The Financial Downsides of Our Marriage

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His and hers wallets. Nom nom nom.

The benefits of marriage / co-habitating are well-known: shared living costs, combined incomes, improved health in the long term, and so on. I love my partner and we got married about a year ago (for non-financial reasons 😛 ) But as an exercise, I decided to estimate how our finances have changed after marriage. It turns out that in our case, there are severe financial penalties to getting married. I had vaguely known about before, but it was kind of shocking to see the hard numbers as I wrote this post. Here we go.

Financial disadvantages of marriage

  • Taxes: Getting married bumps us up to a higher tax bracket. This is because the tax bracket for a married couple in  the US is not 2x that of singles (Financial Samurai explains it better than I can). Luckily, this is a one-time cost because the new 2018 tax brackets mostly eliminate the marriage tax penalty. The bad thing is, we could’ve saved by delaying our marriage by a mere 6 months, but we didn’t know that federal taxes were going to change like that. Cost: -$6500, one time. (Calculated in TurboTax by comparing single + single VS married. The amount is actually a lot less than the predictions from Financial Samurai – I’m not sure why.)
  • The wedding: I’ll have to do a more detailed post about this, but our wedding cost about $26k, despite our best efforts. Part of the reason was that we had it in the Bay Area, where prices are super inflated, to make it more convenient for our friends. We debated for a while whether to even have a wedding, but eventually decided to go ahead to basically satisfy our families. Luckily, we had the savings for this. Cost: -$26k, one time.
  • Jobs: Although we dated long-distance for 5 years :o, we couldn’t imagine having a long-distance marriage too. We definitely needed to have jobs in the same city. However, as a faculty at a research university, it’s pretty hard for me to change jobs because there are usually only a handful of applicable openings nationwide. Happily, my partner has been very supportive of my career goals, and is leaving his job to come work in my city. However, he’s leaving the Bay Area, where the salaries are enormous, and taking a huge pay cut. Cost: I can’t even bear to write it. Let’s just say on the order of six figures.
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Better together?

Financial savings from marriage

So is everything doom and gloom? Well, there are obviously financial advantages to getting married and co-habitating. Let’s roughly count those up too:

  • Food: My partner often eats out, while I usually cook. Now that he’s started eating my home-cooked food, we’ll save on his restaurant habits, but spend more on groceries. It’s hard to say how this will balance out. A back-of-the-envelope estimate: assuming he used to eat out once per day, that’s costs $10/day * 360 days/year = $3600. Our grocery bill will increase too, so let’s round down. Savings: $3k/year.
  • Housing: I own (mortgage) my condo, while my partner has been renting in the pricy Bay area. He’ll eliminate his rental costs, great! Savings: $24k/year.
  • Car: Each of us has our car right now, so we’ll sell one of them. Our cars are both circa 2005, so the value of selling it won’t be much, but the reduction in yearly insurance/fees/maintenance costs will be the main savings. Savings: $2000 one time + $1000/year.
  • Pet boarding: I travel a few times a year for work, so I previously had to find a pet sitter while I was gone. Now my partner can watch her. Savings: $500/year.

Final Thoughts

So… yeah. The savings are WAY less than the costs. Getting married had some negative financial repercussions, and I’m pretty grumpy about that! There were large one-time costs in terms of taxes and the wedding, and my partner had to take a huge pay cut to move to be near me. While the former costs were somewhat avoidable, the latter would definitely be avoidable were I willing to give up my career goals and move to his area and work in industry. I guess my career dreams come at a significant financial cost, both to myself and to my partner :/ This is something that I feel very guilty about, even although my partner completely supports me.

It was our decision to get married, and we would do it again no matter what. But it’s quite depressing to lay down the numbers! There are a lot of challenges as a dual-career couple, but the big one in our case was that one person (my partner) had to sacrifice his career/salary to enable the family to stay together. Sometimes I wish we were in the situation that I see most of my colleagues in, where one spouse doesn’t work or has a more geographically-mobile job. It’s hard to trade off income for family – although family is clearly more important, obviously we would prefer to have the best of both worlds. It’s tough to see the real dollar cost of trading one for the other.

Have you or your partner ever taken a pay cut to be together? How did your finances change after moving in or marriage?

8 thoughts on “The Financial Downsides of Our Marriage

  1. When we first moved in together, my fiancé gave up a job offer in another city. And then he was underemployed for about 2 years, so financially not the greatest turn of events. Now that he has a good job in a career he likes, we can look back and see how going through tough times together made our relationship stronger. But at the time it just looked like money down the drain. Ultimately, though, averaged out over our lifetimes, I think the money stuff will even itself out and be negligible relative to the lifestyle impact of marriage/togetherness.

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    • It’s great that things worked out well for you two in the end! Thanks for sharing, especially since we’re going through the “low” part of that process, and it’s reassuring to hear someone else’s story that turned out well. Agree with you that lifestyle and being together are more important. My partner tends to be the more “greedy” one, so probably my mindset has shifted towards that recently, but I’m trying to stay grounded 🙂

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  2. This was super interesting to read! Thanks for sharing. 🙂 My partner and I have discussed marriage but haven’t looked at how that may affect us financially. (I think we’ll remain in the same tax bracket we are now, but just barely…) He can’t “move up” in his career by staying where we are now, so he talks about applying for jobs in other cities, but we were long distance for a year and I’d really not like to do that again. I suppose he is taking a pay cut to stay with me; I just started my job and would like a few years under my belt before I consider other jobs. We aren’t sure yet if we will do a wedding. We can’t afford one on our own right now! I’d love to read more about the financial side of yours. 🙂

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    • Woah, sorry for taking so long to reply! There was a big deadline at work that is thankfully over now. Long distance is definitely tough (we did it too, for a couple of years). It’s great that you guys are able to be together in the same place right now! It’s just tricky sometimes to make it work career-wise for both people, right? I feel like other people must have this problem too, but I never really talk about it in real life with anyone. Like you, this is my first real job, and I wanted to try it, so my partner came to be near me. But if I decide to change jobs in the next few years, I’ll follow his lead next time.

      I’ll be writing about wedding stuff soon! I didn’t really do any fancy budget hacks or anything though. The r/weddingplanning subreddit has a bunch of wedding budget posts that I really liked reading, back when I was planning.

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  3. We had been together for one year when my boyfriend moved with me to France so I could finish my master’s program. He took a huge pay cut too but I didn’t really feel guilty at the time. He made enough for us to live somewhat comfortably (I was a student back then so my lifestyle was a lot less spendy) and to me the experience of living in Europe outweighed the financial costs. But it definitely wasn’t enough to save for retirement or other big life goals. It’s only when we moved back to the US that I started realizing what a huge sacrifice it has been for him financially. We don’t regret anything because as someone else mentioned, being together was more important and our relationship got stronger, including through financial hardships. So while I understand how you can feel guilty, I think you should take into account the benefits of being together – and from a purely financial perspective, his high salary was probably eaten up by the HCOL costs in the Bay Area and he won’t need as much in a presumably lower COL area. Also, I agree with you that it’s not easy to navigate a dual-career relationship but I wouldn’t wish for one of us to not work like in your colleagues’ case because, to me, having a job, a mission, contributing, feeling like I have an impact, is so fulfilling and I believe it is very important to have a life outside the home. Wishing you find balance in this new chapter of your life together.

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    • Thank you for the kind words! Living in Europe sounds like an amazing experience and worth the financial cost, especially if it was temporary. I spent one year abroad when I was a child, and it was a life-changing experience. It’s great that your boyfriend was able/willing to support you and come out there, especially after one year. He sounds like a wonderful partner.

      In our case, I can accept the tradeoff and definitely appreciate being together, but I just wish… I was less ambitious? I don’t want to give up my career (although I respect people who want to stay home, it’s their choice), but sometimes I wish if I were a different, less ambitious person, like my colleagues’ partners, then there wouldn’t be these kinds of tradeoffs to consider. But on the whole overall I think it is better for both of us to have lives outside of the house, as you said, but it leads to this kind of guilt/challenges. Also my partner is a bit more financially greedy than me, so it’s probably rubbed off on me, but I’m trying to keep balanced and remember that it’s not all about the money 🙂

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  4. The marriage penalty was a huge shock to me too. My husband and I hired an accountant to help with our taxes the first year we got married and I was so shocked the first day that he sent us our tax statement that I called him and told him that he must have made a mistake. It completely disincentives women from working.

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    • I know, it’s crazy, right? And it seems like people don’t really know about it / care about it much! I haven’t seen much about it in the news, and whenever I’ve mentioned it to my colleagues I don’t get much of a reaction, probably because their spouses don’t work or work part-time. At least for 2018, the marriage penalty is gone (for our tax bracket).

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