Welcome to Couples + Money, where we break through the confines of polite conversation. Forget questions about your sex life. We're getting even more personal. Let's talk about what you and your partner are doing—and not doing—with your paychecks.
Every other Thursday, an anonymous couple will get candid with MarieClaire.com about how they split their finances. We’ll break down what each person pays for individually, what they split, and all the gritty details—from who picks up the bill in restaurants to who picks fights over bank statements.
This week, we're talking with Eleanor, 34, a producer in Brooklyn, New York who earns $130,000 per year ($10,800 per month), and her partner, Scott, 33, a producer who earns $118,000 per year ($9,830 per month). They've been together four and a half years.
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How It All Happened
Eleanor: I was about a month into an internship, and he joined the company as the head of a department I wanted to work for. A couple of months later, his team was looking for an intern, and they were like, "You're very eager, and you want to do the work—we'll give it to you." So he was my boss for, like, a year. Then we had people above us, so we were just coworkers. Nothing happened while we worked together, but everything felt very natural, and after a while, we were like, "Maybe we should date."
Scott: I left the job when we started dating. I've worked at so many places where I've seen that situation crock up everybody's life. So I was like, let's not f*** things up here.
Eleanor: He asked me six months into dating if I wanted to move in with him and his brother. I said no. I didn't want to live with him and his brother. I didn't want to move into a pre-existing condition. Also, my rent was insane back then. I was paying $550 per month.
Eleanor: I've been very lucky that I haven't had to financially support anyone. Every once in a while, I'll pick up flights or Airbnbs for my family, who live abroad.
When We Told Each Other Our Salaries
Eleanor: He always knew what my income was. At first, he was the one that decided it in the first place.
Scott: For work, we had had to travel together. So she knew what my attitude toward money was. When we were on the road, we would dine out and that kind of thing.
Eleanor: Both of us are very upfront about our finances. We knew each other's credit scores before we even talked about seriously moving in.
Why We Don't Have A Joint Account
Scott: I didn’t know people were still doing that. What could be the advantage there?
Eleanor: We never even discussed having a joint account.
Scott: I don’t think it’s something either of us really want. I don't think we really see a benefit to it. I guess I could see it? But it’s not that difficult to Venmo each other. We both put a lot of stake in financial independence.
Eleanor: It has been nice to not feel like anyone's financial habits are affecting me.
How We Handle The Cost Of Living
Eleanor: I often pay for groceries because I'm the one who cooks, and we're unfortunately very heteronormative in the roles that we do. He builds stuff and repairs things around the house and I cook—but I make more than he does, so I don't know. Maybe that's not as heteronormative.
Scott: It was always kind of a given that we would split expenses down the middle. I’ve been asking her to let me pay her for groceries. She's always said, “No, no, no, no.” But she’s starting to come around. She’s starting to crack.
What We Keep Secret
Scott: Well, she's gonna know now, isn’t she?
Eleanor: It's not even secret, but I'll do things that I won't ask him permission for because I feel, like, why?
Scott: I can think of three things that I don't tell her about. One is donations to political candidates. Sometimes I'll donate to a candidate and just won't tell her. Not because I care about the money, just because I don't want to bring up the politics.
Eleanor: I never quite learned to ask permission from someone I'm dating. Especially if it's my own money and if it isn't something that really affects the two of us.
Scott: My brother is a musician and supporting local music is important to me. So if I’m out, they pass buckets around these shows. She knows I put money into the bucket, but I don't think she always knows how much I put in there.
Eleanor: Sometimes, I'll buy myself jewelry when I'm traveling. Sometimes, it's like an $1,000 necklace and I don't ever feel compelled to ask anyone permission for that.
Scott: Then, the third one—last year, I got Invisalign and that was really a lot of money ($1,500). It was something that I wanted because I've been self-conscious about my teeth. I didn't tell her about it until I just did it. She knew I was doing it, I just didn't tell her how much it was.
How We Learned To Budget
Scott: I didn't know anything about money. Maybe I still don't know anything about money. I didn't grow up with money.
Eleanor: I grew up abroad. We were fairly upper-middle class. We all went to private schools—we had a driver and house help. My parents were strict about money, but we were always traveling. My dad is the kind who times the air conditioner so that it wouldn't go over eight hours.
Scott: I used to go to the mall, and I would just like walk around with my friends while they bought shit.
Eleanor: I lived with my parents until I left for grad school when I was 26—that's just a normal cultural thing where I'm from, people don't necessarily move out of their homes. I was a magazine editor back home. Moving to America, I had to start over from scratch and make $10/hour as an intern. At home, I'd had a newspaper column.
Scott: In 2011, I got a job that paid me about $40,000 a year. I thought I was rich! I I was, like, buying people dinner. But those were very lean years. I biked around instead of taking the subway. Those years really instilled in me that you have to save, because you never know when you’re going to need it.
Eleanor: Sometimes I'll say, like, "We're cheap." And Scott's like, "No honey, we're frugal. Cheap is when you don't have money and frugal is when you are deciding you will make a financial choice."
Our Biggest Fight About Money
Eleanor: We've certainly fought about a lot of different things. I think money has just never been one of them because we’ve kept our finances so separate.
Scott: I was pretty much unemployed for a good chunk of 2016, and it was really difficult. She told me, “I want us to go on a vacation to Peru. And I'm gonna pay for the tickets because I know that money is hard for you right now.” And I told her no because I just wasn't comfortable with that. She didn’t like that. It’s not good to come between Eleanor and a vacation.
Eleanor: I was like, "But I have money. And what I do with this money if not to make us enjoy our lives while we can?"
How We Pay For The Non-Essentials
Scott: We’re both constantly trying to pay for our expenses when we're out, and we don't let the other one pay for it. It's really annoying. So, we had to make a rule that if it's under $30, you can’t Venmo the other person for it.
Eleanor: It's nice that we are so frugal in our everyday lives that we can have the luxuries whenever we want them. He bought me a phone once. And when we were on vacation, I bought him a parasailing trip on the spur of the moment—that was, like, $400.
What We're Banking On
Scott: I would really love to buy a parcel of land and build a sustainable house.
Eleanor: I'm just always saving for a rainy day. I want to have a few years' worth of savings to be able to fall back on.
Scott: I'm always conscious that in my industry I could be jobless with very little notice and for a very long time. So, no motorcycles.
Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity. Pseudonyms have been used. Reporting by Amanda Mitchell. Design and illustration by Morgan McMullen. Animation by Hayeon Kim, Colin Gara and Danny Ratcliff.
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