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.
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.
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?
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:
Take a Ride - Death, Sex & Money ThemeArtist: The Reverend John Delore and Steve LewisLabel: John Delore
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NOTE: This transcript contains some adult language.
“I am bad with money.”
“I earn more than him.”
“I think I make good money, but I really don’t know.”
“We keep a running tally.”
“Yeah, bottom line is, my husband and I are avid savers.”
“But I’m constantly questioning if what I make is enough.”
“And I decided I couldn't stick it out with somebody who was financially irresponsible.”
Death, Sex, and Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot...and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
“Hi Anna. This is some information for your upcoming podcast on the topic of money and relationships…”
I asked for your stories about love and money. You sent in a lot -- about bad decisions, practical fixes, and lingering questions.
I just sort of got out of a relationship that was perfect and wonderful in every way, I felt. And then when the idea of a prenup came, our relationship just fell apart.
Tiffany Harris is 28. She lives in DC. Her message started was a simple plea -- Can we talk about prenups?
I was engaged to this guy, a really wonderful guy, we met while we were living and working in Israel. And we were talking about the wedding, and planning, and setting dates. Looking at rings. I bought a dress. And then he sent me a Facebook message that said something like, oh and I’m sending you this document that my parents want, and I’m gonna need you to sign it before we get married. I just said something like, this is getting less and less romantic by the day.
Why did he want you to sign a prenup?
Well first he presented it as something his parents wanted, and then it became something that he wanted. You know, sign it or we have to break up.
How long were you together?
About three years.
And how would you describe, what was the impasse about a prenup?
He’s someone who’s supported almost one hundred percent by his parents. And I think what they say really dictates a lot of what he can do or what he feels like he can do. And I guess for me, I was thinking about it today and I remember my mom’s side of the family came from money, and when my grandfather died, there was an inheritance that my family fought over. And I was only 5 at the time, but it was just disgusting. You know, I’m 28 now and I still haven’t met my uncle, because they’re total enemies over this. And I was just really like, turned off by what I felt was a kind of obsession with money. But then again, you know in the end I was ready to concede, because I felt like, you know it’s hard enough to meet someone just to have that connection. That’s not something that comes along every day. It seemed really silly to sacrifice it over this, and if I love him and it’s meant to be, then we wouldn’t get divorced. And I was totally ready to concede, I just wanted a few things changed in the prenup. But it just ended like that.
Do you think, though, that the prenup prompted you to talk about things that would have quickly become issues in a marriage?
Maybe not quickly. I don’t know if—I kind of think that if we would have been together longer, and married longer, without all of that, we would have developed a stronger bond and better communication skills to get over those things.
So it sounds like you’re mourning the relationship. You wish you still had it in your life.
I am, I’m very, very sad about that. And I really miss him, too.
Do you have the kind of relationship with your parents where you talk to them about this?
No I didn’t really—because I didn’t want my family to hate him.
Oh you were protecting him.
Yeah exactly, like even—it’s so embarrassing, but I still haven’t told a few people at my work because I was just like, so embarrassed. You tell people you’re getting married, and then it’s like, they’re asking about it and you’re just like, yeah, it’s still happening. I mean I haven’t taken it that far, but like, yeah.
And you’re 27?
I just turned 28.
28 is a fantastic year. I loved being 28!
I’m more partial to like, 22. I don’t know, hopefully it’s knowledge instead of like, scarification or something that’s gonna make me unstable and untrusting in my next relationship. Sometimes I feel this new wisdom is good, and sometimes I’m like, oh it just makes me like, bitter, or hopefully not.
So Tiffany doesn’t want to be bitter...but she also doesn’t want to be surprised again.
Sandra Cordova doesn’t want surprises either.
Dating at this age is so different than when you’re in your 20s. You really have to be open for being honest about what’s going on with your bodies.
Sandra and her boyfriend are in their 50s. They’ve been together three years and are in love… but they’re not getting married. Because it doesn’t make financial sense.
Sandra is divorced with grown children. She owns her house and her own business in Longmont, Colorado, outside Boulder. Her boyfriend lives in Denver, where he works from the house he owns.
While we like to think that we’re going to healthy forever and we work very hard at it, the reality is, what we see in our parents’ generation is dementia, strokes, Alzheimer’s, in either one of our families. And what I’ve seen, for instance, is my aunt, who had been chronically ill, she had a partner and they never married, because if they had, all of his assets that he’d worked through for his lifetime would have been taken up for her medical expenses. So long as they did never marry, Medicaid covered what her basic needs were for healthcare. We’re such practical people, and sadly, the romance and the idea of the marriage and all this has to be weighed against the practicalities of the laws in the healthcare and the long term healthcare issues in the United States.
If it weren’t for money, and if it weren’t for having to deal with the legalities and financial considerations, would you want to marry your boyfriend?
Yes. We’ve already made a commitment to each other, where we have verbally expressed to each other that we really do want to be with each other til the end of time. Whatever that means for the two of us. He’s a great partner, and he tells me that I’m a great partner for him. And life is a lot of fun. Everything I could envision it being at this point in my life with him. And going forward with him, too. But how to navigate the finances? My mother has developing dementia now, and my dad is looking at the finances, and none of us are wealthy people. But my dad has looked into what it would take if it comes to mom having the kind of care that he cannot provide at home. And keep in mind, he’s 78 years old. He’s very healthy and as strong as can be, but he’s still 78 years old. And as mom advances with her dementia, because this is not going to get better, will she need that long term care? And if she does, my dad’s entire assets will be wiped out in two years. So how do my boyfriend and I prepare for that as we get older.
Yeah, so you’re in this relationship and trying to figure out what you want together, and making decisions for you two as a couple, and in the same moment, you’re watching your father, and your mother’s dementia, and seeing what happens as you age.
And looking at my children and saying, what we want for you is to marry somebody. And raise children together. And have that full experience of life. And at the same time saying, well, we don’t know that we can get married.
Where did you meet your boyfriend?
We met on a motorcycle ride.
I have a motorcycle, he has a motorcycle.
That is hot.
I’ve been riding motorcycles my whole life, I grew up working in a Honda shop. It was actually through a meet-up group, it was a motorcycle ride and there was supposed to be six people who showed up. Greg showed up and I showed up, and it was just the two of us. So we just rode motorcylces, went for lunch, went hiking the next day, and the next day he called me and asked me out on a date. And I told him no, I’m really not dating right now, I’d just gotten out of another relationship, and he talked me into it. He said, you know I know I should come back in six months, but someone else will probably snag you before then. He said let’s start at the very beginning. How about dinner and a movie. How do you turn that down, right?”
Oh…isn’t that story about paying for long-term care and Medicaid eligibility so romantic? I love those two.
Medicaid has a lot of different rules when it comes to asset limits and married couples. So Sandra’s next step is to meet with a financial advisor for some help in figuring all this out.
Eric Burton and Martha Mills thought they’d figured it out. They used to have a simple system. Separate checking accounts, with a joint account for joint expenses.
E: We took the portion of our incomes that was our bills, and we just split that proportionally.
Then, they had a baby. Martha stayed at home. Now, the only money coming in is from Eric’s job as an industrial mechanic at a Champagne, Illinois pharmaceutical factory. Sometimes, money’s tight.
Martha do you still have that separate checking account that used to be your spending money?
M: I do, and I think it has about 16 dollars in it. The way we kind of do it now, and this was a really big adjustment too, is me getting used to not actually having any sort of financial contribution to our family, to our household. I have my own credit card, but even the bill for that comes out of what Eric makes. But it’s at least kind of, what I spend not be something that he sees. Not that—
E: Which drives me crazy though. Because I track all of our expenses. I budget things, and say oh, we spent 200 dollars in one month going out, we can’t do that, but then there’s just the mystery Martha’s credit card. I’m like well, I don’t know where to budget this, you bought gas with that, but I can’t put that into gas. So it does drive me crazy. But I think we meet, how often do we meet and discuss budget? I’d say quarterly? That sounds more formal than it is, but every now and then.
Who calls those meetings? I have a guess who calls those meetings.
E: I totally do. But we just sit down and go over things, and there’s, there aren’t things that we do extra.
M: No. Well it’s funny too, when I, I think it was the first Mother’s Day we had after Alba was born, Eric basically had to force me into the car and to the mall to buy new clothes for myself because not contributing financially, I got into this kind of weird headspace where I would refuse to buy things for myself. And I’m a runner, too, and I was in pain running and he had to kind of force me to go and buy new running shoes because I didn’t feel comfortable yet.
So he had to take you to the mall to get—
E: I forgot about how rough that used to be. And I still kind of have to roll my eyes and just be like, just go get some pants!
Eric earns just about what it takes to cover their family’s expenses -- about 60 thousand dollars a year.
Lola Davidson’s engagement ring costs more than that.
It was, I think it was a 3.4 carat. I don’t remember all the V-S. I knew at the time. I knew it cost 65 thousand dollars.
Wow, so more than the average American salary on your hand.
Yeah, when you say it like that.
But that diamond was not forever. Coming up, her story about what happens when you lose your relationship, and with it, all the money that was supporting you.
In this episode, we’ve been talking money in the throes of long-term relationships. On the next show, we turn to dating and the art of the pick-up….from a man who’s done a lot of it.
I'm going to find a way to get closer to you. Get into your area, kinda get into your space. Not too close where I'm creeping you out or anything like that, but close enough. And what I'll try to do is pick up on, if you're having a conversation with the bartender, or maybe whatever you're ordering or something like that, and then I just find my way in, like that.
Dating columnist Jozen Cummings spills the secrets of his game...and why he decided he was done playing the field.
This is Death, Sex & Money. I’m Anna Sale.
About thirteen years ago, Lola Davidson was working a day job in LA, with dreams of an acting career. She fell in love with a very wealthy man. And he loved her back.
When we were together, he lavished me with gifts and I never paid for a meal, and we would go to the mall on the weekends and he would just buy me stuff.
What kinds of things would he buy you?
Shoes and purses and while we were looking at Rolexes, he always wanted a Rolex, and I was like, you deserve a Rolex. You work hard. And we ended up walking out of the store with both of us having matching Rolexes. When we moved in together, he had the idea of me quitting my day job and focusing on my fumbling acting career.
So wait, wait, he’s not only paying for a lot of things when you go out, and then he suggests that you quit working.
Yes. Which I thought was a genius idea!
I wasn’t paying for rent. He bought me a car. So I had a BMW. I felt safe and provided for.
Do you remember any moments of ambivalence or mixed feelings of like, wow, he’s really paying for everything?
I think when we got the condo, the real estate lady was like oh, what do you two do for a living, and I remember saying some obnoxious thing like, “living the dream!” And her response was, “As it should be. They make the money and us women spend the money.” Now if somebody said that, I would just be like, are you fucking kidding me? But at that time in my life, it felt more like approval.
And then the relationship started to unravel a bit.
Yeah, [name bleeped] had some old demons that came back. When I say old demons, I mean cocaine. You know, money started to go really fast, and he asked me to get a job, to contribute and to cut down on my spending. And I didn’t really care for that idea as much. So that was it. He found somebody new, and wanted me out of the house immediately.
So what did you do, how did you pay for a new place?
Well, he did let me keep my ring, which I sold. And I lived off of that for a little while.
So you really know how much money it was worth.
Yeah! I sold my plasma, once. I got a crappy apartment in Hollywood that I managed so I would have free rent. I began being a personal assistant for some people in Beverly Hills. But that still wouldn’t pay my bills, so I got a job at my favorite gym on the weekends, and then I had a friend of mine who was making salad dressing that she was selling at farmers markets, and then all of a sudden, a retail store called for her and she needed help with more production, so I would help her make salad dressing at a restaurant. From the hours of 10 pm til like 2 am. So I was working 7 days a week.
How old were you?
I was at that time, gosh, 34.
Were you terrified?
I, well first off, I thought at any moment [name bleeped] was gonna call and this was all going to end. And then I wasn’t terrified about my future, I was more terrified about my present.
Yeah. Like survival.
Thinking back on that relationship now, it’s been a few years, what did you learn?
I learned that when everything you have is provided for you by someone, then it’s real easy for everything you are to be provided by that someone. And so when that someone is gone, you’re left wondering who you are. I didn’t know who I was. And I think that’s one of the reasons why it was such a hit on me. Because my identity was so wrapped up in him and that lifestyle, this money that wasn’t mine.
Lola still goes out on auditions, but pays her bills with a full-time personal assistant job. I own my own life now, she told me.
So it’s easy to be naive about the financial entanglements in love...until you get burned. Or when a breakup comes with a stack of paperwork.
I’ll never forget sitting at the dining room table with my soon-to-be ex-husband...going over bank statements. Our split was very sad, but amicable. And were young -- without kids, much money or much debt -- so we did the dividing ourselves.
A lawyer told to start by going back to the date we got married. So there we were, shuffling papers and scrolling back through statements...to our wedding day. A day that had been about love and commitment and partnership for the future was now part of a financial calculation. So we added it up, what we’d saved and spent and built over three and a half years on our desktop calculator, divided by two.
I was on my own again.
It’s a jolt you don’t easily forget.
“In a previous relationship, I had co-signed on a car, and paid the price for that continually for 5 years thereafter.”
Laurie Kriesel-Roth lives in Seattle. When she met her wife Christa, she was in her 40s, Christa was in her 30s. And at first, Christa says it was hard for her Laurie to share.
C: I think we were still using the blue book where we had columns of what we were supposed—
L: What was mine and what was yours?
C: Separate and joint.
And when you say blue book, was this like pen to paper tracking dollar amounts?
L: Yeah. It was a blue, just like a regular school notebook where you open up the metal part and you put the paper with the holes in it.
C: It was a 3-ring binder, baby.
L: Yeah, it was a three ring binder. That’s what it was.
C: And Lori was a project manager, so she was all about putting her MBA to work on this.
She was really into the blue book.
L: It made me feel good.
C: And I was more fiscally conservative than Laurie, I remember when we were just dating, she went out and bought a brand new Harley Davidson and we were not discussing finances. All I could see was like, ugh you’re gonna have payments for forever!
So you’re quietly judging her while she’s talking about her new purchase.
C: Yeah. Because in the back of my head I’m saying, ugh, if we stay together then that’s gonna be my payment, too!
L: Yeah but at the same time, weren’t you totally like, ah, that’s so hot.
C: That’s right.(laughs)
L: Yes, yes! You were.
Laurie, you initially wrote me, you said, prior to being married, I had never—all caps—never shared my money, and always kept it separate. And then you said that changed the day you got married. What changed for you?
L: I guess I really felt like—and I guess the was all romantic drivel kind of stuff—but I really felt like there was this entity that was us. And that entity included everything. All her stuff, all my stuff, and it just didn’t bother me anymore. Plus, I mean, I trust her one hundred percent. So I don’t feel like—there’s no fear.
Where’s the blue book now?
L: You know, that’s a good question. I think when we moved—this is what I remember Krista, you keep me honest here, but it was covered with dust, and we took out all the pages, we shredded 'em.
C: I don’t even remember.
L: Yeah, I remember. I remember shredding them.
You remember shredding it.
L: Yeah, because—and looking at it and just sort of shaking my head and thinking, wow, that used to be really important to me.
So, money is so hard in our love lives because it’s about that essential relationship challenge of taking care of each other while we take care of ourselves. But you reminded me, it’s all easier to talk about when you can laugh at the same time.
Death, Sex and Money is a production of WNYC. The team includes Emily Botein, James Ramsay, Jessica Miller, Henry Molofsky, Chris Bannon, Bill O’Neill, and Jim Briggs.
The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music. Listener Chris Dixon sent in one of the other pieces we used -- along with his story about the spreadsheet he and his wife used to track their spending and saving that became a major source of competition between them.
A list of all the music on this episode is on our website at deathsexmoney.org -- along with more love and money stories you shared.
We’re on Facebook. I’m on twitter @annasale. If you like the show subscribe on iTunes, and write us review.
Thanks again for all your stories. Rob Durham from Kokomo, Indiana, is gonna take us out…
My husband and I get stressed out at times, especially when we’re broke, but for the most part we seize those moments to work together, instead of against each other. After all, when two people are in love, they will work. One way or another. Death sex, or money, am I right?
I’m Anna Sale. This is Death Sex & Money from WNYC.