I Love You, But There's This Money Thing...

« previous episode | next episode »

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Love and Money (Mista Stagga Lee/flickr)

We like to think of our romantic lives as pure and unbothered by the cold business of spreadsheets and tax documents. But here's the thing: serious relationships are both romantic and financial partnerships. That can come as a shock to a lot of people. I asked for your stories about love and money. Tiffany sent in this plea:


Can we talk about prenups? My fiancé and I just broke things off because we couldn't agree to the terms that each of us wanted...I'm completely devastated and I'm getting mixed messages from people. Some are for and some are against but everyone seems to feel very strongly for one side or the other.

Tiffany’s 28, and she’s disappointed by what killed her otherwise great romance: an irreconcilable disagreement about money. 

Tiffany is dating in Washington, D.C. after breaking up with her fiancé over a prenup dispute.

Her problems aren't unique, though. Relationships demand regular financial negotiation: prenups, joint checking accounts, retirement plans. What if one partner wants to buy a luxury car and the other finds that totally embarrassing? Is it worth getting remarried later in life when pricey hospital bills are looming? These are big questions that might not seem romantic, but talking about them is essential for a healthy relationship.

Got a money or relationship question that's causing stress at home? Let us know in the comments below − or share a tip that might help us all.

Eric and Martha are teaching their 4-year-old daughter about money while figuring things out themselves.

Consider Eric Burton and Martha Mills. They opened a joint checking account, and had a perfect system in which each of them deposited a percentage of their income. Until the kid came along. Here’s what Eric wrote us:

After our daughter was born 4 years ago, we chose for Martha to stay at home (since I made more money).  We both do a little bit of side work, but I still earn most of the income. Now all of our money goes into joint and we each just tend to use spending money via our credit cards and figure it all out down the line. The stay-at-home mom/not-working-but-always working dynamic kind of [adds to] the difficulties of our new fiscal reality. 

When you have a system around money that’s been working for so long, how do you deal with change?

Lola, a personal assistant and actress, is paying all her own bills now. 

Ask Lola Davidson. Several years ago, she fell in love with a very wealthy man, and he paid for everything. That included the BMW, the handbags, the jewelry, and the condo on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles:

I remember the day we went to the open house of that condo and the realtor, a sharply dressed woman, asked what we both did for a living and I said some obnoxious thing like, "just living the dream," and she replied, "and that's how it should be, the man makes the money and we spend it." Today I'd be so offended if someone said that to me, but that day, at that time in my life, it sounded more like approval.

Then, Lola and her boyfriend broke up. She had no income and had to face her financial problems head-on. That’s what this episode is all about — the ways money complicates our relationships, what we learn, and what questions still linger.

You can read a full transcript of this episode.

And we got a lot of calls from listeners dealing with money in their relationships. Here are a few more.

Erin's inheritance makes her feel guilty that she can't fully support her family:

Rob and his husband have separate checking accounts and very different spending habits:

This listener dated a 32-year-old man who was totally happy to let his mother support him, and she couldn't stick it out:

Jeremy's in his 40s, and has no idea what his parents actually made to afford the life they gave him:


    Music Playlist
  1. Take a Ride - Death, Sex & Money Theme
    Artist: The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis
  2. Brain Wreck
    Artist: Bijou Basil, BMI
  3. Honey
    Composer: Chris Dixon
    Artist: La Practica De Familia
    Album: Parallel Play

Hosted by:

Anna Sale

Comments [15]

Schuyler from United States

I have spoken with people about prenups before too. I am a woman, and if I ever get married you can sure as heck bet that I will require a prenup. I'm not wealthy, but I'm working hard to build up a retirement fund steadily, in addition to a savings account and whatnot. I choose to look at it as a romantic gesture, as a matter of fact. A prenup will protect the one you love today from the person who, in the middle of a divorce, may be your worst nightmare.

Mar. 14 2015 03:54 PM
betsy from nyc

I listened to this episode months ago when it aired & returned to see if any of the comments would help me & my fiancee with the problem we face. Joe is 72, a retired college professor with small savings. I am 57 & have inherited enough money to support me as an artist (having worked my whole career). I have no qualms about taking care of Joe's medical costs in the future (he has treatable prostate cancer) but medicaid will also first take care of a lot of it, if we are NOT married. If we are married, however, medicaid won't pay a dime until all of my assets are finished, leaving me with out any money to take care of myself when I'm older. I have spoken to lawyers about a possible way around this & there isn't one. A prenup won't even hold up. So as it stands, we're engaged but unable to marry. I was hoping someone out there would have a magic solution - still hoping...

Mar. 02 2015 02:02 PM

I "cracked the code" into dealing with money into child caring years and with irregular work divisions. The way we manage money with our kids is framed by how we managed money before we had kids:

Feb. 16 2015 11:05 PM
abby from Manhattan, ny

Sounds good Anna! I've heard you on This American Life and glad to see this new show is taking off- I just got word of it yesterday and already have listened to all of the episodes you have available!

This topic is really relevant to me. My boyfriend is a freelancer, and I just left the freelance field (I started in DC doing temp work for NPR actually..) and started a new job. We decided to move in together and are ready to be a "team" when it comes to spending and making future travel plans. Because of his school loans and my new hire position we CAN NOT get approved for a new apartment! I love him, but the struggle of money/credit/debt/savings/lack of savings is wearing me down. This city is so big I sometimes wish I could just start over with someone who can take care of me, or really just contribute more to our future. Anyhow. thanks touching on this- looking forward to listening to more.

Sep. 12 2014 03:29 PM

Okay, he sent her a prenup via FACEBOOK? How was that not a followup question?

Aug. 23 2014 01:16 AM
Jean from London

Last week I married a man who lets me tell me what to do with our money. Not that he's a pushover; we're just both roughly on the same page of having no idea what to do, but I'm the more active figurer-out in the relationship, and if it sounds right he'll go along with it, and if it's not working out we trust each other to say something and make decisions. Just throwing that in there after so many stories of people not wanting to share. Our current financial plan is giving ourselves a small amount of spending money that we can spend on whatever the hell we want, putting aside money for bills and basic living, and the rest going towards the little bit of credit card debt we incurred from the wedding. We both pay all our income into the same bank account. Even though I earn a really good wage at the moment and he's job hunting, we both contribute what we can and it works. We both make spending mistakes and splurges, but we're both on the same page and it seems to just.... go smoothly. Respect, trust and listening to each other.

I say that because I spent from the ages of 20-27 with a man who was incredibly frugal both with love and money. Our relationship had many many problems but these were two massive things. From the start he always earned more than me (I was a bartender, then receptionist, then student). During our 7 year relationship he kept a running spreadsheet of all the money he'd spent on me - usually things like when we went to ikea, and I didn't quite have enough for that lamp I wanted, so I asked if he could get it for me, and when he hesitated I'd tell him I'd pay him back, so he'd add it to the spreadsheet. He also estimated that he spent thousands on me every year, in dinners and movie tickets and so on. He was earning 6 figures but happy to live off ramen noodles. I would cycle through living on as little as I could, then splurging, then feeling terrible, then living off nothing again. We lived together for 5 years. Money was a constant, constant issue, as was trust. He couldn't trust me at all, and resented me for it. I felt he treated me like a child, so I acted like one. I left that relationship knowing nothing about money. He graciously 'wrote off' the spreadsheet, which I still have. It was about 3k.

Aug. 15 2014 10:42 AM
andee from Montana

I loved this episode but it made me feel a little sad that more of the people weren't excited to share with their partners. Admittedly I wasn't that excited to share finances with my husband when we go married. But with some hard work, (quite a frustration and a little yelling actually) we got on the same page and are working towards the same financial goals. Having a really big goal that we strive for and sacrifice for together has grown our relationship so much. We started with a goal to save $20K in one year - which was big for us. And once we accomplished that we decided to pay our mortgage off in under 4 years. We live on 30% of our take home to make this plan work. Yes it is stressful but I would never give back the closeness that has developed between us to have an individual bank account. Free-for-all spending at target didn't bring me the happiness I have found in being a true team with my partner.

Aug. 12 2014 06:30 PM
T from New York

My daughter and her now husband had a drawn out prenup dispute.
they went through with the wedding, but I am not sure it was the right path.
Neither decision was the "easy" path. I guess time will tell, but he has a large inheritance, and wanted to protect it, which is understandable, but the process was ugly and unpleasant

Aug. 03 2014 06:10 PM
Anna Sale

Hey Maya! Thanks for your question. We put it over on our Facebook page too (

Here are some of the replies:

Anaïs BéDé - Get over the need for perfect autonomy at all times. Marriage is about supporting each other and becoming one legal unit, you WILL become dependent on each other for so many things. If your prospects for employment are reasonable, I think you can see this in the long run (as one does, with marriage) and accept interdependence as a feature of human life. Be responsible, have a plan for paying off your debts, and make a budget together. Maybe delay the house until you've paid off your debt if you want it equal, or go socialist and pay according to your means. We, white middle-class people, over-value material autonomy.

Lisa Eaton - My hub and I married in 1992, me with student debt, him with enough savings for a house downpayment, double my earning power, as well as child support payments. We came up with a formula to contribute proportionally to a household account (mortgage, insurance, taxes, food, cars, repairs, entertainment, phone~everything that was not individual discretionary spending), based on our incomes. We did not each contribute half to the household account since my entire income could not have covered half of our living expenses. This is a second marriage for both of us and we didn't want to repeat the very different mistakes we had each made in our previous marriages. Over the years our money approach has evolved so that we no longer pay attention to who is paying how much, but initially, we both needed the structure of a formula. Fortunately, we each get a lot of satisfaction out of saving money. I didn't always feel this way about money and have learned this approach from my husband. It's a change that I welcome and now save with pride and a sense of accomplishment.

Ari-Asha Castalia - We contributed a percentage of our incomes to the join account, depending on how much we made.

Jul. 31 2014 10:28 AM
Stephanie from New York

I understand the desire to keep finances separate, but I don't understand how it works, in a practical sense. I get that sometimes one person wants to do or buy something their partner isn't interested in, but in my experience most of what we spend money on is for both of us. Household bills, food, insurance, vacations... pretty much everything except clothing is shared. And especially when you have a kid, all of that stuff is a joint expense. And saving for the future kind of has to be a joint endeavor, since if your partner spends all of his money when he's young, you're going to be spending your money to take care of them when he's old.

My system is simple - all money goes into a joint checking account. Bills are paid from it, savings is taken from it and we use that money to spend on the things we need. Neither of us hassles the other over small purchases and anything expensive gets discussed. My husband and I have each made more money than the other at some point in our relationship and this has worked for us.

Jul. 30 2014 06:54 PM
Maya from Philadelphia

I am in a serious relationship and my girlfriend and I are considering marriage. However, she is debt free and wealth building (which is awesome!) while I am still managing $20,000 in student loans.

With the possibility of a wedding and house purchasing in our future how do I contribute as much as she is able too? I want to be equally contributing to our future and don't want her to feel like she carries any extra burden. Thanks!

Jul. 30 2014 01:54 PM
Ryan from Brooklyn

My wife and I keep our checking accounts 100% separate, and still have our own credit cards. But we've had a joint credit card since before we were married that we use for all the joint expenses (groceries, vet bills, drinks out together, etc.) so we don't have to constantly have conversations about who last paid for what, or who's turn it is to pick up a bill. Once a month, we each pay half the card balance. Bonus: using the reward points toward joint vacations!

Jul. 30 2014 01:13 PM
nyc11201 from Brooklyn, NY

Having separate checking accounts, credit cards and a joint savings for mutual future and current expenses, is the way to go. If a couple decides to start a family, with the agreement she will stay home, great. Better if he can continue to support everyone on his salary. In my case, we hired a nanny because I wanted to return to work. He expected me to do housework and cook everyday. So, I decided to deduct the cost of a housekeeper and chef from my portion. This way I can hire extra help if I want to. There is always a solution when there is a commitment. Money doesn't have to be a deal breaker.

Jul. 30 2014 01:11 PM
Jo from Middletown

Having assets to protect would be wonderful. Something else to consider is avoiding having your credit rating ruined by your spouse. He always "managed" our finances and I stupidly did not ask questions. I assumed that our mortgage (joint) was being paid. Not only was that not happening, but he ran up huge credit card bills (some were joint, although I never used them) and borrowed money behind my back from my own family. My 18-year old has a better credit rating and higher credit card limit than I do! Lesson learned: talk openly about money from the beginning and don't have joint credit cards.

Jul. 30 2014 12:13 PM
Layla from NYC

I don't understand how or why in 2014 women and men are not 50/50 their bills and keep finances separate, but check in and work together on common financial goals. I understand when kids come into the picture the needs change, but we are making as much as our partners why would a woman would expect a man to "take care of her". Some of these people such as the prenup case is very disconcerting. That prenup means your partner is taken care of if you split and what you enter the marriage with including your debt, is separate. Women have worked so hard historically to be in the work force then why don't we take care of and empower ourselves? (Note: If one person makes very little then work out an agreement so both parties contribute. We can't expect a social worker to split up bills a financial exec has. Make a ratio to be fair)
Women step up be a financial equal partner. Don't have financial expectations unless you want real problems in the future. Money is typically used as a tool of power. Let's empower ourselves so we can have better relationships between the sexes. Same with men. If your partner is a CEO and you are a musician make sure you hold up your end so both parties feel like contributors. My partner and I split everything and unlike many of our friends, we don't have any financial arguments and live within our means. No relationship is perfect, but this is an area where much improvement can be made.

Jul. 30 2014 12:06 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.