I would say I’m a pretty independent woman. My independent streak stems from growing up in a household with two older brothers and feminist parents who wanted me to be able to take care of myself; they treated me as equal to my brothers. I grew up thinking I would be the breadwinner for my home and had wage-earning ambition up to my eyeballs from an early age.
Little did I know that things aren’t so black and white once you grow up and start a relationship. Money is a strange thing when it comes to partnerships, and gone are the days of a unilateral expectation for women to become stay-at-home moms (though my mom was, for a piece of our childhood). Fast forward to where I am now, a few years post-grad, in a stable relationship and living with my boyfriend. We went from being a long distance couple to living together, which is quite a switch that’s had its fair share of ~adjustments~, if I’m being honest.
One of those adjustments, which I’ve discussed before on TFD, is getting smacked in the face with the cost of living in New York City. It’s expensive as hell, a point I probably make too much, but it is the truth. Once I moved in with my partner, I knew right away that I needed to make sure to set myself up to have financial independence in our relationship. It is in no way because I worry about him manipulating me to get the upper hand — if I was worried about that, I wouldn’t be in a relationship with him. My desire for financial independence is based more in my effort to be aware of my finances and thereby make sure that I am in control of my financial life, in case anything ever did happen in the future.
My partner and I have discussed combining finances once marriage rolls around, but we aren’t there yet. Until that happens, my money is mine, and his is his. We are learning how to maintain that independence (mostly through A LOT of conversations that grow our awareness of our situations). Here are the three crucial ways that I’ve set myself up for financial independence in my long-term, live-in relationship.
1. I have my own accounts: checking, savings, 401k, IRA.
I have my own shit. All of my own shit. This has not only forced me to get said shit together, but it has pushed me to learn about how to manage my money myself. I ask a lot of questions — my boyfriend is really good with money, and so is my dad. I get advice from them, but that doesn’t mean they have a say in how I handle my money. The ultimate decisions are made by me and me alone.
When I first moved in my boyfriend, I had an urge to get a shared account and actually looked into different options. Shared accounts do work for some people (go, you people!) but for me, I knew I needed to become financially literate before I made a jump like that, and that meant my financial learning had to be on me and my own accounts. It’s liberating knowing that my money is mine and I know where it all goes. Again, this will change one day when my partner and I decide to combine; but, at this stage, my private accounts have played a crucial role in me establishing myself independently.
2. I don’t run my purchases by anyone but myself — unless I need an opinion.
If I want to buy a car in the near future (which i don’t….at all), I won’t consult anyone but myself. I like getting others’ opinions on things, and I definitely seek advice from the people I trust about big financial decisions. But, never ever have I asked my boyfriend permission to make a purchase; he, in turn, never asks me. We have both done the occasional eye-roll (I have a a T.J.Maxx fetish and he’s weirdly into antiques) at what the other buys, but all in all, we are supportive of how each of us handles our money. Even if we aren’t fully-on-board with a purchase, we don’t say anything. As long as we are paying our bills and not putting the other out of financial well-being, it’s not really our business what our partner decides to buy.
There is a disclaimer on this, though: if you suck with money and are trying to get your shit together, sometimes a partner can help in a supportive and loving way. I know some people who are in credit card debt; their partners got them out of that debt and the recently-debt-free partners are paying the financially-responsible partners back, interest-free. This is amazing, supportive, and pretty selfless. If a partner does this and holds it over your head — it’s not support. It’s manipulation. This is IMPORTANT. I believe that the way you establish financial independence from a partner is largely a reflection of how your relationship is in the first place. If I felt that my boyfriend could in any way manipulate me, then it would not be safe to accept his loans to pay off my debt.
3. RESIST temptation to always let him pay or be your sugar daddy (unless you are a legit sugar baby, in which case, you do you).
My boyfriend is my boyfriend, not my provider. This can sometimes be tricky, because my boyfriend earns more than I do. There are occasional, expensive activities we do; on those occasions, he pays a bit more, because he can. That is the truth. What he doesn’t do: pay for every meal we eat together, pay for my trips home, buy all my clothes, etc.
You might have a system in your own relationship where this works, and you know what? That’s okay. For me, though, I have to maintain my identity within the relationship as my own provider. There have been plenty of times where I’ve thought: “Shit, he could pay for this a lot more easily than I could.” And honestly? Sometimes he does. But not all the time. Sometimes I do. But not all the time.
Right now, it’s important to me to be on an even playing field while I’m still setting myself up for financial success and independence for the duration of my life (professionally and personally). In a few months, my situation could be different. Case in point: our rent went up. He makes more, and can afford paying more of the increased rent, so we divvied up the rent based on our salaries. This decision was something my partner and I discussed at length, instead of deciding willy-nilly that he’d pay more.
Everyone is different, and to say that I haven’t made financial mistakes would be a big, fat lie. But, I do know that having financial independence is extremely important to me, especially at this stage of my life. And like anything that is important and necessary, establishing this independence takes time and practice (and diligence) to make sure it pans out well for both me and my boyfriend. It’s not sexy to talk to your partner about finances, and it’s not always fun to make sure that you are being smart with your own, but I do assure you: It’s worth it.
Abby is an management consultant living in Manhattan, originally from the beautiful land of Ohio. She’s obsessed with people-watching, problem-solving, and tuna salad. You can follow her on Twitter.
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