The Unexpected Benefits of Marrying Young

I met my husband the second day of college, two weeks after my 17th birthday. Fast forward three years and it was obvious we were heading toward marriage.

When he suggested tying the knot before commencement, I was surprised and a bit resistant. That’s simply not the typical order of operations. But I warmed up to the idea and happily married when I had one semester left, and he had three.

We had very little money and even less income during the early months of our marriage, yet our youthful union turned out to have unexpected financial benefits.

Phase 1: Both in school

During our first few months, I was student teaching and not earning income. Neil worked about eight hours per week at his internship, for a monthly net income of around $1000. We were also paying for private health insurance until one of us got a job with benefits. We lived off of his income, with a bit of help from our pooled premarital savings and wedding money.

Phase 2: Kalie graduates

During the first summer, Neil interned full time, I worked as a nanny, and we were both relieved that I landed a teaching job for fall. The back-up plan was for me to work as a substitute teacher. At the beginning of his senior year, Neil accepted a full-time position with his company upon graduation.

During the following year, Neil worked fewer hours per week than he’d ever worked during college. His grades had always been solid, but they improved since he was finally able to focus more on his coursework. Though he already had a job, finishing a rigorous five-year program with a GPA hike was encouraging.

It’s no secret that first-year teachers don’t make much. We had a lot more money than the year before, but decided to live like college students as much as possible, for as long as possible. Getting married while still in school set our standards of living fairly low. Sharing a quiet one-bedroom apartment felt luxurious compared to the many roommates we’d rented with previously. Our rent was less than the combined amount we’d been paying for rundown houses in a pricey college town. I even convinced Neil to pack a lunch instead of buying Taco Bell near campus.

For many couples, marriage marks the beginning of being a “real adult,” so to speak. That’s when it’s time to buy that first home where you’ll start your life together. Then you remodel and decorate the home to make the space yours. Perhaps you purchase a new car or two.

We didn’t have any money for these “adult” steps, so we embraced the simple lifestyle that worked just fine throughout college. We bought used furniture, accepted hand-me-downs, and shopped at the same discount grocery store we knew and loved from our student days. For entertainment we walked our new city, and invited friends over.

Phase 3: Neil graduates

Once Neil graduated, our income increased, but our lifestyle increased only slightly. We splurged on a trip to Europe we saved for that first year. We took road trips, went out with friends, and I got a membership to the gym within walking distance. While lifestyle creep is all but inevitable,measuring your spending against your college-day budget can provide welcome perspective on wants vs. needs.

Unexpected Benefits

Simple living. If we had waited longer to marry, I imagine we would have spent more on our wedding  rather than keeping it simple. We also would have set up our home differently, probably opting for a larger apartment or buying a home much sooner than we did. Perhaps we wouldn’t have been willing to live in our friends’ basement. Spending wasn’t really an option, so we kept a simple lifestyle and largely stuck with it, even after our income increased. From the beginning we made a habit of giving money to our church, missions work, and poverty relief. Establishing this from day one has helped us practice generosity consistently.

Working as a team. Getting married so young made it easy to combine not just our finances, but our dreams. Travel, giving, and volunteer ministry were values we shared. We also began operating as a financial team. Neil was better at seeking financial education by reading about personal finance. I was better at budgeting and keeping our living expenses low. We each taught the other our fortes, rather than attacking each other about our weak areas.

We grew up financially together. Neil’s interest in personal finance certainly paid off. We learned about topics like investing, insurance, and mortgages together. Every choice we made was researched and discussed until we could agree on a course of action. Though we’ve certainly had differences of opinion, our basic financial philosophy was formed in a process we were both very much a part of. This blog is one outcome of this financial formation.

Transition to parenthood. Our early days taught us to live on one income, which prepared us for allowing me to stay at home with our young children. We agreed this was our plan before we got married, and six years later we had a seamless transition. I’d already left my full-time job for freelance writing, which I continued part-time until our second child was born. We also put the student loans behind us and purchased a home we could afford on one income.

The timing of our wedding was unconventional, but I’ve never regretted it. What’s best for each couple is different. Just don’t assume you have to follow the “normal” timeline of life events. I wouldn’t recommend marrying before you can support yourselves, but that may be easier than you think if you avoid drastic lifestyle changes.

Have you ever deviated from the norm when it comes to life events? What would you say to someone who wants to get married while in college?

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45 Responses to “The Unexpected Benefits of Marrying Young”

  1. Josh says :

    I was 28 when I got married and have a 16-month old & another on the way. One of my college roommates got married the day after graduation and has 5 children.

    I wasn’t ready to get married immediately so I don’t have many regrets regarding that as I needed to mature & it allowed me to enter marriage debt-free. But, as you mentioned with getting used to living on one income & living like college students is a plus for young families.

    After being on my own, there are still times I revert back to single mode where each decision only impacts me. Every person is selfish by nature to a certain extent, but, I would think getting married young would help on that front.

    • Kalie says :

      We held off on having kids for several years–it was 6 years before our first was born. That’s awesome you had time to mature and pay off debt before getting married. I’m an old soul so I was ready at 20 but I know that’s different for everyone! You’re right that everyone is selfish and marriage exposes that. I’ve slowly learned to make decisions as a team!

  2. Ms. Montana says :

    We also married during college. I think it ended up helping us out in so many ways. We definitely got on the same page right away and figured out how to create the life we wanted together.

    • Kalie says :

      It’s neat to hear from someone else who married while still in school. And I’m glad to hear you also experienced the benefits of getting on the same page and intentionally choosing a lifestyle you agree upon.

  3. Emily says :

    We married young too – promptly after graduation from college. I think one of the biggest benefits was that I never lived on my own so it was fairly easy for us to transition to living together. He had always lived with roommates, so it made for a smooth first year. We weren’t as frugal then as we are now, but we were able to start saving for a house right away. We’ve always shared financial hopes and dreams together.

    • Kalie says :

      Great point about having roommates. We also found it a much easier transition because we’d had roommates during college and weren’t able to get too set in our ways or uptight about our space. Neil had 12 housemates for a while!

  4. Tonya says :

    I obviously have nothing to compare it to since I’m still not married, but I could see the benefits as well as the downsides (that I watched from my other friends who married young). The opposite thing was marry early so they thought they had to be adults and buy a home and buy other things, and start having kids early too. They both weren’t mature enough to be smart about money so they spent more than they made. Whereas many of my single friends, including myself spent a good majority of their life with roommates, had no kids, and probably didn’t buy homes because with one income (in certain parts of the country) it felt nearly impossible to buy alone. I think it comes down to the couple and it sounds like you both were very mature and on the same page financially!

    • Kalie says :

      Tonya, I agree that there are potential downfalls to marrying young if you choose to make big financial decisions before you’re ready. It truly depends on the situation and the individuals. I think we would’ve been more tempted to inflate our lifestyle immediately if we waited until we were both out of school (which is what I assumed we’d do) and earning a larger income. I’m also glad we waited several years to have children. We may have rushed into a home purchase otherwise.

  5. TJ says :

    I’m super jealous! I think I would be that much more motivated for financial independence if I had a spouse who was on-board.

    • Kalie says :

      Having a spouse with different financial dreams or philosophy is certainly harder. Be encouraged that your own example will not only improve your finances, but possibly pave the way for change as well.

  6. Amanda says :

    Our story is very similar to yours, Kalie. We married right after we graduated with our BA’s, but I was a first year grad student. I feel like we grew into adulthood together. Combining living expenses and subsequently going through the learning process of buying a home, saving, paying off debt, etc. and having those shared goals has helped us in countless ways. My husband just reminded me we’ve been together for 23 years (married 19 years last week!). It’s not for everyone, but I wouldn’t change a thing!

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks for sharing your story, Amanda! If you meet when you’re fairly young, it is nice to walk through some of the stages of adulthood and figure things out together. Congrats on your 19th anniversary and 23 years together!

  7. Harmony says :

    We got married at 23, one year after I finished undergraduate school. It was the right decision for us, but I do wish we would have been wiser about finances at an early age. We always worked hard and bought a reasonable home together (actually the year before our wedding). But we spent on miscellaneous stuff we didn’t need. One of the things that still makes me mad is how we financed brand new appliances for our home – no wonder we’re still in debt 😛

    There have certainly been benefits to pooling our money together at an early age, but we actually did that before we tied the knot.

    • Kalie says :

      It really is hard to resist all the influences around us that view financing consumer goods as completely normal. There are definitely financial choices I wish I could go back and change, but I’m glad we wised up when we did.

      Did you join your finances in order to purchase a home together? It never occurred to me to combine money before getting married, so I’d be interested to hear more about that.

  8. Emily from evolvingPF says :

    I resonate with a lot of your points even though my husband and I got married 3 years after we finished college. Because we started dating during undergrad, we also ‘grew up’ financially (became independent from our parents) in parallel with one another, sharing best practices and developing the same values, which put us on exactly the same page by the time we married and combined finances. We also lived very simply both before and after we got married because we were in graduate school and not making much money. This was a great way to start a marriage, like you said.

    Side note: It’s interesting how the definition of “married young” differs with locale. When we lived in the South during graduate school, people basically didn’t understand why we hadn’t gotten married right out of undergrad, whereas where we were raised and where we now live (all large metro areas in coastal states) getting married at 24 is seen as quite, quite young.

    • Kalie says :

      It’s great to hear you experienced these same benefits while going through grad school together.

      Great point about the different perceptions of what it means to marry young. I think where we live the perception is probably somewhere in between what you described–24 isn’t considered extremely young, but no one would wonder why you weren’t married at that age, either. I’m sure there is a regional culture to it.

  9. The Green Swan says :

    Love the post, Kalie! I’m very much in the same position and saw many similarities in your story. My wife and I got married shortly after my wife graduated (1 year after I graduated) but had been dating since the summer after our freshman year.

    I think it was tremendously beneficial as we were able to join our financial positions young and work as a team toward our shared goals.

    I like how you folks similarly had a plan in place early and even bought your home with that plan in mind. Sounds like you folks have had a great journey, kudos to you two!

    • Kalie says :

      Regardless of when you marry, it seems meeting when you’re young offers a good opportunity to sync your desired lifestyle and financial philosophy with one another. I’m glad you experienced those benefits! Also, buying a house we could afford on one income has made things so much easier for us. I can’t recommend it enough!

  10. DC YAM says :

    I think there are definitely differences from a financial perspecive of couples who meet in college and get married young versus those who start working, meet later on, and get married. We also got married young and definitely grew up together financially. I think it’s been a really positive experience and we have been through ups and downs but we really “started from the bottom.”

    • Kalie says :

      That’s a great summary, DC. You can’t really choose when you meet your spouse, but you can take advantage of the opportunity if you meet young. I do know couples who met even as young as high school who are still struggling many years later to get on the same page. But from all the comments, it seems like it’s much easier to do when you meet young and start from the “bottom” like you said.

  11. Mr. Need2Save says :

    And I thought we got married early at 23! I think we knew in college (at least I did) that we were going to get married shortly after graduating. We ended up paying for our own wedding, so it was best for us to work a bit so that we could save up for a small ceremony and enjoyable honeymoon.

    We ended up having two kids by the time we were 26, so we were on the fast track towards responsibility. We’ve always been in sync in regards to our financial goals, so that has made for a peaceful 20 years of marriage 🙂 After having kids, Mrs. Need2Save did spend a few years at home out of the workforce and we learned to live on one income.

    • Kalie says :

      How wise to save up for your wedding instead of getting into debt! I agree that having kids helped us get more financially responsible. Congrats on 20 years of peaceful marriage!

  12. Mustard Seed Money says :

    I didnt get married until my early 30s but I would have loved getting married early. Unfortunately I didn’t meet my wife until later in life 🙂

    However my parents followed a similar path that and your husband did. They got married after their sophomore year and struggled financially for a couple of years but it got them on the same path. They have been married 40+ years now and it was definitely the right decision for them.

    • Kalie says :

      We certainly can’t choose when we meet our spouses. Sounds like her parents married very early. I’m glad it worked out for them!

  13. Ten Factorial Rocks (TFR) says :

    Kalie, I got married in my mid-30s and that was a mistake in hindsight. I was already well on my way to FI then. One advantage of marrying in your 20’s is that you both are ‘poor’ and so, have enough time to bond over frugality and live a harmonious life with less resources compared to when both are relatively well-off and with stronger lifestyle preferences in your 30’s.

    • Kalie says :

      I can definitely see how getting married a bit later in life would make merging your lives more complicated. You can’t always choose when you meet your spouse, and I’m sure there are advantages to meeting later, but it probably is easier to sync lifestyles when you’re young.

  14. John says :

    You were in college at 17? How does that work?

    • Kalie says :

      That’s another story, but many students from my high school took free college courses for dual credit (college & high school) through the Post Secondary Education Option offered in our state.

  15. Emily says :

    We went the opposite. I was 38 when I got married, Jon was 46. For me, that meant that I alone got to work out of my bad financial habits and set good ones, and that worked out to our advantage because I was not that disciplined young (and am hardheaded enough to have to figure stuff out for myself, the hard way.) While combining finances (and even houses) was tougher and we had plenty of duplicate items, I think for us, it worked out better to be a little older.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s pretty cool that you were able to learn your own financial lessons, even if it had to be the “hard” way. Because if you hadn’t come to those conclusions on your own, I bet it would’ve made that transition to married life harder. I’m sure there are other benefits to marrying when a bit older, too!

  16. Our Next Life says :

    What a great list of benefits. I definitely think when we got together had a direct impact on our finances and our initial financial habits together. Mr. ONL was a few years older and more established in his career, and I think felt like he had to impress me with nice dinners and travel. Then that’s what we got accustomed to, and spent accordingly (thank goodness we could “afford” it, but we for sure could have saved more during those years!). Like you, I don’t regret anything about how we got together or when we got married, but we definitely had to make the conscious choice to deflate our lifestyle instead of defaulting into a more college lifestyle from the get-go.

    • Kalie says :

      It sounds like the two of you had a pretty smooth transition to deflating your lifestyle, so that’s great! I’m sure if we’d actually had money when we started dating, we would’ve spent a lot more. Neil definitely took me on some nice dates, but after a while we mostly went to restaurants that took my meal plan money. And Taco Bell 🙂

  17. ChooseBetterLife says :

    You two have a beautiful story.
    I didn’t meet my husband until I was almost 30, and while it’s a little sad that we weren’t making memories together in our 20s, he was well worth the wait. When I think of being married to the people I dated earlier, well, I’m so glad it didn’t work out. It might have been better financially, but not in many other ways.
    You two seem truly meant for each other, though, and complement each other well. Congrats to you on a life of living, learning, and growing together.

  18. Ty says :

    What a great story, Kalie! My wife and I were 21 and 20 when we got married – in just over a month we’ll celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary! I can relate to all of your unexpected benefits. Those early days were HARD (being broke, tired, stressed, etc) but it forced us to come together and really created the foundation for our marriage and family. I think we’re better off today because of those hard times and I wouldn’t change anything.

    • Kalie says :

      I’m so glad those hard, early years laid a solid foundation, and that you experienced the same benefits we did. Congrats on 18 years of marriage!

  19. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    Great post! There is a real opportunity right after graduation – or right when work life begins – to make a choice for frugality that will ripple so well into the future. You and your husband made it, and the results are fantastic. Never developing a taste for an expensive lifestyle to begin with is key. Or at least delaying it until it really is easily affordable.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree–there is an important opportunity to set a certain lifestyle upon entering the workforce full-time. Of course you can’t control when you find your spouse, but I believe if we’d dated until we’d both graduated (what I assumed we’d do), the temptation to spend a lot more would have been greater.

  20. Xyz says :

    Totally agree! We just got married last month (at 25) and I agree on a lot of points you mention. Being on the same journey together, sharing the same dreams and ambition is a very powerful thing.

  21. Amy says :

    As someone who married at the age of 30, I read this post with real interest!

    Like many things in life, the “best” age for marriage depends tremendously on the individuals. For example, had I married earlier than I did, it would’ve been a big mistake. I was not mature enough, and the people I dated would not have been good life partners for me. Because of this, I have tended to generalize this to others, and believed that getting married early is a bad idea. (In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I said to a colleague, “Wouldn’t you be upset if you child wanted to get married in their early 20s?”) But I can see that it truly is incredibly variable, and that there can indeed be clear benefits to marrying young. Thanks for opening my mind!

    • Kalie says :

      You’re right that it varies so much with the person, and also depends a lot on when in life you happen to meet your spouse. Thanks for being honest about your preconceptions about this topic–I know lots of people think the same which is part of why I shared our story.

  22. Laurie Frugal Farmer says :

    Love this story, Kalie. We got married later (only because we met later) but I would’ve totally loved to have been married younger. I don’t think I had the maturity level though, and that would NOT have been good. 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      The right time certainly depends on the person and when you happen to meet, as well. I’m a bit of an old soul which is part of why it worked out for us!

  23. George says :

    Great post….I am in second year of four years I have to stay in college .My fiance is pregnant and we have decided to marry .I am 21 and she is 20 but I hope our life is going to be powerful together as encouraged by your story

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