Money and Relationships: My Squeeze and Me

As my loyal readers will know, I moved in with my main squeeze two months ago. It has been just lovely, but it did bring up some new areas of discussion. We are not just roommates, but we are also not married and do not have legal rights to each other’s property. We aren’t ready for joint accounts yet, but we do have a lot of joint expenses. The bills at his/our place are a little higher than what I was paying before, but it is also a much better location and has a number of perks (like I get to live with my dreamy boyfriend).

Figuring out how we wanted to handle money together is not always easy, but we have had some good compromises and hopefully have figured out a system. It has been pretty pain free. (Ok, let’s be honest…it has been pain free for me because I love personal finance, but D does not love talking about money with me and I can see him squirming every time in bring up the subject with my excessive enthusiasm.)

So to give him a break from squirmily discussing our money, I will tell you all about the system we came up with:

-We set up a private googledocs spreadsheet (a la Lionel and Wilhemina) to track all of our mutual expenses. We put the receipts in a clip on the fridge and/or check our credit card statements, and fill in the spreadsheet each month. Whoever ends up having paid less writes a check to the other and then we start a fresh page of the spreadsheet.

-D is responsible for paying rent and utilities on time, because he lived here first so he already has the accounts set up in his name. We enter it in the spreadsheet and it goes into the overall expenses for the month.

-We pay the bills according to our take home pay. D makes a bit more than I do (but I negotiated my salary very successfully, I’m sure I’ll catch up soon!) so he pays a little more of the bills each month than I do.

We had a big discussion about whether we should divide the bills based on our take home pay or our pre-tax salary (aka, the number they tell you you are making when you get the job, not the amount you get on your actual paycheck). I contribute to my retirement accounts and my flexible spending healthcare account before I get my paycheck, but D is one of the lucky few who will get a pension when he retires, so he doesn’t contribute to a retirement account or a healthcare account.

I thought that I should be contributing based on our pre-tax amounts, because only I am benefiting from my healthcare account but (depending on our future together) either we both will benefit from my retirement savings, or just I will. D wanted to split bills based on our take home pay because he wanted to make sure I had enough to live on without feeling pinched.

It might seem a little ridiculous to be worried about this type of question because it doesn’t actually come down to very much money, but it it is important in our relationship that no one feels they are taken advantage of. This means that neither of us feels like we are paying more than we should, and neither of us feels like we always take out the trash.

Because we don’t know for sure where our futures will end up, it is hard to make decisions that deal with long term financial planning (like will D benefit from my retirement savings in 35 years? Hard to say.) It is difficult to be exactly fair with planning finances now, so we are doing the best we can and making sure we talk about it and we both agree.

-We have also started talking about long term savings goals together. We discussed the amount we are each putting aside (in separate savings accounts) for our savings goals, and we are in agreement on our savings priorities.

-I recently read that you should divide up tasks based on who is better at what in a relationship. In our case, that means I do most of the household shopping because I am a coupon rock star ($38 for $106 worth of home goods today, what what). He is an AMAZING planner, and he is great at taking advantage of Groupon deals and planning sweet dates and activities.

 

Our joint financial planning has just started, but I suspect it won’t be difficult to keep openly compromising. We created a system together, and if it doesn’t work, we will scrap it and create another system together. What is really important is communication, common goals, and that we care about each other more than we care about money. (Vomiting yet? Sorry not sorry!)

 

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Relationships and Money, Couple 2: Lionel and Wilhemina

Subjects: Lionel (31) and Wilhemina (29)

Lionel is in graduate school and Wilhemina is working as a short term contractor. Lionel is living off of loans and Wilhemina is living off of her salary (which is variable depending on whether or not she can get a contract extension, but it is generally renewed every three-six months). They are not married but have lived together for almost three years.

Lionel and Wilhemina have separate finances. They track their joint expenses in a google spreadsheet, with a column for what Lionel owes Wilhemina, a column for what Wilhemina owes Lionel, what the difference is and who owes whom. This way, they only have to pay each other back when the expenses get unbalanced. Lionel is responsible for paying rent so Wilhemina usually owes him each month. This works for them because Lionel has more flexible expenses because his student loans are disbursed in two large chunks each year.

If they go out to eat and intend to split the meal, one of them can just pay for it and the amount owed goes into the spreadsheet. This way they don’t have to worry about cash or writing checks to each other all the time. They have an easy online money transfer system set up so they actually never write each other checks at all.

When they first moved in together, they tried to keep track of groceries and other household expenses on the spreadsheet. They discovered that the expenses usually came out about even each month, so they decided to just take turns grocery shopping and not worry about tracking household costs.

The exception is if one of them has a big grocery trip (stocking up on booze, trip to Costco)- then it will go in the spreadsheet.

If they are having a date night and one person is treating the other, that does not go into the spreadsheet. They can always spot each other cash without worrying about one person being taken advantage of. Neither person feels like they always pay- they already have an easy system set up so that it is very easy to split the bill. This system has been working for them for a few years.

This system works for Lionel and Wilhemina because they have similarly tight budgets, similar spending habits, they don’t worry about counting every penny, they can each spend their own money on what they choose, and neither partner is taking advantage of the other.

Confession Time

It’s time for me to be honest.

Do I seem like I have my act together? Do I seem like the most organized and fiscally savvy gal you have ever encountered? Oh do go on.

Here is reality: I am 28 years old. Until three months ago I kept all of my important papers in a bin. This bin:

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So embarrassing

I don’t have a desk, so I just threw everything important into this bin. Checks, thank you notecards, my passport, medical documents, my lease, broken pencils, my social security card, an old alarm clock, a gazillion paperclips, important mail, pay stubs, used up highlighters, tax information, wrapping paper. It was all in there.

To give myself a little credit: I never lost an important document, so at least I was consistent about tossing crap in there.

However. As I’m sure you understand, the situation is not sustainable. Firstly (if you recall), I move a lot. Lugging this bin of unsorted paperwork around with me is not a good use of my energy.

Secondly, the bin goes under my bed. It is annoying to go searching under the bed every time a piece of mail comes in.

Third, I had multiple panic-filled moments when I had to spend time rummaging through there praying I had actually followed my system. Lots of stress and anxiety and self-scolding for not being a more organized person.

I needed at least an intermediate step…so I did this:

photo
Only slightly better….

What you are looking at is a beautiful plate with an octopus on it (see the tentacles peeping out of the bottom left?) that my aunt gave me. It became my mail receptacle. And by mail receptacle I mean place to put towers of mail until they get too tall and they fall over and I have to shove them in the bin under the bed.

You can see why this system is not great. I can’t even see my pretty plate.

Finally, at the age of 28 and 2 months old, I finally decided to keep my paperwork like a grownup.

I invested in an ugly file folder crate and some hideous army green hanging folders. Now when my mail stack gets too high, I file the important paperwork. I don’t even keep those little empty mailback envelopes they give you! I get rid of them right away! The files and box weren’t cheap, they don’t look nice, and it is definitely not my favorite part of being an adult.

However…. after being an adult for over a decade now, having this file box does make me FEEL more like an adult. And I no longer freak out about where my social security card is (what is that thing for, anyway?)

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The ugly bin. I am such a responsible adult.

So you see- I am not a naturally organized person. I don’t have a label maker. (I don’t want a label maker because then I would feel guilty for not putting things away in the places I had chosen for them) The reason I have organized my finances the way I have (with automatic bill pay and instant budget making) is because if I didn’t have it automated, my bills and important paperwork would end up in the under-the-bed-lack-of-filing-system and I would have no clue about my money at all.

You will also notice that I didn’t come up with this new organization system overnight. I had a few failed experiments including:

  • A pink binder that did not have enough space in it and I also couldn’t find the hole punch
  • Multiple shoe boxes that I moved around with me
  • A lovely green storage container that got crushed during a move 😦

The point is- sometimes you are going to try to set up a system, and it won’t work. You might need to set up a system one piece at a time (the mail plate was a genius step for me to avoid making my roommates crazy with my old bills stacked on the hall table…) But if you keep trying different systems (and in my case, if I had just bought some stupid file folders) then one day you will find a system that works for you.

Salary Negotiations

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

I feel very strongly about negotiating salaries. When you are offered a position, negotiating your salary is the single easiest way to earn more money at your job. Think of it as the world’s most awkward 10 minute conversation….but you can come out of it $5,000 richer. That is $500 per awkward minute. Totally worth it. Be brave and go for it!

And to my dear female readers…I am leading a personal crusade to reduce the income gap between men and women. In case you did not know, ladies, we make $.77 for every $1.00 that a man doing the EXACT SAME JOB makes. There are some factors that skew this data a bit (like taking time off to have babies and an imbalance between male and female engineers*)- but if you are in an office with the same skills and in the exact same job as a man, you should be making the exact same amount as that man is. Because it is 2014. Time to move society forward, people. Women are badass and it is time we get paid for it.

One of the reasons people say that women make less than men is their reluctance to negotiate for more money. Do you have the same experience, education and skills as that man over there? Then you should be making the same. Period. So think about all of the awkward crap that women have to deal with in their lives- doctors appointments, running into ex-boyfriends, bikini waxes- all much worse than talking with your boss about how valuable you are and why your pay should reflect what you are worth. $500 per awkward minute. You can do it!

Men- I want you to negotiate too because I want everyone to succeed and make the most out of their time and energy. I just think women need to step up their game a little bit.

Once you have been offered the job, the tables have turned. You have gone from being the “seller” to being the “buyer.” Before, you were trying to sell yourself to the company. As soon as they agreed to hire you, things changed. Now you have the upper hand. You get to decide whether the salary, benefits and job are right for you. The best way to succeed at negotiating salary is to mentally shift your attitude. You should go from feeling like you are giving your number out to every man at the bar to feeling like every man at the bar is giving you his number.

Reasons why it is important to negotiate your salary:

  • you are confirming to your employer that you are as valuable an asset as they believe you are.
  • the higher a salary you start with, the higher your earning potential in future jobs. If you stay in the same field, you should expect to increase your salary with experience. If you start at a higher salary, you will make more throughout your life. Negotiating $5,000 more early on could turn into $600,000 more in earnings throughout your career. It’s as if someone said to you, “At this job you can make $1,000,000 over your lifetime, or you can make $1,600,000 in your lifetime at the same job doing the same thing- and all you have to do is have one awkward conversation.” How is this even a question?!?
  • If you are worried about the company not being able to afford a few thousand, there won’t be much job security at a company with such tight finances.
  • You making more money reflects well on yourself, your education and your school (and your gender earning potential).
  • Um. Obviously….You get more money for doing the same job you would be doing anyway.

But how do you negotiate for more money?

1. Do your research ahead of time. This means:

  • Figure out the minimum you are able to survive on (while saving for retirement and emergencies. Don’t forget to factor in income tax. You don’t actually get to take home all that the salary says you are getting). Give yourself a little wiggle room. Do not accept less than this unless you want to be working two jobs or are able to reduce your expenses. Your dream job is not worth it if you can’t pay the rent while you are working there.
  • Try to figure out a typical salary at that organization for someone with your same experience and job title (see if you can get location-specific information, as well). Glassdoor.com is an extremely helpful resource for this sort of information.

2. Mentally prepare to ask for the high end of the range that you have researched. Read some scripts to figure out what to say without being awkward and uncomfortable. Do a mock negotiation with your mom or your dad or your roommate so you can ask for more money without squirming (I am serious. $5,000 is at stake!). Practice like you would practice a speech.

3. Try to put off the salary discussion until a job offer has been made in writing. (I cannot stress the importance of getting an offer in writing enough. I have had it happen to me and I have heard multiple stories were people were verbally hired and then verbally unhired. It is a terrible, terrible thing that unfortunately happens all the time. Do not discuss money until you have a letter in hand offering you the job).

Wait until your employer says a number. If they insist that you give a number first, give a wide (I’m talking $20k) reasonable range starting with your minimum.

4. Do not accept that number. Always go higher. Remember this is a negotiation so if you shoot higher than you actually want/expect you will end up where you want to be. Don’t go crazy, but also do not undersell yourself- you don’t look greedy, you look smart. They have already decided that they want you, and they expect you to negotiate. Show them that you are really worth what they think you are worth. This will feel awkward (remember $500 a minute to feel squirmy), but you are basically doing another mini interview explaining again to them why you are worth what you (and they) think you are worth. Things to bring up again:

  • Experience
  • Education
  • History of success
  • Skills specific to this job
  • Salary history
  • Future potential for success at this job. What will you bring to the table?
  • Industry salary averages (you did this research already on glassdoor.com, now ask for more than the average because you are an above average hire, right?)

Check out this empowering script as an example.

5. Be polite, listen, ask questions, don’t get upset, and don’t bring up personal reasons why you need more money. If you can’t pay your bills with this job, it is probably not the right job for you.

6. If a higher salary is really not on the table, there are other things you can negotiate for. These things include:

  • more vacation/sick days or even unpaid time off, if their vacation package is skimpy and/or you already have things planned. My good friend just got a job across the country and hasn’t built up any vacation. In the next 6 months she has her sister’s bridal shower, bachelorette party and wedding and she also has to go home to celebrate her grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. She negotiated a for-six-months-only amount of unpaid time off so that she can fulfill her family obligations.
  • signing bonus
  • paid moving expenses
  • performance review with potential for a raise in 3-6 months (and subsequent reviews every 6 months after)
  • end of year/performance bonus
  • flexible work hours (an example from my grad school included a student who negotiated not having to come into work until 10 am when the surf was good)
  • telecommute options
  • parking/public transportation reimbursements
  • see if your company will pay your student loans (your office may have a designated “professional education/development” pot of money that they can tap into- it is worth asking to see if they can use that money to help with your loans. This might be especially agreeable if you agree to stay on for a certain number of years)
  • other types of professional development
  • stock options

7. Sometimes the answer will just be no. In this case, try to shoot for scheduling a performance review for future raises (you should be making approximately 3% more each year to keep up with inflation, so performance reviews should be standard). If you can’t afford the job without a higher salary, you can always walk away. Otherwise, take the job (and the lessons learned during salary negotiations) as an important learning experience.

The point is- you will never know if you don’t ask. The company wants you. If you don’t have the conversation, you could be cheating yourself out of the easiest money you’ve ever made. Women- step it up! Let’s get over the awkward awfulness and just do it. It won’t be that bad. When you are done successfully negotiating you can toast yourself (and that large step for womenkind) with a huge margarita- made with top shelf tequila- because you really earned it!

*If you are in college right now and you don’t know what to do with your life, just give a few engineering courses a try. If you are good at it and you like it, you will never have trouble finding a job and you will be well paid forever.

Relationships and Money, Couple 1: Juan y Catalina

Subjects:

Juan (37) and Catalina (29)

Juan has two children from a previous marriage and makes twice what Catalina makes.

Juan pays child support and alimony directly from his paycheck. After that, Juan and Catalina put all of their money into a joint checking account. From that account, they pay their bills, save for mid-term goals and they save for retirement. They have a  budget that they have planned out together. They are aggressive savers and they are both on the same page about their long term goals of early retirement.

To deal with buying things they each want but don’t want to have to discuss, Juan and Catalina give themselves equal “allowances” each month from the joint checking account to their own private checking accounts. The amount is enough for both Juan and Catalina to feel like they can take care of their personal purchases. If Juan wants to buy one of these for every day of the week, he totally can without even talking to Catalina about it. But Catalina might pretend she doesn’t know him anymore. Such is life, Juan.

This system seems to work for them because:

  1. Juan and Catalina have agreed upon long term savings goals and both spend their money according to their shared goals. Neither of them have run out to buy a new road bike or a pair of Jimmy Choos just because they felt like it. They are committed to their goals and follow the rules they have made for themselves.
  2. Juan and Catalina have mutually decided on their “allowance” amount, and they both agree it is sufficient for their personal needs. Neither of them are forced to buy work clothes at Goodwill to stick to their allowance (although they can if they want).
  3. Juan and Catalina never have to have arguments over whether they spend too much on clothes, or haircuts, or stupid crap*
  4. Juan and Catalina pay their bills before they pay themselves their allowance. If they stray from their budget on a joint purchase or want to go on a joint vacation- they just lower their allowance and they are still on track for their savings targets.
  5. Mainly, Juan and Catalina are an example of a successful financial couple because they have taken the time to figure out a system that works for them. They have agreed on goals, budgets, and how to deal with personal purchases- but they had to sit down and have discussions about it before they could get to la felicidad financiera (financial happiness, it sounds nicer in Spanish, eh?)

* Is it worrisome that I actually own one of the items on this list of stupid crap? Maybe. But I also happen to think item #10 (baby mop outfit) and item #1 (send poop anonymously in the mail) are brilliant ideas.

Dealing with Paperwork ugh

I am a magnet for paperwork problems. I am not kidding. My paperwork issues are out of control. I know I am in trouble when the person I am talking to says, “Huh. That’s weird” when looking up my information. Some examples:

  • I had to get my diploma printed THREE times because they kept messing up various pieces of information. First my name was wrong but everything else was right. Then the name was right but the date of graduation was wrong. Third time = I finally have proof that I graduated on time. Phew.
  • When I was applying to grad schools, I had heard back from all the schools but one. I called to see if I got in, and the administrator said,”You got in but it looks like we forgot to send your packet out to you. Unfortunately, the deadline for enrolling was three days ago so now you will be charged a $50 late enrollment fee.” Please don’t be surprised that I did not choose to attend that school.
  • I sold my car and cancelled my car insurance. I got billed the next month. I called again to cancel. I got billed again. The next month, I called the corporate number instead of my agent and was told I needed to send in proof that I actually sold my car. I sent in the paperwork. They said it didn’t count because it wasn’t notarized…as if I had the option to go back in time to get the paperwork notarized. (That thump you just heard was me hitting my head against the wall). It took six months of back and forth before I stopped paying (and was reimbursed) for car insurance on a car I didn’t own. I made quite a few of the phone calls to deal with this while I was waiting for the bus. That is called unfunny irony.
  • I was accepted to my fellowship eight months before it actually started. Two weeks before the fellowship I got an email saying I needed to turn in employment paperwork within 24 hours and I needed to have it notarized and overnighted. When I got that short-deadline email I was in Paris where there is an abundance of drool-inducing cheese but a painful shortage of U.S. notary services. As soon as I got home I ran all over town to send in the notarized paperwork. It turned out that the paperwork the office had provided for me was a. for 2012 and therefore expired and b. only valid for the Northern Mariana Islands. I am not joking.

See what I mean? These are only the examples that didn’t take me an hour to type up. I’m sure you have examples like this of your own (although if you do I am very concerned for America and our ability to file simple paperwork).

Unfortunately, financial management means lots of paperwork, and whenever there is paperwork there is significant potential for head-thump-inducing paperwork problems. All four of the examples above would have cost me money (in the case of the incorrect diploma- it may have cost me a future job!) and none of them were caused by anything I did. Sadly, this is common- usually someone else’s mess-up will cost you your hard earned ca$h, and that STINKS. Lucky for you, I have learned a few strategies that have helped me cope and recoup my money.

  1. Document your interactions. Whenever someone is promising to do something for you (cancel your car insurance, spell your name right this time) write down their name, their employee ID number, the date you spoke, and exactly what was promised. Sometimes I trust people and I forget to do this, and sometimes it bites me in the butt. If I ever have to make the same call twice, I start taking notes- but my life would be easier if I just did it from the start. This is especially useful for the cable company. I have found that cable companies tell you different things EVERY time you call. So keep calling until someone tells you what you want to hear and then write down that person’s information and use it to get what you want. Bam! Well done.
  2. Ask for some role reversal. The customer service representative you are speaking with (incompetent as he or she may seem) is paid to know more about the company policies than the customers. Ask them to use their expertise and put themselves in your shoes. I usually say, “I know I am not the first person in the world to have this problem. If you were me, what would you do to solve this problem?” It usually works. Don’t be afraid to be pushy (but polite) with this technique. Flatter the incompetent who is helping you and remind them that they are the expert in this situation and ask for their expert advice.
  3. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. This tip feels like the exact opposite of what you want to do. You are dealing with the world’s most incapable person who has ever been given a paycheck and you are getting frustrated. I get it. But you are the only one fighting for you. If you hang up the phone, you still have the problem and no one will fix it for you. So take a deep breath and be the nicest version of yourself that you have ever been. When my sister was getting married, she was having a terrible time getting a contract from the reception venue and the coordinator was not responding to calls or emails. When she finally was able to schedule a meeting (5 months from the wedding with no confirmed location), my (understandably frustrated and worried) sister baked cookies for the coordinator and started the meeting off by thanking the coordinator for her help and support in the wedding planning (my sister wasn’t even sarcastic- truly an incredible feat). The coordinator produced a contract at the meeting and my sister and her fiancé got an even better price than they had been expecting.

Finally, stick with it. Patience is the key to victory. I have my diploma in hand from a school that remembered to accept me on time. I no longer pay for car insurance while I am taking the bus. I am legally employed at my fellowship and not in the Northern Mariana Islands. It might be painful getting there, but be persistent. I have hope that one day I will wake up and notice that I haven’t had a ridiculous paperwork problem in over a week. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Vote With Your Dollar

This topic can very easily feel preachy so here is my confession up front: I TRY to be a conscious consumer, but sometimes sales are too good, my budget is too tight, I don’t have the time or I just plain want something that isn’t in line with some of my consumer values.

The point is, I am aware of the fact that how I spend my money has an impact on the local economy, the nation’s economy and the global economy. (Wow! I am so influential!)

Everyone, as a consumer, has the ability to vote with their dollars. I LOVE this local bookstore near my house. Every time I walk in I feel like they somehow knew exactly what I wanted to read and they put it right out front for me to see. When I need to buy a book, I try to support them. Last month I ordered a book from Amazon because I was having Christmas timing/shipping/getting my act together problems- that’s ok too. But I don’t order all of my books from Amazon- I buy some from my favorite bookstore.

I try to buy used goods because I am rescuing that item from ending up in a landfill. Used goods are less expensive and usually just as good as brand new items, and I feel better about reducing my consumption stream. (Especially furniture. I can’t believe what people pay for new furniture when there is gorgeous used furniture aplenty!)

I secretly want to be an artist (ah, what a life). When I see an artist selling work at a market or a festival that I like, I buy it! That could be me selling paintings on the street, and I want to support people who take a risk in a notoriously difficult career path. Because of that, I never buy mass-produced art and I think my house is more interesting because of it. (I also buy frames at Goodwill and I feel very savvy when I find a nice one!)

Lots of people have problems with Walmart, but I freaking love them! (and not just because Walmart was the closest thing I had to entertainment when I lived in my double wide in Alabama). I have a background in fisheries and Walmart has an awesome and admirable seafood supply business model. I think their model should be copied by every store in the US, so I am happy to buy fish at Walmart because I support their business model.

Ditto organic yogurt- the environmental impact that Walmart has by carrying just one brand of organic yogurt is bigger than all of the organic yogurts at all of the farmers markets in America. When I am picking products at Walmart, I try to buy organic (which I admittedly don’t usually do) because I know that Walmart is analyzing its consumer data and they will supply items that their consumers are buying. Their scale of business is so big that a tiny change in their products will have a huge impact, and I feel like my dollar is being used to influence change on a large scale. But I am aware that when I buy yogurt at Walmart instead of at a farmer’s market, I am spending money on big business instead of local dairy farmers who could probably use the money more. There isn’t a perfect answer, so it depends on what you value.

I have a friend who will only buy either items that are made in America, or items that are pre-used. She wants to support the American economy, so she doesn’t spend her money directly on items that were manufactured elsewhere. She votes with her dollar. (Although she told me that she has a really hard time finding certain products (used bath mats? Ick. But try finding a bath mat that wasn’t made in China!))

I went on vacation last month and instead of booking a generic hotel we rented out a whole apartment through Airbnb. Not only was it cheaper and more comfortable than a normal hotel (and it had a stocked kitchen so we could cook for ourselves), but we got to meet the couple who was renting out the apartment. They were a lovely young professional couple who were welcoming and kind and who loved meeting people from other places. I was very happy that my money was going to this lovely couple rather than to a hotel chain.

When I was finishing grad school, I had a friend who was frustrated that the program we had finished did not put enough emphasis on her specialization. She was going to write an angry letter explaining how she wasn’t provided the resources/education she had signed up for. Instead, she decided to donate money to the program that was specifically earmarked to fund resources needed for her specialization. Do you think the administration cares more about an angry outgoing student’s opinion, or a longterm donor’s opinion? Putting some cash behind your complaints may feel counterintuitive, but it can affect the change that you want to see.

The bottom line: when you spend your money, there is some influence that goes along with that dollar. Maybe you don’t have a lot of money- but if you have any at all, you still have some monetary influence. So be aware of what you are spending on and try to make purchases that support the things that are important to you.

New Year’s Budget Resolution Revolution Reminder!

Just a reminder to all my savvy readers who are becoming the boss of their finances:

Today is the suggested deadline to set up a checking account and a savings account (that you are thrilled with). Can you believe it has been two weeks since New Year’s? My resolution to do squats while brushing my teeth has already flown out the window (it really wasn’t that fun, after all). Hopefuly you are doing better than I am by following the easy-peasy step-by-step plan!

If you have set up your bank accounts already, HOORAY! You are an amazing rockstar and you are well on your way to financial success!

If you haven’t done this yet- take a half hour and do it! You will be glad you did. Think of all the worry and anxiety you will save yourself by setting up your own personal finance system.

Next up: Set up automatic bill pay by January 31. That one will make your life much easier!

Love and Money

Firstly, I want the world to know that when I was googling “How do couples manage their finances” to do a little background research, one of the suggested searches was “How do couples hold hands”. That is sad. Let’s stop googling it, people, and just give it a whirl. The worst that can happen is a little clamminess.

In my life, I hope to have a happy, functional relationship with clear communication and expectations. I am sure you all hope for the same. However, a major reason for divorce is trouble with money….and no wonder! Money is complicated, it comes with a lot of feelings attached, and people have differing values and strategies and goals for dealing with money. Dealing with finances as individuals is tricky enough, let alone letting someone else into the mix.

Here is an example from just yesterday when my boyfriend and I were in the car and had this conversation:

BF: My free subscription to XM radio should have ended yesterday [but the car still is playing XM]

Me: Make sure you aren’t being autobilled for it. How much is it?

BF: About $6 a month.

Me: That is $72 a year! Are you going to cancel it?

BF: No.

Me: Seriously? You would pay $72 a year for XM radio? We don’t even like any of the stations.

[Silence]

Me: Ok, I don’t like any of the stations.

BF: Plus, there are no commercials. I think that is worth $72 a year.

(Later in the day the XM radio actually did get cancelled and we learned that XM also provides live traffic updates to the navigation system. In our traffic-jam-filled city, that is well worth $72 a year to me, too!)

See what happened there? We have different values and opinions when it comes to money and music and radio commercials. This was a tiny conversation, but every time we buy something out of the ordinary we are going to have to have a similar conversation (provided, of course, we are consulting our partners on our purchases). That is a lot of navigation to do! $72 a year really isn’t a big deal, but one day bigger purchases will come into the picture.

Since I started writing this blog, I have been asking many of the couples I know how they manage their finances. The answers I have been getting back have varied quite a bit- as have the structures of their relationships. As I am only in one relationship, I can’t address how other relationships deal with finances. After my initial worrisome google search, I discovered that the internet also thinks this is a complicated topic (I read quite a few depressing stories, which is why I am even more convinced that writing about this is important!) I am interested to hear (as are my readers, hopefully!) how some of you deal with your finances as couples. Do you think your system works? Are there any tips or pitfalls? Would you be interested in writing a guest post (or just telling me the deets and I’ll write it up for you)? Comment below or email me at twentiesinyourpocket(at)gmail.com if you want to share.

Here are some of the things that can add complexity to financial planning as a couple (mind boggling, really):

  • One or both of you have kids. Maybe you have kids separately, maybe you have kids together. Maybe one of you has a kid from a former marriage. Who pays for what? Does your new spouse pay for the stepkids? Even if it’s the simplest situation (you each made half of each kid) it’s still complicated.
  • You might be committed but not married. How do you deal with buying property when you don’t have the legal protection of marriage?
  • One of you might make significantly more than the other.
  • One of you might feel like it is your role to “provide,” while the other partner may or may not agree.
  • One of you might have huge amounts of debt. Is your partner expected to pay for the debt left over from your shoe splurge? Is that what partners do for each other when they love each other? Or is that your responsibility?
  • One of you might stay home with the kids instead of working.
  • You might think your partner buys stupid crap.
  • One of you might come from money (please send me information on how you got that trust fund).
  • One of you might want to go to school instead of continuing to work. Along those lines, one of you might want to switch careers to a more fulfilling but lower paying job.
  • You might be a saver, your squeeze might be a spender.
  • One of you might be much closer to retirement than the other (this could be particularly contentious in May-December romances).

You get the idea. Lots of pitfalls. But my general philosophy regarding finances is “Make a plan and try to stick to it.” The only thing that makes couples finances different is that it should be “Agree to a plan and try to stick to it and then communicate with each other.”

My boyfriend and I are moving in together next month and we began the conversation about how we want to handle joint expenses. We are dealing with a few of the complications I listed above (sadly, no trust funds) and we are going to have to work out a system that works for us. As soon as we come up with a system we feel awesome about, I will let you know! Until then, I look forward to hearing from you about how you deal with love and money.

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