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Updated on Wednesday, February 18, 2015
After dating for two plus years and spending almost every night bouncing between each others’ apartments on the opposite ends of Manhattan, my boyfriend and I have decided that keeping track of multiple toothbrushes and pairs of pajamas has become an unbearable and unnecessary pain in the ass. As responsible 20-somethings, closer to 30 than we’d care to admit, the significant other and I are joining forces and finding an apartment together.
It’s not simply a matter of convenience, but rather, one of shared values, goals, and of course- love. Wanting to maintain all those shared ideals in our relationship, we’ve had our fair share of open, honest, and sometimes awkward conversations- many revolving around the ultimate taboo topic- money.
With financial problems continuing to be the number one predictor of divorce in this country, we’ve decided to tackle awkward money conversations head on before they become a divisive issue. From spending habits to earnings to thoughts on prenuptial agreements, there’s not much left to reveal about our respective financial outlooks. That’s not to say that it’s been easy or we agree on everything, but we’re not moving forward blindly, waiting for fiscal stress, resentment or problems that arise to be the catalyst for conversation.
Sure, awkward money talks might not be the most romantic date night conversation, but neither is divorce, or in our case, finding a new apartment in Manhattan.
The First Date
When the boyfriend first asked me out, I responded with a “yes”… as long as we kept it affordable. We ultimately settled on happy hour and $30 tickets to a Broadway show. Having revealed my frugality up front, every subsequent date was planned with creative budgeting in mind.
It might be awkward to talk budget when planning a first date, but even the mere mention of the word affordable (whether you’re paying or not) sets a precedent for honesty and openness around money from the start.
Over the course of our first few dates it became clear that the boyfriend and I had some very different ways of approaching our money. I was a saver. He was a spender. While our initial patterns of spending were different however, our shared visions of a financial future and openness to finding better ways of achieving it made our disparities a source of continuing conversation rather than a deal breaker.
Instead of getting defensive at my savings suggestions, the bf opened and fully funded a ROTH IRA by the end of the first year. And instead of allowing my limited earnings to restrict all our shared activities, I grew my income and found more flexibility to fund them. Our ongoing discussion of priorities revealed that we had more overlap than our differing savings and spending behaviors suggested; so we worked together to bring those into alignment.
After an unusually indulgent Sunday brunch, the boyfriend asked if I would move in with him. I instinctively responded with what I could afford to pay. With significantly disparate incomes, deciding how to share expenses can be tricky, especially as our lives become more intertwined. Rather than dictating the price range for the potential apartment or the appropriate split, I simply stated what I felt I could afford so that he could make some decisions for his part. If he wants a 50/50 split, we’ll look for apartments at double my budget. If he wants a little more luxury, he’ll have to pay the difference. We’re still navigating the move-in process, but we’re talking through it together with full disclosure of our respective expectations.
Should all go well in our new venture of cohabitation, we’ll have to broach yet another financial frontier- combined finances (not to be confused with shared expenses).
Should marriage look likely, we’ll talk shared bank accounts and collaborative money management. We’ll negotiate outstanding disparities in our financial behaviors to keep present spending in line with future goals, building a budget that suits our wants and needs both now and in the future. We’ll work to find the balance of autonomy within financial unity. And we’ll do it all before signing any legal documents.
This pragmatic, business-like approach to shared finances is misconstrued by many as cold and callous. To me however, spending and saving behavior is the ultimate reflection of a person’s ideals and values. Keeping the financial discussion open and honest throughout the course of an evolving relationship, however momentarily awkward, is to ensure that those ideals and values continue to align- not just the money, but everything it represents- convictions, goals, dreams, etc.
If all goes according to plan, not only will we have a strong financial foundation for our relationship, but a set precedent for the ongoing discussion of our finances- allowing us to grow stronger through our shared fiscal goals rather than becoming separated and estranged by financial stress, secrets, or resentment.