The $86,400 El Paso Couple Couple Devoted to Their Creative Goals

The latest edition of Marie Claire's 'Couples + Money' series.

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 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 Victoria, 30, a journalist and consultant who earns $50,400 per year ($4,200 per month), and her fiancé, Martin, 32, a music producer/DJ and maintenance supervisor, who earns $36,000 per year ($3,000 per month). They've been together nearly 3 years and live in El Paso, Texas.

How It All Happened

Martin: I was DJing for some friends of mine, and she happened to come with some mutual friends. I thought, "Who is that?" I think we got briefly introduced that night, and then I started running into her more and more. Then we both worked a local music festival four years ago and really hit off.

Victoria: Six weeks after we first started dating, he went on tour, and I joined him for 2-3 weeks. So that was a big introduction to see how compatible we were.

Martin: I really do think that the passion we have in our creative fields is what drives us.

Victoria: If we didn't have so much fun with our jobs, we'd be absolutely miserable, because we're both so impassioned about our music and writing. What makes up for it are the perks that we're able to get, like being able to work from home. When he goes on tour, I can just hop on with him.

Martin: We see the bigger picture, where we're going to make a bigger impact down the road. Victoria is an incredible writer and, recently, she's really starting to skyrocket. I've been DJing 10 years now, and I'm starting to poke holes in a few places.

Victoria: In July I'll be starting a new gig as a border correspondent. For the last two years I've been a freelance journalist and graduate research assistant, and I'm thrilled and overwhelmed at the thought of having a salary, benefits—a grown up life!

Our Dependents

Victoria: We have three rescue bulldogs who take up the majority of our money, but we wouldn't have it any other way. They're our bull-dren! We're super lucky to live in a house that Martin inherited from his grandparents. We don't have to pay rent, which is why I think we're able to afford the dogs.

Martin: I rescued the first dog from an illegal breeder before I met Victoria. He wasn't doing well—he had blood poisoning and an enlarged prostate, and his eyes were crusted over.

Victoria: Martin went into credit card debt to save the dog's life and is working to pay it off before we get married. I thought it was really sweet that he'd do that for an animal—I'd do the exact same thing.

When We Told Each Other Our Salaries

Martin: We started talking about groceries and things like that. Once she came out with me on tour, we kept it Dutch most of the time.

Victoria: I felt bad. I told him, "Look, you know I like dating you. Let me take you out. I'll buy you dinner, at least, or let me pay for this movie ticket." He told me he had had girlfriends in the past who took advantage of him financially, because he's very generous. And I don't want to do that.

How We Handle The Cost Of Living

Victoria: We split everything down the middle. To this day, we still take turns buying groceries, things like that. 

Martin: Most of the time it's 50/50, and in some months we'll go to 60/40. If somebody is doing a little better—has a paycheck coming or just got paid—they might pick up a bill here or there, more than the other person would. I think a lot of guys feel emasculated, if their fiancée or wife buys dinner or groceries. But I don't. I appreciate it.

Victoria: I'm trying to redo my budget right now with the increase in income. It feels great to feel secure about money, and not have to worry every time I go to lunch, or try to figure out how I'm going to stay afloat month to month. Now I'm able to start saving a little bit more.

Why We Don't Have A Joint Account

Victoria: We've talked about it. After we got engaged, we just thought, "It'll probably be easier once we're married."

Martin: We both has our separate bank accounts well-established. We figured, if it's not broke, don't fix it.

How Often We Talk About Money

Martin: We just try to talk about most things.

Victoria: If one of us is running short or we need something, we feel comfortable talking with each other. There's never any sense of, "Well, you're overspending," or "You need to make more money," anything like that.

Martin: There have been financial issues we've had here and there, and I've had to solve financials issues of my own. I've asked Victoria and tried to get her take on things.

What We Keep Secret

Victoria: He knows it all.

Martin: She knows everything I spend because I pretty much just show it to her. I don't really tell her what cash on hand I have. It's usually not more than $60.

How We Learned To Budget

Victoria: My mom is very financially responsible and taught my sister and me from a young age: "Okay, you're going to get a certain amount of money, and every month you're going to be tempted to blow it. You need to first pay your bills, set aside what you're going to need to live, and then you'll have your 'go-go money' to play with."

Martin: I was pretty much self-taught on budgeting. My parents gave me a vague outline, but then I left home. I got myself a few credit cards and then tried to budget for things. A lot of trial and error, and that trial period only ended about four or five years ago.

Victoria: I really admire his commitment to learning more about responsible spending. He watches the Rossen Reports on the Today Show, and tries to implement consumer reports into our spending. The other day, he suggested turning off the TV at 8 p.m. to reduce exposure to blue light, help us sleep better, and reduce electricity.

Our Biggest Fight About Money

Victoria: Martin used to be really into high-end clothes and was spending a ton of money.

Martin: I used to be a bit of a sneakerhead. I was buying shoes every week for awhile. It didn't stretch us too thin, but I think I could have spent that money better elsewhere.

Victoria: Our biggest fights were around not realizing until the money got pulled out: "Oh, I have a lot less than I thought it would."

Martin: I think I just kind of grew out of it, to be honest. My priorities shifted.

How We Pay For The Non-Essentials

Martin: I usually just save a part of my paycheck and use that.

Victoria: We go on at least five trips a year. Those things we try to split. If he buys the plane tickets, I'll pay for our hotel or our Airbnb.

Martin: For our next trip, Victoria was able to get our tickets and our hotel all set up when it was still semi-affordable. So on this trip I'm going to be shelling out for everything once we get there to pay her back.

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(Image credit: Archives)

Victoria: When we went ring shopping, I picked out something I liked and then he went every week, gave them part of his paycheck, and just worked to whittle it away. I saw him really stressing out for the two or three months he was making these payments, but he never once complained. He was so excited about it, and then once he put it on my finger, I could see him smiling with pride. If he'd just walked in, given them his card and walked out with it that day, I don't think it would've meant as much to us.

What We're Banking On

Martin: It looks like we're probably going to end up moving out of El Paso, to one of the coasts, hopefully the West. I'm pretty flexible with the music, so wherever is better for Victoria.

Victoria: We're also trying to plan our wedding right now. So, we're thinking: Do we want to elope, save the money, and put it towards another house in another city, or do we want to have a big reception? And then we're also thinking two or three years down the road about having kids.

Martin: I'd like to have a wedding, but not in the sense of a big blowout. I'd rather just have something smaller, intimate, inexpensive, and then maybe use the money to go on a trip or towards our future.

Victoria: I want to just elope and enjoy. And then we'll go on a trip and it'll be fun.

Martin: I don't even think we're doing a registry. We're probably going to ask for donations to our local animal shelter where we got our dogs. In this left versus right era, you're got to look for what's more important in the grand scheme of things. Is it having the big blowout, or is it better to have something small and affordable—and try to contribute towards the greater good?

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity. Pseudonyms have been used. Reporting and editing by Katherine J. Igoe. Design and illustration by Morgan McMullen. Animation by Hayeon Kim, Colin Gara, and Danny Ratcliff.

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