CodeMonkey and I got married at 21 and 24, when I was a new graduate and he was a college student. I am convinced that this is the single smartest thing I ever did.
No, really. Believe me, I heard the dire warnings from my family, friends, acquaintances and nosy passerby. I'm familiar with the research about higher divorce rates among couples who marry young. But it's probably the one decision in my adult life I never experienced a moment's doubt or regret about.
I was expecting to enjoy some benefits of marriage: the ability to sponsor my husband, rights to shared property, social legitimacy, shared health benefits, etc. I wasn't expecting, though, that marriage would help us build wealth in an aggressive way.
It Creates Accountability
While CodeMonkey and I don't stop each other from making large purchases, we do discuss our general financial direction with each other. Even if my husband never said a word, I would feel uncomfortable bringing home an expensive purchase when we'd discussed trying to max out our IRAs. Likewise, he has confessed to avoiding buying lunch out because he knows we're trying to save. It helps to have another person checking in on you. We push each other to achieve our financial goals.
More Incomes, More Savings
CodeMonkey and I have lucked out and been gainfully employed continuously since college graduation. While two people can't live as cheaply as one, we've really benefited from being able to leverage two incomes. Individually, our living expenses would probably be more than half the sum of our shared expenses.
Thinking Long Term
A savvy reader will point out that the first two benefits are hardly exclusive to marriage and could just as easily be enjoyed by living together. But the great thing about being married is that because we have committed to a future together (and we have recourse to a court to divide assets should our relationship fail) we can prioritize our collective best interests over our individual ones. Since CodeMonkey and I are yoked together for the long haul, it makes sense for us to use some of his income to help pay off my student loans. Our little two person family will benefit from having fewer monthly payments and frittering away less money on interest. Were CodeMonkey and I not married, this would not be in his best interests. Likewise, I have quit jobs twice to move when CodeMonkey got a better position. This has arguably hurt my career path, but it has substantially improved the economic outlook of us as a couple. I don't know that I'd have made those risky moves if I was simply his live-in girlfriend.
Time Is On Our Side
We've been leveraging our dual incomes to invest aggressively. Since every dollar saved in our twenties is worth far more after compounding than dollars saved later, the money our marriage has allowed us to put away will impact our long term net worth in a very big way. I think that our marriage has allowed us to build wealth on a level that would have been impossible for us as singletons.
Obviously, all the wealth-creating benefits of marriage disappear in short order if you divorce. But for us, I suspect getting married young, and staying married, will make a bigger impact on our net worth than anything else.