At the start of the year, my boyfriend proposed an idea to save some extra fun money. Each time either of receive a $5 bill, we drop it into a glass mason jar. Less than three months in, we’ve collected over $500. Out of one hundred $5 bills, I’ve contributed approximately five.
Each evening, we return home and he proclaims that he has a surprise as he reaches into his back pocket. I exaggerate a frown as he fans out his cash and then drops the bills into the jar with a smile. “Dear, this isn’t a competition,” he reminds me.
While we don’t micromanage our finances, I tend tend to cover the big bills–HOA, property taxes, utilities and Costco runs–while my boyfriend typically covers the everyday expenses–groceries, clothing, plants from the nursery, restaurants and other random purchases. While our contributions month-to-month are comparable, his transactions are far more likely to involve cash.
Every day he adds a bill or two to “our” jar and ever day I feel a tinge of disappointment–the small sting that sometimes arises early in a relationship when you know you’re getting the better end of the deal and can’t understand why your sweetheart has chosen you, of all people. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why this supposedly fun saving hack was driving me towards madness. Now, I think I’ve figured it out.
Relationships are inherently a exercise in give-and-take. As a companionship unfolds and evolves, it is slowly reveled who loves cooking versus who prefers buying take out and who needs a little extra encouragement versus who is gifted in providing such emotional support. Two disparate personalities merge together into one entity, each offering it’s strengths and revealing it’s vulnerabilities.
Across the last five years, we’ve discovered that I enjoy cooking and he can tolerate loading the dishwasher. He knows that technology talk goes over my head, but that I’m grateful when he fixes my computer. I know that his love language is acts of service and that his habit of hiding lovey-dovey sticky notes around the house doesn’t come naturally, but is rather an intentional bid towards my preference for words of affirmation. We’ve found our groove, and the $5 jar disrupted it.
Suddenly, it feels like he’s contributing more, approximately $500 more. Though we both contribute equally to the relationship by way of affection, housework, insights and funding, the addition of this new expense reintroduces some of the uncertainty of young love (Should I offer to pay or let him?) and the nuances of first moving in together (Do we split everything down the middle, divide expense by percentage of income or just wing it?).
For years, we’ve kept an envelope labeled “Vacation!” to which we add birthday money and other discretionary cash. I’ve never kept track of who contributes what, nor do I care; we both contribute whatever we can. While the $5 jar system may be slightly skewed in favor cash purchases, I’m beginning to recognize that my boyfriend views the jar the same way I view the envelope: together, we are working towards a shared goal.
Perhaps love is a bit like the Olympics, where partners work to tackle the ultimate obstacle course. One’s strength may be speed, where the other’s is disciple. At any given time, my excess resource may be money while my partner’s is time. We give and we take, and we constantly adjust the sails as circumstances change.
Love is a team sport, not a competition. At the end of the day, we both want a decent set of speakers in the living room and to spend a week in the Pacific Northwest. And by contributing what we have, when we have it, to that share goal, we will cross that finish line together.
What is your big shared goal right now, and how are you working with your partner to achieve it?