Finances and Poly

Someone sent me a PM asking how we work the finances for poly, and I figure they’re not the only one curious, so I’ll just run through it here. “When you and Jed are on this trip, who pays for what? Do you split things? Take turns? Is it a gift so it’s one person’s treat?”

The short answer is that Jed is paying for everything on this trip; he offered to take me to Hawaii for our twentieth anniversary, I said yes. Aside from my buying Kevin a Christmas present while here (sorry, Kev, I know we said we weren’t exchanging gifts this year, but then I saw this, and I couldn’t resist), he’s pretty much covered everything else.

The long answer is that it’s complicated. Here’s the deep dive into our personal finances, in the hopes that it is helpful. Kevin and I merged finances completely at some point, I think about fifteen years into the relationship, when I moved to Chicago. I had finally, with the sale of Bodies in Motion, paid off the last of my student loans and credit card debt, digging myself out of a terrible financial hole I’d gotten into in my 20s; at one point I had $40K in credit card debt, which frankly terrified me on a daily basis. I wish they didn’t push credit cards on college students; I was too stupid about money back then to use one responsibly.

I eventually (around age 30?) went to a bank with the problem, and they were willing to take on the debt, getting it off the credit cards and onto a much more reasonable interest rate personal loan, and then I paid that off slowly, over time, until the big book sale (when I was 34 or so), when I could pay it all down. The feeling of relief was immeasurable, and I have basically done my damnedest to avoid carrying any credit card debt from one month to the next since.

Mostly I paid my own way till then, though Kev or Jed would occasionally buy a dinner out or loan me money when I got behind on bills. (For those trying to keep track, I started dating Kev in 1992, when I was a junior in college, and he was a grad student (but only a year older than me). I started dating Jed in 1997.) Kev and I lived together off and on from 1994 – 2002, and when we did, split rent and other household expenses down the middle, if I’m remembering right. It’s long enough ago now, that it’s all a little blurry. Kev and I have both dated other people, some seriously, but mostly not impacting finances significantly.

(I have a close friend who manages her shared expenses with her partner differently, and in a way that seems more equitable — he gets paid a lot more than she does, just due to the kind of tech job he has, but they work the same basic *amount,* and they both put the same percentage of their income towards shared household expenses. As long as our society values some kinds of labor far more highly than others, maybe we should all be thinking in those terms.)

I was happy that when Kev and I finally decided we were in it for the long haul (after, oh, four break-ups — our twenties and early thirties were seriously rocky) and merged finances, I had no debt; that mattered to me. But it was sort of ridiculous to think it was at all even; Kevin had a) spent somewhat carefully and actually saved money over his 20s, and b) had started from a much more stable financial position, because he’d inherited some money from his grandfather (who owned a gear factory). So it was all pretty skewed, how much money we were bringing to the relationship.

Half of our current house was bought with Kev’s grandfather’s inheritance; we couldn’t afford such a big place (or have done the historically sensitive renovation work on it) on our two-professor (one non-tenure-track) salary. I love my house to pieces, but regularly have complicated feelings about capitalism and proletariat and bourgeoisie. It’s part of why I try to pay attention to labor issues, and use my political and social capital to argue for living wage, free daycare and college, universal healthcare, and hopefully someday, basic income. A more noble version of myself would have donated more of that money and chosen to live in a smaller house. As it is, I try to host as many community events as I have the energy for.

For the most part, through the first, oh, ten or so years of the relationship, Jed bought me occasional birthday or Christmas presents, and paid for my flights out to see him in California, and usually any meals out when I was there. We could have just left things like that, but he works for Google, and over the last ten years or so, he’s been paid very well, in both salary and stock options. He’s gone in his life from broke and scrambling and needing other people to buy him meals, to comfortable, to actually wealthy. Jed donates a lot of money to various charities he believes in, but for a single guy living alone (and with no interest in living with a partner or raising kids himself), it’s still more money than he needs. Jed helps out a variety of friends with money, pretty significantly in some cases, and still has enough left that when I ask him to cover something, he generally says yes.

I’ve been…trying to navigate that, the last few years. It’s complicated in a variety of ways, mostly because I don’t want to abuse his good nature, and because this isn’t a relationship where we’ve chosen to merge finances entirely. As time has gone on, and it’s become clearer that this is likely also a long-haul relationship, I’ve worried about it a little less.

So far, Jed has been entirely unwilling to leave California (for which I can’t blame him too much), and we’re not easily able to uproot and leave Chicagoland, given our academic jobs, so the distance imposes some constraints. But in conversations over the last few years, we’ve talked about things like, what happens when we get old? He might well move in with us, for example. And since finances now allow, he’s also been spending a lot more time visiting Chicago or flying me out to visit him than we used to — it used to be that we’d meet up, often at SF conventions, 2-4 times / year, and now we see each other close to monthly. All of that shared time has helped solidify things.

But it’s still certainly complicated. When I first moved in with Kevin in Chicago and merged finances, I had a while when I was really reluctant to let Jed pay for anything at all; he remembers one time when we went grocery shopping together and I wouldn’t let him pay for them. I don’t really know what was going on in my head back then, but I suspect something complicated about money and the seriousness of relationships? So it hasn’t been a linear progression of just letting him pay for more things; it’s shifted and fluxed over time.

And now, I still periodically check in with Kev to make sure that he’s okay with Jed buying me / us things. So far, Kevin has had no trouble with it, and seems a little bewildered that I think he would, and I suspect it is some weird vestige of assuming his masculinity will feel impugned by having another man provide for his partner / wife that makes me ask. Kevin is refreshingly free of such hang-ups, thankfully.

I hesitate basically every time I ask Jed if he would be willing to cover something (like my swim lessons last summer, for example). Which is on the one hand sort of silly, but is, I think, also a good check on my temptation towards rampant consumerism. I suppose at this point, I mostly run a little calculation in my head — is this thing I’m asking for going to actually make our shared lives better in some fashion — improving my health, or my ability to work, or my sanity? Or is it just a pretty thing I want because it’s pretty? Mostly, I try not to ask for the latter. Although I did ask him to buy me an ornament last night with sea turtles on it, to remember this trip by. He said yes.


As a side note, it feels weird admitting to having access to this much wealth, but I think that’s just the sort of stupid societal hang-up that actually works to create more economic inequality. It is obvious that I have access to wealth at this point — just look at these photos. It serves no one to pretend otherwise, or to be coy about how much there is. Also, as state employees, Kevin’s and my salaries are matters of public record, as they should be.

One more note — right now, the five of us have more money than we strictly need. In the future, that could easily shift, esp. given American healthcare, my cancer diagnosis, the children’s needs and college tuition, etc. and so on. I think one aspect that’s worth highlighting is that whether money is flush or money is tight overall, having three adults contributing to the family economy instead of two is generally a net positive. But if, for example, Jed became very ill, then it could certainly end up a major drain on our family finances. That’s a lot of what family is for, though.

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