I’ve been in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend for close to three years. We were basically inseparable all through college, but when graduation rolled around, we were both offered amazing opportunities — on opposite sides of the world. He moved to San Francisco to become a healthcare journalist, and stayed on for medical school; I moved to Turkey on a fellowship, and I currently live in New York. We didn’t make the choice to be long distance lightly, but at the time, neither of us gave much thought to the financial side of things — I basically assumed that being together was worth it, no matter the cost, and we’d figure things out as we went along. I’ve never regretted our decision, but three years later, we’ve both learned some big lessons about how an LDR impacts your finances. Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned:
We (obviously) spend a lot on travel.
We manage to see each other roughly once a month, and I generally plan for tickets to cost anywhere between $350 – $500, depending on the season. Snapchat and Skype definitely help get us through the weeks in between, but nothing is as good as seeing each other in person — and unfortunately, that means committing to spending roughly $2K/year on our relationship (each). My time in Turkey showed us that being in an LDR where you barely see each other is very difficult, so we’re happy to incur the cost to see each other more often, but it’s easily the most significant burden of being in an LDR (and the one that requires the most budgeting).
My vacation time is spoken for.
I’m lucky enough to get a decent amount of PTO from my employer. However, the reality of an LDR is that any time I take off is split between my boyfriend and my family, which means forgoing trips with friends, or even the chance to just take personal days every now and then, because it would cut into the (already limited) time we have together. We make these choices because spending that time with each other is completely worth it. But it’s definitely been frustrating at times to miss out on other experiences because your vacation time is spoken for, no matter what.
We can’t always see each other for celebrations and holidays.
Between flights, seeing our families, and gifts, it is prohibitively expensive for us to spend the holidays together, which means we generally don’t. And yes, it’s incredibly hard to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas apart when it seems like every other couple we know is adorably hibernating together for the holidays. But part of being able to make cross-country visits happen so frequently, without breaking the bank, is staying home while everyone else is flying. As a couple, we’ve tried to prioritize a few special times to be together to compensate for the celebrations we’ve missed. My birthday coincides with a long weekend, so for the last few years, we’ve planned months in advance to turn that weekend into a trip by cobbling together some vacation days, and the funds to do so. Since no one else wants to fly in cold, gross February, last year, we spent a week in Paris (and I spent just under $600 on tickets!)
Equal isn’t always even.
Initially, we set out thinking we’d just alternate trips to be fair, and everything would be fine. The reality of two different schedules meant that it took us a while to come up with a fair way of dividing the travel burden. As things turned out, my boyfriend’s job involved a lot of travel to the east coast, which meant he could visit a lot more frequently by tacking on a quick visit at the end of a conference — and often have his company cover the cost. I have a more traditional 9-to-6 job, which means my visits can generally be much longer, but because I’m covering the full cost, they happen much more infrequently. We decided it was a fair trade for him to visit more often, and for me to visit for longer. Mostly, this works very well, but there have definitely been occasions where life happens, things get busy unexpectedly, and our visits end up being joint study/work sessions — still fun, but not the celebratory reunion you’d expect.
It’s hard to watch your spending when every visit feels like a special occasion.
I start choosing restaurants and date night activities weeks in advance of visits, and there are definitely trips where we’ve made every night a ~date night~. When you don’t see each other often, there’s a natural inclination to splurge throughout your visit like there’s no tomorrow — particularly when your visits are in two of the most expensive cities in America. The only reason we’re able to splurge this much is because we balance it out by being exceptionally frugal in the weeks before and after a visit. I don’t mind forgoing Seamless sushi and packing my lunches for two weeks if it means I can treat myself when we’re together. However, exercising discipline in New York City (especially in the dead of winter) is incredibly challenging, even though I know it will be worth it.
We’ve also tried to get smarter about our date night activities of choice — living where we do means there’s no shortage of great hole-in-the-wall places for dinner, free events, and Groupon deals, and we take full advantage of all the free (or cheap) things our cities have to offer, as much as we can. I absolutely love getting flowers at work — it’s one of the few things that make my soulless cubicle a better place. My boyfriend knows this, and is fantastic about sending me a bouquet every so often, but we still keep to a budget when we treat each other from across the country.
It requires time management, and reminds us how valuable our time is.
Spontaneity is really, really expensive in an LDR. As a result, I’m a million times more efficient at managing my time, whether it’s waking up earlier to make room for a longer Skype chat, or scheduling my vacation time months in advance. Even our fights are more efficient. We spend less time stewing or being passive aggressive because the time we do have together is so limited, and therefore so valuable, that spending it on pettiness seems like a waste.
In addition, I learned pretty quickly that our relationship is at its best when we’re both equally busy. We both work crazy hours and fill the gaps with side hustles, and social lives. I have definitely gotten opportunities, and promotions at work, I wouldn’t have gotten without putting in extra hours. And I absolutely credit part of that to being in an LDR that lets me work those crazy hours without feeling like it’s impacting my relationship.
Our financial future is harder to envision, even though I think we could have one together.
Despite being together for close to five years, the fact that we’ve been long distance for so long means missing out on many of the financial steps other couples around us are experiencing — whether it’s moving in together, budgeting for groceries, or combining our finances. I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I didn’t envision a future with my boyfriend, but sometimes it feels like an LDR places a ceiling on the maturity of our relationship. When our visits are so different from our everyday reality, it’s hard to get a clear sense of how we’ll deal with the bigger financial choices down the line. And that starts its own spiral of dark thoughts about the fate of our relationship down the line — how will we deal with my student loans? What if our grocery shopping budgets are radically divergent? Most of all, what if, despite all the money and time we’ve invested into this relationship, it turns out that once this ends, we find we’ve grown apart, or can’t live together? I know we’re both very responsible with our finances, that we mostly share spending priorities, and we’ll probably be fine. But even so, being great with our money individually isn’t a guarantee that we’ll be equally good at managing each other’s finances.
An LDR definitely isn’t for everyone, and we’ve been particularly lucky in terms of having the sort of employment/financial situations that have given us more opportunities than usual to spend time together. Choosing to be in an LDR is a difficult decision and not one to be made lightly. But despite everything, the time we spend together still outweighs the cost of being apart. As long as that’s true, I’m confident we’re making the right choice —emotionally, financially, and in every other way.
Meghan is a national security researcher and occasional photographer in NYC. You can find her on Instagram.
Image via Unsplash