My girlfriend has a net worth of around $20 million and, well, let’s just say I don’t. Luckily for me, she truly loves me and we hope to get married someday. Although we would have a prenup, she has concerns that I will limit our lifestyle in the future.
She makes about $350,000 a year — not including six-figure bonuses. I make $225,000 a year with bonuses and overtime. I have around $1 million in net worth including cash, retirement savings and home equity. Aside from separate mortgages, neither of us have any other real debts.
We both have teenage children. I am still trying to save for my two girls’ future college expenses, and her son’s education will be paid by a family trust. Also, her son is accustomed to finer things, while I often buy used stuff for my kids, make them do chores and earn their small allowance.
We are both 50 years old and would like to retire by 60, if possible. Of course, she could easily retire now, but she actually enjoys her work. On the other hand, my job is stressful and exhausting, but I’m able to save about 20% of my gross each year.
‘While it’s obvious I’m the one with limited means, the norm is for me to pick up the tab on dates and weekend getaways.’
Unfortunately, without a willingness to compromise on her part, an unexpected windfall for me or some other unexpected change, I’m not sure how to navigate the situation. We are very transparent about our finances and, while it’s obvious I’m the one with limited means, the norm is for me to pick up the tab on dates and weekend getaways.
She wants a fancy wedding, and also thinks I should pay half as a symbol of my love and commitment to her. Between that, an expensive ring and the honeymoon, I will easily deplete my cash reserves if I say yes.
Finally, she says that she’s worked hard and saved all of her life and is no longer willing to sacrifice financially. That said, we always end our discussions with a reassuring statement that it’s not a dealbreaker, and that we are both committed to figuring it out.
I’m a bit old-fashioned and love the chivalrous position of picking up the tab, but shouldn’t she just plan to cover the big-ticket items like a plush wedding and honeymoon, extravagant retirement expenses and other posh desires? Or is our relationship just doomed?
The One Million-Dollar Man
Dear One Million,
Agree on a wedding and a honeymoon that you can both afford, and split the costs 50/50. If she would like to upgrade some aspects of the wedding or honeymoon, you can have separate discussions about that. Some of the least memorable weddings I have attended were in five-star hotel ballrooms. Hell is a champagne reception with awkward small talk, and stuffy wait staff who smile like they want to be anywhere but there. I have also attended fun, beautiful and memorable weddings that cost just a few thousand dollars that were held in a town hall with long wooden tables, streamers, flowers, and drinks in the backyard with a mobile gin bar.
As no doubt you are aware, what we believe to be prerequisites for engagement rings today were spun by the marketing genius of jewelry and diamond companies in the first half of the 20th century. The popularity of diamond engagement rings is traced back to the “A Diamond is Forever” campaign by the DeBeers diamond company, who trademarked the sentiment. It was written by copywriter Frances Gerety in 1947. There are many other precious stones to choose from, including none at all. No marriage should founder on a rock.
If it’s something you both agree want to have to mark the next phase of your relationship, buy an engagement ring at a price you are comfortable with. If your girlfriend wants to buy another ring in the future, she can always do that. If the size of a diamond of her choosing is out of your price range it defeats the purpose of buying her one in the first place. Having 20 times your net worth should not be a reason to never compromise. And that works both ways. Today, it’s a wedding venue or a ring, tomorrow it’s the rest of your life. It will never end, and the difference in your net worths will always tip the scales.
Having 20 times your net worth should not be a reason to never compromise. Today, it’s a wedding, tomorrow it’s the rest of your life.
One word of warning. The bigger the wedding, the shorter the marriage, according to this study released by researchers at the Department of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta. They examined the association between wedding spending and marriage duration using data from a survey of over 3,000 people in the U.S. who got married. Couples who spent $20,000 on their wedding — excluding the cost of the ring — were 46% more likely than average to get divorced; that risk fell to 29% higher than average for those who spend $10,000 to $20,000.
Maybe they were more into the wedding day than the years of marriage. Or perhaps a larger wedding was felt by the brides and grooms to be more of a public affirmation of their love. Of course, that’s nonsense. A lavish wedding will not protect either party from the preexisting faults in a relationship. I don’t believe that saying “I do” at a wedding or waving off your guests to go on a honeymoon that are paid for solely by your wife will get your marriage off on a solid — or, indeed, equal — footing. Whatever you decide, do so unreservedly and free of rancor.
If you can both afford to live comfortably and retire you are in a far more privileged position than millions of people. Such conversations are awkward. We are bombarded with messages every day telling us that our sense of self worth is wrapped up in our bank accounts. Of course, a woman with $20 million is no better or worse than someone with $20 to their name. And a man with $1 million is no better or worse than someone living paycheck to paycheck.
These are important conversations to be had now, and it’s a good sign that you are both open to having them.
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