A Q&A With The Money Diaries Couple

Illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
Yesterday, we published the Money Diary of a couple in Memphis, TN, who makes a combined $133,000 per year. A. is a communications director, and her husband, C., is a public defender. They live in a house they own in Memphis, and spent the week of their Money Diary celebrating A.'s 34th birthday.
In celebration of Money Diaries Month, we talked to A. and C. about what they thought of each other's Money Diaries, their spending philosophies, and what's next for them.
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What did you think of each other’s Money Diaries? Were you surprised by anything?
A: Mostly when I read C.'s I was like, man, I should have been funnier in mine.
C: I wasn’t surprised by anything. I guess after being together for so long you kind of know and accept what the other person is spending money on.
A: The good and the bad.
C: The good and bad!
When did you combine your finances as a couple?
A: Um, gosh, I don't remember. We went from being in a long distance relationship to immediately living together, which was sort of weird. And we've been together for almost 10 years.
C: Probably when I started law school is when we combined our finances.
A: It was pretty early on. I mean, we each have our own checking accounts, but we both have access to those accounts and then we put everything on the credit card. We don't keep tabs on each other's spending, but he notices when the boxes from my online shopping show up on the porch, and I notice him spending money on Subway for lunch.
Who between the two of you is more in charge of the finances?
C: A. is sort of more in charge of the finances than I am. I defer to her in that arena and trust that she'll be responsible with the money, because I'm not as good at that stuff.
A: Yeah, I'm a list maker, and every payday I already know where the money's going. I have a note on my desktop for each paycheck — this much is going to savings and this much is getting paid to this thing on this date. I'm the one who is on top of that.
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Do you feel like you have similar money and spending philosophies?
A: Yeah, what's your philosophy on spending money, C.?
C: [laughs] My philosophy is that I only want to spend money on things that are more experience-based. Buying small material items like clothes and stuff isn't as important to me as a trip or something of that nature. That's what I'd prefer to spend money on it if I was going to do it. That and food. I spend money on food, which counts as an experience in my book.
Do you feel that way as well, A.?
A: I mean, yeah! I love spending money on experiences and food, and I also love spending money on stuff that I don't really need. But between the two of us, I'm definitely the one who spends money on more material goods. I try to balance it and be good about saving too, though.
C: When we got together, I think I was kind of nudged by her in the direction of being more responsible with my finances and focusing more on saving. Prior to that, I knew it was something I needed to do, but I had yet to make any concrete steps in that direction.
A: Before we got married, we bought a new car together, so we had saved together for that and then come up with a plan for how we were gonna pay it off really quickly. So I think that was our first real conversation that was like, we're gonna set a goal for this and then do the research and pay it off. And then after that, we bought a house.
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You wrote in your Money Diary that the house is where most of your money goes each month. What have the biggest costs been?
C: When you're buying something that you're planning to fix up, it's kind of hard to plan. I had no idea what fixing a bathroom would cost. I mean, you make it work, but sometimes it feels like a bit of a Monopoly money situation. I had no idea at the beginning what doing a fixer upper would look like monetarily.
A: Yeah. We got a really good deal on a house that we loved, but it did need a lot of work, so we just kind of went room by room renovating it. We got a really good deal and were able to put down 20% and still have a little bit left over, so we did the kitchen. We budgeted for it and knew the total up front, but then as we went through other rooms, some of them, like our last bathroom, took two and a half years because we just did it piecemeal as we could afford to — one thing at a time. At this point I have no idea how much we've spent on all of it collectively, and I don't want to. I'm sure we could have done it more efficiently and more responsibly, but I don't know. Live and learn. It's almost done now, so...
C: For the most part, there've been no unexpected costs. It's been pretty good so far.
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A: We did need a new roof.
C: Yeah, we needed a new roof, and then our house got broken into once, so that was an unexpected cost.
What was stolen?
C: A TV and computers. But for me that wasn't as bad as the door and windows being broken and then having to get somebody in here to repair and replace them and redo part of the house. That was an unexpected cost and an annoyance.
A: Yeah so at that point we chose to get an alarm installed, which was a hassle and another cost.
Where did you guys move from and why did you choose to relocate to Memphis?
A: We moved to Memphis from a much larger city where the cost of living was certainly higher than it is in Memphis, but that didn't really play a role in us leaving. We'd moved to that city together for C. to attend law school, and we knew it was probably 50/50 that we'd stay or go after he graduated, depending on where he got job offers.
Then he got an excellent fellowship offer in Memphis that was a three-year commitment. We were really lucky, because I was working as a magazine editor for a company that allowed me to work remotely, so I didn't have to hunt for a new job at the same time. (I transitioned into nonprofit work later.)
I was a little skeptical about Memphis, because I'd spent a few years in the South already and was hadn't really connected with the culture the first time. But we were really communicative and positive about the opportunity and decided to give it our all. We were also really lucky that other "expats" from cities all over the country came in through that same fellowship program, so we had a built-in social support system of like-minded people to explore our new city with, and we made some lifelong friends. Memphis has been really good to us in a lot of ways.
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Is there anything big that you're saving up for on the horizon?
A: Actually, we're looking to relocate to the west coast, so now we're saving up for that. Hopefully we'll make some money on selling our house, but yeah, we've been trying to put some money away every month because it's expensive to move across the country!
When we move, I kind of feel like we'll want to rent a place rather than buy for just a little bit to figure out exactly where we wanna be, but I also feel a little bit of pressure in that I don't want to have to pay those taxes (whatever those taxes are when you sell your house now!). And also, this is weird and seems small, but we have a pit bull, and it's really hard to find apartments that take a pit bull, so I feel like we may have to buy a new house really quickly!
Do you guys have any feedback for each other after reading each other's Money Diary?
A: Come on, C., bring it on!
C: I don't know, I mean, at this point we know one another's spending weaknesses. I think mine for her would be less stress spending. I think there's an uptick in purchases of personal consumer goods when she's under some pressure at work, and it's the same for me — I eat out more when I get under stress at work as well.
A: Yeah I think we both acknowledge that we need to find healthier ways to deal with our stress, and that's one of the reasons why we're trying to relocate. We want to have healthier lifestyles, and yeah, hopefully spend less on candles and food when we feel terrible about ourselves [laughs].
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Have a story you'd like to share? Email us here.
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