In the two years since we began Money Diaries, we’ve received hundreds of submissions from fascinating women the world over with a variety of jobs, salaries, spending habits, cultural backgrounds, hobbies, side hustles, and dating lives.
One reason we love Money Diaries is because it shows us how real women think about money. We’re starting a series of interviews in which women discuss aspects of their financial lives that they are reluctant to share in the world.
Today, we chat with a 28-year-old marketing manager from Maine about how marriage changed her finances.
J.* met her now-husband on OkCupid when she was a young twenty-something trying to make ends meet. She thought he was, too — he didn’t have a job, and she was often the one footing the bill — but then, a year into their relationship, he revealed he had a trust fund worth $2 million.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about when you met.
“At the time, he was still in college and I was making an entry-level, new grad salary. I assumed he was a broke college student because he didn’t have a job, so for the first several months of our relationship, I insisted on paying for everything.
“We had a very short whirlwind romance, and when he graduated, we decided to move in together. At the time, my biggest concern was: what happens if he can’t find a job? I knew I needed to be financially stable and find a place I could afford on my own so that I didn’t have to depend on him; that’s when he started revealing that he had savings. I was just like,
okay, great, because I assumed it was only enough to last us a month. But he assured me he had more than that. So I asked him if it was enough to make rent for a year without a job. And, to my surprise, he said yes.
“That was our first conversation where I was like,
huh. I figured maybe he had $50,000 saved. At that point in my life, even $500 in savings was a big deal. A few months later, we got engaged and I still didn’t know the full scope of it. I was just relieved to know that I wasn’t getting myself into financial trouble.”
How much money do you and your husband make yearly?
“I make about $76,000 a year plus bonuses, and he makes $15/hour as a brewer. It works out to be about $30,000 a year – sometimes more and sometimes less. But it’s something he loves doing, even though he makes no money doing it. He also gets a distribution from his trust fund, which goes up every year. This year was about $42,000.”
Name has been changed for anonymity.
After you got engaged, how did he first tell you about the trust fund?
“Well, it wasn’t until we were like, ‘How the heck are we gonna pay for this wedding?’
“My parents wanted to have this huge wedding, and we wanted a very tiny one. One day he just dropped this bomb of: ‘I’ll pay for it.’ I didn’t want him to wipe out his savings account for our wedding, though, so I wouldn’t let him. But he insisted. He wanted me to have the wedding I wanted, and that meant him paying for it. That was the moment where I was like, ‘Okay we need to talk. We’re getting married. I need to know what’s really going on here.’
“So he sat me down and told me that in high school, he inherited a trust fund of about $1.9 million, an account with stocks worth about $140,000, and a bunch of property and tangible assets worth about $75,000-$100,000 altogether. I was like,
What?! I can’t remember the exact conversation, but I remember calling my friend immediately after. Not in a ‘Hey, I won the lottery’ sort of way, but in an ‘Oh my God, help me process this because I never thought this would be my life’ sort of way. I always just expected to be middle income my whole life. I figured I’d be the primary breadwinner between the two of us.
“My friend was great and just kind of reminded me that I wanted to marry him before I knew this information, so it didn’t change anything. She told me to just take a deep breath and be grateful for the opportunities that this would bring. She kind of talked me off a ledge because I was just in shock. It was like: ‘This isn’t an issue, just new information. Let’s walk through it.’ My close friends have been great and supportive – they haven’t changed or treated me any differently since finding out.”
How did your family react to the news?
“Well, when I first told my parents I was moving in with him, they were very concerned about the fact that he didn’t have a job. At the time, all I knew was that he had some savings, which I told my mom. She asked, ‘Have you seen his bank account? Why do you trust him?’ because she really didn’t know him that well at that point. I assured her that I trusted him and that he had never given me any reason not to believe him.
“And then when I told them he was going to pay for the wedding, I think they were a bit upset. The only leverage they had over our wedding was that they were going to pay for it, and here I was basically finding a loophole. So that’s when I told my parents about the trust fund. My mom’s first reaction was: ‘Then why doesn’t he drive a BMW?’
“I always think back on that, because my mom grew up in a time and place where, if you had access to lots of wealth, you drove a BMW. The funniest part of all this is that my husband drives a used Subaru that he loves.”
Do you tell a lot of people?
“I can tell whomever I want, but we both like to keep it on a need-to-know basis and close to our chests, just because we don’t want people to look at us differently or treat us like an ATM. And I don’t want my employer to know because I want to be paid what I’m worth.
“I also don’t like the stigma associated with what some people might call ‘trust-fund babies.’ This is something I’ve seen written about in the comments section of multiple Money Diaries. I get a little defensive because even though my husband does fit into the literal definition, I don’t think he falls into that stereotype at all.”
How did you grow up thinking about money and has that changed?
“Basically, I’m from a very blue-collar background. My dad didn’t go to college. My parents do alright, but they worked hard to get where they are. I started working when I was 14, and I’ve been working my ass off ever since. My parents taught me at a young age to really protect my credit and save as much as possible, and as a result, I think I was always really terrified when it came to finances.
“So when I met my husband, it wasn’t like these money anxieties went away — they just changed. I’m terrified of people I’m trying to become friends with finding out about our situation and then looking at me differently. And I worry about all the maintenance that goes into this — my husband and I are both intelligent people, but we’re not finance experts. Are we doing things right and checking all the boxes we are supposed to?
“We think of his inheritance as a gift, but also as a huge responsibility. His family worked hard to save all that money, and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize it. There’s a lot that goes into maintaining it, and my parents don’t have the personal experience to give me financial advice (in terms of making investments, finding a trustworthy financial planner, and long-term estate and tax planning).
“Meanwhile, most financial planning websites geared toward people our age focus on paying off student debt, basic retirement options, etc. It’s isolating and can be overwhelming. We’re doing the best we can, but there’s always this sense of,
I hope we don’t screw this up. I obviously don’t expect anyone to feel bad for me, though.”
Is there a certain peace of mind that comes with your financial stability?
“Absolutely. I didn’t expect this or go looking for it, but I guess in some ways I did hit the lottery. I have a wonderful husband who I loved when I thought he was broke, and it turns out he’s not. And so the way we always talk about it is that we have this wonderful safety net. That’s part of the reason we don’t spend the distribution from the trust that he gets every year. We just put it in savings and if anything happens, any emergency, we have a way to help. Money isn’t a limiting factor, and that’s why we don’t spend it — so that we have it.”
Do you have a prenuptial agreement?
“When we first got engaged, I immediately offered to sign a prenup because I thought it would protect both of us, but my husband insisted against it. In recent months, as we’ve discussed putting my name on some of the money, I’ve offered to sign a postnup but he’s very against the idea. I think it is really clear to him that I’m not a gold digger, and I think he has always felt like signing an agreement would be bad karma.
“Still, I’ve always been very clear about the fact that if we ever divorce, I won’t go after the bulk of his estate or anything but we’ll have to have a conversation. Because of the trust fund, we haven’t saved for retirement because we haven’t needed to. I would have started saving long ago if I’d married anyone else. I’m very conservative when it comes to money.
“I’m sure his mom and financial advisor would be more comfortable if we had a prenup, but he just has no desire, like it would almost put a [bad] omen on our relationship.”
Does the money feel like joint money?
“We agreed when we got married that everything my husband has full ownership and control over belongs to both of us equally. Ever since he decided to become a brewer, he’s been broke as far as salary. My salary has continued to go up every year. So I’ve supported him in that sense, basically. We don’t count dollars. He’s just my husband, and everything is joint. If something were to happen to him, it would all go to me. And if we were to break up, we’d split things evenly.”
Has your financial situation ever caused tension between you and a friend or family member?
“Definitely. My sister had a baby a few years ago that had some health issues for the first year of his life. Thank god he is totally fine now, but during that first year, we were all pretty scared. After talking to my husband, I told my sister that if money was an issue or if she needed to take a year off of work, I would be happy to help her financially because I didn’t want her juggling a job and a sick child at the same time. I didn’t want money to be a factor if her baby needed a treatment.
“The thing is, she’s my older sister by nearly a decade. She and her husband do really well for themselves – it’s not as if they’re broke. I think she knew the offer was coming from a place of love and she appreciated it, but on the other hand, it was a little insulting to have her little sister offer to pay her medical bills. So she said no, and kind of shut it down right away. But I still stand by saying it and to this day, if she came to me and said she had a legit need, I would, of course, help her.”
Have you indulged in any luxuries or big expenses that wouldn’t have if your financial situation were different?
“There have been some big-ticket items. My husband paid off my student loans when we got married, and he bought me a car — which I still can’t believe. I qualified for it on my own and I got my loan, but he qualified for better deals. We can basically treat our salaries as fun money after we pay our rent. We choose to live in a shitty apartment because we’re both cheap, but that means we have a lot of discretionary income. So we don’t bat an eyelash at going out to expensive dinners, and we travel a lot more than most people.
“It’s funny, though. When my husband graduated from college, he bought himself a $30,000 Hyundai — basically the cheapest sports car you can buy. That was his biggest splurge for himself and he regretted it every day afterward. And so, after each getting our two new cars, we decided that we would never buy new cars again. They depreciate and having fancy cars just isn’t a priority for us.”
Are you planning to have kids? How has your financial situation impacted that decision?
“We do want to have kids, and we’ve always talked about the fact that I want to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s always been a dream of mine.
“I don’t think that’s a choice most people can make. A lot of women — my best friend, for example — would love to be a full-time stay-at-home mom with no other responsibilities, but that’s just not realistic for her. Basically, what we decided is that in the early years when our kids are home, we’ll use the trust fund distribution to replace my salary so I can stay at home with them. Whether I work part-time and we get a nanny or I leave my work altogether, my husband is very supportive. No matter what we decide, we’ll be able to make it work, and I don’t take that for granted.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Have a story you’d like to share? Email us here.
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