About half of all Americans are married (55.7%). However, 1 out of 5 are married to a foreign born spouse. This article from USA Today based on the 2013 census provides more detail.
There are a lot of wonderful things that come along with a spouse from another country. Immersion in another language, traditions, and food are just a few.
Additionally, there is the opportunity to improve your communication style. Due to cultural differences, you have to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to getting your point across.
Jump Ahead To
When you are a couple from different countries you not only have to deal with cultural differences but also differences when it comes to managing money.
50 % of marriages end in divorce and “ couples that argue about finances at least once a week are 30 times more likely to get divorced” https://www.wf-lawyers.com/divorce-statistics-and-facts/
The management of money is different across the world and it is important that international couples discuss their feelings, ideas, and principles in regards to money earlier rather than later.
Nicole and I both married men from different countries. We live in NY so it is not shocking to fall in love with someone from another country.
Both of our husbands were in the country long before we met them and handled their finances differently.
Saving the French way
My husband is from France and is a big saver. Generally speaking, the French pay in cash for most of their purchases and only borrow money when it comes to buying a house. Even then, they tend to buy houses that fit their needs and not blow their budget.
On average my husband saves 50% of his income. He never feels like he is suffering, because he was taught to live below his means and use his money wisely.
I think this sentiment carried over from his grandparents’ experience during WWII and is common for a lot of the french people we know.
Saving the Turkish way
Nicole’s husband is from Turkey and their saving practices are a bit different from France and the US.
One of the ways the Turks save money is by buying gold coins and jewelry. “Gold is big business in Turkey, for cultural reasons and also because of the country’s experience with bouts of high inflation over the past century” https://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-gold-banks/turkeys-gold-fever-finds-new-focus-in-banks-idUSL6E8HP9R220120704
Traditionally, family members give gold to a couple on their wedding day to help them save for the future. Additionally, people receive gold when a child is born. Turkish banks have begun marketing gold bank accounts to help with the usage of gold as savings.
To be honest, I love this practice, because they even give gold coins to the sister of the bride. Holla!!
Even though we come from different countries, luckily my husband’s and my savings style wasn’t much different. For years, I had been saving 40-60% of my income. Each time I received a raise or a bonus, I would just put the difference in new income into a savings account.
Determined to buy a house in New York City, I wanted to position myself to be ready when an opportunity arrived.
I splurged on traveling and eating out, but made sure that my savings rate was high and my expenses low.
When I met my husband, it was a perfect match when it came to savings. If we were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to savings, the relationship would have ended way before marriage. Let’s be honest, anyone who saves 50% of their salary or more would not match long term with someone who spent more freely.
Beginning life together
We were able to pay for our wedding, honeymoon, and first car all in cash. I know it is not feasible for a lot of couples to save like this, but it works for us.
When Nicole met her husband, they were both students. They both took on debt to fund their futures. Using debt wisely and then paying it off was their common money goal.
When it comes to using credit to increase spending power, the US and Turkey are similar. After 2001, the usage of credit skyrocketed in Turkey.
Nicole’s husband was studying in the US for years. However, he came to age in Turkey at a time when it was very easy to obtain credit. He resisted the temptation to take full advantage of free flowing credit, but needed it to supplement his salary as a grad student and start a business.
Nicole like most Americans, used loans to pay for her graduate degree. Since they both knowingly took out loans to benefit their futures, they were comfortable taking on debt.
Different methods that work
The French for the most part will only take on debt in a form of a mortgage for a house. Cash is king in France and saving starts at a young age.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “The French do everything right” post. I can write a book on how they can improve but they do a lot right with personal finance.
Every couple practices different money management techniques. One way is not better than the other. However, a couple has to be in agreement on what their money management practices are especially in regards to the usage of debt. Debt can wreak havoc in a relationship when you are not on the same page.
Forgoing credit altogether was an issue my husband and I had to address before getting married though. No credit in NYC means a crappy expensive apartment.
My husband lived in the United States for 6 years before we dated and did not have a credit history. He didn’t care about his apartments either and looked for the cheapest places to live. His only requirement was that it had to be near the train.
In NYC, people with a lack of credit are required to place a large deposit down to rent an apartment or house. In some cases, a deposit of six months of rent is required. NYC recently passed a law banning landlords for asking for more than 2 months security deposit, but this is still a huge barrier for a lot of people including foreigners.
Since there is no track record of bill payment, having no credit can be worse than having bad credit. If you find yourself in the same situation, it is best that you try to establish credit before you get married. Before we were married, he moved into my apartment and I helped him build up a credit history. He went from no credit to the high 700s in about 1 year.
An unfortunate side effect of this is that he now loves checking his credit score ALL THE TIME. He is now in the 800s, but he hasn’t caught up to this black unicorn (perfect credit score) yet. LOL!
Building a credit history
We didn’t go the route of getting a secured debit card to start his credit history. We weren’t in a rush so we applied for one credit card and didn’t worry about the rate they were charging.
He would use this credit card to pay for recurring payments like a cell phone bill or a utility payment and then paid it off right away so interest wasn’t a factor.
When we met, I had just paid off my school loans and had no credit card debt. I knew the importance of having a credit history, but had no desire to carry debt unless it was for a house.
It was fortunate that we viewed taking on credit the same even though we had different experiences with debt.
I recently came across a company that will help you build credit quickly through the use of a secured loan. You don’t get access to the funds, but it will help you in building credit if you can’t get a credit card. I’m not the biggest fan of the business model, but my husband said that he would have used it if he needed another option.
I want our readers to have the most up to date information and transparency so I included a link here: self lending
If you are comfortable with the model and feel it will benefit you, please let us know. We will continue to look for other programs that will allow you to build credit quickly.
When you are married to a foreigner, you may have to factor in traveling to their home country on a regular basis. If you choose to visit their family and home country, then it is best to budget this trip in advance.
Budget for plane and train tickets, and buy them early.
Understand that other countries have busy seasons that may not coincide with the US and travel prices increase significantly.
Additional costs in mind
Since price swings can make some tickets change by thousands of dollars, we tend to buy tickets months before.
Additionally, if you only know how to drive an automatic car, you should factor in a higher price for a rental car. Most people outside the US drive a stick shift so rental companies tend to charge more for automatic cars.
Another point to keep in mind is where you are staying. Will you stay with family or stay in a hotel etc.? In some countries, staying in a hotel is considered rude.
Even if it is customary to stay with family, I still suggest adding a hotel budget. This gives you the option of visiting somewhere else before heading home. Think of it as a bonus to your vacation. When traveling to visit your in-laws, THIS HELPS A LOT, trust me.
Paying for College
In general, higher education in most countries is cheaper than in the U.S. Public colleges are high quality and are free or almost free.
We made a decision before we had kids that we would most likely not pay for their college. It is not a matter of being cheap, it’s a matter of utility.
Education is important to us, but not at a high cost.
Since our children are French citizens, they will have a choice, either go to school in Europe or receive funding from a US school.
Our investment strategy and savings do not include any allocations to a 529 college fund for our children.
There are many countries that provide quality universal higher education. This insider article gives a good summary of costs and options. https://www.insider.com/cost-of-college-countries-around-the-world-2018-6
Money and Relatives
If your spouse or partner has a different opinion when it comes to relatives and money it can strain your relationship.
I was on twitter recently and saw a statement about money and relatives. In a nutshell, it said that adult children should be responsible for paying their own bills and for emergencies.
Additionally, parents shouldn’t expect help from their kids to supplement their retirement income.
Now for the most part, I think many Americans probably feel the same way. However, it was very interesting to see the reactions of people from other countries, specifically from India.
Almost all of the people who commented from India, viewed being able to give money to a relative a privilege.
In their eyes, money is used to help support your whole family, even adult children.
I found this point of view interesting. Often when you are the financially stable person in your family, you are asked for money. It is easy to become jaded and feel used if this happens frequently.
I’m not sure why, but I believe it’s the concept of bootstrapping that gives us a different perspective. (just a thought).
It could also be that all of the people who responded to the post from India, are the people who always ask for money – just saying.
Our decision on lending
Either way, my husband and I are very giving people, but because of past experiences, we now have our limits.
We (me )have now decided to only help one person a year get out of a bind with money. It lessens my frustration if the money is not paid back and puts less strain on relationships.
I’m interested to know if this conversation has come up in your marriage?
How do you deal with the issue of lending money to family members?
I would love to hear your thoughts on money and relatives.
We feel conversations about money are just as important as a conversation about children, marriage, and commitment. It can be difficult to address money issues early on in a relationship, but it is imperative that you do. If you think your international relationship is serious, then get serious about talking about your cultural financial beliefs.
Here are some questions to assist you to move the conversation forward
- What are your feelings about money? Are you comfortable expressing them to me?
- What amount do you currently save now?
- Do you believe in joint bank accounts or keeping your money separate?
- How do you view the use of debt? Do you purchase using cash or use a credit card?
- If we have children, would you want to send them to private school or public school?
- Will we pay for college or will the children be responsible?
- Do you borrow or lend money to your siblings, parents ?
If you have a foreign spouse, we would love to hear your experience. Is there something we didn’t address in this article?
We are speaking from a US perspective but we would love to hear a perspective from an american living abroad too.
Nadia is a Financial Independence Coach from New York City. She holds a B.A from Columbia University and worked 13+ years in Investment Banking and Financial Services. She is an entrepreneur, investor, and partner at Wealth Twins LLC. She reached Financial Independence in her 30’s and is passionate about showing others how to achieve the same.