In our monthly series Not A Trophy Wife, young women open up about how money works in their relationships, whether they are taking significant pay cuts after
making a financial windfall, struggling with letting their partner pay for dinners, or trying to make sure they always pay their half. What has been the most interesting about these conversations isn't the idea that one partner is making more money than the other. In fact, it seems like money problems within relationships don't revolve around the salary figures, but the saving numbers. Is one person more likely to spend money on food, and the other on clothes? Is one person better at saving? In our fifth installment of Not A Trophy Wife, we chat with a married couple with those exact problems, which have emerged after two international moves — from London to Rio De Janeiro, and from Rio to New York. Ahead, 34-year-old Lisa talks about moving to Rio De Janeiro for her husband's career, only to find herself out of a job for a year.
How did you meet your husband? "We met at a party at Soho House in London seven years ago. The first summer bank holidays, they have this open party where pretty much anyone can come; members have open guest lists, so a group of girlfriends and I went. I saw him kind of staring at me in the crowd, and I kind of ignored it. Then he approached one of my friends, and he told her, 'I really like your friend; I want to meet her.' And she was like, 'Well, here is her drink, why don't you bring it to her?' We've been together since then." What was your financial situation like back then? "When we first met, our financial situations were really different. My husband was in debt and really didn't know how to save money and manage his finances, and I was pretty secure and stable because I always believed in having a savings account and having a cushion. I saved about $30,000 before I moved to London, and another $10,000 when I was in London."
Can you talk a little bit about your husband's financial problems? "Money was a really big issue for him the first two years we were together. He went through a period of borrowing money from family, even borrowing money from me, and it took a couple of years for him to get stable." When did this come up for the first time? "He lost his job not long after he started dating me, and he was shopping around for jobs. That's when he started to talk about his financial situation. So we were definitely in different places, and it was kind of always tight with his money because of that; he was never really generous with it. I also think it's cultural in Britain sometimes. In the dating scene, I don't think British men are as generous with their money as you often see in the U.S." How did you guys decide to split things when you got married? "When we got married, we agreed to split everything 50/50, even though I made less than him. My husband was making £45,000, and I was probably making £30,000 plus tips — I work in hospitality — so it would range. It would take me to maybe £32,000 or £35,000."
But then... "Three years ago, my husband and I moved down to Rio De Janeiro for his work. He works for an NGO that raises awareness about the problems facing street children. His company asked if we would be willing to move to Brazil because they needed someone on the ground, and they were willing to pay 75% of our rent there. We thought of it as an adventure. We don’t have children, we don’t want to settle in London, and we always knew we were going to move to New York. So we just thought, why don't we move down to Rio and have this experience? " What money discussions did you two have before the move? "Ahead of moving, we had to have a serious chat. How are we going to handle our lives financially? At first we kind of argued a bit back and forth about who would pay. My husband wanted us to continue that 50/50 approach. He wanted me to just live off my savings until I got a job; I had significantly more savings than he did, and I think that's why he suggested it. But I didn't really want to live off my savings and just blow through it, when I had to give up my job and I didn't know when I could get one. So we had a few arguments before the move and agreed that he would support both of us until I got a job."
What was the transition like? "The first year was really tough. Brazil ended up being a lot more expensive than we realized. Within the first week, when we went out to restaurants or grocery shopping, we realized it wasn't that much cheaper than London. I think our first major grocery shop ended up costing $100 or $150, and we were so surprised." How did your experience differ from your husband's? "My husband had already been traveling to Brazil pretty much every month or every other month for a year before we moved, and he fell in love with it. I'd never been to South America before, but he was like, 'I think you're going to love it'... He had already set up a work network, he had colleagues in Brazil and was traveling around the country and doing stuff every week, so he was immersed in the lifestyle there. "But I was at home, and it was difficult to meet people. And I loved the people and the energy, but after the first month I realized I didn't like the city at all, and just imagining the year ahead was pretty daunting. It was really lonely. We met a lot of expats, and they were super friendly, but there's this cycle of people leaving every six months. So it was pretty challenging. "We argued quite a bit that year. He would be like, 'We have such a wonderful life here; we live in front of the beach.' I was like, 'Well yeah, it’s really nice to live in front of the beach, but I can’t work. My career has been suspended, I'm not progressing anywhere.' And it didn't feel like I was moving forward. I was pretty unhappy, and I was trying to figure out what my role was without a job, and we just never had any idea of when I would get my visa."
How long was it until you were able to work?"We thought it would only take a few months to get our visa, but it ended up taking a year. It didn't affect my husband because he was getting paid from London. I couldn't work for the first year, and it was a really difficult adjustment. I was prepared to not work for two or three months, but when it turned out to be a whole year, I kind of felt lost. "I never saw myself keeping house and being content with that. And having all those responsibilities put on me was difficult. When we lived in London, we shared the house responsibilities, whether we needed to get something repaired, or cleaning. So then, it was kind of like, 'Well, you don't have a job, so why don't you take over this?'"
What were your feelings about this money divide?"I guess one of the biggest challenges, especially for me, was that I had no control or access to any of our money — the money he was making. So that was really interesting. It was the first time that, if I needed money to go to the grocery store, or if I wanted to go out with my girlfriends, I had to ask him. That was new and different and odd. There would be times where he would say, 'Okay we're spending too much money so we need to relax this week.' But I never knew how much we were spending because I never looked at his bank account; that was always private. That was a weird transition for us. "On the other hand, I will say that it was kind of nice that he would always pay for dinners. If I was feeling really down, we would do something fun or new or go on vacation, so that was kind of nice. But sometimes it would be weird to have to ask him for money so I could go out with friends. I stopped shopping for myself, I felt really uncomfortable buying anything that I wanted. I could’ve used my savings, but I felt like I didn’t have any money coming in and I didn't want to get into the habit of using my savings to buy things I didnt necessarily really need. But I also wouldn't ask him for money for those kinds of things. Of course, my husband would be able to go out and buy whatever he wanted. "
Why do you think you felt so uncomfortable? "I think because he has had some baggage with money. One of my best friends is a housewife and she doesn't live in that kind of situation at all. Her husband's money is her money as well, and they have their own budget, but she’s allowed to use it freely. But in this time in Brazil, I didn't ever feel comfortable using his money the way that I would use money I made myself. "Recently, we just took a trip to the north of Brazil, and we found this beautiful handmade pottery store, and I saw a pot that I really wanted, and it was gorgeous, and it wasn’t necessarily expensive. I think it was $35, which is expensive for Brazil but not bad. He was like, 'If you want that, then you have to use your savings, because I'm not buying that.' Over the past three years, he would say certain things like that, and that's made me feel more uncomfortable buying things with his money."
You ended up getting a job then? "I work in hospitality, in the restaurant industry, so I got a job working for a French hotel. The rules were: you work six days a week and you don't get any holidays the first year, and the second year you get a month of holiday, but you have to take it all at once, and my managers decide when I take it. So there's no flexibility whatsoever. It was really exhausting. "I was also surprised by how little they were paying. My salary was so low, it didn’t really cover anything. I made about 2,500 reals, which is probably a little under $1,000 a month, maybe $800. When I first started, it was like $500 a month, working six days a week as a manager of a bar in the hotel." Did this affect your money situation? "When I started working and we realized what my salary was going to be, my husband was like, 'I'll still cover everything, but whatever you can pay for, let's try and use the local currency' — since it costs money for him to take money from the ATM with the fees. I was happy to pay for things whenever I could, like dinner and groceries and things for myself."
So now you've moved? "We're now in New York — we just moved here three days ago. I ended up getting a job, and my salary is starting at $48,000, paid hourly, so that's based on 40 hours a week. My husband and I have had a brief little chat and he said he'd be willing to cover the expenses for the both of us, food and travel and things for the apartment, until I start getting a paycheck. But I don't know what we're going to do now. I don't know if I want to go back to our 50/50 system. My husband still makes significantly more money than I do; he's opening up an office for his company here in New York, and they want to get his salary to $80,000 in about a year." What didn't you like about the 50/50 system? "I never said to him that I was unhappy with the way that we managed our money in London, and I don't know why I never said it. I probably will say when we do have the conversation about how we’re going to manage our money here. When we first arrived in Brazil, I did say how I kind of liked that he would take me out to dinner and covered those expenses, because it always felt weird that he would be like, 'Okay you owe this,' every single time."
Have you two talked about how you'll be splitting the bills now that you're both in stable positions? "I've spoken to other friends to find out what system they have with their partner, because I wasn't entirely happy with having to pay half of everything when we lived in London, especially when we went out to dinner. It just didn't feel romantic. One friend has a partner who makes a lot more money than she does, and they agreed to a percentage because it seems fairer. So I've been thinking about that. "What I would like to do is we have a joint account where we combine a percentage of our salaries, and we use that money to save for things mutually and pay for expenses together. At the same time, we have our own private accounts for our personal use." Would you ever consider combining finances? "I personally wouldn't want to combine our finances. Before we met, I worked really really hard. When I was living in New York, I worked two jobs along with a salary job, and I saved quite a good chunk of money. For me, personally, that is the money I made before we were together. I think of it as my money. At the same time, I think I'd be open to maybe combining a portion of our salaries, but I think it's really important to have our individual money that we don't have to keep track of. "I also don't want my husband to see how I spend my money on my personal stuff. I will admit, I have some expensive tastes, so I might spend more on shoes than he ever would, but he likes to spend money on lots of silly things that would probably annoy me. I think if I saw that, it would create problems between the two of us."