Why Talking about Money Is Actually Super Romantic

Including blunt facts about my financial life

I am a hopeless romantic. No one can say for sure if it was society, or genetics, or Barbie, or Shakespeare that made me this way, but I have always been a sucker for love. I love all weddings all ways. Romeo and Juliet reduces me to heaving sobs every time. My parents met in the eighth grade, and it was my favorite romantic tale; I tried to manipulate my poor high school boyfriend into mimicking their adolescent relationship down to the locket my dad gave my mom for her sixteenth birthday. (He failed at every juncture, although he did buy me the first Jewel album.)

Poverty Is Purity

Growing up, I was also dedicated to an unconditional, Christian acceptance. I was kind, forgiving, and fought against social injustices from a young age. Everyone was perfect in God’s eyes, and money was a superficial measuring stick. Money was frequently included in lessons about false idols. Humility was virtuous, and poverty was honorable. Jesus was born to a poor carpenter and was willing to wash his disciples’ feet. The kings, the pharaohs, the Pharisees were rich and greedy, corrupt and bad. Money won’t make you happy, and you can’t take it to heaven anyway.

Conflated with my love for love, my belief system about money was a little flawed. I thought, when it came to relationships, money doesn’t matter. Deep down, I believed that the lack of money made a relationship more romantic. Support for this model was all around me: The Princess Bride, “The Gift of the Magi,” Aladdin, um, hello… Titanic? Money didn’t matter because love mattered.

This fantasy was all well and good until I became an adult, and then a single mom.

But Money Buys Health Insurance

Here is the thing: money does matter. It matters because health insurance. It matters because food. It matters because resources for any and all emergencies. It matters because flat tires and diapers and vacations and holidays. And money has nothing to do with whether I am a good person or not.

I asked my dad once if he wished we were rich, and he said, “My children are my wealth.” Now, I wished he’d explained a little more about mortgage payments. To be fair, he did try to teach me about money. But if money doesn’t matter, why would I learn about it? As an adult, it was embarrassing to need money, and I felt guilty when I had it. The problem was, I didn’t feel virtuous when I overdrew my bank account; I felt ashamed.

If money didn’t matter, why was I measuring my worth by how much money I made, or saved, or spent, or needed, or wanted? I felt confused when I broke up with a man who kept spending all our money and wouldn’t get a job. (What would Rose have done if Jack had a chronic spending problem in America?!) Whether I had it or not, I felt confused about money, and burdened by the stress and emotions tangled up in the numbers.

But Whatever You Do, Don’t Talk About Money

On top of all that, there is also a social expectation that money is a private and personal matter, not to be discussed. No wonder I was confused.

Now, I know I wasn’t alone. So so so many people have a confusing relationship with money, for myriad reasons. The only way to cut through this confusion, I’ve found, is to talk about it, and separate the numbers from the feelings. I know that’s often easier said than done, but as a marriage and family therapist who works with people from all walks of life, I tell my clients time and time again: the more you talk about it, the easier it becomes. Talk about what you have, what you want, what you understand, and how it all feels. Find someone to remind you that money is not emotional in and of itself. In my experience, the easier it gets to talk about money, the more shame sheds away from it. The less shame around money, the easier it is to be honest about what you have, want, and need.

The first step for me was acceptance. For the things I want in my life, money matters.

Facts About My Financial Life

I have graduate school loan debt. My husband makes more money than me. I want to pay for my children to go to college, but I don’t know how we’ll do that, yet. My parents paid for my wedding. We order take-out for dinner at least once a week. I’ve been in credit card debt, and I’ve managed to pay some of it off. I have overdrawn my bank account many times. I have benefited from a financial windfall and wonder now if I handled it right, because it’s all gone.

These are facts. That is all. But those facts aside, money does not define who I am as a person.

That makes a lovely mission statement, right? But the truth is, I have to work on believing this all of the time. I believe it and forget about it seemingly minute to minute. So do my clients. So I practice it at home by working on open communication about finances with my husband, and I talk about it with my own therapist. (Fun fact: therapists have therapists.)

Women, Let’s Talk Honestly About Money

I have to say to myself over and over again: I am not “bad at money.” I want money for practical and comfortable things, and that does not make me a bad person. Silence about money is a tradition that no longer works for me and, arguably, for this country. Wage parity will only be achieved if there is total transparency, so if that’s what women really want, I’m arguing that we better become much more comfortable stating our needs, wants, and worth without shame. I’m not ready to start totally publicly broadcasting my personal financial information, but I’m getting braver and calmer about talking about it with my husband, unpacking it with my therapist, addressing it with my bank, and abandoning my mixed-up beliefs that serve no one.

I can still appreciate romance, and I also acknowledge to myself that I think Rose was going to struggle more than she imagined in America with Jack, if he ever were to make it off that plank in the ocean.

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  • Angela’s Back

    First a Manya article, now an Eve article! This is awesome!

  • PeaceIsTheWay

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece. This is something I struggle with, albeit from the other direction, I think? Practically speaking, my husband and I are doing just fine. My ideals about justice and class and wealth have not prevented me from moving into a ‘super-zip’ with great (except not so diverse) schools.

    I feel guilty about it, though. I watch billionaires show off their ridiculous homes on TV and think it’s morally wrong to spend tens of thousands on a bathroom when other people can’t afford food or medicine… but where’s the line? What makes being upper middle class okay, and being in the top .01% not okay?

    #FirstWorldProblems

    • Cellistec

      “Where’s the line?” Such a good question. I don’t think it’s as distant as I’d like. Do I cross it when I spend my money on gourmet chocolate bars instead of donating to hunger relief? Well…probably.

    • ItsyBit

      This is SO real, I’ve been struggling with this a lot lately. Although in my case, our “moving up” is still a hypothetical. No one wants to be poor and feel unstable and live through unnecessary struggle. But when being comfortable automatically means contributing to a system that creates this inequity…. ugh. I don’t know, I don’t have answers. Just solidarity I guess.

    • Sarah E

      I actually go back to a bunch of Meg’s previous essays about business and money on this, as she writes about using money as a tool. For a household, maybe that means some extra legwork to hire POC as your plumber, contractor, accountant, whathaveyou. Its helpful for me to think of other ways I can put my resources to use beyond charitable donations.

    • Alexa

      I feel this. I feel so lucky to be in a very solid financial situation. I read recently that people with more money in the U.S. tend to donate a smaller percent of their wealth and to more political than charitable causes, so one of my goals for this year is to donate a much more significant amount of our income. (I’m shooting for a fairly ambitious 10% of post-taxes income.)

  • I connect so much with this article because money is a serious struggle right now. And interestingly enough I grew up in a Christian enviroment that basically said money was a direct blessing from God. The things I had to work through as a result of that thinking has been huge. Because not only are you struggling, but then you start thinking you don’t deserve to have more. Anyway my husband does not make as much as we would like and currently I’m working part time as a barista despite my college degree. Not for lack of trying, but I had to when I wasn’t getting hired otherwise and it was adding to the depression that had come to a head from my previous job. All to say that not having much money now sucks. It’s not glamorous constantly choosing bills over doing fun things, I’m grateful we have healthcare and can eat everyday, but I am looking forward to the day both of us are earning more money.

    • Eve Sturges

      (author here) omg I could’ve written a whole other essay about “money as a blessing from God.” THAT MAKES NO SENSE. I was so confused a few years ago when a pastor gave an entire sermon about God gifting his family so much money from the years he was in a boy band. It just…I was just…but … HUH?! There is no shame in being a barista with a degree; I was a waitress and barista for 15 years, and it was HARD but it’s a skill set that I was proud of. You and your husband will earn more money one day, I’m looking forward to it for you too!

  • Jessica

    Just in case anyone is hanging around here tonight…talk me through YNAB! I just signed up and was all ready to start using it in February, but it’s not set up the way that I expected. We have a substantial amount of money in savings right now that is showing up as “to be budgeted,” but I don’t really care about the money we have saved in the past. What I want to do is just “assign every dollar a job” from the income that will come in this month. I know YNAB wants me to pay this month’s bills from last month’s paycheck, but what I want to make sure we’re doing is spending within our paycheck limits each month.
    I did sign up for the first available seminar session (on Wednesday) but I would love to hear from others who have had to wrap their brains around the YNAB way of looking at things.

    • AmandaBee

      Just create categories for your savings and assign the money to that category. Positive balances carry over month to month, you only have to balance out negative ones. You can have one big “savings” category or smaller ones for specific purposes. Specific categories are handy for tracking progress toward savings goals, of that’s a thing you want to do.

    • Eenie

      Do what @AmandaBee said. Make a category or categories called savings and stick all the money in that that you want.

      It used to be easier when you could assign each income to a specific month. Now it just goes into the “to be budgeted” pot. I have a ghost category in my budget which is basically called “income” where I store my income from January before I’m ready to do my budget for February. Otherwise it shows up as available in January when I overspend.

      • GotMarried!

        you can now budget future months. I do this. I go ahead and budget my January income as it comes in …. in the February budget. Mine is pretty stable so its easy to do, but I can imagine doing something similar with a variable income. When you get that first check in January, fund the critical February accounts. your last check in January hits fun-money or whatever.

        • Eenie

          Ah yes – I just don’t like putting the money in categories three times plus a month with odd amounts of money left over – I want to just sit down and divvy out the money in one go. My income varies a bit because I get reimbursed mileage depending on how many times I drive to the airport. And we get money back from our banks for credit card spending.

          So instead I have a “placeholder income” that I’ll put my January income in February’s budget until all the checks have come in. In YNAB4 it wouldn’t show up in the January to be budgeted, so I would just wait. With the online system, it bothers me to see the to be budgeted money in the account.

          It’s too easy to start pulling the income forward a month to cover overspending and we don’t do that ever – we cover from another category always.

    • GotMarried!

      I keep my long-term savings in a “tracked” account on YNAB. That way it doesn’t mess with my to-be-budgeted amounts. My short-term savings (such as Christmas Gifts! or Property Tax bill :( I keep in my checking account, tracked, with categories that build up all year. I also have tracked accounts for my 401K, investments, and HSA.

    • Colleen

      UGH. I was all ready to give YNAB another shot (it made me cry on the regular when I tried it back in 2015). But now I’ve read these responses and, once again, it just sounds way too complicated. Would love to hear if the seminar sessions make the system more accessible.

      • AmandaBee

        TBH for me I found that the seminars and the training just made me confused (so many buzzwords!), and the best way to work YNAB was to get in there and start messing around with it. You can always do it a different way than other people (for ex, I use “savings” categories differently than other folks might). Remember that it’s all symbolic moving around of money, so worst case scenario if it gets messed up is you wipe the system clean and try again.

        Also I think 2015 might’ve been pre-big update from YNAB4 to YNAB. With the app and the new interface I find it pretty easy to use, but I try not to get too bogged down in the language/strategy stuff.

        Or maybe YNAB isn’t your thing, and that’s totally fine! I never clicked with Mint. Maybe there’s some other software or approach that works for you.

        • Rachel

          Seconding the “get in there and start messing around with it” advice–I was really intimidated and perplexed at first (which was so disappointing, because I’d heard about how much people love it for years!), but once I just started attempting to use it things kinda fell into place.

    • Rachel

      I started it in November and didn’t understand it AT ALL at first, but then something clicked and now I love it. I also started with a ton of savings and it seems like YNAB is set up for people who are starting out paycheck-to-paycheck. Like AmandaBee and Eenie, I took that savings money that was in “to be budgeted” and put it all in a “savings” budget category. Besides that, my best YNAB advice is just to fumble away at it for a month and see if it starts to make sense–I had this feeling like if I messed it up initially then my records and budget would all be a confusing mess and I’d have to start over (I like things to be very tidy!), but it hasn’t really been like that at all.

    • Lisa

      A little late, but hopefully you’re figuring it out. Basically, your budget doesn’t care what bank account the money is in. All it really cares about is what category or “job” that money is assigned to. So if you were saving for a new car, you could create a new car category and budget the amount currently in “to be budgeted” to the car category.

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  • ItsyBit

    “As an adult, it was embarrassing to need money, and I felt guilty when I had it. The problem was, I didn’t feel virtuous when I overdrew my bank account; I felt ashamed.”

    This is me to the letter.

    I really, really appreciate this piece. I’m still struggling really hard with lots of complicated feelings about money, compounded by my profession working with lower income folks. Anger at systemic stuff usually ends up coming out as guilt and shame about my having money, or wanting to have it. It’s a really weird, complex thing. I’m just glad to hear other folks starting to talk about it in a way that’s both frank and vulnerable (because “honest” money discussions that don’t talk about the weirdness of it all make me feel even more icky).

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