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My Money or Our Money: Navigating Finances in an Intercultural Marriage

My Money or Our Money: Navigating Finances in an Intercultural Marriage

Well what  a surprise! I really wasn’t sure how this new thread of conversations on relationships would go but after the response last week I can say I am looking forward to sharing a lot more. Today’s subject is touchy, it might rattle nerves and I’m guessing several of you might disagree with me.

It wasn’t until recently that MarocBaba and I have been able to look back at the beginning of our marriage and laugh at some things and apologize to each other for mistakes we know we made.

We were really both kids, just barely adults when we got married. When he landed in the US we literally had about $250 between us. I know what you’re thinking,

“how irresponsible, how could you even think of marriage when you weren’t in a secure financial position…”

Here’s the thing, there’s a million reasons why people will say you should wait to get married, or wait to have a baby, or wait to buy a house, or move overseas. You get my point. The truth is there is no “right time.” We get so stuck waiting for the “right time” that time blows past and before you know it you’re 65 years old looking back at your life and wondering what if you would have taken that chance, what if you would have just gone with it? Would things have been easier if I would have been done with university, in a stable job and he came with a loaded bank account? Of course! Do I wish we would have waited for that point, no way!

I am a just go with it person. I believe if things are meant to work out they will. If they’re not, they won’t and then I’ll figure out a different plan. So we went for it head first and were determined we would figure out a way.

I don’t regret that for a second.

Chances are whether you’re the immigrating spouse or your partner is, one of you won’t be able to work for awhile. This can cause some serious friction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard couples in this situation exclaim in an exasperated tone, “but it’s my money! I’m the one working, I’m not going to buy that for him!” Or vice versa “really why does she need to spend all MY money buying that crap?” If this is your mindset you need to stop right now and put your nuptials on hold.

We made plenty of mistakes but one thing we never did was claim any money was mine or his.

It was ours.

When we were eating lentils for dinner three nights a week because we were broke and had to make our rent payment we were both eating the lentils. When we were literally digging through our pockets and couches for coins to take the bus to work, we were both stuck looking.

When we had a bit of extra money it was spent in a way that was most beneficial to both of us (and if I’m being honest most of the time that meant him getting me something I wanted or needed). This was the case when I was the one working, or when he was the one working – because we’ve been in both scenarios.

If you’re marrying a Moroccan man, or a Middle Eastern man he’s going to face an extreme amount of shame when he comes to the US and is legally unable to work until he receives the proper documents. There’s no need for you to make him feel even  worse by rubbing it in his face that it’s “your” money.

Depending on how much experience he has either at home or elsewhere it’s going to be a shock to understand how finances work in his new home. You should sit down as soon as possible after arrival to go over what your monthly expenses are and what income is coming in. This is also the time when you need to talk about sending money home to his family.

I know you’re shrugging that off saying, “no way we’re stretched as thin as possible, I refuse to send MY money there!” (see there it is again!) Whether you like it or not this is going to be a part of your relationship forever unless you’ve managed to snag a Saudi prince. You’re not marrying the man, you’re marrying the family.

I’m not saying to automatically agree to whatever sum comes up, but what I am saying is you need to figure out a way to help him meet his obligations to the family he was born to as well as the family he chooses to create. Maybe it’s sending a little bit monthly, or saving to send a lump sum at holidays but 9.5 out of 10 times some money will be expected to be sent home.

Do not shy away from these conversations because it will help avoid a lot of misunderstanding and stress down the line. 

Money is a very sensitive subject in every relationship. Couple that with cultural differences, possibly limited language abilities and the challenges that come with adjusting to a new country and there are bound to be even more challenges. But, if you know what to expect it can make things easier. If you’re thinking this is just all too much, then you should step back and consider your relationship because there isn’t enough love in the world to make these issues disappear. 

Struggling with a cross cultural relationship? I created this digital guide to walk through some of the red flags to look for early in relationships, questions to ask yourself, and conversations to have with your partner as you navigating this type of relationship.

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Elizabeth

Friday 7th of August 2020

Good blog Amanda. I’d like to add some to help those starting out. With the language and cultural barriers it is super important to really get inside his head and find out his financial goals as soon as possible in the relationship. While they can seem pretty crazy when you’re broke and just starting out, it is vital to know what they are.

In December we will celebrate our 15th anniversary. We met late in life, so I just retired last month, with a pension that would make life in Morocco for the two of us very comfortable. We had always talked about retiring to Morocco, so I was surprised when my husband informed me that he cannot return home as a failure, supported by a woman.

I had not realized that sending 25% of his take home pay to his family was not enough. He had commented many times that he wanted to buy them a house, but that seemed preposterous to me. Throughout most of our marriage that was simply not even able to be on the table. However, in the past few years, we’ve paid everything off, and we’ve both been bringing in nice incomes, so we have been able to save. I was able to buy a very nice new car last year and we will have it paid off in 4 more months, even with me retired.

I realized that now it’s my turn to put everything into his goals. Now our plan is to save everything extra for the next few years and buy that house for his family. We’re going to have to have a space in it too, since we can’t afford two houses there, but at least we will go for his goal.

If I had listened better up front, and not dismissed his dreams as unobtainable, we could have been saving toward this longer and he would feel a lot less frustrated.

Always push for as much detail as you can get when you’re discussing your financial goals, and take it serious. Be aware of different usages of words. I asked about his dreams, but that was a wrong word to use. To him dreams aren’t real and don’t matter. Keep trying until you really understand what he wants out of life.

Amanda Mouttaki

Saturday 8th of August 2020

This is incredibly helpful and useful advice! I think those of us who have been in it for the long haul can look back now and really see these things, while for those in the early stages it may seem so far off and difficult to discuss. Thank you for sharing all of this - it resonates a LOT with me!

Kelly

Thursday 6th of August 2020

Thank you so much for this Amanda as it is so true. My husband arrived in Canada 2 weeks before everything shut down. It took 6 months to find work. Being in a new country, new weather, no friends, no job and financial strain was tough on us both. On the bright side he found a hidden talent over that time and has really become an amazing cook and his Moroccan cooking is fantastic. Please continue with these articles. You help more of us than you probably realize. Take care

6 Assumptions People Make When You Tell Them Your Wife is American - MarocMama

Monday 11th of January 2016

[…] and selfish. In Arab societies it is a given that children will care for their parents both financially and physically when the parents age. Many times older siblings are also expected to help younger […]

Steeve

Friday 20th of March 2015

Your article is a well-written, first person narrative of what virtually every adult expat in Morocco knows. When you marry a Moroccan you marry the family, there is shame when a man can't work, or can't get a "respectable" job in the USA, and it's an "obligation" to send money back to Morocco. I hope your single, engaged, and newlywed readers especially take note of this posting. It will spare them a lot of agony if they discuss this upfront.

Amanda Mouttaki

Saturday 21st of March 2015

I agree. It's very important to know.

Sam

Thursday 29th of January 2015

Hi, I find your blog to be helpful (plus it is entertaining) and I find myself reading your previous post whenever I can. I am talking this wonderful guy from Morocco for a year now. He is set to come and visit my country this summer. Can you please share to me what is the lifestyle of an average or Middle Class Moroccon guy? Does a Middle Class Moroccan guy own his own House or apartment? does he have a car or works in a private or government sector? What is his lifesytle like?

Lori

Tuesday 4th of September 2018

I would like to hear the answer to this too!

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