I, Annie Vitalsey, don’t want to talk about money. I want to watch The Great British Baking Show. I want to read a book about robots. I want to go for a walk. I want to have a cocktail. I don’t want to talk about money.
But I do talk about money. A lot. In this first year of being married to Jack, I have thought, talked, and worried about money, probably more times than all the other years of my life combined. Why is that?
Money is a thing that can seriously hurt even the most blissful of marriages. This is not news. In all of the marriage-related articles we read, in all of the statistics we hear, and in all the advice we get, it’s clear than financial problems can have painful, treacherous consequences.
Leading up to my wedding, I was warned. Well-meaning people told us to watch out about the finances, but I didn’t believe them. I thought I would be the exception. I thought I could rise above that materialistic mindset. I’m an artist after all. Quickly, I learned that I was wrong about that. I am just like everyone else.
When you think about it, managing finances with another adult person who has their own habits, their own goals, and their own income is actually a nightmare. If I spend $100 on coconut water, another adult person now shares in that responsibility, and they might get annoyed or angry and that sucks for me and for that person. Sometimes I want to buy things that Jack doesn’t want me to buy. Sometimes Jack spends money in ways I don’t agree with. Sometimes, we go too long without looking in on our credit cards and their balances quickly skyrocket behind our backs.
Now for us, it has been an especially trying year. We financed a wedding. I took a sizable pay cut to start grad school. We moved six different times (including a cross-country trip). We flew back and forth from Arizona a whole bunch. Jack left his job halfway through the year and spent two months without a steady income. Those, plus dozens of smaller unexpected expenses could have been enough to sink our ship.
I’ll admit now that we are not experts at this yet. But, we’re figuring it out. While clearly money has a sinister way of getting the better of couples, I don’t want us to give it more power than it deserves. What if, instead of letting money come between us, we teamed up and solved the problem together? It could be like a game? Like a challenge?
Jack and I have a bit of a disadvantage because we’re both spenders. We both like nice things. We have more fun when we spend money. But this year, it has been an interesting, at times exasperating, and at times exhilarating adventure. While often we end conversations about money frustrated and shouting “Can we please talk about anything else?!” I think it has brought us together in new ways. We’re a stronger team. And our hustle is out of this world.
So, I want to share strategically and specifically what I've learned. If you're a person (or a couple of persons) looking for creative ways to save/make/not feel so crazy about money and maybe even become better at loving each other in the process, I have some ideas to run by you:
1. Side hustles.
This year, Jack and I have gone a little wild with finding ways to make extra money.
Anecdote: Over winter break when we were still in Charlotte, we listed our apartment on Airbnb while we were traveling. It was such an easy way to make money, we actually ended up staying a couple extra nights at a cheaper Airbnb in Charlotte and made a few hundred dollars out of it. And it was like a fun night away too? We met some cats?
While he was between jobs, Jack also started driving for Uber and Lyft and made decent money at it (enough to live on). Additionally, he got licensed to sell insurance and does so on his spare time. When I went on summer break, I started doing Postmates deliveries, and it’s actually kind of fun. I get to drive around the city, listen to podcasts, and bring people lunch. Sometimes Jack comes with me and it’s kind of like a date (like a Postdate?).
Now that Jack is gainfully employed, our side hustles have opened us up to save more and have way more fun. Extra ways to make money also keep us from being stressed out. But more than anything, our side hustles have empowered us to work together and be creative when the going gets tough. That’s the most important thing.
While money can cause a lot of stress, so can stuff. It helped that Jack and I were planning a big move anyway, but it was a great opportunity to get rid of a bunch of things we didn’t need.
We sold my car before I came to Arizona. Now we share a car, bike, and/or use public transportation. We’re lucky Phoenix has a pretty dependable infrastructure. It’s also an opportunity to spend a little extra time together. When I get to drive Jack to work, we get to check in about the day ahead.
I also sold a lot of clothes on ThredUp (an online thrift store, they send you a bag, you fill it up and send it back, shipping is free, and they pay you for the stuff). I made about a hundred bucks getting rid of clothes I didn’t wear (downside: they don’t buy men’s stuff).
We sold a bunch of furniture and wedding stuff on OfferUp (an app for your phone that’s a cross between Pinterest and craigslist). You take a picture of your item, post it, and people in your area make offers. So easy.
One more thing: we’ve started a tradition of not getting each other gifts for major holidays. Instead, we try to have fun experiences. Usually, it ends up being cheaper to go do something rather than buy a lavish bauble. And it makes us feel closer.
3. Traveling for free.
This was a big part of my life for the past year, so I have to talk about it. Since Jack and I knew we were going to be spending a lot of time traveling, we had to seriously strategize about how to afford all the plane tickets and hotels. We ended up taking advantage of a bunch of different travel credit cards with bonus airline miles. The plus: now we know how to take cheap, luxurious vacations.
We would open a credit card and use it to pay for all our normal bills (utilities, groceries, gas, moving, etc) until we hit the spending bonus (usually around $2,000 in the first two months). Then we’d have a certain number of miles to fly with for free. Not only were we able to pay for flights back and forth from Arizona to the east coast, we also used them for our honeymoon (hotel + airfare). A week in Cancun for next to nothing!
If you’re going to be spending the money anyway, it might as well be earning you something. Travel has been a really fun thing for us to look forward to together.
Some cards we’ve used and would recommend: Chase Sapphire, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Delta Skymiles AmEx, British Airways, and Citi Hilton Honors.
Of course, we made sure to pay off each card before opening the next. We didn’t want anything to get out of control and contribute to an untimely divorce.
4. Cheap dates.
This year, we’ve become experts on how to date cheaply. We started doing BestMark, which pays us to try out restaurants and write reviews. We like going for walks around our neighborhood or downtown. We like going on bike rides. We go to the cheap movie theater. We pay attention to free events (readings, concerts, festivals) in our area and make mental notes of the best happy hours (Phoenix has a bunch of them). Also, nothing beats sitting in our backyard and drinking a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine.
Not only are all these things fun, but when we find something we enjoy doing for little to no money, it feels like we’ve won something. We feel like we’re being a good team. That feeling can make your whole day.
5. Budgeting and communicating clearly about said budgeting.
I hate this one because I hate doing it. But we’ve also gotten in fights about this. It’s really frustrating when one of us spends money the other had plans for. It’s also frustrating to feel like you have to run even the smallest financial transactions by your spouse before making them. There’s something regressive about it, like you’re giving up part of your autonomy.
But, clearly setting a budget, reviewing it often, and sticking to it is a best practice. It’s what makes you a team player. As much as I want to buy all the shirts, that’s not what’s best for the team. It’s all about the team.
So, Jack and I make a point to look at our numbers often. Sometimes we forget, sometimes we have to bribe each other with french fries to do it. But we know it’s important.
While it’s really nice to get all the takeout or just drive to San Diego on a whim, we know we need to be planning for our future, now. I can only imagine as we age and our lives get more complicated, financial stresses will only multiply. We recognize the importance of investing while we’re young.
Jack and I have taken this on in a few ways. We’ve started saving for our retirement already with a TIAA-Cref account, Indexed Whole Life, and a Roth IRA. But we also have some stocks. Not many, because to be frank, we don’t have all that much to invest, but we have some. Enough to make a few extra thousand to fall back on in case of emergencies. And Jack finds it fun because it feels like fantasy sports. So good for him.
This year, we’ve discovered a lot of “lovable quirks” about our spending habits. Jack has a tiny habit of losing things and needing to buy replacements on a regular basis. I tend to hold out on things I really need (like laundry soap or headache medicine), while I have no problem buying raspberries and wine on a regular basis. We annoy each other. That is unavoidable.
What I don’t want, is for these little foibles to cause big rifts between us. What if instead, when one of us messes up, we hesitate before feeling angry or betrayed? What if we walked through life knowing that we are here to love a flawed person, even expecting setbacks? Then, when they do mess up, we take it as an opportunity to love them more, to come alongside them as a partner and a teammate and help them out.
That’s the kind of love I want. That’s the kind of love I will fight for. Whether you have a lot or a little, don’t let your money get in the way of your capacity for unconditional love. That’s an investment that will always pay out tenfold.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.