I used to think that being a trust-funder would be the greatest thing ever. Then I got into a relationship with a man who has a trust fund. I've been trying to free him from it ever since.
My significant other (let's call him Brett) is in his early 30s. Brett runs his own business in New York, and if you met him you'd think he is really successful. His clothes are casual but expensive, and made mostly by Italian designers. He wears a ceramic watch that might not look pricey, but cost about $10,000. He drives a really, really nice car. What you wouldn't know from meeting him is that he's only able to afford these things because of his dad.
Brett's father came from a very poor family in the Midwest. He never got the chance to go to college. As soon as he finished high school, he started working at a grocery store to help his parents out. He turned out to be really good at figuring out how to make the store operate more efficiently, and he kept getting promoted and promoted. Eventually he was able to create his own small chain of stores, which was bought by a much bigger company, where he became a top executive.
Along the way he made a lot of money, and what he's done with it has made for a complicated relationship with his three kids. He’s used his money in part to show his love, giving his kids all the opportunities he didn't have growing up. He also created a family trust fund that Brett and his two sisters can access—with one caveat. While they don't have to go through dad every time they want to make a withdrawal, they do have to explain what they used the money for at the end of each year.
All three siblings want to make sure they get their share, but they also crave the approval of their super-successful father. So they don't ever want it to seem like they need the money.
Which brings me to how we almost got evicted.
Brett and I had been living together and renting for three years when I discovered a letter from the owners warning that we were going to be tossed out because we were so far behind on the rent. When I confronted Brett, he admitted that he'd over-expanded his business. The salaries of three new employees were draining all the profits, but he felt too guilty to let any of them go. If he dipped into the trust fund for his share of the rent, though, he'd have to explain the situation to his father. It was one thing to use the fund to buy a piece of contemporary art, quite another to need it to keep the roof over our head. So while I paid for our utilities, food and other costs, he had just stopped paying rent.
For me, it was the last straw. The trust fund had allowed Brett to start his own business and it had helped him learn how to invest money. But it also meant he never had to learn how to be resilient or resourceful or completely responsible. If we were going to stay together, I told him, things were going to have to change.
The first thing we had to do was cut our costs. He sold the car, which meant we also saved $400 a month in parking fees. Then we got rid of cable TV. But it was tough to find a way to dramatically lower our rent—until one day, while searching Craigslist for a new place, I noticed the listings for roommates.
Brett had never had a roommate in his life, not even in college, and said there was no way he was going to start now. But I held firm. We now live with a lovely woman who is about our age. We share a bathroom and we have to schedule time to fool around when she's working late. But we've also cut our overhead in half. That’s helped us to save $20,000 over the past six months. That's cash we earned, not money someone else gave us. More importantly, Brett is less stressed out about finances and his relationship with his father has improved. He's also more confident, and the business is getting stronger.
The trust issue hasn't gone away. We're talking about having children, and Brett wants me to quit my job for a year or two after they’re born. He says I have access to the trust fund too; but the reality is, that makes things even more complicated. I have access to money as long as we're getting along with each other and with his dad.
Brett recently admitted to me that the trust fund hasn't been the best influence in his life. In his ideal world, he'd have it but not have to use it. He'd look his father in the eye and say, thanks, but no thanks. Maybe someday we'll get there.