York. It was there that my interest in finance and money intensified. I ended up majoring in Economics - which taught me a ton about not only about how money works on an individual scale but also how the entire economy of the United States and other countries operates. Straight out of college, I paid off my student loans and immediately began using budgeting apps to get my finances in line. These apps allowed me to better understand my expenses and budget - which helped me balance both saving and taking advantage of all the fun things to do in New York City - where I lived at the time.
Cut to several years later, in the midst of grad school (and even more loans), I met my future husband and as they say, the rest is history. With our common Vietnamese heritage, we immediately clicked on our shared heritage and admiration for each other. What did we not click about? You guessed it: money. From the outside, few would suspect that our attitudes toward finances diverge. From the inside, it couldn't be further from the truth.
Unlike me, my now-husband didn't grow up in a money-minded household. My husband's parents came to the US as war refugees and picked up blue collar jobs. Eventually, they bought and owned a small tire shop to earn their living and put he and his two siblings through college. My in-laws worked hard to make sure my husband and his siblings would have a better life, but when it came to managing their careers and balancing a young-professional budget in expensive cities, they were on their own. It wasn't until his late 20s that my husband acquired a copy of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad." Looking back, it's easy to see how this stark difference in our upbringings affected our attitudes towards money.
Where I really saw this difference wasn't so much in our day-to-day spending habits, but in our long-term financial goals. While I maxed out my 401k, put much of my paycheck towards paying down my students loans, and consistently used finance-tracking apps and software, my husband took a more lax approach to his finances. While he had a general idea of his current finances, he was content with a “I'll get to it later" attitude when it came to his planning for the future. He also scored a well-paying job right out of college so “making it work" wasn't as much of a worry for him.
Thankfully for us (and the health of our finances), we recognized these money-related differences in ourselves pretty early on. Just by recognizing it, we were able to have an honest conversation about our priorities around money, our preferred roles and what we wanted our financial future to look like. With this, I assumed the role most natural to me: the financial planner and “pants wearer."
What does this really mean? Day to day, I make sure the bills are paid, and long term, I plan our finances ahead of new phases of our lives - like when I entered graduate school or when both of us started working again. It's at those big life moments that I take into account our new incomes and financial goals and make adjustments.
Four years into our marriage and I have to say that discussing our philosophies towards money was one of the better things we've done for our relationship. My husband has absolutely no qualms about me setting the direction for our financial future, and there are no egos involved. That doesn't mean there aren't small hiccups here or there, but overall we're truly happy with how we divide and conquer our financial roles and responsibilities.
I've heard of stories of couples fighting over money dynamics, and I honestly cannot put a finger on why we were so successful. Perhaps it is the mutual agreement of each others' strengths and weaknesses when it comes to financial management. Or maybe it's the open communication, and staying honest when I want us to pursue or financial goal, or when my husband thinks we can cut back.
Like many things in life, money reflects our life experiences and deep-seated values. While everyone's experiences and values can be different, it's important to take the time to sit down, reflect and discuss these things with your partner - preferably before you walk down the aisle. For us, I'm more than grateful for our journey, as it only helped us reconcile our money differences and bring us closer and more appreciative of what each other brings to our special relationship.
WRITTEN BYPhuong Vuong