(The CUT) -- My partner and I met at NYU during college, about nine years ago. On our second date, he said that he had something to tell me.
And I was like, “Oh God. He has a girlfriend.” He said, “So, I don’t work. I have a trust fund.” He admitted it in this way that he thought I was going to think less of him for it. And it’s true that it was a turnoff to me, which I told him. So we’ve been very honest with each other from the beginning.
I’ve had jobs since I was 13. I went to a private high school on scholarship, so I was used to being the non-rich person among rich people, and I had a lot of pride attached to being the hard-working, scrappy kid. I had a scholarship and financial aid in college, and I took out student loans too. I graduated in three years to save money and I had two jobs while I did it.
I also grew up in a family that disparaged rich people. My mom was a nanny for a wealthy family and she judged them all the time for how they spent their money. She saw it as very black and white: the haves and the have-nots.
We were raised to have disdain for people with money, like they don’t have real problems. And now that I’m on the other side of that, I know it’s obviously not true.
Things moved relatively quickly once we started dating. We also had a lot in common — we read similar things, and always had tons to talk about. We never got sick of each other, and we still don’t. We moved in together after we both graduated. I was making $48,000 at a film production company and we’d been dating for about a year. Before that, I’d been living with two roommates and he’d been living by himself. I really wanted our rent to be split half and half, and to keep paying the $900 a month I’d been paying before.
He listened, and was respectful, but then we really couldn’t find a place that we both liked for $1,800 a month. Finally he was like, “Listen, I’m already paying $2,100 a month for my place now. What if we each keep paying what we currently pay, and we look for an apartment in that price range?” That seemed logical. And then we found an apartment we loved. It kind of set the tone for splitting finances going forward, at least at the beginning — I’d pay what I could, and he’d cover the rest.
Our first month living together, he ordered a bunch of stuff for the kitchen, and when it came I was like, “Wow, these are expensive. Do we really need them?” And he was like, “Please don’t tell me how to spend money. This was a big issue with my parents, and I really don’t want it to be an issue with us.” That was a big moment, and it became a ground rule: I’m not going to make any judgments about how he wants to spend his money. His parents had fought about money a lot, and then they’d gotten divorced.
We don’t argue about money, but there was definitely an internal struggle for me at first. It was more of an identity crisis than a relationship conflict. I lost my sense of, “I make this much, I pay this in rent, and I paid for this in groceries and it all adds up.” Of course, it was great to eat at nice restaurants and go on cool trips, but it was also scary and weird. There was an element of giving up control. And of course, a lot of guilt about not deserving any of it.
I quit my job about five years ago so that we could move to Maine, where his family is from, and that was incredibly difficult. A big fear for me was that one of us would resent the other. I was nervous that I’d resent him someday because I was leaving my career, or that he’d resent me for mooching off of him.
I also have a fear of getting too comfortable. When we started a small business together, I put us on a strict daily budget that we followed to a T, which made me feel like I had some ownership over the money even though it wasn’t mine. I still feel like I have to ask for money when I buy stuff for myself, even though he constantly tells me I don’t have to. Just yesterday, I asked him if I could use our joint credit card to buy new bras. He was like, “Just don’t buy cheap ones,” and I was like, “Don’t tell me what to do.” We have a sense of humor about it.
I used to worry about whether I’d have the ability to take care of myself if our relationship ended. I’ve been out of the traditional job market for a while now, and if we broke up in 20 years, I’d have nothing saved retirement, because I haven’t been making wages. We talked about that, and drew up some legal paperwork so that I get a payout if we break up, like a settlement. It was actually his idea. And I’ve always kept savings. I still have about $12,000 as a safety net, which I built up in my early 20s.
I do get some comfort from the fact that my relationship with the value of money is still the same. My economic footprint is very small. $10 is still $10 to me, and certain things are worth that and certain things aren’t. I’m still the girl who shops at H&M, and I don’t care that I maybe don’t need to. My package from H&M will arrive, and he’ll be like, “You know, you can buy nicer clothes,” and I’m like, “Don’t be a snob.” That’s who I am. My friends haven’t changed. My family hasn’t changed. I’m still the same person.