August 23, 2012

On Executing the “Are We Exclusive?” Conversation

August 23, 2012

Let’s talk about relying on another person’s financial help in order to fulfill your personal goals

August 23, 2012
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Things are going to change significantly for me in the personal finance category as I transition into the life of a freelancer. As I mentioned, I have enough savings to get me by on my current spending levels for many months, but I’d like to avoid tapping into those savings as much as possible.

I have nightly dreams of some free article I write for HuffPo going crazy-viral and leading to massive paychecks for freelance pieces in every magazine that still exists, but the likelihood of that is slim given my current relationship with HuffPo (I don’t have one), and what magazines are paying these days (not much).

And so the topic of “who will pay what percentage for which life costs” came up at the breakfast table the other day. We try to wake up early and cook a delicious egg scramble at least twice a week, but I think I’m going to put the kibosh on that because lately in ends in conversations like this.

  • R: So we should talk about finances. Who’s going to pay for what after you make the transition. 
  • Me: Yeah?…
  • R: Oh Jesus. Are you going to start crying again?
  • Me: No…well….probably not. 
  • R: All I’m saying is that the balance of income is going to change, so we should look at what we each pay for living expenses and adjust accordingly. 
  • Me: Right. Okay. 
  • R: You don’t want to talk about this right now. 
  • Me: No thank you. 
  • R: Fine. How about Sunday night? Does that give you enough time to prepare yourself?
  • Me: Yes…well…probably not. 

 It’s just money. It’s just money it’s just money it’s just money. That’s the mantra I’ve taken to repeating in places like the shower and the traffic jam. But to a person who hasn’t relied on a single individual for any financial assistance since graduating from college, it’s more than just money. There’s something deeply meaningful and therefore deeply scary about accepting help from someone else to afford your life decisions.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that R and I are not married, I thought. Maybe if we were married I would feel like it was under the auspices of matrimony that he should support me and I should support him, financially speaking. But – spoiler alert – we’re tracking toward that life step and R has made it very clear that I shouldn’t wait for a contract to pursue this phase of my career. If it means he pays a little more for rent and utilities and little more for groceries, so be it. It’s not A. worth rushing a wedding or B. worth delaying a career. It’s just money!

I think the real issue is that I feel an overwhelming sense of pride about “doing it all by myself.” I scoff at articles about 20-something whose films and novels and apartments and vacations are bankrolled by their parents. They didn’t really do it, I think. Someone did it for them, so it doesn’t really count.I have, so far, avoided being “one of those 20-somethings.” I have also, so far, avoided writing a book, selling a script, producing a podcast and developing a freelance writing career. It is almost impossible to launch one career while focusing entirely on another. That is a fact. It’s also a fact that some people have trust funds or uncles in the movie business or famous boyfriends who get them book deals. How is me letting R buy the lunch meat an offense against the creative pursuit, considering all that?

The other side of that is an intense pressure to achieve x, y, z in a, b, c time-frame because someone else is helping me make it happen. I wonder if I’ll feel guilty lingering over a coffee with a fellow freelance friend because I should be home writing the script that’s forcing R to now paying 75% of the electric bill. It is curious that this same logic didn’t apply to my ease with lingering over a Lifetime movie, dollar drafts happy hour or three hour nap in the years my parents were paying 99% of the college bill, but I am now sorry about that, Mom and Dad. 

Now, because I literally cannot continue to angst over this, are the conclusions I’ve come to at this phase of my over-analysis of the money issues surrounding my life decision:

  • R and I both made changes to our lifestyle several months ago (staying in a smaller, cheaper apartment, reducing meals out, reducing travel) to afford this move of mine. As such, R can comfortably afford his new percentages of the life costs, and I will be able to afford mine. 
  • If I am feeling uncomfortable about any aspect of the new deal, I’ll say so, and we’ll talk about it. If I have to take on more work, so be it. If I have to shut up and get over it, so be that too. Communication, however, will be key (you’re shocked about this, I know).
  • I will continue to pay for all of my personal bills (car lease, insurance, student loan, credit card, cell phone). Those are expenses I know I will not currently be comfortable allowing someone else to cover.  
  • Yes, some people can point to every single thing they’ve ever done and say, I did that all by myself; nobody else lifted a finger or provided a penny! I won’t be that person, but I’m coming to believe that’s a good thing. It is incredible to have the support and love of a person who wants you to achieve your goals so much that they’re willing to adjust their life. That is a gift.  But accepting that gift is almost as important – saying, I can do this much, but I need this help. That’s a gift you give yourself. 

All of that said, I welcome any and all advice and criticism around this issue. I have a feeling there are some similar stories out there, and some similar anxieties. Please share, do I don’t feel like such a crazy person…on this one topic at least.



  1. Oh, do I ever feel your pain! When I first moved in with my now husband, we had the big financial discussion. I came prepared with what I currently bring in, current bills and the amount of debt I had and the percentage rates of those debts. We built a budget and laid out a plan to pay of my debt because you never know when you might not be bringing in a paycheck. (I was a government contractor at the time and had been laid off. I moved to be with him and for a job.) After living together for almost 2 months, we were planning a wedding…. that he paid the majority of. Yes, he makes a considerable amount more than me but it was still difficult for me to accept his help and generosity. Like you, I’ve been independent with my money since I bought my first car when I was 18. I definitely dug myself some big debt holes when I was younger but I straightened myself out and started to actually accumulate savings!!! Now, we each have a separate checking/savings account and a joint checking/savings account. I definitely wouldn’t be in the financial situation if it wasn’t for him and we do still have financial arguments but we both have the same goals in mind and we are teammates.

  2. I am a huge fan of Suze Orman. She says that each person of a couple is not responsible for funding the other person’s life (student loan, debt, and the like), BUT that each person should pay an equal percentage of his or her own income to the household expenses. For me, that turns out to be 75% of rent for my bf and 25% for me. I felt really funny about this at first, but to live in the city that we both love and in an apartment that we want, that’s the way it had to be. I paid for college on my own (mostly), worked all the way through- rarely going to happy hour and never going on spring break and so it felt like a shift to have someone with money who genuinely wanted to spend it toward OUR happy life together. He knows I work hard and contribute what I can and that I would do the same if the tables were turned. It did take A LONG time not to feel guilty getting my nails done or even buying things I needed without feeling extremely guilty, but once he knew I was feeling that way he shut it down and keeps reminding me that he is not judging me and that we are a TEAM. You’ll get there, but some tears are warranted first.

  3. (Munching popcorn because the show is about to start!)
    You do realize that you just shifted control of your life over to R, don’t you? By leaning on him to pay more of the bills, your relationship dynamic is now lopsided as one partner gains more power over the other.

    Get ready, because this is going to lead to:
    1.Arguments about money: Jessie is going to spend money on yet another stupid outfit at Forever 21 on a cute sweater that she “just HAS to have” or an overpriced latte at Starbucks or $60 to get her hair or nails done.

    2.R is now in the position of “parent” or “The Heavy” or “The Killjoy” because he may now feel that since he is paying most of the bills, he has a right to question what Jessie purchases & how she is progressing/not progressing on her freelance “goal.” Jessie may find herself reacting in turn by becoming rebellious – resenting the fact that she now has to financially answer to someone else about her plans/goals/purchases. Jessie may also find herself becoming sneaky…hiding secret purchases made that R would not approve of. Lying or minimizing the actual progress/status of her freelance goals to avoid fights or disapproval over perceived slacking off. Jessie may chafe under those invisible reigns and complain to friends as R is “too controlling” or “thinks he can tell me what to do.”

  4. Just read this, at a different stage in life (just started grad school and single) but I am taken aback by your contention that “some people can point to every single thing they’ve ever done and say, I did that all by myself; nobody else lifted a finger or provided a penny!” I do not believe that this is true–at least not today for 99% of people who would consider themselves successful. It always strikes me as very strange when people like Mitt Romney talk about how they “made all they had on their own,” when much of what made them successful (primary and secondary education, the ability to find work, buy cheap food and gas, and generally live life) is provided by the government/rest of society, and when higher education is often funded (at least in part) by help from parents, government-subsidized loans, and (if you’re really really lucky) funding by generous organizations (scholarships, grants etc). You ALREADY didn’t really earn 100% of everything you have/have used 100% on your own–that isn’t the way the world works for anyone, ever. So don’t sweat it too much–this is a reality of the career you have chosen, and yes you are lucky to have someone to help out.

    Also, to anon above–you are a dick. Jessie is clearly struggling with many of these concerns, and while the things you list may happen, they also might not! Some people do this successfully, and mature, communicative, responsible people who work as a team tend not to be as resentful and
    dickish as you suggest they will be. In any case, telling people how bad their life is going to be is both dickish and, in this case, quite possibly wrong.

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