Saturday, November 29, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part Four: Why We Combined Our Financial Lives

I’m back with another installment of Budgeting for Freelancers!  Want to read the rest of the series?  Here are Parts One, Two, and Three (click!).

I want to tell you about a deeply personal decision that Paul and I made earlier this year: the decision to combine our financial lives into one unit.

Paul and I have been dating for almost two years; we’ll hit the two-year mark in February.  We moved in together in May of 2014, and then we moved to Austin two months later.  We both work as freelance tutors, so we both face the highs and lows of self-employment.  Perhaps most importantly, we have been talking about money and our values since the earliest days of our relationship.

Long before we shared any bills or property, we talked about all manner of things related to money.  One of the first things I learned about Paul was his passion for quality and good design.  He buys the very best he can afford, and he’s very mindful of how his purchases reflect his values.  Paul is also very, very aware of the fact that his money literally represents his labor.  When you freelance and you get paid by the hour, you start to wear this fact on your heart.  Money is time (yesterday’s time), but time?  Time is not money.  Or at least time is not just money.  Time is a world of possibilities; money is one of them.

So in order to control his time, Paul had to control his money.  He did this by staying true to his values.  He and I share a love of reverent materialism.  We’re not anti-consumerism (though he is prone to shouting “capitalist overproduction!” much to my annoyance when I point out pretty skirts and dresses).  What we’re against is mindless consumerism and consumerism as a hobby.  How we spend our money is a powerful glimpse into our values, and Paul and I are committed to making our money work for us and our lifestyles.  We want to call the shots rather than letting consumerism or debt run our lives for us.

For a while, we shared expenses while meticulously tracking who spent what.  It was one approach to making things “fair.”  In hindsight, I have mixed feelings about this approach because I’m not sure I ever knew what “fair” is or was.  There were a lot of expenses that landed on the shared list, including a brand-new computer for Paul, groceries, and travel expenses like gas.  But the thing is, Paul and I didn’t enter into this relationship as equals.  Paul spent the last five years building his business.  He did what he had to do to be an entrepreneur and independent of a steady paycheck.  I spent the last five years working for other people, always fearful of what my bosses thought of me and my work.  I earned a comfortable paycheck and was able to save money quite aggressively, with the long-term goal of buying a home.

During the first year Paul and I were together, he worked at the job he had created for himself, and I bounced my way in and out of jobs.  I was jealous of his stability.  But I had saved a substantial amount of money, so I had resources and thus financial stability, even if my career was wobbling.

When we moved to Austin, we continued to split expenses.  Until one day when it dawned on me: we were sharing a life in Austin.  There were three names on the lease (our two names and our roommate’s).  We were tying our boats together, promising to support each other in life and love.  Splitting expenses seemed to go against the spirit of every other decision we were making.  So I couldn’t, in good faith, see why we should continue.

So we stopped.  For simplicity, we made the transition to one budget in October 2014.  I track our expenses and our income in one notebook.  Before we made the transition, we sat down with Courtney and dissected our budget.  By doing that, Paul and I were able to see how much money we needed to bring in each month to sustain our lifestyle.  So far, so good: October was a great month for us, work-wise.  We’ll see how November and December turn out!

We’ve chosen not to have any joint accounts, moreso out of laziness than anything else.  Instead, we share bills easily—I write the rent check, Paul usually buys the groceries and gas.  We don’t think about it much.  We’re mindful of our account balances, but there’s no more accounting within our relationship.  It was a pretty easy transition, though I’ll admit that Paul lacks my enthusiasm for budgeting and tracking expenses.  It’s possible that after so many lean years of being a one-man show, he’s enjoying the prosperity that our couplehood has brought him.  He still works very hard, but he seems more relaxed about expenses.  I think living together has asked all of us to compromise; one of Paul’s compromises is accepting a budget that is shaped by needs and wants that are not his own.

As for that nest egg of mine, I’m still hoping we’ll be able to buy a home in the next few years.  Austin has a notoriously crazy real estate market, but I live in hope that we’ll find a place.  For now, living in hope is good enough for me.  I was walking around my neighborhood the other day, and looking at houses, I felt my chest expand with hope.  There was no real forethought; it was more like my heart remembered a long-dormant dream and said, “Hey!”  My eyes starting searching for “For Sale” signs, though none were to be found that day.  Someday, the time will be right. 

Even if it takes us a long time to buy a house, Austin is now home.  We’ll be content with whatever our lives look like because that’s how we roll.  For now, I’m grateful that we’ve had enough money to take care of the three of us here in our Austin household.

But I’ll continue to live in hope.


Chrissy (The New Me) said...

I'm really loving these budgeting and finance posts! Our financial lives are similar. We share all our income - it goes into a joint checking account. We also have a joint savings account, personal checking accounts (one for each of us; those are usually empty but I look forward to the day when we have enough money to each withdraw an allowance) and I have savings account for taxes (freelance!) Even though we always shared the bills, it took us a really long time to make our primary checking account our joint one. Like, ten years. And it has made life so much simpler, at least when it comes to paying the bills and keeping up with our cash flow. As a couple, we talk about money a lot and worry about it, but we rarely argue about it. Like you and Paul, our values and goals are very similar, so we almost always agree on what to do with the money that we have.

Rosiecat said...

I too love hearing about people's financial lives! You've got to write an update for your Adventures in Debt series :-)

Paul and I are in flux with our accounts. I think we're going to open our first joint account, perhaps for the money that we are saving for car-related things. In addition, I think I'm going to earmark an existing savings account (that's not in use for something specific) for our monthly savings, which may be our summer money. I'm really, really, REALLY hoping that we have work this summer so that we don't need $9,000 in savings in order to pay bills for June through August. (And to be honest, we are not at all on track to be saving that kind of money for the summer. You can imagine that I'm just a teeny-tiny bit anxious about our slow season right now!)