Long-Distance Marriage: Communication and Personalities

This is the third installment of our series on financially navigating a long-distance marriage.  Please read and comment on the first, second, and fourth installments as well!


I asked the couples several questions regarding their money personalities and communication about money and the answers ended up being closely related to one another.

1) Did living apart cause any major money conflicts?

2) How much of your communication time was spent on money, and how did that compare to when you were living together?

3) If you have different money personalities/styles, did they emerge more strongly when you were apart?


Overall, the couples didn’t report major conflicts about money due to the distance between them.


The spouses who had similar money personalities to begin with didn’t seem to have any trouble with managing their money in separate places.


“No, we are both fairly reasonable with money (and we both have similar concepts of ‘reasonableness’) and so neither of us are worried about the other blowing our retirement savings or gambling or buying really expensive toys.”


“No. We’re both generally very frugal with money to about the same extent. We’ve always had modest ‘budget surpluses’ in our personal finances, thanks to an ingrained thrifty lifestyle (apartments with cheap rent, cycle-commuting, cooking at home, rarely eating out, no big TV, etc). We’ve never really felt the desire to spend enough to create regular deficits, whether apart or together.”


Even the people who had slightly different styles, whether or not they emerged more strongly when they were apart, didn’t seem to make much of the differences.


“We have relatively similar styles. We are both engineer types, rational and practical. He’s more likely to spend on one-time expensive items; I’m more likely to consistently replenish my wardrobe. This hasn’t changed with being apart.”


“We are both fairly good savers, but I sweat the small stuff a lot more than he does.”


“I am more of a big­picture planner when it comes to finances, and I hate dealing with the minutiae of bill­paying and such. It actually works out pretty well now.”


Interestingly, the spending area that people reported as the most contentious was regarding food.  I suppose that makes sense because it is both discretionary and necessary and often takes up a large percentage of spending.


“We argued more over money when we were apart, because I tended to make fancy meals at home, spending a lot on groceries, while [my spouse] would go out to eat too much, spending a lot there. But I don’t think there was anything major. We just tried to be frugal.”


“[He] spends a lot more money in general, so living alone, he spent more on a regular basis. More eating out, more coffee out, etc. [She] spends less money in general, and that was more true while living apart.”


“[He] doesn’t worry about money nearly as much as I do. And he was more willing to go out for food or drinks than I was.”


“The only disagreement we have is that he eats out for lunch most days, and I think this is wasteful. He justifies it by keeping his total food expenditures low, and I let it go because we can afford to (for now). It is his one big meal of the day, since he doesn’t have cooking privileges at home, so it sort of makes sense.”


woman on phoneI noticed two patterns among those couples that reported on their frequency of communication on money while living apart.


1) Couples tend to talk about money less while apart than together – only about the “big stuff” and not the day-to-day minutiae.


“We didn’t spend much time talking about money when we lived apart. Compared to when we have lived in the same place, we talked about money less. Tax time was probably the most complicated problem, and the most we talked about money. State income taxes are really complicated when you don’t live in the same state, and earn your respective incomes entirely in different states.”


“[We] don’t usually talk about money unless discussing big expenses like flights, etc.”


“Now that we live apart, we actually have LESS communication time about money. For example, we don’t share how much we spent on lunch or day-to-day expenses, but we keep in touch about the big items such as retirement saving, my tuition bills, etc.”


2) Couples talk about money more when they have more budget pressure.  For some couples moving apart meant an increase in salary (moving for a new job) and for some moving apart meant a decrease in salary (starting a PhD program).


“We have been very lazy about money communication. We both know we could save more, but we are also both happy with our lives right now. It is a lot easier now that we both make more than we used to.”


“When we lived together we spent more time talking about money than we do now, but that might also be because we didn’t make as much money so we were more cautious. I think that once I’m with him again we’ll talk more about money because we’ll have more money to work with and goals for our money that will be more ‘real’ to us.”


“I think we discuss [finances] about the same now as we did when we were apart. We definitely discussed it less before we lived apart, since I had a decent job and we didn’t have to worry about it as much. When we first moved back in together, we discussed it a lot more since we had ended up going through a lot of our savings and [he] didn’t have a job lined up yet, so we really had to limit our spending. Now we’re talking about it all the time since we’re looking at houses.”


These observations about changes in communication frequency were not ones I anticipated, but now they make sense to me.  Most of these respondents are normal people who are not as overly excited about PF as I am!  Why should they want to spend their precious time together communicating about finances unless they are feeling stressed in that area?  I think having a good money management system going into living apart can do wonders for minimizing the necessity of communicating about money so that time can be freed up to connect in other ways.


If you didn’t live with your spouse, would you would make different decisions about how you spend your money?  Do you think you would talk more or less about money if you lived apart from your spouse? 


photo from Free Digital Photos


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16 Responses to "Long-Distance Marriage: Communication and Personalities"

  1. If we lived apart, I would probably spend less but my wife would probably spend more. I do most of the cooking, and, if it is just me, kid I don’t feel like cooking, I’m just as likely to skip a meal as order out.
    Anna, however, just can’t seem to bring herself to prepare a meal of less than 4 courses. On her own, she is more likely to eat out every day unless she is hosting a dinner party.

    Food costs tend to be a point of contention between my parents. In the truck, it is very difficult for my dad to prepare meals as his cooking implements are pretty limited to a hearing pouch and a small microwave. If he wants to eat un-processed meats, or even just pasta, he has to buy dinner at a truck stop or supermarket food bar.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Why the Internet Sales Tax is a Bad Idea

    1. Emily says:

      I’m not sure if our habits would change much. They were different before we got married but I’m not sure if we would revert. Kyle has a lot more dishes in his repertoire now. 🙂

      Is having to eat out almost constantly priced into a trucker’s salary, do you think?

      1. Not really. There are certain tax deductions available that are supposed to help.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..Happiness and Money

  2. I think some of the long term goal stuff would be harder to keep in the conversation, but I think we’d still have a pretty open book for money.
    Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..What To Do With A Car Accident Settlement?

    1. Emily says:

      Our long-term stuff is fairly set-and-forget so we don’t talk about it much even now!

  3. I also like to talk about money stuff over email or texts – that way there’s a paper trail and we can reference the info later if we forget (how much $$ to transfer from savings to checking, how much $$ do we need to budget for XYZ, etc.)
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..How Much Would You Pay For a Scoop of Ice Cream?

    1. Emily says:

      I definitely agree. I prefer to put things in writing – especially little stuff that is likely to slip through the cracks.

  4. I think if my husband and I lived apart our food spending would go down because I’d probably eat cereal or pasta and red sauce and he’d eat frozen pizzas. It’s harder to prepare a nice meal for one in my opinion. We’d probably spend more on things like DVD’s or things to keep entertained. I hope I don’t have to find out!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..You Don’t Need to Predict The Future

    1. Emily says:

      We both prepare “for one” right now so I’m not sure much would change for us! Well, we both batch-cook but our food is largely separate.

  5. E 2 says:

    I think circumstances can change personalities a little, too. I’ve actually turned out to be the one pushing more spending when living apart, whereas I’m very budget conscious and frugal at home. I think it’s the disruption of feeling like the current situation is too weird, expensive, and short-term to fit into our long term budget plan – things with work have been very unpredictable and changing rapidly, which makes me just want to try to roll with the punches instead of worrying about finances at every unexpected turn until this stage is over. It’s much easier for my husband to generally stick to a frugal routine, since his situation has not changed. But we’ll be back to normal budgeting soon!

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