Making Something Out Of Nothing

This week we’re doing it again. It’s For Richer, For Poorer week, Part II. Last time, we talked a lot about money: discussing it as women, sharing it in marriage, money and gay marriage (and why we need to change the law), multiple layoffs as a couple, and prenups. This week we really wanted to discuss financial hardship: What happens when you don’t have enough money to go around? How does your relationship grow and change? (And don’t worry, we’re totally going to talk about not having enough money to eat and other real kickers of life.) Today we’re starting out with Rory of Rory Gordon Photo (she made that awesome video of the LA stop on my book tour) talking about being young, broke, and married. I find this topic interesting because just a generation ago, it was assumed that you would probably be young and broke when you got hitched. That was fine. Great even. But somehow marriage has become the province of the well off. Which is nonsense. So this afternoon, Rory will be back with a wordless wedding of their DIY-Photo elopement at a courthouse wedding. Let’s discuss.

I’m a freelancer, and I’m 24. And married. To another freelancer. Who is also 24.

Which is a PC way to say, “We’re pretty much broke all the time.”

Despite the slow-going money situation, our careers are going really well and we’re pretty damn happy. I tell you, the most unexpected benefit of being married, beyond the huge break on our car insurance and the “if-you’re-hit-by-a-bus-I-can-pull-your-plug-without-explaining-our-relationship-to-nurses” benefit (which is really important, right? Everybody needs that benefit), has been growing our goals together. And goals don’t feed on money, thank goodness.

Before I got married, I heard and read a lot about growing up together when you get married young, which I thought meant learning to share chores and balance newly combined books together. And pick up your f*cking socks (me) and learning to clean the goddamned stove (him).

I heard and read a lot about getting your career in line before getting married. I heard and read it was responsible to be completely financially self-solvent before getting married. I heard your biggest goals and your loftiest dreams happened while you were still single.

I’m very happy that hasn’t been true for us.

Being married as we start out broke-as-a-joke has given us great parameters. We both have very limited income to reinvest in our businesses and our marriage, so we talk about everything, whether we’re deciding if one of us needs new gear or whether we should spring for a hotel when we go home for our belated wedding reception (answer: yes, duh, we are not spending our wedding reception night anywhere that doesn’t encourage walking around naked). That precedent of talking about money all the time, with transparency and while keeping our financial status separate from our relationship status is priceless. Money is just a thing that we want some of, and the lack of its presence while we continue to grow up together has been at times a blessing in disguise.

The money thing can lead us to feel like it’s impossible to be spontaneous, but that can easily be fixed by turning a trip to Target into an adventure. (You have five dollars to buy materials to create a spy accessory. Proceed with awesome.)

Whenever I am stuck while editing a video, I find it helps to change locations and just see something new. That’s what James does for me when I’m stuck with my career and my lack of capital, and I hope it’s what I do for him. When I’m frustrated because I can’t buy a macro lens just yet, or a Merlin or a fisheye or whatever it is I’m lusting after, I look at what he’s doing and I see how he’s planning beyond the item or the service we can’t afford just yet. The seemingly huge parameter of our tight budget keeps us focused on the big picture.

And that has made my dreams even bigger. When I moved to Los Angeles, I thought my dream was to work on movies, period. Didn’t matter whose, and it didn’t matter how I was treated. But now after nearly two years living with my favorite person in the world in one of the biggest cities in the world, I see it’s not outrageous to dream about working together in the future and making our own damn movies. I didn’t have the lady parts to say that out loud a year ago, and thanks to our sticky budget, I’m no longer trying to penny pinch a new lens out of very little money, and I’m worried instead about us making the most solid work out of what we have right now.

We’re making something out of nothing, and because of that every day feels like a victory, something completely unique to us, and something we deserve every last second of. And it’s fun to celebrate every time we pay rent, even if it’s only a trip to Target.

Photo by: Moodeous Photography

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  • Claire

    Your perspective is so inspiring. I just want to cheer you on!

  • PA

    A beautiful post! It reminds me, as I proceed to flail about this summer (mortgage and rent/setting up a household/how did I never own a frypan of my own/what do you MEAN we need a shovel/ah, yes, cups would be nice so we aren’t drinking OJ out of cereal bowls), that, well…THIS is why we have marriages. It isn’t about having your ducks in a row and the dreams out of your system before getting married, it’s about relying on each other, each to remind the other of dreams and put them back within reach, whether by giving a boost or by saying, over the umpteenth cup of tea, “Hey, why don’t you think about it like THIS?”

    Also: “You have five dollars to buy materials to create a spy accessory. Proceed with awesome.” Can I please come shopping at Target with you?

  • Granola

    You had me hooked at two 24-year-old freelancers. I’m right there with you (though just got a new full-time job that I’m really excited about). Marriage can seem like the province of those who already have everything they need. But this last week, when I got a new job and will be making a good deal more money, we talked about it – how to merge the finances, how it’ll change the way we’ve been splitting up the bills, etc. And at no point did I feel like it was just “mine,” it was “ours” and we were both excited and proud and that open dialogue that we had sounds very much like what you’re referencing. It’s hugely comforting.

    Best of luck to you both!

  • mimi

    “I didn’t have the lady parts to say that out loud a year ago”
    Haha I love this and plan to start using the term “get some lady parts” regularly.

    • Yep. Totally going to replace “grow a pair” in my lexicon.

    • I like the word “parts.” Leave enough to the imagination, you know?

  • Ceebee

    Being without the distraction of what money can buy (although that helps with comfort), almost always brings focus into the important things that money can’t buy.

  • Daynya

    Ohmygosh, I am longing for someone to have Target adventures with now.

    This is a wonderful perspective, and good for you both for doing what you love, it’s inspiring!

  • We’re more or less in the same boat as you two (except we’re 23 and 27) so I loved this post! Thanks for writing it, and best of luck to the both of you. (It sounds like you’re going to be just fine. ;) )

    • I’m in the same situation, except I’m 27, and he’ll turn 24 in May. The crazy thing is, at the end of the day, we’re not completely broke. I don’t have a savings account, but we can get by well enough despite the fact that I have set up a 401k. We’ve (…mostly me…) got bills out the wazoo, but I pay as much as I possibly can off my credit card every month (and don’t touch it, otherwise), and my student loans are going to be there for awhile. So I pay the minimum amount every month, because anything over that goes straight to interest, and not the principal balance, which drives me bonkers.

      I haven’t yet read the “Is Marriage an Economic Priviledge?” but plan to, stat. The title itself articulates what I have so long been unable to. I’m thinking of e-mailing this post (and possibly that one) to my dad to drive home the fact that IT’S OK THAT WE DON’T HAVE A TON OF MONEY. That’s how it used to be done!!!

      Great post! As always, incredibly relevant :D

      • Cass

        Just wanted to tell you can request your lender to apply any extra payments to your balance prinicipal, not just interest. You have to call them and figure out how to do and sometimes bother them about it, but it can be done!

  • Deanne

    Someone else who is young and broke here, but this reminds me that I’d rather be broke together with my partner, than broke without him. I just wish he could see it that way.

  • 39bride

    Thanks for the perspective check. My SO and I have got well over a decade you, but some unique living situations have left us with very little. Facing combining households after our marriage is making us look at things as basic as a double bed (something neither of us have) and everyday dishes, while trying to plan a modest wedding (family and our spiritual community’s involvement in the ceremony are important to us, so we’re not comfortable with an elopement) and maintain the nest egg/safety net I’ve built over the last four years. Sometimes it’s so discouraging, and I worry that along with the challenge of combining the lives of two highly-independent people who are old enough to be set in their ways, financial concerns are just going to make the adjustment even harder.

    Thanks for the encouraging perspective!

  • “I heard and read it was responsible to be completely financially self-solvent before getting married. I heard your biggest goals and your loftiest dreams happened while you were still single.”

    i think that is often the narrative. which is interesting, because i do not think i could achieve my biggest goals and dreams single (although single was awesome in its own way). some of that is because my dreams often have my wife in them now. but a lot of that is financial. as two people who were financially fine (individually) when we got together, we were also financially tied to our jobs (no job= no rent=crap!). now we are only tied to one job between us, and the freedom that gives us is brilliant (funny how the cost of supporting two people is so near to the cost of supporting one). and as someone whose dreams are not tied to her job, i think having a financial partnership is the only way to achieve them.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      That quote crystallized some problems with the general cultural marriage narrative for me, too. No wonder there’s this negative narrative about marriage: It’s what you do AFTER you’ve had all your fun and done everything important. No wonder our wedding days are bitter-sweet Happiest Day of Your Life: There’s nothing more to be happy about, nothing more fun and exciting to plan or do.

      BS if I ever heard it. In the 30+ years my mother has been married, she’s given birth to three children, graduated medical school, owned a small business, and lived in a foreign country. My father has likewise received a graduate degree, taught at the graduate level, and been a leader in a handful of churches. We spend our best years – best in almost every way, from financially (usually) to relationally – married.

      • YES. I think this idea- that you have to be financially independent, with a career (not just a job but a path) before you get married- has rooted itself in my head (I blame my mom; she did awesome things like go out to Alaska to work on the pipeline when she was in her twenties. I think I’ve spent my life trying to think of a way to top that and prove to myself that I can do things on my own) and I’ve had to struggle to let go of it, to stop feeling worthless because I haven’t “made it” yet (or figured out what I want to make it in even). I went from college back to living with my parents to living with and being supported by my now-husband. I’ve finally gotten a job in the last few weeks, and there’s still part of me whispering “It doesn’t count, you don’t make enough to live on your own.” Thank god my husband keeps reminding me that’s nonsense, that I do contribute to our life together, and that hey, moving to a new country with no job or friends of my own and every appearance of looking forward to it is slightly adventurous, even if I think its boring because its me doing it…

  • Ashley

    I love hearing about people who are just trying to get their ducks to toddle in the same direction! I also love hearing about young marriages from the young, although there are great things to be learned from others too. It’s just reading your story gives us all a little bit of hope I think; that sigh of relief that comes with the knowledge that we can be okay too. Thank you!

    • Denzi

      “Get their ducks to toddle in the same direction.” WORD.

  • Rose

    I am so there with you on this one. My fiance and I are both law students, graduating in May. We will not have jobs until after the Bar Exam, in September. Luckily, my parents are financing our wedding next June, but we cannot afford to live together until after we are married. Even then, it will be a struggle since we both have clerkships for only a one year term. My fiance is super lucky because he has a job waiting for him after his clerkship, but I don’t, so I know that in the period of time when I should be excitedly finalizing wedding plans, I’ll be scrambling to find a job. On top of all this is his bajillion student loans. It is scary to be young and broke and excited to start a life you feel like you have no right to be planning for. Our goal is to focus on each other, and work hard to move forward, so that we can one day sit in our mansion and tell our grandkids how young and stupid and broke we were when we were first married :)

    • I feel for you, graduating in this law market. One of my good friends who graduated in ’10 just found a job last month. So there’s hope on the horizon :)

      And also, the planning and the dreaming big is free. So that you can always afford! …Just maybe not the centerpieces, right now.

    • Kate

      Rose, I can definitely relate to that. I’m also graduating from law school next month, then will begin a clerkship, then…who knows? My fiance isn’t in the legal field but is working on his dissertation and hopes to teach some day, but we don’t have any sense of where we’ll be living following our wedding the summer after next, and we’ll both be bringing some significant student loans into the marriage. My non-law school friends and relatives tend to think I’m just being self-deprecating when I say that I’ve only got next year figured out, but honestly, compared to friends going to firms or government agencies, it’s kind of overwhelming to think that I have to go through this whole application process all over again in a few months.

      Is your wedding during bar review, or do you mean June of 2013? (I’m curious because we toyed with the idea of getting married this August before I realized I wasn’t brave enough to handle doing both the same summer, so now it’s not happening until after I finish clerking.). Best of luck with the clerkship, wedding, and permanent job prospects!

      • Rose

        Good luck to you too! And the wedding is June of 2013, I could NEVER get married during bar prep, people who do that must be wizards of some kind!

  • Kess

    While I personally am not in this particular boat right now (I guess I’m fortunate enough to be interested in engineering) my parents certainly were. They got married right after my mother graduated college and therefore my mother was unemployed (overqualified for many jobs and there weren’t/aren’t many open spots for a music teacher) and my father had a part time job while going to grad school. They ran out of money fast and stayed as long as they could in student housing until they were kicked out while my dad looked for a job. Eventually he found one, but it wasn’t very much and they had one car, so my mother couldn’t find a job that was within walking distance as there wasn’t any public transit.

    My mom talked about how they couldn’t afford to make a full batch of cookies, so she made a quarter batch. Just hearing that breaks my heart as by the time I was born, we were solidly middle class and I never really had to worry about money.

    But, they made it work and are still happily together 30 years later. Having everything figured out isn’t a requirement to getting married.

    • We have definitely cracked an egg in ramen and called it Pasta Carbonara, haha. But those kinds of broke days make for good stories. And I think what keeps us going is the fact that we do both have a really clear perspective of what we want our financial life to look like someday. It’s easier for us to break it down when we’ve got each other to make the final result actionable.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      The newlyweds-and-poor are all the BEST family stories. My parents’ included all sorts of inexpensive entrees that are now family favorites, turning the heat off in Dad’s office during snowy Oregon winters, eating by candlelight with a milk crate for a table and boxes for chairs, lots of furniture rescued from the dump, and buying tiny baby me just one warm outfit before moving to Canada on New Year’s Eve.

      When my graduate school friends were buying new cars and living alone in two bedroom apartments, it was really hard to get over the implied feelings of entitlement they exhibited, compared to my parents’ (married) grad school stories, and my (single) grad school financial decisions.

  • Cali

    I love this post! I’ve never really understood the argument that you should be completely set in your career and financially well-off before you get married, as if you can’t accomplish those things while sharing your life with another person. Ironically, my fiance and I both kind of jump started each other back onto our desired career paths (we’re in LA trying to do the film thing, too, except I’m a writer and he’s a director/cinematographer; the realization that we could create projects together was the best). I actually think we’ll probably accomplish MORE together than we would have separately.

    Isn’t that what marriage is about, anyway? Helping each other be the best you can be, both as individuals and as a couple? That’s why I’ve never understood the whole you-MUST-be-completely-set-for-life-pre-marriage concept. If you happen to be, awesome! But it’s certainly not a requirement.

  • Virginia

    Oh this is the perfect antidote to my frustrations with life right now, thank you. We’re 24 and 25 and getting married this August. Both graduating with second bachelors in May. Good degrees the second time around (science-me and engineering-him) but he found a job first, in a place I hadn’t imagined ever visiting nonetheless living. But I refuse to be a snot about it, so we’re going in 1.5 months. There’s a part of me that asks, ” why didn’t we consider where I could get a job” but then again, it’s always got to be tough when one partner finds work first. We have massive student loans, so we can’t decide if it makes more sense to try to scrape together enough for a cheap house, or if we should throw money down the renters’ hole. When I look at what we owe and think about not having a job, I sometimes feel trapped, but then my partner explains that we are partners for a reason: we will support each other no matter what. He says, “here’s how it works: what I’m earning is OUR money. We will be fine.” thank you for the great post.

    • Amy March

      Just- renting isn’t throwing money down a hole. It can be cheaper than owning, and an investment in not putting down hard-to-sell roots in the place you never wanted to live.

      • meg

        Amy March (ha!) is right. Renting is NOT throwing money down a hole: you get a place to live, which is more than you get for almost anything else. And tons of studies show that without a housing bubble, over time buying doesn’t do a whole lot more than keep up with inflation (once you add in how much owning a home REALLY costs you). I mean, there are a million variables, but this renting-is-a-bad-financial-move needs to die a sudden death.

        • Virginia

          Hi Meg, thanks for your thoughts. I’m a seasoned renter (emancipated at 17 and have rented ever since) so I suppose I just look back at that 70k plus and wonder what kind of sweat equity I could have put in with this time/cash (being a major fixer-upper after my dad’s own heart). Still, I see your point. We’ll see what happens in the coming months. Renting is definitely less stressful in the interim, so I have a feeling it’s where we’re headed. And hey, accentuate the positive, right?

        • I would be really intrigued to hear a post from a couple who is committed to the idea of not buying a house. Getting married and buying a house seems to be pretty linked in our cultural narrative, so I would love to hear ideas about how to intentionally build a rented, rooted life. This might be our future because it seems like we might never be able to afford to buy a house (plus the considerations that it might not even be a financial advantage to buy these days anyways…).

          • It depends on where you live too- my husband and I laugh at ourselves a bit, living in England, because here there is much less pressure to ever buy a house (because its so expensive, and there are a lot of properties that cannot be bought, just leased for a long long time, because the Queen owns them) than in Ireland where there is this underlying feeling that you MUST. OWN. PROPERTY or else. Like we’re afraid someone will take it from us if we don’t have a title deed.

          • CBB

            Well, my fiance and I aren’t committed to never buying a house, but we are definitely not planning to buy one for QUITE a long time. I imagine that we won’t buy a house until we’re nearing retirement. This is for a number of reasons, but is primarily because I really enjoy the freedom of being able to move when an opportunity (or a whim!) arises, and because neither of us has the stick-to-it-iveness to really fix up a home–it’s a relief to call the landlord when something breaks, and I imagine it will be an even bigger relief to hand repairs off to someone else once kids are added into the mix.

            I can see owning a home someday, when/if we have money and time to really make it our own, but until then, we’re happy renters. The only reason we’ve seriously discussed buying a home is so that we could adopt a pit bull–it’s notoriously difficult to rent when you have one, and we love them.

      • Yeah, I don’t see renting as throwing away money at all. To me, throwing away money means that I spent money that isn’t worth spending, or I spent money and didn’t get anything for it. Getting a roof over my head definitely equals getting something for my money!

        Now, is renting a financial investment? Well, perhaps not. But like any financial investment, it has to be the right time . . .

        • Virginia

          I guess I should have clarified, “OUR renters’ hole” since I get to feel however I want to feel about renting, but no one else has to agree/be told THEY are throwing money away. Perhaps a minor detail, but obviously the wording was vague. I believe as I said above that we WILL be renting and as a fairly upbeat and positive person, I am focusing about 99% of my energy on the wonderful aspects of this move/obtaining a rental home. I am fully aware of how difficult it is when money is so tight that groceries beyond rice and dry beans are a splurge, so I’m very much grateful that we will be able to rent a modest home.

  • Lynn

    There are a bunch of us in our social group who have gotten or who are getting married recently or in the near future in our social group. In an extremely economically depressed place in an economically depressed country, everyone is struggling. My best friend is reminding me, and my future father-in-law reiterated it yesterday, that you’re supposed to be broke when you start out. (and it’s WONDERFUL when you aren’t!)

    Last week, the day before payday, when there was little food in the house that he wanted to eat (there was plenty of stuff in the freezer or the cupboard but nothing he wanted), and I told him we didn’t have the money to go out to eat, he said to me, “I don’t like feeling poor. I’ve never been poor.” His daddy laughed at that story and said, “He grew up with us…and we were worse than poor.”

    I keep reminding myself that we are going to be fine. We have each other. I could be more financially stable without him (odd but true), but I don’t want to do this without him. And he’s coming to realize that there are things he can do differently to change our future; he’s also willing to do those things. Which makes the tightness in my chest and the light-headedness go away.

  • Leslie

    Thank you so much for writing this! My partner and I read it together over breakfast and it was a great reminder for us as we were on our way to the bank to set up a joint savings account (where I also discovered that I can’t qualify for a credit card because I have only been self-employed for one year instead of two). Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by all the decisions, financial and otherwise, that are upon us this year: applying to the same grad schools and hoping we can both get fully funded, planning a wedding, applying for jobs again (me). It really is such an odd feeling that we don’t know where we will be living in a few months.

    BUT through all of it, I am glad that he and I are in it together. Not only are we learning what it is to share finances, we are really just learning about making financial decisions as individuals!

    Anyway, it is good to hear we aren’t the only ones. Here’s to being young and attached!

  • stargirl

    What a refreshing post! Financial challenges are certainly not limited to the young. We’re newlyweds in our 30’s, both educated professionals, but we didn’t choose lucrative fields and we live in one of the most expensive areas in the country. I’ve been struggling with the cultural narrative that we should have been financially secure before marriage, and now the pressure of that expectation is increasing because I’m pregnant with our first child. We’ll be raising our baby in a one bedroom apartment for awhile, and there’s a definite trend among my friends to be settled into home ownership before having babies. I’ll be 36 this year and realized I didn’t want to take the chance of waiting for ideal financial circumstances before trying to get pregnant. My life is so rich with love, friendship, and now the joy of this pregnancy, that it seems petty to complain about less-than-ideal financial circumstances. It’s all relative, anyway! I love APW for being a place to question our cultural assumptions and expectations.
    Rory–gorgeous elopement, by the way! You both are absolutely radiant with joy!

  • Stephanie B

    Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve been dealing with my family’s disapproval of getting married and not being financially stable. When you say, “I heard and read a lot about getting your career in line before getting married. I heard and read it was responsible to be completely financially self-solvent before getting married. I heard your biggest goals and your loftiest dreams happened while you were still single.” really hits home because this is all I hear from my grandmother (with a few curse words). Both my man and I were starting to thing maybe they were right but your story gives me a little kick to start planning again! Thanks!

  • ambi

    “Just a generation ago, it was assumed that you would probably be young and broke when you got hitched. That was fine. Great even. But somehow marriage has become the province of the well off. Which is nonsense.”

    I was stuck in court yesterday, and started to read this post on my phone at lunch. I only got as far as this sentence and lighbulbs started exploding in my brain. I knew I had to wait until I could really read everything and absorb it, not skim it on my phone.

    To me, this is so so so huge, and probably one of the most important quotes I’ve ever read on APW. As I’ve documented in the past, money and credit and financial stability are huge issues in my relationship, and big reasons that we are not yet engaged. And I was totally buying into the narrative that the responsible thing to do is have your finances completely in order, be stable and independant and able to fully support yourself, prior to combing your life and finances with another person – and I was so wrong!

    Meg, how do you get this kind of amazing perspective? Seriously, is it from reading a lot, talking to grandparents? It had never dawned on me until now that the marriage narrative for virtually every person in my extended family, especially the older generations, is one of starting out broke and working their way up together. This is so simple, but so true, and something that I am now always going to remember. Thank you for such an incredible post!