Stories

TALKING MONEY WITH LOVE

Ellie*, 24, on kicking off a healthy financial journey with your partner.

Going into the relationship, I think we both had a good idea of how the other person thought about money. My boyfriend and I went to middle school together, and both grew up in lower income backgrounds as first-generation students. We reconnected after college and have been seeing each other for almost three years now. When you’re going into a relationship with somebody, an explicit “values talk” may not necessarily come up, but you’re definitely on the lookout for what their values are and what they invest their money in. Coming from a similar background really set the tone for us, so from the very beginning I found we were compatible in our values.

Our relationship started off very slow and mindful, and we did not cut any corners. He and I previously discussed that we hadn’t learned how to communicate properly in past relationships, and we hadn’t had good examples. We knew that whatever we had been doing didn’t work. This is the healthiest, most vocal relationship I’ve had, and it definitely started out the hardest simply because we were so worried about doing everything right. Honestly at first, it did not feel natural to constantly be so open and vulnerable. But I think that’s what geared us up to have a very “unnatural” talk about finances.

It started off with our income disparity. I come from a very prideful family — we don’t talk about money and we don’t take “handouts,” so I grew up not accepting big gifts or shows of money. In the beginning of our relationship, he was very honest about the fact that he was making more money than he’d basically ever seen in his life. It was very new to him, and he never bragged about it, but I most definitely watched what he did with that money. The first thing he ever did was pay off all of his college loans and then send money to his mother, so I knew his priorities were straight. When he moved into a sleek Nolita apartment — 2BR/2BA between him and his roommate, brand-new appliances, washer and dryer — I thought to myself, “I don’t even know if we’re ever gonna be able to live together if these are what your standards are.” But even still, he was attached to his values from before all of this and kept money-saving habits like meal prepping, so I was able to be a part of that with him.

I hit a really bad rough spot in my finances one year after my graduation when my second student loan was activated. I’d not signed up for electronic billing, so they were sending paper bills to my home in Virginia. Months later I came home to about $800 of bills. I knew that waiting would hurt my credit score with the amount of time that had already passed, so I wiped my bank account, including a lot of my savings. I was an anxious mess. The ever-present tension I felt with New York City lifestyle and my income and class started seeping into other places in my life.

My anxiety persisted until one day he asked me about my wellbeing. We’d agreed that when one of us asks if the other is okay, we owe it to our relationship to be very honest. I was so embarrassed, I was crying, but I told him I’d wiped my bank account and I honestly didn’t know how I was gonna eat that week. I had -$32 to my name because I’d overdrawn my account. He never asked me if he could send me money, because he knew I’d tell him no, but he Venmo’d me $200 for the month saying, “Pay me back when you can — I’ll never ask you to. This is just to make sure that you eat, and I would love to feed you too as much as possible.” I declined the request, and he kept sending it to me, until he eventually was like, “Will you please take this money? It would make me feel better.” So I did, and of course I eventually paid him back, because money comes and money goes.

We got more comfortable having explicit conversations. We started planning our very first trip together, which I think was a nice look into future planning as well. I really appreciated that he actually cared about getting the cheapest flight, but also making sure it wasn’t a red eye that would leave us dead; getting a nice AirBnB but making sure we were getting a wonderful experience for the amount of money that we paid, rather than just balling out. He’s always been able to see everything from every angle and keep a lot of his core values present. It eventually got to the point where I started asking about his thoughts on investing, cryptocurrency, and getting out of debt. I felt very comfortable having those conversations only because of how much I admired his values and the way he truly weighs every option. He gave me deep talks and great advice about all of that.

These honest insights into each other’s values are what lead up to deciding this is someone I’d like to live with — someone I like being teammates with. He wanted Manhattan and I wanted Brooklyn, so we settled on Williamsburg. We were honest about our max budgets and priorities. Once we found the perfect place, we roughly estimated equitable rent proportions based on our post-tax incomes and other bills, like my crushing student debt. Having these talks every step of the way has been such a worthwhile exercise, and we still do check-ins to make sure neither of us feel stretched too thin. We’re just starting our financial journey together, and it’s nice to see the mindfulness we practiced from the very beginning still be present in our relationship.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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