How a Couple Merging Finances Does Money

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Jennifer is a 29-year-old NGO program director who lives in Washington D.C.

So, Jennifer, tell us a bit about your finances.

My boyfriend and I recently moved in together (in January), and have since been experimenting with ways to merge finances. He also works as a program director at a different NGO, and our salaries are quite close (I’m $81,000 and he is $75,000) though that is due to fairly large raises we each got recently. We used to have more disparate incomes when we first moved in together.

He has a large-ish student loan (no consumer debt), and I have no debt. We live in an odd apartment that is strangely cheap for D.C.

We’re still figuring out how much we merge money and what that means for us.

Let’s look at your living situation first, because I know a bit about D.C. rents. How much are you paying, and what type of apartment are you living in?

So, we pay $875 for a two-bedroom apartment in a pretty central neighborhood—which doesn’t actually make any sense, obviously. Rents where I live, for that size apartment, should be closer to $1,600-$1,800.

Right, that’d be about what I’d expect.

I “inherited” this apartment from a friend who moved, and assumed her lease; the rent goes up a tiny bit ($20 or so) per year, but that’s it. There are just two units like this, and neither I nor my neighbor know why they exist. My theory is one day the landlord will realize that they should charge twice as much, so we’re saving up for a down payment for some place else in the meantime. For now, we’re enjoying spending so little on rent.

Got it. So on to your experiment. I’m interested in learning how you budget, if you contribute to a shared pot, how you handle discretionary expenses, and if there have been any surprises along the way.

Prior to moving in together we talked about this a lot. At the time I was making quite a bit more. We discussed going 50/50 on shared expenses (to be defined later), but it was important to me to not go 50/50, actually. I felt like we should contribute proportionately to our incomes. To me, going 50/50 felt like what I would do with a random roommate or a friend, not someone with whom I was merging my life.

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Let’s All Run Away to Europe Together

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There is one purchase I didn’t include in my weekend spending yesterday because it would have busted my budget big time: I spent $1,332.61 on a roundtrip ticket to Italy for a summer vacation trip I’m doing with a few friends. We still need to sort out lots of details: Cities we want to visit, accommodations in those cities, how we’ll get around, what we’ll want to spend on food and wine—but we’re excited about it for lots of reasons. Some of those reasons are complicated (we’re getting to an age where this kind of trip is increasingly less likely to happen in the future as our pals begin to have children and move to new cities and are less able to take a week off to run away to Europe, so it’s feeling a little now or never), but one big reason is pragmatic: the dollar is strong and the euro is weakening. As publications like the Los Angeles Times and USA Today are putting it: This is the summer to travel to Europe.

“For those looking to save, Europe is a great option,” says Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications for TripAdvisor, a travel booking site.

Booking.com has found that Americans may even pay less for accommodations in Europe than one in the USA.

For instance, a 14-day stay here in Barcelona can cost as much as a seven-day stay at a comparable hotel in Palm Springs, according to Booking.com’s calculations.

“What may have once seemed unaffordable is now an attractive option for U.S. travelers,” says Joseph Moscone, senior manager of public relations for the Americas at Booking.com. “Compared to some popular domestic destinations, Europe is actually more affordable for many travelers given the weaker euro currency.”

Of course, summer is peak travel season in Europe, so if you’re looking for flights under $1,000, you’ll be looking to go now or later in the fall. Nancy Trejos, the USA Today reporter, says she was able to get a roundtrip ticket from Newark to Barcelona for $800.80 this Easter. My former roommate, who will be joining me on this trip, was able to get a ticket using miles she’s accrued: 85,000 SkyMiles on the Delta program.

Are you planning a trip to Europe to take advantage of the euro’s decline? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo: Moyan Brenn

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Inside Baseball: ‘New York Mets, Take My Money’

Field-of-Dreams-james earl jones

As a person who cares deeply about politics and economic justice, I must admit that professional baseball is an atrocity. It involves labor disputes that force lefties like me to do a complicated gut check before singing Solidarity Forever and siding with millionaires in their fight against billionaires, while minimum wage workers serve expensive beer to working-class fans in exorbitantly priced seats. It has developed a highly refined con game to get poor cities to build expensive stadiums for wealthy team owners. Worst of all, and most fundamentally galling, it is a private, for-profit enterprise that somehow became a quasi-religion and convinced millions of schlubs to spend their own money and emotional energy caring about the fortunes of a bunch of companies.

And yet …

Baseball is beautiful. Right now, it is more beautiful for me than it has been in over a decade, because my beloved, perennially bad and mismanaged Mets are doing really well. Sure, it’s only April, but that’s the trouble: April is when the northeast shakes off winter slumber and breathes deeply again, when birds and flowers and rain that doesn’t hurt make everything seem OK again. So when, in an already optimistic time of year, my team comes galloping out of the gate in a way it didn’t do during the entirety of my 11-year marriage, it’s hard to care that said team plays in an unapologetically mediocre stadium recently constructed with public subsidies while said team’s ownership subsidized Bernie Madoff’s orgy of larceny and deceit.

Seriously, I don’t care. New York Mets, take my money. Take the money of all my friends and family who still live and pay taxes and struggle in New York. While you’re at it, take $30 for a new hat and another $20 for an app that lets me listen to your home radio broadcasts for one year only, through which I will listen to your advertisers! If you would let me, I would give you even more money so I could watch your games on the internet, but because I live 100 miles from your stadium in a place where 95% of the population supports two other teams, you have determined that I am in your “home market” and can only see your games by buying a full cable package.

I should condemn this whole arrangement as a miserable, exploitative abuse, but instead, I am pleading with you to let me give you more money for your fundamentally worthless productREAD MORE

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Forgiving Is Not Forgetting: On Letting Go Of Debts

get out of jail free cardWhat’s the biggest debt you have had to forgive? For Kimberly Seals Allers, the amount totaled almost $40,000, and her story is a moving one.

Studies prove that school-age children of involved fathers have better academic success, higher grade point averages and go on to have higher levels of economic and educational achievement. We focus on money, when “child support” also means emotional support, academic support and the supportive power of a male influence in a child’s life. Negating that value is dangerous to our children. Regardless of what I think of him, my children love their father and doing my part to keep that feeling alive is priceless to me.

As mothers we would never want our value to be trivialized to a dollar amount. But fathers are often reduced to being an accessory parent — nice to have around, but not essential as long as a good mother stands in. In the seven years since my divorce, my ex-husband (or “wasband” as I like to call him) has always given our children his time, whether he had money or not. He currently makes payments to me directly when he is able.

But his arrears have accumulated during years when he was unemployed or underemployed and either paid less than the monthly payment ($600) granted when we divorced, or nothing at all. So when our children were young, after our separation and early in our divorce, I negotiated new currencies such as additional time when I needed child care, meal preparation, haircuts and even helping with home repairs, instead of acting as if a cash payment was all he had to offer our children. The look on their faces when he came to pick them up was more than worth it.

Because Allers’s “wasband” couldn’t pay minimums and was in arrears, he wasn’t able to travel back to the US to come to one of the children’s graduations. That was what inspired Allers to say that enough was enough: “I view him as having been unable to pay, not unwilling. But our broken system lumps both kinds of fathers together in the same prison-bound barrel.”

She felt financially able to release him, and she did, for the good of the family as a whole.  READ MORE

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Are You Just LARPing Your Job?

Slack, maker of extremely expensive professional chatrooms, is annexing online work culture at a stunning rate. The industry narrative doesn’t quite cover it! Sure, a lot of companies are signing up and closing their Campfire chats, their Hipchats and their IRCs. But the thing about Slack that gives you that low dread of unstoppable acceleration is how fully it encompasses how you talk to coworkers: first it replaces a group work chat, then it gradually replaces your Gchats and the last remaining AIM conversations. Eventually—and this is when you finally begin to understand why, in the big fun-free casino of venture capital, the Slack table is so crowded—it starts to replace email. It’s a weird and distinct feeling, and one that often coincides with Slack apologetics. It is the process of Slackulatory capture.

There may be offices, and types of jobs, for which sitting in a chatroom all day makes everyone more productive. This does not seem to be the case in online media, which is most effusive in its praise for the service. Slack is where people make jokes and register their presence; it is where stories and editing and administrating are discussed as much for self-justification as for the completion of actual goals. Working in an active Slack (or Campfire for that matter!) is a productivity nightmare, especially if you don’t hate your coworkers. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either rationalizing or delusional. READ MORE

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Updates on Jay Z, Gwyneth Paltrow, Starbucks, and Legal Weed

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I wanted to bring you a few updates on recent Billfold stories:

First, Gwyneth Paltrow was unable to complete her SNAP Challenge. This fits right in to the “celebrity food stamp challenge narrative” that I predicted would happen, and gives us the scene where the celebrity realizes just how hard it is to stretch a limited food budget into multiple meals. As Paltrow wrote on GOOP:

As I suspected, we only made it through about four days, when I personally broke and had some chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice). My perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget, even for just a few days—a challenge that 47 million Americans face every day, week, and year. A few takeaways from the week were that vegetarian staples liked dried beans and rice go a long way—and we were able to come up with a few recipes on a super tight budget.

This paragraph manages to encompass both the “celebrity discovers how hard it is” and “celebrity discovers beans and rice” tropes. Well done, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Second, Jay Z’s music service Tidal is going through waves of change. Tidal, which launched at the beginning of April, just lost its CEO, Andy Chen. Peter Tonstad is serving as interim CEO. Tidal also laid off a number of its employees, and I chose “a number” because various sources are reporting anything from “twenty-five” to “a handful.” (It could be a really big hand.)

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When Two People Work From Home in a One-Bedroom

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Life takes us all to strange places we never intended to go. Recently it took my husband and me on a journey of far too much togetherness. Now that it’s over, I have never been more in awe of couples who work together and haven’t garroted each other.

Like many in this bracingly cool new workaday world of ours, for the past year or so I have found myself laboring away as an independent contractor and freelancer. This isn’t really where I thought I’d be at this more-advanced-than-I’d-like stage of life, but one either rolls with the punches or takes a final trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately, I’m still rolling.

Part of the rapidly expanding my-own-boss demographic means being part of the wondrous trend of working from home. This is probably the best aspect of the whole deal, or at least it was for a few months.

I’d roll out of bed between 8:30 and 9, fix myself a leisurely breakfast as I check email, read about current events for longer than I should, and then get a few hours of real work done with no supervisor or company co-founder looking over my shoulder. After my five- to six-hour workday was done, I’d go to the adorable but expensive neighborhood market and grab the fixings for dinner which I’d then prepare while listening to the Savage Lovecast. By the time my husband got home from his 8:30 to 5:30, I’d be happily buzzed off a glass of wine or a couple of hits off the vaporizer. It was kind of idyllic.

Then he got laid off.

Now, the reason I’m not parked in a cubicle or (God forbid!) sitting in one of the new open office plans guarding my screen from my coworkers right now is that I, too, had been laid off, so I’m not unsympathetic to his situation. I know all too well what a blow to one’s self-worth it can be. Frankly, he handled it a lot better than I did when it happened to me.

That said, he worked as the fulfillment and customer service guy for a porn studio—old-fashioned DVD shipping, no bareback gay porn studio—so he knew for quite some time that the end was nigh. Unfortunately, he hadn’t done anything to prepare for that eventuality. (Yes, there were a few “I told you sos” involved. I’m a bad person.) After 13 years with the company he was sent packing with two week’s severance, and we both got more togetherness than was good for either of us. READ MORE

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Former NBA Player Josh Childress Explains Why Athletes Go Broke

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How could someone with 11 million dollars go broke? Former NBA small forward Josh Childress lists the reasons, and they sound all too familiar—starting with spending too much money on housing.

The video, titled “Why Athletes Go Broke,” is a Grit interview with Childress in their “Shooting the Sh*t” series (Grit includes the asterisk). What does it take for a multimillionaire to end up with an empty bank account? Childress states that “I was always able to keep [my spending] in check, to an extent,” but knows first-hand how other athletes can spend everything they earn and more.

“The first mistake,” Childress says, “is people say ‘okay, I got 11 million dollars.’”

Childress explains that it turns out to be “$5 million over four years,” which means that athletes who buy a million-dollar house in their first year have just committed to spending a larger percentage of their annual income on real estate than they realize. “That house then becomes more expensive. You buy a house, or some guys rent, whatever, most guys buy their mothers a house or a car or something, they buy themselves a car, you’ve got a 2-4 percent agent fee, you’ve got the NBA escrow, so that check gets eaten up.”

NBA rookies, like anyone else starting a new job, also have to pay to—as Childress puts it—”represent myself like a professional.” It’s no longer appropriate to carry around worn-out bags, for example. Everything has to look new and high-quality, which means spending high-quality prices.

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Life, And Doing Money, In The New Middle Age

bucket list morgan freeman jack nicholson oldstersWe talk a lot about how we do money as relatively young people at this site and we talk about how we expect to do money once / if we retire. What with one thing and another — the final season of “Mad Men;” the opening of the new Noah Baumbach movie While We’re Young, which was covered on both the Culture Gabfest and Filmspotting – I’ve also been thinking a lot about middle age lately. Turns out I’m not the only one.

Researchers say that old age should be defined as having 15 or fewer years left to live, which for the baby boomers means that they are still middle aged until their 74th year.

“If you don’t consider people old just because they reached age 65 but instead take into account how long they have left to live, then the faster the increase in life expectancy, the less aging is actually going on,” said Sergei Scherbov, World Population Program Deputy Director, at IIASA.

“Older people in the future will have many characteristics exhibited by younger people today.

“What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives. 200 years ago, a 60-year-old would be a very old person. Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue is middle aged.”

It’s easy enough to fantasize about being a spry 70, puttering around gardens, playing with grandchildren, binge-reading novels, maybe solving mysteries in our spare time. It never occurred to me that what I was picturing was life in the new middle age.  READ MORE

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