None of us need any reminders that millennials are getting married later. Or sometimes not at all. The media does a great job of reminding us of our singleness, much like that one well-meaning older relative at Christmas. Or, in my case, that proverbial relative may have just given up and stopped asking cringe-y questions about “starting a family” (surely one of the more annoying euphemisms known to humankind).
As a result of staying single longer, more and more women face establishing our financial lives without a partner. This can obviously take many forms depending on our individual circumstances, whether or not kids are part of the picture, and, crucially, our privilege-factor. Despite not growing up in a wealthy family, I’m conscious that my own privilege is significant. I’ve never faced serious unemployment, I have a college education, I’m able-bodied, cisgender, and white. All of this has certainly contributed to the situation I find myself in now in my early thirties, single, debt-free, and with my finances happily more or less in order.
Money is always a tricky, and persistently subjective, subject. Which is why I try to avoid comparison, especially where things like net worth are concerned. There are many people in the personal finance community vastly further “ahead” of me, so much so that it can feel intimidating even thinking about it. But that mindset doesn’t serve anyone. We all need to own where we’re at, and honor the path that brought us here. It’s not a race. And especially where women and finances are concerned, we deal with enough challenges as it is. The focus should be on supporting each other, no matter where we are. And no matter where we are, after a few years into our financial lives, we are going to have something worth protecting.
The point is that if, as a single woman, you’ve got your routine down, and are steadily hustling to advance your goals, considering adding another person into the mix can be daunting. You don’t want to rock the boat, but you do want to consider someday letting a special person in on the awesome stuff you’ve got going. At least eventually. So whether you are in the early stages of new love, considering taking it to the next level with that special someone, or just doing some soul-searching in advance, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll approach taking your finances from single to coupled up.
Here are some things to think about, whether your net worth is negative (i.e. you still have debt, that you’re valiantly crushing), neutral, or positive:
1. Acknowledge the hard work you’ve done to get here, and the privilege you have if you’re in a position to save and invest.
So much of what we might see in the media about millennials and personal finance is negative, so first take a moment to respect the hustle that brought you here. There are a lot of financial perks couples have, including lower cost of living and sometimes tax advantages. So getting to where you are as a single lady, wherever that may be today, is worth celebrating. And if you are in a position to save a portion of your income, and invest it for your future, take a moment to be grateful as well. You’ve been educating yourself about money, and handling your personal finances solo. And you’re getting closer to your goals, bit by bit. That’s something to be proud of.
But with great hustle comes great responsibility, so don’t rest on your laurels just yet.
2. Think about your ideal future state.
For me, that’s easy. I want to be location independent and financially independent, and I want my future partner to be psyched to be a part of that journey. So someone whose main goal was to buy a big house in the suburbs and live there forever would probably not be the best financial (or overall lifestyle) fit for me. That’s not to say true love can’t conquer all, and compromises can’t be made. But if you know where you’re heading, it can help identify when you might be veering off in the wrong direction.
And I know you have dreams in mind. Know what they are, and don’t be afraid to articulate them. Do you want to start your own business? Freelance? Go back to school? Retire early and travel? Travel now, while you (and/or your children) are still young? All the plans that you have in place and the progress you’re making towards them are real, and valid, and your partner should be as excited about them as you are. Don’t settle for any less.
3. Face your fears.
This is a tough one. When you’ve spent years taking care of business for yourself, you’ll naturally be wary of anyone disrupting the delicate balance of your personal financial ecosystem. But take the time to examine how much of the fear of control is sensible self-preservation, and how much is just fear of change or of the unknown.
I am a believer that as women, we should all have access to some “F-you” money that’s just ours. But if you choose to combine finances with your partner, consider how much control of the shared resources you’d be comfortable sharing. Think through the worst case scenarios, as unpleasant and unromantic as they may seem. And make sure you have a plan in place to protect yourself. This isn’t a negative reflection on your relationship; it’s just being smart.
4. Appreciate the advantages to coupling up, while maintaining your autonomy.
There are a lot of them. Sharing housing expenses comes to mind, especially given how insanely expensive rents are in most major cities. “Two incomes, one rent” is an actual modern day dream. But then you need to make a plan for how you’re going to make those extra savings work for you, both individually and as a couple.
The same is true of food costs. Grocery shopping for two doesn’t have to be double the cost for one. However, you’re both going to have your own routines and habits when it comes to food, so respect that. You could consider combining shared costs, and letting each of you pay for any expensive indulgences ($4 bottles of kombucha, or expensive protein powder, etc.) separately.
5. Have the Money Talk.
And not just the who pays for what/how to split expenses talk. If you are on a path of debt repayment, or saving and investing for your ideal future state (which you are, because you’re a badass), talk to your partner about their thoughts on the subject. Talk to them about what their goals are. Best case scenario, you both support each other and reach your goals even faster. That’s what I hope, anyways. I’ll let you know if/when I get there.
There’s risk to letting someone else into your financial empire in the making, but the rewards can (theoretically) be immense. The people that were lucky enough to find their other half young, and who started out on their financial journey together, don’t have to think about this stuff in the same way. They probably (definitely) have other challenges to face. But the fact remains that they had less on the line when they started out together. And, after listening to one too many personal finance podcasts that talked about the Married Filing Jointly tax status as though it were the only option, I realized that single women building wealth for ourselves often get left out of the discussion.
Regardless of whether we eventually end up in relationships, we should do ourselves the service of taking pride of how far we’ve come, and taking ownership of where we’re going. And encouraging each other along the way.
Grace is an expat living in Dublin, Ireland, and blogging at Gracefully Expat. A US expat tax professional by trade, she writes about expat life and personal finance, with a goal of moving towards location independence and financial independence, with intention. She loves empowering people to take ownership of their financial lives.
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