Sunél’s Blog | What commitment means for your money

Sunél Veldtman, | 09 October 2020

Next week, Piet and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. It is somewhat surreal, thinking that I have been married for thirty years.  It is difficult to believe that all that time has passed.

It feels like our lives have come full circle – we started our married life in the City Bowl in Cape Town and are now back here after living in Scotland and Johannesburg for 26 years. During this time, we gained in-laws, three children, weight, grey hair and fabulous experiences.  We cried together through losses, celebrated gains, held hands in the hospital when our son was fighting for his life and grinned stupidly at our children’s milestones.

Staying married for thirty years has required growth and grit. There were many times when we reached the end of our resources and resilience, when friends and family rallied with prayer and petitions and our children’s wellbeing and shared history were the only reasons we kept going.

Esther Perel, the world’s current favourite therapist, asserts that most of us in the West are going to have at least 2-3 marriages or committed relationships during our lives  — and some of us will have it with the same person. She explains that “No relationship lasts for a lifetime. You can have the same relationship with a thousand people or you can have a thousand different relationships with a single person. It’s up to you to decide.”

Yes, marriage is about the commitment you made, the promise spoken between two individuals, but as Perel astutely points out, that commitment is to a changing person – a partner who evolves every few years as they grow. And with that change comes challenge.  Difficulty.  Clearly, there are circumstances when commitment is not healthy, but perhaps if we were more honest about how difficult marriage is, what the living of that commitment involves, more people would think it is normal. That difficulty is normal.

It’s not popular to talk about the resilience and perseverance it requires to stay married, stay in a difficult job, raise children or even just to keep working at oneself. But it is nonetheless what adulthood asks of us. It’s relentless to be responsible and hard-working and to keep doing the right thing.

Being an adult with one’s money is no different: it too is a relentless responsibility, requires that you be hard-working and demands that you keep doing the right thing to achieve success, even when it is hard.  Like marriage, it means little and large sacrifices, so you can prepare for unforeseen events and future needs like retirement or frail care. It means foregoing pleasures now so that you can keep going when times are tough. It means staying the course in the face of fear or the unknown. We all learnt that during the pandemic. Those with resources fared better. Those who stuck to their financial plans and investments are now better off.

There’s another intersection between money and marriage – the impact of switching from a long-term commitment.  Staying married, living in the same house and driving the same cars for years are typically sound financial decisions. Switching comes with cost.  The cost of trading in spouses, homes and cars adds up and erodes capital. Financial and emotional.

Conversely, long-term commitment comes with reward.  In marriage this lies in the joy of growing old together, which I’ve witnessed. The joy of having made it, having grown and now being able to savour the experience of the journey – hardships included – as much as the final reward. The joy of staying the course with money is the reward of compound savings and growth over many years. Long live commitment.

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