Family, Marriage, and Parenthood

By Howard Becker; Reuben Hill | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirteen
Financing the Marriage

HOWARD F. BIGELOW


MONEY ENOUGH FOR MARRIAGE

HOW much money does it take to get married?" is one of the questions most frequently asked by young men and young women who are seriously contemplating marriage. The recent wave of student marriages on undergraduate campuses has even occasioned panel discussions on the topic "What It Costs to Get Married." Of course, those who are asking this question want to know far more about costs than about the initial expenses of obtaining a marriage license and paying the preacher. They want to know on how small an income and with how little money in the bank they can safely launch a marriage and perhaps start a family. They are not necessarily seeking encouragement to hurry into marriage. Most intelligent young couples, no matter how anxious they are to start their new families, are seriously concerned lest they embark on this, their most important life venture, with economic resources which may prove to be inadequate.

Obviously this question has no single answer. In any marriage, money has no value in itself but is wanted only for what it will buy. Couples ask this question because they are trying to frame in simple form a whole complex of ideas. They ask about how much money they need because money is a master symbol for economic resources. It is the common denominator by means of which the sum total of a great variety of wants can be expressed. When couples ask how much money it takes to get married, they really want help in doing two things: first, in analyzing, appraising, and evaluating the relative importance of a great number of wants which they hope their new family will be able to satisfy; and second, in inventorying the resources of all kinds which they have or can make available for use in satisfying these wants. They want help in determining the minimum essentials for satisfactory family living, both in terms of the wants to be satisfied and of the resources which are needed to satisfy these wants.

When young people approach the problem in this way they are running true to form. All of us, young and old alike, are inclined to take our wants pretty much for granted, and spend most of our time and effort hunting for the means for their satisfaction. We really do not know whether or not it is our most important and most fundamental wants we are trying to satisfy, especially in times of reasonable prosperity when it is relatively easy to satisfy our wants in customary ways. It is only when we are faced with a radical change in our manner of living -- as a result of personal misfortune, a severe business depression, or the outbreak of a world war, or sometimes even as a result of falling in love -- that we take time to find out what after all is fundamental and what is superficial in our manner of living.

-393-

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