As I was sitting at the kitchen table in my one-bedroom apartment on a Saturday night, scanning grocery advertisements and making a budget shopping list, it seemed getting married young only made my wallet leaner.
Although I was always cautious with my spending, I allowed it to flow much more freely before I was married, when my parents gave me a monthly allowance to supplement my part-time student work. But when we made our vows, my new husband and I also made the commitment to be as financially self-sufficient as possible.
That was easier said than done, considering I was a senior in college and my husband was facing more than three years to complete his degree. We both worked on top of our full-time school schedules, which meant we were often going in different directions. Many nights, we only crossed paths at the dinner table before he went back to campus to study or I went to the student newspaper for a late-night editing shift.
Saving any money seemed impossible.
Splurging meant a dinner date, as long as we didn’t go overboard with appetizers or drinks. I very half-heartedly told my mom she “shouldn’t have” when she gave me money for new clothes.
The light at the end of the tunnel was my graduation, which promised an income boost. But after my husband and I moved to a bigger space, relaxed our budget, and decided he should quit work to focus on school, my new professional writer’s salary suddenly went faster than expected.
Not only was our new lifestyle unsustainable, it made our goal of moving to another state after his graduation seem impossible. Realizing something needed to change, we sat down at one of those newly re-instituted entree-only dates and set the goal to save $10,000 within the next year. That meant he went back to work and I picked up another gig. Our new hobby became flipping furniture items we bought for cheap at auctions for some extra cash. I became friends with coupons again.
It was only because of a shared goal and encouragement that we stuck to that first savings goal.
Then, within three years of our account skimming $0, we were able to make consistent contributions to our retirement fund, buy a house, and have enough leftover for regular travel. That was largely because we finally had two full-time incomes. It was also because we attempted to keep our lifestyle in line—as our salaries increased, so did our saving, not (just) spending.
I can guarantee we wouldn’t have accomplished those savings goals if we were single. It turns out that experience isn’t unique to me. According to The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, married people experience “income increases of 50 to 100 percent, and net wealth increases of about 400 to 600 percent.” This may be because married men have been shown to work harder than their single peers — and I can say the true was the same for me, especially when I was pulling overtime as my husband completed school.
From my experience being poor on a part-time salary and poor on a full-time salary, I learned that doing well financially has as much to do with discipline as it does with actual income. I think that is the crux of why married people have better bank accounts: One of the best ways to stay committed to saving is by staying accountable to someone else.
This article was originally published on The Billfold.