I have recently been thinking quite a lot about career transitions, two-body problems, and money in marriage. Kyle and I keep completely joint finances, which I think is a key reason that we are living in the same city and working together to optimize our two-body solution. If we had separate finances, things would probably look quite different…
How We Got to Where We Are
Kyle and I started dating when we were undergraduates, both graduating in 2007 and planning to get PhDs in our respective fields. He started his PhD program right after graduation, while I worked for a year before entering my PhD program. My chief criterion by far for evaluating my grad school options was the quality of the advisor with whom I would work. When I determined that the university Kyle attended was tied with another university as my top choices, I allowed his presence there plus the superior weather break the tie in its favor. I say that to emphasize that as a single woman I was not willing to compromise my career for a dating relationship.
Kyle wants to continue doing research in his current field as a postdoc (another step in the academic training pathway, and now a prerequisite for doctoral-level jobs in many fields), whereas I’m not very focused in my career goals and am open to a variety of paths. That difference plus our expectation that Kyle would graduate about a year before me led us to agree during our engagement that I would be the trailing spouse in our first post-PhD job search.
But then Kyle’s time in grad school became protracted and mine came to an abrupt end due to my advisor moving to another university, and I ended up defending only 2.5 months after Kyle did with no full-time job lined up. Kyle’s advisor offered him a short-term postdoc in his lab, so he has had continuous employment. Our original two-body solution was for Kyle to apply for top postdoc positions in his field in several cities while I simultaneously applied for jobs in San Diego, which is where we want to be in the long term. However, Kyle’s advisor has suggested he hold off on applying for jobs until he submits 2-3 more papers so his CV will be stronger – meaning that I’m available to start full-time work now, but he’s not, the reverse of what we had planned.
Where does this leave me? This month is my last one as a paid graduate student. Because Kyle and I have fully joint finances, we don’t distinguish between his income and mine in terms of how the money is spent, so I’m not going to be out on the street or anything. 🙂 But what would happen if we had separate finances?
Separate Finances Would Lead Us to Long-Distance Marriage
I believe that if we had separate finances (or rather, had a philosophy of marriage that led to keeping separate finances), we would be living apart now. Living apart doesn’t spell doom for a relationship by any means – in fact, we had expected to live apart while I finished grad school – but it’s certainly not what we prefer.
Here is my train of thought: If we had separate or partly joint and partly separate finances, we would each be responsible for earning at least enough to provide for our basic living expenses, or pulling them from individual savings. In that case, I would want to keep my career moving full-steam and not settle for a transition job right after grad school while waiting for Kyle to be ready to move. I’m very proactive about employment so if I only had myself to consider I’m sure I would have made time to find a job. Since we know we want to leave this area in the near future, I likely would not look locally for full-time work. In fact, I’d probably leapfrog Kyle and try to get a job in one of our target cities before he has a chance to search for postdocs. So I would be living in that city while Kyle finishes up in Durham, and he’d be limited to postdocs in the city in which I found my job (and his ideal one might not even pan out). Or he’d take a better postdoc in a different city and we’d be living apart for even longer or I’d have to leave my job to move to where he found one.
In my view, keeping separate finances would lead to a kind of career competition between the two of us, with each rushing to find our own ideal job with little consideration to where the other already had or could find work. That would likely result in us living apart, but even if it didn’t I think it would be a rather stressful mess with much wasted energy and time.
Joint Finances Allow Us to Live Together and Optimize
Because our money is totally pooled, I have the opportunity to be funemployed this fall. I’d like to bring in some side income, but we can get by on Kyle’s salary alone, perhaps pulling a bit from savings. I don’t feel one bit of guilt about relying on my husband’s salary and Kyle is of course not holding it against me in any way – just like when we used his savings to pay my student loans. We are equals partners in our marriage, differentiated in these cases by circumstance rather than dignity.
My funemployment should benefit both Kyle and me. I get a break from working full-time, which I desperately need after six years of a PhD program and a sprint to the finish. Kyle gets to be the leading spouse; we’ll likely move to the city that can offer him the best postdoc position, unless it seems really awful for my career goals. We both get the benefit of living together instead of apart. I’m even hoping I’ll be able to get a better job after my funemployment than I would have right after grad school because I can use this period to hone skills, gain work experience, and take the time necessary to find a great-fitting job. I won’t have to rush into the first job I find just for the paycheck.
This is one of the situations that convince me that having (even partly) separate finances in a marriage doesn’t make sense – I believe separate finances will eventually break down. How can you make sacrifices to do what’s best for your marriage when you always have to fully provide for yourself? I think that most spouses are more reasonable and compassionate toward one another and would very willingly financially support each other through job transitions or if one spouse needed or wanted to stop working. So why keep up the façade of separate finances before that point?
It’s not really joint finances, after all, that is keeping us together. We’re still living in the same city and trying to optimize our two-body solution because we prioritize what’s best for our marriage above our individual career aspirations and financial wants. Our joint money management system simply flows from that view of marriage.
How have you and your spouse prioritized your respective careers during moves? If you had a different money management system, do you think you would view your or your spouse’s career differently?