You'll have to forgive the overt theme of today's post. I've been wanting to write about this topic for a while, but it's such personal issue that I've shied away from it.
But when I realized that this week's post would fall on Valentine's Day, I took it as a serendipitous opportunity to break out of my comfort zone and talk about something that scares me a little: my love life. Specifically, this is the story of my love life meeting my financial life. Oh, boy.
A couple of years ago, I met someone who changed my whole perspective. I started to not just think in terms of “me” but also “we.” As these things go, we decided to share a life together. Sharing a life meant sharing an apartment. And sharing an apartment meant sharing finances.
We've had many discussions about money, but only one real full-blown fight. But I thought I'd share what I've learned about living in financial harmony and ask what you've learned, too. But first, a little background.
We're balanced — usually
I'm an extreme worrier. This is with everything, but especially money. Brian is more easygoing. We're both hard workers, but when there's an obstacle, we react differently. When faced with a problem, Brian might let out an expletive or two, but for the most part, he doesn't let it get to him. I, on the other hand, completely freak out.
Sometimes he should let it get to him more. And sometimes I shouldn't freak out so much. Most of the time, we come to a reasonable middle ground, and that's great. For example, last year, when I underestimated my tax payments and lost all my savings, I went into full-blown panic mode. His rational attitude was helpful — he explained that we would just have to tighten up the budget. He explained that, contrary to what I was feeling, this wasn't the end of the world. “You don't have debts to pay off,” he reassured me. “You have a job, and you can still pay your bills. You just have to rebuild.” He was reasonable, and it helped.
But there are times that I find his attitude to be too casual, and there are times that he finds my neurosis to be unreasonable. That's our dynamic. I never really expected to make my GRS journey with someone else, but here we are, and here's what we're learning.
We have different financial motivators
In discussing finances with Brian, I've realized that my main impulse for financial independence is fear. Last month, I wrote about how I desperately need a new computer, but the poor kid in me won't spend the money to buy a new one, even though I can afford it. Brian was the one who inspired me to think about the pitfalls of this behavior when he asked, “Why else do you save money if not to have a sense of security and be comfortable?”
When he asked that, I realized that he seeks financial independence because he wants to live a nice, comfortable life. Meanwhile, I seek financial independence because I'm terrified of being poor. That was a weird thing to learn about myself, and I'm trying to transform that fear into something healthy. But in terms of our relationship, realizing our differences helped us learn how to talk about money.
How to talk about money
It's great that Brian has a different motivation for financial independence, but sometimes, that can backfire, too. When you're trying to save, for example, the desire to live a comfortable lifestyle right now can get in the way.
Last year, Brian was frustrated over some bills that were much higher than he anticipated. At first, I tried to help by telling him I would “manage” his finances and budget. “I know what works,” I would tell him (this coming from the person who didn't pay her quarterly estimated taxes). “So this is what you should do.”
I'll admit, “Do what works for you” has been the GRS tenet I struggle with most. For one, I feel like some things just work for everyone — they're just universally good ideas. And second, I can be unsympathetic. I forget that people have different ways of motivating themselves. And this is what caused the one full-blown fight Brian and I had about finances, in which I stormed upstairs and sulked because he wouldn't listen to me.
“Your advice makes sense,” he said. “But I need to figure this out on my own.”
J.D. once asked how we talk to our loved ones about money. He brought up the point that “if they're not ready to listen, you run the risk of doing more harm than good when you offer advice.”
Realizing there was only so much I could do, I decided to do two things: 1. Lead by example, and 2. Have faith in the man I chose to live with.
Lead by example
It's easier to budget if you're living with someone on a budget. Out of the blue one day, I caught Brian using Mint.com — a suggestion I once made that I thought had been shrugged off. Turns out, he saw me make it a part of my regular finance routine and realized this would be the easiest way to keep track of his finances, too. Sometimes, leading by example works better than lecturing, and I think that's especially helpful in a relationship, because lecturing kind of kills romance.
I think most of us have the capacity to come to terms with what's best for us. But I've never really been the type of person who leaves it up to someone else to figure things out. I'm more of a “here just let me do it” kind of gal. But that's not how relationships work, so I've learned that you have to have faith in the other person. Or, as my mom has told me, you have to have faith that you picked the right person.
Brian is both open-minded and perceptive. I had faith in those qualities when we got into that money fight. It was really all I could do for our relationship — I hate to admit it, but I had to learn to be less controlling.
Preparing for the future
I'm not sure how I feel about the phrase “When you know, you know.” Some couples hit it off immediately, get married fast, and then live together in perfect harmony. I did feel something different when I met Brian, but it was more that, as I got to know him, I grew more confident of that feeling. I see us working out whatever hurdles may arise in the future. I see us figuring out a way to combine our finances, should we decide to do that. Because we've gotten to know each other's money habits and behaviors, we'll have a better idea of what to expect from the other person in our financial future. Money is an unavoidable issue when you're sharing a life together, but having these financial experiences and discussions makes me feel better about tackling money issues down the road.
Overall, a lot of the stuff that seems to solve money issues in relationships is the same stuff that solves relationship issues in general. We've learned to communicate better about money. We've learned to be open about our finances. We've learned to compromise on our budgets. We still don't have the same spending and savings habits, but we've found a way to live in financial harmony.
But I'm curious what you've learned. This is new to me — I've never really shared a budget or financial information with a significant other before. So, I'd like to ask:
How did you learn to live in financial harmony with your partner? What were some obstacles you faced?
What's your advice for preparing for a financial life together?
Kristin Wong is a freelance blogger who frequently writes about relationships for MSNâ€™s The Heart Beat blog. After paying off her student loan debt, Kristin decided it was time to pursue her dream and also put her English degree to use. She scrimped, saved and in 2010, left her hometown of Houston, Texas to pursue a writing career in Los Angeles. Since then, she has written for television, web, and occasionally, sketch comedy. When sheâ€™s not attached to her laptop, Kristin enjoys baking, amateur gardening, listening to 60s rock and exploring her city.