(Names changed to protect identities)
When Priya and I moved in together after a relationship of six years, we planned on it being a dry run for our future together. The house she picked was slightly out of my reach, but I went with it anyway, reasoning that I could always pick up a little extra work. That was followed by home shopping, setting up the kitchen and other regular stuff. I did, on occasion, feel that Priya was going overboard with the budget, considering we weren’t really married yet. But I kept my thoughts to myself.
Since I made more money in a month, the responsibility of paying the rent and other expenses automatically came to me. In addition, I handed her an amount for monthly purchases.
Priya would occasionally get a loaf of bread or a few packets of milk of her own accord, but that was where her financial involvement ended. Her expenses were more of a personal nature; shampoo, body-wash, lotions, trinkets and such. And over time, I found my expenses rise substantially and without a solution in sight, I brought up the matter with Priya. The discussion seemed fruitful, as we decided to open a joint account and put in a certain amount every month for domestic expenses. But the very next month, Priya decided to pursue her long overdue doctorate, while taking on projects on the side to help me out financially. This was just the beginning of our financial woes.
A year into the house, we got ourselves a dog to feel more like a family. My company decided to downsize two months later and I was out of a job. Priya wasn’t getting much work either.
Between Priya’s doctorate and my unemployment, things became progressively worse. Rent was delayed for the next few months and since I was mostly out hunting for work, the landlord gave Priya a piece of his mind instead. She felt insulted and blamed me for not being able to pay the rent. As the argument escalated, I blamed her for being too high maintenance and splurging. In hindsight, we were both trying our best. Priya had stopped ordering in on a daily basis, settling for four days in a week, and I was constantly on the lookout for new projects.
Now I understand that the difference was in our upbringings. Our perception of luxury and necessity were slightly different.
Like I, for example, didn’t mind walking an extra mile to save 30 bucks on a kilo of chicken for the dog. Given that he ate almost 5 kilos a week, it was, to me, a sizable saving. Priya, on the other hand, preferred buying it from the neighbourhood store for a little extra money instead of wasting time travelling farther. It probably didn’t even strike her. But back in those days, it drove me nuts because it felt like I was the only one putting in the toil and the sweat to keep both of us afloat.
Financial disagreements morphed into less communication, reduced intimacy, aggravated tempers and lower patience. Things went from bad to worse, leading to a major showdown. While Priya accused me of not being financially responsible, I retorted that she had conveniently dumped all expenses on me, contributing nothing to home finances. She concluded that I was trumpeting my financial contribution, while I thought she had no appreciation of the hard work I was putting in with the freelance projects, given the absence of a regular job. For a week we didn’t talk.
Finally, when tempers had cooled down a little, we sat down together and talked. Should we be together, given our financial disagreements and try to find a way around them, or should we just walk out?
We came to the consensus that the financial crunch had brought out the worst in us, but like all rough times, this would pass too. So we settled on putting a fixed amount of money in ‘the dabba’, a box that holds our home expense money, excluding the rent. Both of us contribute an equal amount.
Barring the occasional tiff, everything is back to being great now. But for us to come to a financial understanding, we had to go through hell, which can completely be avoided if couples set the ground rules for finances before they move in together. After all, there can be far more worthy reasons to break up than money, can’t there?
(As told to Vakratuund)