The first time my now-husband, then-boyfriend ever tried to talk to me about our finances, I reacted the way any mature adult would — I put my fingers in my ears, yelled, “I can’t hear you!” and ran out of the house.
That is not hyperbole. I actually did that.
Money has never been something I’ve been very good at dealing with. I spent my life overspending, paying overdraft fees, maxing out credit cards, and falling behind on my bills. I preferred to live in the moment and not think about the future. Things seemed more manageable that way.
While this way of living was sort of acceptable for me as a single person, it suddenly became a very big problem when I became one half of a couple. Now, when I blew all my money and didn’t have the cash for rent, it wasn’t just me I was screwing over — it became my partner’s problem too.
My financial illiteracy was one of my biggest sources of shame and the secret I kept closest to the vest. I knew — well, I assumed — that functional, responsible adults didn’t have these issues, that they could pay their bills and not spend superfluously on things they didn’t need. I was embarrassed that I wasn’t in control of my finances, that my account was always in the red, and that I was constantly asking my parents to bail me out. I felt like a child.
Having my partner, this man I loved and wanted to build a future with, find out the truth about how I was living was one of the most shameful things I could think of. We moved in together and set a budget for rent, utilities, and groceries, splitting them all down the middle, but avoided a real, harsh look at our finances. I told myself that now, with the motivation of being accountable to someone else, I’d be able to manage my money.
But just one month into our cohabitation, I couldn’t hold up my end of the deal. I had spent my money on takeout food, new clothes, and drinks at bars, leaving me without enough funds for our utilities bills. I told him it had been an honest mistake, and that I was still getting used to the new budget. That was fine the first month — but after the second and third, the pattern was obvious.
My partner never got mad at me. Instead, he tried to sit down with me and talk about it. He asked where I was struggling and how he could help. I didn’t know how to explain the anxiety and panic that built up in me every time I thought about managing my money. That’s when I completely shut down and the aforementioned temper tantrum took place.