My Partner & I Managed Each Other's Money For A Week & I Hated Every Minute
If you have to spend money to make money, then why aren't I a billionaire? Ever since I can remember, money management has been my greatest weakness. Gifts from the tooth fairy would be spent in minute on a pair of dangly earrings from Claire's. Aidee, the money bestowed upon children by their elders during the Persian New Year, would immediately be swapped for chicken fingers, fries, and a chocolate shake from Jackson Hole Diner. Growing up in New York City, countless $20 given to me by my parents would dissolve quickly into cab money until I was flat broke and walking home in the dark. My father calls it a "character flaw," I call it an adolescent quirk. There's no other way to say it: I, Iman Hariri-Kia, am bad with money.
My partner is my complete opposite. Although we both had the privilege of growing up in upper middle class families, living in metropolitan cities (him in London, me in New York), our financial approaches are incredibly different. My partner's family instilled in him a sense of responsibility — he grew up with an allowance, and was encouraged to work every summer to earn extra cash. I, on the other hand, was neither given money to manage nor did I make any money until I entered college. And while I interned every summer from the age of 14, most of my internships were unpaid. My parents semi-joked that I never understood the value of a dollar — 23 years later and on some nights, unable to afford dinner, I can now confidently say that it's no joking matter.
My partner makes nearly double what I make — and he's an incredible saver. He manages his paychecks, puts money away for the future, budgets his expenses. The whole nine yards. I, on the other hand, can be irrefutably responsible one week and the next, spend half my earnings purchasing a pair of boots I definitely don't need online at midnight on a Tuesday. Hey, it's called balance, right?
Although I've never personally experienced it firsthand, I know that finances can be a huge stress on relationships. According to a 2018 study by Personal Capital, although 75 percent of millennials claim that falling in love is more important to them than having money, a whopping 45 percent confirm that money is the number one source of discord in their relationships. So how do we reconcile these differences and get on the same page? I may not know anything about the stock market, but I do know that a relationship that's built on a foundation of mutual trust is one worth investing in.
The saying goes that, "You can't understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes," but I dare to ask: What about their wallet? In order to reach a place of deeper understanding and empathy, my partner and I sought out to manage each other's expenses for a week. In order to accomplish this goal, we each had to ask each other's permission before spending money, making a purchase, donating to charity, etc. We tracked how much we spent, and set overall budget goals for the week to see if we could meet them. After much discussion, we landed on an approved budget of $500 each (Look, New York is expensive, y'all.) For the next week, while we wouldn't actually be spending each other's money, we'd have veto-power over each other's purchases.
I thought the experiment might tear us apart, but surprisingly, the result actually brought us closer together.
9:35 a.m.: I text my partner asking permission to buy a cup of coffee. My office has mysteriously stopped providing coffee and I only had time for one cup before leaving the house this morning. My head is buzzing. I am heavily addicted to coffee. I ask to purchase a large mocha, which costs $5.99. He approves my purchase.
11:33 a.m.: After 12 hours of indecisiveness — three of which included polling my Instagram followers for answers — I finally decide to pull the trigger on my Halloween costume. My partner and I picked out the costumes together last night, so I don't run it by him before purchasing. We are going as Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, so I go through Amazon Prime to purchase a wig ($14.99) and a cloak ($31.99) for him, and a dress ($37.57) and a prop dragon ($12.81) for myself. I'm buying both of our costumes because I owe him a bit of money for a train ticket he purchased for me last week. The total comes out to $100.69, but I consider this a win because I was this close to buying myself a Khaleesi dress that cost $130.00, but my self-discipline prevailed. Plus, I freaking love Halloween.
2:28 p.m.: I'm avoiding buying lunch because I'm annoyed that I've already spent so much money and my partner has spent nothing. I feel like he must be trolling me. I tell him how I'm feeling and he demands I buy some lunch. I give in and decide to grab some pumpkin bisque from Pret a Manger. My partner insists that it has to be the largest size they sell. It cost $7.39 — is he sabotaging me?
2:43 p.m.: My partner finally buys himself some lunch! He reportedly purchased some chicken and broccoli from a Chinese restaurant. It cost him $8.00. Lame.
7:37 p.m.: My partner asks my permission to buy a salad from Chop't. It costs $14.00, which is a little pricey — but I allow it. After all, I've spent like, 10 times more than him today.
8:25 p.m.: I text my partner to ask if I can buy some contact solution for $4.99. I'm out of solution and blind as a bat. I know he will say yes (who is he to deny me the gift of sight?), and he does. So far this is kind of boring. No denials. The most drama I've experienced so far is my own insecurity of knowing that my partner spent so much less than me today, as well as just the guilt from having my spending laid out in front of me.
DAY ONE TALLY
Team Iman: $133.06
Team Partner: $22.06
6:30 a.m.: My partner texts me to ask if he can take a cab to work. It's very (way too) early in the morning, so I oblige him. I wouldn't want to walk to work when it's still dark out either. The cab costs him $10.00. I feel bad that he has to be in so early in the morning, but he works in finance and is tied to the markets. Sucks.
8:00 a.m.: My partner is now asking to buy breakfast! Look who's a big spender today! I approve it because who am I to deny him sustenance, but make a note that I shouldn't always be so lenient. He could bring something from home! That's what I did today. The breakfast costs him $7.00.
10:59 a.m.: I can't stop thinking about khakis. I need a pair of khakis. I text my partner asking if I can buy a pair, and he asks to see a picture. I send him the link. The pair I've chosen is from Everlane and costs $55.00. He vetoes the pants. I'm sad, but I understand why. I'll just wait for next week to do things like stress-shop and get a tattoo.
1:32 p.m.: I text my partner asking if I can grab a smoothie from Juice Generation for lunch. He says yes. The smoothie costs $9.37, because I added almond butter for extra protein.
2:53 p.m.: My partner texts me to ask if he can buy a salad for lunch. I approve his purchase of $14.00, but seriously — what is he putting in these salads?!
4:40 p.m.: I go for a walk and decide to get a hot chocolate. The kid's size is only $3.00, so I go for it. My partner doesn't respond in time, but I buy it anyway.
5:43 p.m.: A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a pair of white cowboy boots online that cost $30. Since their arrival, they have absolutely plagued me: I cannot figure out how to make these freaking boots work. So, I decided to sell them to a buyer on Instagram for $20.00. She just showed up at my place of work for the pick up! Looks like my side hustle earned me a bit of pocket money. Take that, Partner! Although I still need to ask his permission to spend my earnings, it adds to my overall net worth, if you will.
8:18: p.m.: I call my partner and discuss our plans for the night. I was hoping he would sleep at my apartment, because I'm working from home tomorrow. However, he isn't feeling so well. I agree to come over if I can take an Uber. It costs $16.14.
9:20 p.m.: My partner Venmos me $15.00 for the Uber, with the note, "Thanks for coming." I appreciate the gesture.
9:45 p.m.: My partner picked up a salad for me to eat for dinner (if he stays at work past a certain time, they provide sustenance), but bailed on eating with his roommate. Unfortunately when he got home, the roommate was sitting on the couch. So he hid my salad in the hallway. I then had to pretend to have a reason to go get the salad, so I said I was going to buy beer. Then I actually bought a six-pack of Heineken for $15.00 to make it look believable. Should I break up with him?
DAY TWO TALLY
Team Iman: $141.57
Team Partner: $68.06
9:09 a.m.: I woke up alone at my partner's apartment and prepared myself to work from home before my doctor's appointment. I texted him asking if I could take an Uber to my house. He said yes, but when I checked, Uber costs were at $20.00. I chose to take an UberPool instead, which cost me $6.13. A solid compromise!
9:20 a.m.: Before getting in said Uber, I grab an iced coffee for $3.18 from Bread & Butter. The ladies know my order as I walk in. I feel like a freaking queen. My partner approves the order. I think he's being too lenient, but he knows I'm addicted to coffee.
11:18 a.m.: My colleague and friend Mel PayPals me $5.00 for coffee. She knows that I'm stressed out about my doctor's appointment and managing my money. I love Mel.
12:26 p.m.: My partner texts me and asks if he can have a $4.00 lunch. He works at a place with a cafe that offers him partially subsidized options. I am super jealous, but approve. Since I worked from home today, I was able to cook myself some eggs with pesto for lunch (I already had the ingredients in my fridge). It was delicious.
7:00 p.m.: My partner texts me to let me know that he just paid $130.00 for tickets to tonight's Knicks game. I tell him that that's not exactly how managing each other's money works. But I also let him know that I hope he has fun, as he is going with a friend who is visiting from London.
8:13 p.m.: My partner texts to ask if he can spend $40 on beer and food. I ask him how the cost is so expensive and he tells me that each beer is about $14.00 and the food costs about $20. I tell him to just get one beer, he has work tomorrow, anyway.
11:04 p.m.: My partner texts me to inform me that he ended up having a couple more beers. He spent $28.00. Managing each other's money is going to be harder than I thought — especially when alcohol is involved. It's a little annoying that he broke the rules of the experiment, but I'm too tired to care. I'm going to bed.
DAY THREE TALLY
Team Iman: $145.88
Team Partner: $260.06
7:00 a.m.: My partner texts me to ask if he can take an Uber to work. I tell him that he cannot, but grant him an UberPool. It costs him $9.00.
12:14 p.m.: My partner texts me to ask if he can buy a salad for lunch. I say yes. The salad costs $11.00. It looks like he is finally mastered the art of making a relatively affordable, yet delicious salad.
12:53 p.m.: I text my partner to ask if I can buy lunch. I'm taking his friend who's visiting from London out to lunch near my office. He approves, and I knew he would. He is super far ahead of me as far as spending goes right now. Plus, he left his BlackBerry at my house last night, and needs me to hand it off to his friend. We go to a stand in the park and I get a delicious brussels sprouts salad. It costs $9.00.
2:34 p.m.: I text my partner asking If I can book at a $25.00 Y7 yoga class for tomorrow night. He says "ye." — which means yes. Honestly, If I were him, I probably would have said no and made me go for a run instead. But to each his own.
8:22 p.m.: I finish working out and am welcomed by a text from my friend Tina. We were supposed to grab dinner tonight, but she is canceling our plans. Annoyed, I text my partner and ask if I can buy a salad from Sweetgreen for dinner. He says no. I sulk home to raid whatever is in the fridge.
9:46 p.m.: My partner texts me to ask if he can buy milk, beef jerky, and a six-pack of beer from Bread & Butter. I veto the beer, but approve the milk and jerky. $12.00.
DAY FOUR TALLY
Team Iman: $179.88
Team Partner: $292.06
6:30 a.m.: I'm dead asleep, but wake up to a text from my partner asking me if he can take a cab to work. I really don't want to allow it, because he's spending so much money on cabs. But I do, because it's so early. It's still dark out! It costs him $10.00.
12:02 p.m.: My partner texts to ask if he can buy a cheap, subsidized lunch from his workplace café. It only costs $4.00. I approve, but I'm so jealous.
6:27 p.m.: My partner texts to ask if he can take his friend who's visiting him out to dinner. I suggest going someplace cheap, since I know they're planning on having a big weekend. He ends up taking him to Urbanspace, where he pays a slick $30.00 for his dinner.
8:40 p.m.: My partner texts me to ask if he can pick up beer for the two of us (I'm allergic to gluten, so I can only drink certain beers). Flattered by the gesture, I approve. It ends up costing about $40.00, since my beer was a bit pricier.
9:10 p.m.: My partner asks me where I am, since I had promised to be at his house at 9:00 p.m.. We're going to the Comedy Cellar for the late-night show with a few friends. I tell him that I'm running late, and that the only way I can make it on time is if I take an Uber. He approves, and it costs $16.10.
11:40 p.m.: We are very, very late to the comedy show. In fact, we are positive that we won't be let in and that your tickets will be given to the standby line. Matt asks to pay for a taxi, and I agree (an Uber would require a wait). It costs $20.00.
2:00 a.m.: The comedy show just ended. Somehow, we got in and it lasted two hours. My partner pays for both of our drinks and snacks, and it ends up costing him $60.00. But I guess I'll pay him back?
DAY FIVE TALLY
Team Iman: $195.98
Team Partner: $456.06
1:30 p.m.: My partner and I spend the morning looking over places in upstate New York to visit for our anniversary weekend. We finally land on a cabin in Woodstock, NY. It will cost us $150 each, but we decide not to book it until we get paid. Plus, my partner is this close to surpassing his weekly budget. I suddenly realize that I'm supposed to get my roots touched up (I'm currently platinum blonde) at 2:30 p.m., so I jump in a cab so I can go home and change. The touch-up won't cost me anything, since it's covered by work for an upcoming story, but the cab costs me $20.00.
3:00 p.m.: My partner texts me and asks if he can pay a $50.00 entrance fee to go to the top of the Empire State Building. I think that's quite outrageous, considering he's about to go past his limit, but I feel bad since he's already all the way there and he's with a friend from out of town. I say OK.
4:30 p.m.: My partner texts me and lets me know that he just wrapped up at the Empire State Building and is going to grab some food before heading to the Standard Biergarten to meet friends. I tell him he's about $50.00 away from overspending for the week, and to make it cheap. He spends $35.00.
6:30 p.m.: I leave the salon after hours of bleaching. It's pitch black out, and I've lost my Saturday. Oh, well! I quickly ask my partner if I can grab a cab to come and meet him at the Biergarten. He says OK. It costs $10.64.
6:36 p.m.: I text my partner and asks if he wants to get spontaneous tattoos tonight. I do this often, and he usually bails on me. I don't know why, but I'm really craving another tattoo. As per usual, he denies me. Joke's on him — he's about to overspend like crazy.
8:37 p.m.: My partner and I both leave the Standard Biergarten. We both bought massive steins and sausage. There was damage done on both ends: I spent $36.00 (which was a total waste, as I didn't even end up using one of my drink tickets). Oh well. He spent $65.00. There goes the weekly budget!
10:45 p.m.: My partner decides to order $62.00 worth of Postmates on my debit card because his phone is apparently broken. The worst part of this? He orders like five salads from California Pizza Kitchen.
DAY SIX TALLY
Team Iman: $325.50
Team Partner: $606.06
So on the final day of money management, my partner's phone completely broke and we had no way of communicating on the fly. Because of that, we were unable to manage each other's expenses. This was an unforeseen obstacle, but nevertheless, here is what we each spent.
I spent $5.00 on an UberPool to get home from my partner's house, $3.81 on a large iced coffee from Bread & Butter, and $5.95 on freshly brewed cider from Eli Zabar's.
My partner spent $50.00 on dinner with his visiting friend (it was his last night in New York), $20.00 at the movies, and $20.00 at Duane Reade shopping for toiletries.
DAY SEVEN TALLY
Team Iman: $341.21 ($158.79 under budget)
Team Partner: $696.06 ($196.06 over budget)
The results of this experiment were incredibly surprising. I would have never predicted that I would come in under budget, or that my partner would go over budget — especially since I am so prone to late-night online stress shopping (shoutout to the white cowboy boots I had to sell). I think were several factors that contributed to this result.
The first was that I believe my knowledge of the experiment made me hyperaware of my spending habits, so I cut back in a lot of places that I would have normally tried to indulge: I bookmarked online purchases I had my eye on; I ate dinner at home almost every night instead of eating out, which I am more prone to do. Additionally, I didn't have to make any big monthly expenditures this past week, such as paying about $100 on my MetroCard, or my gym membership, or my phone bill. Normally, it is very difficult for me to stay within the confines of a budget. I also think my partner did a good job managing me, denying my requests to make impulse purchases (RIP my new pair of khakis) or go on spontaneous adventures (still going to get that tattoo though, stay tuned).
While it was definitely frustrating at times being told what I could and could not do with my own money, as someone who struggles with being extremely indecisive, it was actually quite productive giving up control. It was almost as if I had a financial planer, but instead of paying him I just had to watch a lot of Community.
As for telling my partner what to do with his money, I definitely felt overly hesitant. I wonder if this was again a product of my indecision, or perhaps societally constructed gender roles — I didn't want to abuse my power, and felt compelled to grant him lenience. Although I've never felt constricted by my gender within the confines of my relationship, perhaps culturally, this apprehension has been engrained within me.
When it comes to my partner's overspending, I think the fact that my partner had a good friend from his childhood crashing on his couch for 10 weeks was truly to blame. A lot of the money he spent was for the purpose of entertaining him: taking him out to dinners, sporting events, and tourist attractions. Additionally, I think I did a pretty bad job of managing his money. There were several times when I thought about telling him to cut back, but changed my mind because I felt guilty. I am way too much of a people pleaser, and now my partner is paying the price!
Additionally, I believe this experiment was very good for both my partner and I individually, as well as our relationship. It was helpful and productive to open up a conversation about finances, since it's not usually something we discuss at this length. At the end of the day, discussing our spending habits with each other and coming to mutual compromises didn't make either of us uncomfortable. And that's vital for a healthy relationship to thrive.
The truth is, my partner can afford to spend more than me because he makes more than I do and has saved more than I have. That doesn't bother me one bit, but I'm working on learning to live within my means. And this article was a brilliant first step. In the end of the day, the love I have for my partner is much stronger than my desire to take an impromptu trip to Paris that I can't afford (even though Norwegian Air is doing a huge deal right now). I guess it's true what they say: The best things in life are free.
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