Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Relationships & Money: talking about important stuff

This post is a part of Women's Money Week 2012. For more posts about relationships and money, see Relationships and Money Roundup.

Today you’ll hear from my sweetie, who has experienced our relationship from the other side, and has a few things to say about how she and I deal with the topic of money.

One of the key differences in my relationship with Remy versus others (and for the sake of comparison, I’ll stick to my most immediate previous relationship) when it comes to money is that in my past relationships, I’ve been the one who holds the higher paycheck, the better pay rate, and the better head for finances.  With her, the economic situation is reversed; I’m on slightly lower footing. But our basic understanding around money has not lent itself to ease of discussion about money. So much of our experiences and ideas around money come from our upbringings (mine was low-middle/working class) and our viewpoints are heavily influenced by those early experiences.

One of the first things that was clear about our differences was the handling of money.  I tend towards keeping a few bills in the wallet, because you never know when it’s going to be easier to leave money on the table.  She has always used -- almost exclusively -- a credit card or debit card to pay. [Remy’s note: it’s easier for me to keep track of my purchases with a bank statement, and it’s easier to lose cash. I always pay my credit card balance in full, now that I have one.] I’m less inclined to do that, because it’s not what I’m used to being able to do. A credit card or debit card (but mostly credit) implies that at this moment, you have this other cash that will need to be paid back, but it is yours and you can use it.  My brain still breaks at this because, if I have cash in my wallet, then I can and will use that, because it’s there right now, no waiting.  If I don’t have the cash on hand, I just don’t want it.  (Even if I really DO.)  It goes back to being raised with a family that always paid cash for everything.  The one time we didn’t, my mom took out a Sears card for a fridge.  The consternation of paying that back was excruciating to watch.  Every week, she would go into the store and pay some part of the balance back, even though they got regular statements telling them what their minimum payment was.  But we needed a new fridge and the money just wasn’t there all at once and a fridge isn’t something you can put off until you get that money together, because a family has to eat and has to have a place to store food, right?  It just stuck with me, the struggle of all that and their mantra of Cash or Nothing at All.

In talking about money, she is much better about being open and transparent. I have struggled with being willing to even have the discussion. Pulling teeth is not even a close metaphor.  First, she’d have to get me to open my mouth to see which teeth to pull.

But, over time, I have been able to be more open about finances and my state of them (not the greatest, not the worst -- more about that on Saturday) and it’s required me to acknowledge that you don’t just marry the person, you also marry their pocketbook.  It makes me wish that I had done better by my finances earlier in life because a lot of my issues stem from wanting to be a good prospect.  With my finances in the disarray they were, I felt like she was saddling herself to a losing horse: literally, that I was not the person she would want to marry, despite all the love we have for each other, because I couldn’t prove myself as a good provider for her.

In a previous relationship, I was the provider, for a lot of things I shouldn’t have been. I was employed; he was on disability. I sank money into buying lots of things that my partner needed; he was diabetic and needed test strips, meds, lancets, and other items which he should have paid for himself, but being on social services, his money wouldn’t stretch far enough and -- despite his holding down a job that gave him minimum hours and wages -- it was always, “Could you do this for me this week? I swear, I’ll get you back.” but the money never really materialized.  But because this was feeding my need to be a good provider, I always shrugged it off, even if I was not able to do the things I wanted to do with my OWN money. I needed to demonstrate I was a good prospect, even though I KNEW I wasn’t going to marry this person. In some ways, I felt better about myself because I was spending money.

When we do talk about money, I have to spend a lot of time considering how I say what I want to say because so much of my opinion is based on culture and what I was raised with. She was raised differently, and doesn’t understand money in the same way I do. When we have discussed banking practices, I have struggled to make her understand that growing up, despite having bank accounts, both my parents HATED dealing with their banks.  My mother less so, because her banking relationship has always been with a credit union (in that, I have followed her footsteps and love mine!) but the general distrust of banking institutions has always been quite apparent.  As the banking situation in the US has turned more and more sour, I feel like they were right to have so much distrust, and sometimes I forget that she didn’t grow up with the same attitude.  I have struggled with keeping calm because I speak from my experience. The differences in our social status and the influence that had on our views can feel like a large gap that we may never be able to bridge.  At those times, I struggle to maintain compassion for both of us and to keep talking through it; because if I don’t, the conversation stagnates. [It’s really hard to have a one-way conversation. It drives me nuts when she refuses to talk -- I’d rather have open disagreement than silence.] The biggest part has been transparency, which means no secrets.  I have been truthful with her about my finances, but not completely, not all at once. At times, she has railed at me about it, and at other times, has wondered why I would hold back a small trivial piece of information.  It goes back to not wanting to be a burden, to wanting to be seen as a good prospect and provider.  I can’t break that mental trap in a day, but we’ve been together for almost 3 years now -- we get better at it, a little each day.

The other difference is her insistence on reminding me that it is possible to provide in other ways; that those ways are valid as well. I moved away from my hometown to live with Remy, in January 2011. When I arrived here, I didn’t have a job. I had leads, but nothing really concrete.  She gave me a timeframe in which I would look for work while she paid the rent and other living expenses, and then I would pay her back when I was employed. I ended up going over by a month but in that time, I cooked, cleaned, tried to do things she needed done, in short, provided by giving her my enthusiasm to make our new house a home for us.  I recently lost a different job (I still work part time on the weekends) but I am back to that role, and it’s an easier pill for me to swallow.  Yes, because I find that I enjoy these tasks (we joke that I’m the housebutch, not wife) but also because I am good at them.  I am a good cook and baker (when I choose to bake) and I like doing dishes, and I don’t mind laundry. [A darn good thing, or I don’t know when it would get done!]

We have discussed the possibility of being a one-income household, but at this time, I’m not ready to look at that too seriously.  While it would be a nice idea in the future, it’s not one that works too well right now, because I owe quite a bit of money and I am working to lessen my debts before we can seriously consider something like becoming a one-income household.  The other scenario we’ve attached to being a one-income household has been the introduction of children to our home life.  That is a few years away, but it’s something we discuss in concrete terms instead of just dreaming about things or playing the “what if?” game.  That’s another thing that’s different in this relationship versus others.  We think of future scenarios, but it feels more like contingency planning as opposed to daydreaming.  It’s always more along the lines of “what if this happens? What financial answer would we need to be able to provide and how do we get that set up?“ It’s less about the fun of building castles in the air, and more about the true possible costs.  It’s not just “wouldn’t it be nice to have a kidlet?” but “what would our costs be; social, physical, emotional, and yes, monetary in order to be able to provide for a kidlet?  how do we gather all the necessary information?”  [Yes. I like to plan.] It’s refreshing to be with someone who cares about that sort of thing, and does her best to meet my weird brain hiccups with grace and acknowledgement of her own weird brain hiccups.

We keep our relationship strong by talking about the important things, including money. Right now, a lot of our conversation is centered around immediate expenses or our upcoming wedding -- for many couples and their families, a stressful topic.  But because we have been able to talk about so many other financial avenues, it becomes a breeze to talk about where money needs to go and how to allocate funds to what areas in our life.  Because of the willingness to talk (even when it’s painful), we have the freedom to be able to share of ourselves in other areas of our life.  Being from two very dissimilar backgrounds, we each bring interesting and unique perspectives to most of our conversations. Money is but one aspect of our relationship; sometimes, it’s an important one, but it’s just ONE aspect.  There is still so much more we will be exploring about each other’s lives.  I look forward to that.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be civil to other commenters.