Finances for Marriage-minded Men

Stand strong amid life’s tides

Over here, Boxer gave this warning to the unmarried brothers:

Johnny Depp has millions of dollars and plenty of free time at his disposal, with which to defend himself…If this happened to one of us, we wouldn’t have access to the resources to give us a fair chance. This is why I encourage brothers to not get married, or at least to vet a potential wife very carefully.

You are not Johnny Depp. So while Boxer continues to warn against getting married, I’ll recommend ways to have a successful marriage. Of course you should vet your potential wife carefully, but you should also implement a financial plan. This not only protects you in the event of a divorce, it also keeps you and your wife’s spending disciplined. This leads to a happier marriage and greater financial security.

Three Cents

Aim for a minimum personal yearly income of $50,000. Pick an appropriate career. Avoid taking on a lot of debt if possible. Avoid getting married until you have financial stability. The more you make the easier the plan will be, but it’s not a strict requirement.

50% of your income goes to the spending budget. You will live off of this. Make a budget and do not exceed it. 20% of your income is saved and 30% is put into savings for a house down-payment or to paying down the principal on existing student or mortgage debt. Any income she makes goes straight into savings or debt reduction, split according to the 2:3 ratio. After combining your income, total general family spending should be no more than 50% of your income alone.

You’ll eventually have a lot of savings, but its primary use is for real emergencies, like divorce, and for spending when you are older. Yet, even if you do not get married, you won’t regret it. It wouldn’t be so bad if you end up being the rich person nobody knows about.

Eventually you’ll have enough money to buy a house. Consider waiting to buy until your down-payment is at least 20% to avoid throwing money away on private mortgage insurance. Make it a sensible house: your monthly payment should come out of your general spending budget. Set aside enough money out of the 30% debt budget for 2 emergency mortgage payments. Choose a maximum of a 15-year mortgage. If you make more money than the minimum, consider choosing a shorter-term mortgage to get a better interest rate. The goal is to pay down the principle.

You want to get as close to full ownership of your house as possible before you hit 7 years of marriage, when the odds of divorce are the highest. Once you fully own your home, continue to live frugally. Save your money. Start a family. Owning your home means much less marital stress, especially as you add children.

Drive a smaller used car, ideally with a more reliable manual transmission. Pay cash for it. The only loans you should ever get are school loans or a mortgage. You can tap your home equity in a true emergency. Hopefully you will never need to do this.

Move out of the high tax states: California, New York, Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, New Jersey, Vermont, and D.C. You can move to one of the 7 states that have no income tax or those with low taxes: North Dakota, Pennsylvania, or Indiana. If you live in a location with high taxes or a very high cost of living, you may need a greater income.

Three Cents

You will teach yourself—and her—how to live frugally. This improves self-discipline. Be thrifty. Reuse things. Use used things, and get free stuff. Don’t buy the latest fashions. By forcing you and your wife to live within tight means, you’ll filter out any women who can’t live with such constraints. Don’t marry them. If you are not sure, implement this financial plan during your engagement period (manage her bills and bank account for her).

Keep your standard of living reasonable. If you get a divorce, you don’t want to have to pay to keep her living at an unsustainable living standard. Establish a standard of living in the marriage that you can afford in divorce, while planning to get additionally screwed over. A judge may give away 60% (or more) of your income and wealth in some situations. If you’ve followed this plan, you’ll be able to live comfortably on 25% of your income and have some reasonable savings.

Your wife is most likely to divorce you in years 5-9, which is also when you are going to be hit by the the largest alimony payments. You want to live as frugally as possible until you pass the danger zone. By your 15th to 20th year of marriage, you’ll have saved up a sizable sum of money and can start to live more comfortably. This is perfect for your midlife crisis.

Three Cents

During our first year of marriage, my wife and I were both unemployed and going to college. We had no savings and almost no income. We lived off the money from our student loans. We used free cast-away furniture, bought our groceries in bulk, and got free dial-up internet by cycling through AOL and Earthlink CDs. We had one used beater car and utilized public transportation whenever possible. Where did we do this? In a one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia city, where taxes and cost of living were high.

Eventually I got a job, but we continued to live simply (e.g. our next used car cost less than $2000, inflation adjusted). We were not well off, but we were able to pay all of our monthly bills with some money left for savings. In about 3 years we were able to buy our first house.

We waited 7 years to have children. We married young, so this wasn’t a big deal. After this many years of following our financial plan, we could afford children. The financial flexibility allowed us to adopt from China on three separate occasions. This was important because, in addition to the expense of adoption, our children have significant physical needs requiring many surgeries (with more to come).

We now have 5 children, so we have to buy more expensive used, high-mileage, 7-seat minivans, but we still live well within our means. We were married almost a decade-and-a-half before we got cable TV and cell phones.

Three Cents

There are various alternatives to the plan I described.

You may want to adjust the plan according to your personal risk profile. For example, you could push the monthly mortgage payment out of the general spending budget and into the debt reduction portion of income. This provides a lot more general spending flexibility. You may need to do this if you have a career that pays close to the minimum regardless of years of experience.

Consider changing the savings/debt reduction percentages from 20%/30% to 25%/25%. The goal is to save as much cash as you have equity in your home. In the event of a divorce, one of you can keep the house and the other can take the cash. This potentially avoids a financial loss from a forced home sale or her just taking the house outright with no compensation—or maybe she’ll get 100% of the home and 50% of the cash.

If your wife does not divorce you or cheat on you, congratulations on having the kind of marriage that up to half of married men experience. Enjoy your quality wife and family along with your acquired wealth.

Keep in mind that these are just suggestions. Having a financial plan is just one piece. None of these plans are sure things. You must do your due diligence and there is always risk. Consider talking to a certified financial planner.

Creative Commons LicenseArticle text and photo by Derek L. Ramsey is licensed under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 License.

14 thoughts on “Finances for Marriage-minded Men”

  1. This is an excellent effortpoast.

    I guess the only thing I’d encourage single dudes to do is:

    1. Not buy a home unless there was some sort of extenuating circumstance tying you to that particular community (family, a business, etc.) Mobility is important, and neighborhoods tend to change over time.

    2. If one does buy a home, I’d channel all that savings/investment money into paying down the principal, unless there were obvious tax and interest advantages to keeping the note open.

    Anyway, pretty great. The ‘sphere is lacking in serious micro-financial talk. I’m glad Derek can open a discussion here.

  2. If a divorce is approaching and you have a pension/401k you need to protect your retirement. You worked for that money, she didn’t.

    In at least some states, such as New York, you can sell your pension/401k for cash. Once it’s sold there is nothing family court can do besides force you to split the proceeds of the sale.

    Make sure whoever you sell it to you trust absolutely. Then once your divorce is finalized buy it back.

  3. serious question… should christian men consider prenuptials? alot of wealthy (secular) folks do it all the time… doesnt stop divorce, or expensive litigation, but at the margins it might make for a quicker divorce proceeding, no?

  4. Good common sense advice…this is often bereft on the internet.

  5. Why is it that men like Derek (and I respect him dearly) can tell unmarried men “have 50K save, a good career…”

    But a few paragraphs down tells his story about how when he and his wife first married, they were unemployed, living off his student loans………………………….

    This is part of the problem “Well, I did it this way…..and it worked, but you need to have a great career, live in a low cost state, find a career that pays well…”

    Many men don’t have the opportunities of a good education at RIT to get a a good job, or the ability to move to a low cost state……vet a wife……….most men are not going to be able to pull that kind of income when the national average family income hovers lower than that mark.

    What man from Burlington, Vermont who finishes high school, goes to Vermont Tech….gets a job at the recycling center as an entry level manager or supervisor starts at 24K a year with benefits………what man, even in my dad’s time when he met my mother (1964) was just starting his carpenter trade and working as a pump jockey for extra cash…….Derek, you are like the pastors in church, men all over the place….don’t marry until you are making x amount or have x amount saved.

    He’ll never get there. Most men NEVER had that much saved, or had it all “figured out” to move to a low cost state. Most people live in the world where they grew up.

    I’m not trying to “goad” you here, or be a “dink” to just be one. I am trying to convey some reality here.

  6. @Jason

    “Why is it that men like Derek…can tell unmarried men “have 50K save, a good career…””

    $50k is the median salary for working men in America. It isn’t necessary to work in a high tech field. The median salaries for various trades (e.g. plumbers and electricians) is that much or higher. A young man should choose a profession expected to pay at least the median salary and be prepared to work hard to achieve it. This is not unreasonable for the average man.

    “This is part of the problem “Well, I did it this way…..and it worked, but you need to have a great career, live in a low cost state, find a career that pays well…””

    Can you make it work while making less than $50k? Sure you can, it’s just not as easy.

    My first year of marriage our total expenses (excluding educational expenses) were the same as a year’s salary at minimum wage for a single wage earner. We lived in Philadelphia, with the associated high taxes and high cost of living, and still made it work. We were dirt poor and absolutely struggled with wondering if we would be able to make ends meet.

    During my second year of marriage when I had a job, I still made less than $50k (inflation adjusted). This was more than enough money to implement the above plan. Give our expenses, we still could have implemented the plan with as little as $35k-$40k (inflation adjusted).

    “Derek, you are like the pastors in church, men all over the place….don’t marry until you are making x amount or have x amount saved.”

    This is not true. The primary audience for this post are men who would like to get married, but are afraid that their wife will divorce them and leave them destitute. Such men are voluntarily delaying marriage to protect themselves. Having a proper financial plan allows them to take greater risks and marry at a younger age, like I did.

    The marriage-minded man who just wants a wife can get married regardless of his income. But it is very important that a man have some financial stability before getting married, otherwise his divorce risk goes up. This is true regardless of one’s income level. There is a reason the average age difference between married men and women has remained nearly unchanged for centuries: women tend to marry older, financially established men.

    “Most men NEVER had that much saved, or had it all “figured out” to move to a low cost state. Most people live in the world where they grew up.”

    Boxer has stated in the past that he writes primarily for an audience of young, unmarried men in their teens and twenties. The reason to provide this advice is to make the knowledge available to someone who has not figured it out.

    It’s just advice. No one is required to follow it. Pick some of the advice and throw the rest in the trash. It may work for some but not others. Everyone is different. That’s the nature of advice.

  7. “But a few paragraphs down tells his story about how when he and his wife first married, they were unemployed, living off his student loans………………………….”

    This portrays me as a reckless newlywed, but it is wrong. After asking her to marry me, I had to present my financial plan to my future father- and mother-in-law for them to approve the marriage. They were paying her tuition, but the day I married her I became responsible for it. I may have been poor, but I had a detailed budget and plan for how I was going to put us both through school and get us careers without going bankrupt in the process.

    Boxer and I have disagreed on marrying young (See: <a href="“>Hypergamy Believes in You!). You “just” need to find a woman you like who will be faithful and never divorce you. If you’ve got that kind of woman, don’t wait: marry her immediately. Of course finding or manufacturing such a woman is far from easy. My advice aims for that goal, but it’s not a set of rules or magic spells.

    Properly vet your wife (out of scope for this post), develop fiscal responsibility and (some) emotional maturity as a minor, and you’ll be more likely to successfully marry while young, poor, and not-yet-established. One of the great joys of marriage is having someone beside you to fight through life’s struggles. There are huge advantages to being married before you are established. I get mocked in the ‘sphere for saying that friendship, communication, teamwork, and mutuality are keys to a good marriage, but I don’t care. That first year of marriage was foundational for us and bonded us tightly.

  8. Derek, you and others say this “marry young” but your post then sets it up as if you don’t have a sound and safe and bombproof plan………you have no business marrying because said man isn’t mature. Isn’t ready.

    I hear the same thing from Chandler, Perry Noble, Judah Smith, and countless other pastors “Men, you want to be married? Get a good job, be a man, be a provider, have a plan and the ladies will find you not only responsible, but irrestistable”

    In 1988 I was going to be a grade school teacher, that decision right there committed me to a lower middle class job and life immediately. By your post here, that would and should have made me single because I didn’t set out to make well over 50K a year by the age of 22.

    And we all know the young ladies in 1992 would have just flocked over me if I was pulling that kind of money after college right??? Wrong.

    After grad school, I landed at IBM and by 1996 I was making well over 120K a year. Not bad for a 25 / 26 year old. In fact it was excellent for a man my age. Maybe not in the Silicon Valley or San Francisco but it was still an accomplishment, still above the average at that time. I had a decent standard of living. Where were the ladies? Dating Chad. F*ucking Chad. Telling me “love is the only thing that matters” and “being funny” is super important and super hot in a relationship.

    My parents didn’t have it all figured out when they married. Neither my grandparents. My folks had to live in an apartment for the first five years of their marriage before they had a house with a very, very sick baby (my brother). My father didn’t even begin to break into what you would call “middle class” until the mid 1970’s in their marriage, and that was ONLY because my mother DID go back to work in 1973. What man has enough saved for a house? A fund for the future children started when they turned 18?

    Great……you got a good job as a cerified mechanic. The local plant closes. 5,000 jobs dissappear. Business is down, you get laid off? You have some savings……but its not enough to live 3 years while you go back and “learn to code” while you have three young children and a wife…….and since you are this traditional Christian……..if you wife offers to work because she loves YOU and the FAMILY what are you going to tell her??? No? “Baby, let’s lose the house, live in the minvan because your place in the house.”

    Most men who have average, good marriages learn and help from the good and the bad and BUILD something together. Why is it that it was okay for you do this……and not some other man, or younger man????

    This is what confuses the snot outta me about men like you, Dalrock, Scott and others………’s as if you “got the right girl” and everyone else has to have this long drawn out plan a la Rollo or some Game manual……………or since you did get the right one, you build this impossible fence around it and almost dare any man to match it……..and if they fail? Well it’s because you didn’t have this amazing plan and life figured out at 12 like the rest of you.

    I know you don’t mean it this way….but for the love of God…… comes off that way

    As for Boxers readers….I don’t think there are a majority of “young men” and “teenage” guys reading this. They are out getting practice on HOW to date, like I should have been doing back in 1982.

  9. @Jason

    The time to build maturity is in the teens, to be ready to marry as a young adult. For the immature, young marriage is incredibly risky. Our parents (and us) generally had better preparation, better role models, and a permanent view of marriage. This doesn’t appear to be the case in most places anymore.

    Can you make it work regardless? Sure, if both of you fight to make it happen. You will grow closer together slogging through tough times than you would if you spent them apart.

    “Get a good job, be a man, be a provider, have a plan and the ladies will find you not only responsible, but irrestistable”

    My suggestions won’t get you a woman, but if you do find a woman, the plans will benefit you. If you make less than the suggested amount, you can still marry, but it might be more difficult. The advice is there to help you, not to immunize you or solve your problems.

    “if you wife offers to work because she loves YOU and the FAMILY what are you going to tell her??? No?”

    My wife works. I don’t have a problem with a wife working. Having a working wife means redundancy in case you lose your job (e.g. be it from an SJW mob or a factory shutdown). Indeed, during our first year of marriage, she made most of our spending money by doing babysitting jobs. But this was a temporary arrangement, not the plan.

    “Most men who have average, good marriages learn and help from the good and the bad and BUILD something together. Why is it that it was okay for you do this……and not some other man, or younger man????”

    I never said other men can’t do it. The only requirement is that two people commit to sticking it out until the day they die. I could marry my wife while we were both poor because I had the unshakable confidence that she would stick by me through thick and thin, rich or poor, sickness and health. If you’ve got that go for it!

    I may have been dirt poor, with debt, but I had financial stability. I was able to pay the bills even on our minimal income. If worse came to worse, we would have made it work with a minimum wage foodservice jobs.

    “…it’s as if you “got the right girl” and everyone else has to have this long drawn out plan”

    Jason, I didn’t “just get the right girl.” I had a long drawn out plan and I followed it. I was preparing myself for marriage when I was 12 years old. I was hunting for a wife throughout my teenage years. If I could have found a woman to marry me at 17, I would have begged our respective parents to let me marry her. I was a freak, the extreme product of an Anabaptist tradition that emphasized marriage. I had financial and career plans and I followed them. I lived frugally on a microscopic budget.

    But imagine if I advised the brothers to throw caution to the wind and get married before they established financial stability. If this led to an early divorce, what would you say to that? This is why general advice must be taken as general advice.

    One final thought. I’ve argued quite strongly that you should marry as soon as you have the opportunity, that is, it is better to marry a young virgin early than it is to take your chances as an older person because your odds of finding a wife decrease as time marches on. Perhaps this is in tension with the OP. I won’t deny that.

  10. You and I will just fundamentally disagree I guess on the nuances and schematics of this. Very few women want to marry young (even ones raised in church), and no man will ever be ready enough, financially secure enough or prepared enough. None.

    I wanted to be married as well……….I saved a V-Card for it, and look where that got me. When Iw as in prep school the brochure for it rang to the tune of “For almost two hundred years, Albany Academy for Boys has turned young boys into clear thinking young men”

    Strictly nonsense. Sure, a few boys were that…..but they came there that way. 99% of us left no wiser or were any more clear thinking than when we arrived.

    What makes a marriage work for those who didn’t have a plan out of the womb?

    You “yes” means yes and your “no” means no. You are hard working with a “whatever it takes attitude” and you take your wedding vows seriously. You have trust. You have a sense of duty not only to children, but to each other. You live by standards (hopefully Christian) and you be that man to inspire other to strive for what you have or are wanting.

    No one has it figured out. Your plan was not the same as it was when you were 12. It’s not.

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