This Saturday Jordan and I are celebrating our six year anniversary. It’s not a massive milestone. The six-year anniversary gift is iron (no iron present needed, Jordan). But any milestone is a good time to stop and acknowledge your journey so far.
While we’ve been married for six years, we dated for seven years before walking down the aisle. And the past 13 years haven’t always been normal.
After meeting in college and both moving to San Francisco, we decided to take our relationship long distance. Super long distance. He moved to Hawaii, I moved to North Carolina. I took a job in Los Angeles, he started working in Bangladesh. We spent the first 18 months of our marriage living in different countries. And for the last 4.5 years we’ve been living in London working and exploring the world from here.
Because things haven’t been very traditional, we’ve navigated some unique time, money, and relationship situations. Like how do we balance career opportunities and long distance living? How do we pay for the countless long-haul flights to see each other? How do we prioritize our time? Each of these situations has taught us something new about how we want to spend money, time, and our life together.
As I sat down to reflect on these past thirteen years, there were a few lessons that I wanted to share:
Our priorities have changed how we spend our money.
One of the things that Jordan and I promised each other was to always keep life exciting. That sentiment speaks to the values that we each have: adventure, freedom, health, family, and meaningful work.
Over these past six years, our values haven’t changed – and I didn’t expect that they would. But our priorities have shifted. Rather than prioritizing paycheck size and company prestige as a signal of a meaningful career, that feels less important. Work feels better now when we prioritize learning new skills and making a positive impact on other people (while still being paid…we do have bills).
We prioritized adventure by moving to another country. But since having Henry we’re trying to prioritize adventure in other ways that include more quality time with family.
We try to make sure how we spend our time and our money reflects our shifting priorities. In 2017 adventure was still a huge priority for us. In the early part of 2018, we were focused on health until Henry was born. Our spending reflected those priorities: we spent a lot on a gym membership and hopped a flight to a new country every other weekend.
Now that our priorities have changed, so has how we spend. We ditched our expensive gym memberships. We don’t fly off to explore a new country every other weekend. We spend our money and time exploring things closer to home, planning trips with family, and we focus on learning as much as possible to grow our respective businesses.
Because we’ve consciously realized a change in our priorities and have adjusted our money accordingly, quitting the gym and cutting back on travel hasn’t felt like we’re depriving ourselves. It feels like our spending is exactly in line with how we want to live, and that feels great.
We need some independence.
Some people like to combine all of their money. Some people like to keep everything separate. We like to combine 95% of our money but keep separate “fun” money.
Why? We each need a little independence to make our relationship work. I don’t always agree with how Jordan spends his money and he doesn’t always agree with how I spend mine. For example, a yoga retreat that I was really excited about was announced. And, surprise, four days with a world famous yogi in a manor house in the English countryside isn’t cheap.
Would Jordan have been OK with me spending our joint money to go on this trip? Probably. He’s just that nice. But I would’ve felt guilty and not booked the trip. Cue unnecessary resentment.
This was a perfect way to use my fun money. Because I didn’t have to think about whether he would find value in me practicing my downward dog for four days, I booked it without hesitation. That is the right amount of independence to make our marriage work.
We both loath budgeting.
I wish we were better with this. But, we’re not. We both hate budgeting. We like it in theory. It would be great to track our income and give every dollar a job. We’re just not those people.
Instead of trying to force ourselves to become budgeters, we’ve learned to artificially constrain ourselves. That’s a fancy way of saying we trick ourselves.
When I graduated from business school, we lived off my paycheck and had Jordan’s go automatically to saving and investment accounts. Now we combine our money but have automatic transfers using the no budget, budget system to keep that money out of sight out of mind. When one of us starts earning more, that extra monthly income usually heads right to our investment accounts.
We’ve learned that automation works best with our personalities and has helped us to save and invest painlessly over the years.
We both need to be involved.
In some relationships, one person manages everything related to money. In other relationships, one person handles the day-to-day money and the other manages the long-term investments. In ours, we both do it all.
When we first got married, we tried to split responsibilities. After all, we’re busy! Having us both involved in managing money felt like a duplicate effort. For a while, Jordan was managing our investments. I knew what was going on, but I wasn’t really involved. But that led to me asking a lot of questions about our investments after decisions had been made. And it left him questioning whether he was doing things right.
That arrangement didn’t last long. I like making decisions about our investments – and so does Jordan – and neither of us really wants to have the responsibility of doing it alone. We like to talk about things, bounce ideas off each other, and do our separate research.
While it might be a duplicate effort, I like to think that we’re both learning and growing as a result of doing it this way.
I’ve had to learn that my worth isn’t tied to my paycheck.
Balancing two careers hasn’t been easy for us. That’s pretty clear. We spent four years living separately so we could each chase our own goals. A year and a half after getting married, we finally decided to live together full time. That required compromise.
Jordan was offered a job in London while I was living in Los Angeles. At that point, we were equal income earners. I had always wanted to live abroad but moving to London meant that his paycheck would more than double and mine would be cut in half. In total, we’d be better off. But my ego? Bruised.
It took me a long time to realize that my worth wasn’t wrapped up in that paycheck. Doing meaningful work, learning new skills, and being responsible with the money that I do make is much more important than how many zeros are included in my salary. And yes, that’s so much easier to say now that my student loan is paid off.
Lifestyle inflation isn’t bad. Mindless spending is.
When Jordan was backpacking Europe after college, he slept on a park bench rather than spending money on a hotel room. I’ve spent 3 nights awake in the Bangkok airport (not in a row) because I didn’t want to pay for a taxi and hotel. I rented a dirty apartment in LA and lived in a dining room in San Francisco. Jordan spent years living off dried soup and burritos. Date nights were often spent splitting a calzone from a pizzeria on the corner while enjoying a $5 bottle of wine.
I look back on those times fondly. But I don’t miss most of it (except for the calzone. That calzone was great).
Today, our life looks different. Dried soup isn’t a regular occurrence on our menu. We book hotel rooms or airbnbs when we travel. And we live in a clean apartment that is comfortable and I don’t have to sleep in the dining room.
We’ve experienced lifestyle inflation, and guess what? It isn’t all bad. There are things that we really enjoy spending money on. For example, flying back from Spain last week our flight was delayed for hours. Henry was tired, we were hungry, and there was no comfortable place to sit. We sprung for lounge access to make those hours less painful. And I don’t regret that at all.
While lifestyle inflation hasn’t been all bad, there’s something else we need to work to avoid: mindless spending. You know, running to target or the grocery store for one thing and emerging with a basket full of things you didn’t know you wanted but now you definitely need.
Honestly, I look around our house and I see thousands of dollars worth of stuff that doesn’t add anything to our lives or our happiness. Mindless spending is a trap that we’ve fallen into, and we’re trying hard to put an end to it.
We’ve gotten too comfortable.
When Jordan and I set goals, we start by asking ourselves one question: “how do we want to live?” We do this for the very specific reason of making the abstract idea of money, concrete. Money is less important than how we live. (Again, this is easy to say now that we’ve gotten to a place where we feel financially stable.)
This question has served us well until now. We’ve pursued jobs that we really enjoy. We’ve learned to be more mindful with our spending. We’ve traveled to over 50 countries. We’ve paid off my loans, saved for retirement, bought a house and bought a piece of land. We’ve enjoyed the bull market for the last nine years and while we haven’t made perfect decisions we’ve done well enough to get to a comfortable, financially responsible place.
But we feel like we’re at a crossroads. When we ask ourselves this question, we don’t come up with a concrete answer. We could continue to be very financially responsible and live a comfortable life, but that doesn’t quite feel right. We could go home to our house in the US, enroll Henry in the local school, and continue earning and spending money in a way that feels fine. That’s the comfortable road that we see stretched out ahead of us. And it’s a nice road. We feel grateful to have that road as an option.
But after months of asking ourselves that question and not coming up with an answer that feels good, we realize that it’s time to change. Change our money, change our life, and change our path.
We want to take a less comfortable path that feels more like us. One that’s in line with our values. And one that might be a little scary for us. I won’t bore you with a cliche quote about life beginning at the edge of your comfort zone. But through the last 13 years of work, we’ve gotten to a good financial place and we’re ready to ditch the comfortable path.