If money was a class, I'd probably get a D minus. If navigating the dark and stormy waters of love and money was also a class, I would most definitely get a giant, demeaning, red-inked "F."
I wouldn't graduate. My parents would be disappointed. I would walk around with my head hanging in shame, marinating in my epic failure.
See, I'm a romantic. I'm fantastic at the art of love. The trouble is, since I find the topic of money to be the most wildly unromantic conversation possible, I go to drastic measures to avoid having it.
What's the worst money conversation, you ask? Addressing your unbalanced incomes when you're in a relationship.
Like, what if bae has a shit ton of money and leads a lavish, ultra-glam, expensive lifestyle? How the hell am I expected to keep up when I'm hardly scraping by?
If bae's social circle likes to frequent the most expensive clubs in the great isle of Manhattan, and I can't even afford the $20 cover charge, what the fuck do I do?
Answer: I don't know. Like I said, money isn't my strong suit.
So, I decided to leave it to the experts, baby. I might be an expert on lesbian breakups, quiet sex positions and how to keep your sex drive up when you're taking antidepressants, but I'm no money expert. I'm the opposite. I'm money clueless.
Janice Goldman, a renowned financial coach and author of "Let's Talk About Money: The Girlfriend's Guide To Protecting Her ASSets" has some advice on how to keep up with your American-Express-black-card carrying bae when you're still trying to get approved for a Capital One credit card with a $300 limit.
Step 1: Recognize There Is A Power Dynamic At Play Here
Goldman says the first thing to do is to get real about the cold realities of money, and to recognize that a power dynamic is in danger of coming into play when one person in the relationship is wealthier.
Money is power. How we use that power is what matters. Often, the person who earns the most in a relationship feels as if he or she has the upper hand in decision-making. Trust me, I've worked with far too many women who let their highly successful husbands handle all of the financial decisions because they didn't feel they deserved to have a voice in the way money was being spent.
I'm suddenly reminded of my most voiceless moment in all of my relationships. It was exactly when I dated someone with heaps more money than I did.
Almost a decade ago, I was a very mixed up, broke, lost little 21-year-old girl who was brand new to glittery, palm-tree-adorned Los Angeles and dated an exorbitantly wealthy, 21-year-old Beverly Hills native named Lexi*.
The person who earns the most feels as if he or she has the upper hand in decision-making.
Lexi didn't work because her parents had set her up with a seemingly endless trust fund the day she turned 18.
Lexi also had very rich friends. She had gone to one of the most exclusive private schools in LA — the kind of school where the highest paid executives in the entertainment industry send their precious children.
All of her friends seemed to have sparkly, gold Cartier watches dangling from their perfect wrists.
They all drove designer cars. They went out to bougie dinners at trendy celebrity-ridden restaurants six nights a week. They interned for free at record labels and chic fashion houses (that is, when they weren't traveling the world via private jet).
There was no way I could keep up with Lexi and her wealthy friends. I looked glam and had glam dreams, but I was a struggling actor who sold $500 sweatsuits and $75 trucker hats to rich socialites in a boutique on Melrose for a whopping $8 an hour.
I had no business going out for an indulgent sushi dinner in Malibu on a Tuesday "just because."
But I never spoke up. I never said, "I can't afford a $300 dinner at Nobu tonight." I felt I didn't deserve to have any differing opinions because I had zero money, and Lexi was rolling in hills of gorgeously green dollar bills.
And the person who rolls in gorgeously green dollar bills calls the shots, right?
Not according to Goldman, kittens. Goldman strongly disputes the idea that having less money means having less of a voice.
She assures me that "regardless of how much you contribute to your family's [or relationship's] bank account, you DO deserve input. The key to the success of this is communication."
Step 2: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Oh, the trials and tribulations of communication, babes. It's exactly where so many of us fail, right?
We attach shame to our weaker financial statuses, thinking it's not OK to make so much less than our partners. When in reality, Goldman says it's actually crucial to have candid conversations about your authentic financial state, quickly.
I probably misled Lexi into thinking I had the money to keep up with her because I avoided discussing my $8-per-hour salary like the Black Plague. I had $8-per-hour shame, and shame always manifests in lies.
Goldman compares withholding your financial truths from your partner to withholding your STD status.
She tells me, "Just as you'd want to know if your future partner has any STDs (yes, those kind), you also need to know about your partner's STDs — Salary, Taxes, Debt. Let your partner know that it's time to get financially naked."
You need to know about your partner's STDs — Salary, Taxes, Debt.
It's particularly brutal in superficial cities like LA, but in any city I've ever lived in, I've noticed that keeping up appearances means everything.
Our culture is so surface-level, and we just want everyone to believe the Instagram illusion we've created for ourselves is actually real. We don't want to admit we can't afford the sushi.
But just because we took a picture of that succulent sushi roll and posted it to social media, doesn't mean we actually had the money to buy and then it eat.
I look glam and am open about my unquenchable thirst for champagne, so Lexi probably assumed I had a dollar-heavy bank account that matched my lavish taste.
When really, I was just excited when I had $1,000 in my account.
Step 3: Remember Your Own Worth In The Relationship
Goldman, however, stresses that once you've opened up the door and revealed your STDs to your partner, it's important to remember that even though you make less, you still have input in your shared lifestyle and financial choices.
As Lexi and her friends would recklessly toss in their black Amex's at the end of a pricey dinner, I would keep my mouth shut and silently beg the universe to not let my Visa get declined.
Even if I ordered the $12 garden salad and no booze, I wouldn't dare suggest splitting the check. I didn't want to be the girl who was worried about money, and I felt powerless and insecure.
I never said to Lexi, "Maybe we should go somewhere more reasonable," or explain that if she wanted to go to Nobu for dinner, she had to pay for it because I couldn't afford it.
Money management is a team effort – no stars allowed in this game! This eliminates any vagueness and increases clarity in decision-making.
Goldman explains that doing this early sets you up for a balanced relationship. When things get more serious down the line, you'll have already showed your partner that you will be an active part of making financial choices.
It's important to have a conversation to establish that money management is a team effort.
For example, if I had been honest and transparent with Lexi from the beginning, it wouldn't be a shocker when say, 10 years down the line (if we had worked out), I demanded input in more serious things.
Goldman tells me,
It takes two people to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Playing an active role in the finances makes you a part of the team and a good advocate for your family. If game rules aren't clearly defined, the potential of being a target for passive-aggressive behavior increases. [A result is], ultimately, the decline of a marriage. Remember folks, money is power. Use that power wisely.
I think it's time we let go of the stigma of not making as much money as our partners.
We need to stop worrying that we can't keep up, and instead own the empowering idea that our lack of money doesn't mean a lack of voice.
If bae and bae's friends want to drop loads of money and we can't afford it, let's be bold and talk to bae about it. Because the truth is, our money doesn't define us at all — our actions, our boldness to be real and honest about our lives do.
Remember folks, money is power. Use that power wisely.
And if bae isn't sympathetic toward your financial situation, dump them and never look back.
Because money is a metaphor for something so much greater. When you talk about money with your partner, you learn a lot more than simply what's in their bank account — you learn about their values and their character.
So, let's bite the bullet and strike up that conversation tonight, babes.