TESS VIGELAND: Once upon a time in the kingdom of Encinitas, Calif., a girl and a boy met and fell in love.
TIFFANY LEE-YOUNGREN: My name is Tiffany Lee-Youngren.
MICHAEL FOX: My name is Michael Fox. We’ve been together a little more than a year. But we’ve known each other since high school.
After several months of courting, they decided to make it official. Before a large assembly of family, Michael presented Tiffany with a ring.
COUPLE: We got engaged December 29th, 2006, and we’re getting married September 1, 2007.
First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes the merging of two financial lives. For the next five months, we’ll be following the fairy tale of Tiffany and Mike as they walk toward the aisle. To have and to hold through sickness, health and revolving credit card debt.
Our heroine, Tiffany, is 31 and writes for the website of the University of California San Diego. She’s also a freelance journalist.
She makes around $55,000 a year.
Our hero, Mike, is 30 and he’s the CFO for a real estate development company he started with his friends. His salary’s about 30,000 a year, which he hopes will grow with his company.
Tiffany and Mike have very different financial pasts.
LEE-YOUNGREN: I have to say that I wasn’t always the most responsible person when it came to money, mainly because I was always in so much debt that it was depressing to me and I didn’t feel like dealing with it. Sometimes would engage in a little retail therapy, even knowing I didn’t have the money to be spending. But I realized that was a no-end downward spiral situation and stopped doing that.
VIGELAND: Can you give us an idea of what you mean and what kind it was?
LEE-YOUNGREN: Well, I had student loan debt and I still do.
VIGELAND: How much do you owe right now?
LEE-YOUNGREN: On my student loans I think I owe about $11,000. I also have an auto loan. I think my debt in total amounts to between $15 and $20,000
VIGELAND: And Michael, how about your money management prior to the relationship?
FOX: Of course, my early 20s I did like the night at the Roxbury-type thing. I was one of those guys I’m pretty sure. Credit card debt and whatnot. Went through fixing my credit and my truck is paid off. I have a dentist bill I owe about $3,000
But at least now he’s using a bank account.
FOX: I bartended for a while and it was a lot of cash money. So it was I just paid my bills and whatever extra was extra.
VIGELAND: Go under the mattress?
FOX: Yeah pretty much. I’d wait until I got a big pile of 1’s and I’d get all excited like I had a lot of money and I’d take it into the bank like I was big money guy. Or I’d carry around a lot of money for some ridiculous reasons.
LEE-YOUNGREN: When we first started dating he would have huge wads of cash in his pocket. At first just thought he was trying to impress me. Ha ha. Well then I realized there was a 20 on the outside and all ones on the inside.
LEE-YOUNGREN: Ha no. Once you start dating a woman the money
VIGELAND: The wads get a little smaller?
FOX: I think I have 20 dollars in my pocket now.
At that point, Tiffany gets up from the dining room table and walks to the kitchen.
They just bought their house in February.
As she makes tea for the two of them, she’s reminded of how things change when you meet your knight in shining armor and he’s into shiny electronics.
LEE-YOUNGREN: It seems like it’s ready and this teapot I brought back from Vietnam and it’s funny because Mike told me the price of the TV he wants to get. And when I think of $800 to $100 I think roundtrip plane ticket. He thinks flat-screen TV. So that’s something that’s new to us, having to prioritize and debate what is really important to us. What kind do you want sweetie?
FOX: I like the orange kind.
LEE-YOUNGREN: The orange kind.
Tea for Two? When I Take My Sugar to Tea?
The day of our visit, they planned to open their first joint bank account.
But it’s a new idea for them, this notion of pooling their money.
They’re also keeping their separate accounts for non-shared expenses.
But it’s all an experiment at this point.
LEE-YOUNGREN: I have a lot of friends that are married. Everybody pretty much has said, you know, you start off with your own accounts and then it eventually they all become one account.
FOX: The problem when you start going out is you have your own personal account and she has hers well when you’re paying for dinner do you pay out of your personal account? You’re the guy you’d normally used to pay for it. And now that you’re married do you pay out of the joint account? And right now Tiffany is making considerably, double my income. And so when she says she wants to go on a vacation, hey you know what you make enough money to go on vacation, she should be going on vacations.
LEE-YOUNGREN: When Mike and I first started dating, we would go to dinner and I would pull out my wallet every time like I was going to pay my portion. And he’d always kind of wave it off. Oh I got it I got it. Living together has changed that somewhat because having one account or working from one base of money is easier. I don’t know how people do it, though. I saw a woman in the farmer’s market who was looking at vegetables and then the vegetable seller asked her if she wanted something and she said hold on a second I have to go get my husband he has the money. I just seemed so old-fashioned to me.
VIGELAND: Why not just have one joint account?
LEE-YOUNGREN: Well I think it’s more my issue with a single account than Mike’s issue with it. I just don’t feel like it’s fair if I make more money to have him pay for things like my cosmetics. But if I have the extra cash then I feel like I shouldn’t have to ask permission to buy those things.
FOX: Or feel guilty about it.
LEE-YOUNGREN: Or feel guilty about it. But I think we also trust each other that we’re not squirreling away money and spending it on stupid things or doing anything like that. You have to have a basic trust.
And with that we close our first chapter in this fairy tale. As Mike and Tiffany go hand-in-hand to the credit union.
Next month: Chapter Two. Where they discover how their upbringing has influenced their notions of money.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.