Honest hour: Adulting isn’t easy. And when it involves a significant other and money, it becomes a thousand times harder. Let me give you an example: In 2016, the self-improvement industry raked in almost $10 billion, according to neuroscience site Brainblogger. My purchases of podcasts, books and membership sites accounted for 10 percent of that figure.
I’m may be exaggerating a little, but one thing is for sure: Advice books tell you to keep communication channels open and discuss issues, concerns and, most importantly, “feelings” when navigating your financial map in marriage, but they don’t tell you how wildly different your perspectives on spending can be from your spouse.
Seth Herzog is a successful NYC comic, actor and producer. He is also my husband. I am an author, built a booming retail research business and have a production company. What follows is an oral history of a week’s worth of spending and financial transactions in our household:
What does it mean to be “poor?” My take is very different from Seth’s.
Seth: You are talking to a guy who was poor for a really long time, so I got turn off notices on my power bills every year for months and months. They really don’t turn your shit off for a really long time. I would test that boundary. Did I get my power turned off by Con Edison when I was young? Oh, yeah. A couple times!
Hitha: I’ve been poor too.
Seth: No, you haven’t.
Hitha: YES, I have!
Seth: No, you’ve never been poor. Ok, humor me — which month of your life did you feel like you were poor?
Hitha: It was June of 1999… I had just moved into my first apartment without roommates. I purchased a vintage sofa for $1,000. I wasn’t getting paid until the end of the month, so I had to live on $100 for four days until I got my paycheck.
Seth: When I had $100 in my account, I felt like I owned the city.
Hitha: When I had a $100 in my account, I was thinking about filing for bankruptcy.
Seth: When I had $100, I gave $20s to homeless people because I felt so rich.
Hitha: When I had $100, I felt like I was two seconds away from applying for food stamps.
Seth: When I had $100, I got TWO egg rolls.
Hitha: When I had $100 in my account, I was sure I was going to have to eat ramen for a month.
Seth: When I had $100 in my account, I thought, “Come here ,taxis! I have business for you!”
Hitha: When I had $100 in my account, I thought, I am never going to be able to shop again.
Cash is king, until it goes missing from your wallet.
Seth: I work really hard, which I am thankful for. A lot of the gigs [doing stand up comedy or hosting events] I do are at night, and I get paid in cash. It’s fun, but let’s not mince words; it’s definitely work. So when I go to bed at night, I fall asleep expecting the $500 I earned that night to still be there. Cut to 9:00 a.m. when I am on my way out — I’ll take a look in my wallet, and now there is a $10 and maybe a $5 [in the billfold]. Like, did I get robbed? Did someone rob me and I didn’t notice it? Did it fall out of the cab? Did I spend it somewhere? And then it takes me a while to realize, oh, none of that happened. You just stole it. The robber is inside of the house. And then I get really annoyed. I get annoyed because I worked really hard for that money. When I get paid in cash, I worked for it. I feel like I earned it, and I don’t get to see it ever.
Hitha: I am the most illiquid person ever. What does that mean? I never have cash on me. Everything I make is direct deposited into my account. I take 10 percent out immediately for savings, and a 1/3 out for taxes, and then the rest is allocated to joint investments, groceries, saving for a vacation and slush funds. So I may be guilty of taking a $20 or $30 to pay for cash-only items. I also don’t think you are investing your earnings properly, so I take the liberty of doing it for us. Do I want to wake you up to tell you I am taking it? Not really. Should I leave a note? Probably. Do I think you will mind in the end when you realizes a lot of that money I took I put into Apple stock? I hope not.
What would make it better?
Seth: What would make it better is if you didn’t take the money out of my wallet. Especially without saying something so I am not alarmed.
Hitha: I suppose I should let you know ASAP. I just figured you wouldn’t care!
We bought our apartment when interest rates were low and the market was relatively easy to get an affordable apartment, but there is still confusion about how much we really owe.
Seth: You’ve established I pay $1,500. And I trust you because I haven’t looked at the statements. But I don’t know what we actually owe. And I’m just going on what you say. But I think the maintenance is only $700. And if you are paying $1,500 and I am paying $1,500, that means there is a 2,000-something mortgage-a-month on top of that — is that right?
Hitha: So, this is partially true. Our maintenance is $750, and our mortgage payment is $3,000. We lived together for a year before we were married, and you never asked me to contribute to rent during that year. It was your apartment, and you could have asked me to pay for half of everything, but you never did. So I feel like, in a way, I should pay a little more for that year. Maybe I do it as a long-standing gesture of gratitude. I pay $1,500 for mortgage AND the $750 for maintenance.
Seth: So you are saying you pay $750 more than me? It’s interesting — I have a hard time believing you would do that.
Who is really paying for our vacations?
Seth: Most of the time, I do. I almost always pay for the airfares and hotels. You really wanted to go to Deer Valley, so you paid for the hotel this year. It was really expensive. You also paid for the flight out. But I paid for everything else. We went to Austria last year too. You wanted to take your mom to Europe. So you paid for a lot of that. But most of the time, I get the airfare and hotel. Which I am happy to do. Of all the things I spend money on, I do love vacations and I am always happy to spend money on that.
Hitha: My business really picked up in 2016. As a grand gesture to a mom who was always very skeptical about my career decisions, I wanted to take her on an all-expense-paid trip to Austria and Prague financed 100% by me. The problem was, my mom and I get along for an hour and the rest of the time there is tension. I invited you because you are my favorite person to travel with and I knew you would cut any weirdness between mom and me. This wasn’t cheap. We stayed at 5-star hotels, had private drivers and flew business class. I don’t think you knew this, but every month, I’d put 15 percent of my salary away to afford to take everyone. I felt an insane sense of pride and accomplishment after the trip. It was the first time I was able to pay for something so big and provide an incredible experience for everyone. The same goes for Deer Valley. I like luxury vacations, and you are cool with staying on a sofa or in a youth hostel. No thanks. If I demand a five-star experience, I don’t expect you to pay for it.
Living in New York City means dinners out. But does the “guy always pays” rule apply when you are married?
Seth: I think I pay for at least 70 percent of the dinners or meals that we do. I think when you have money, you are very generous, but it’s very up and down. When you feels like you have enough to spend, you will spend it.
Hitha: I pay for about 30 percent of the dinners out. But if you count ordering in, I pay for 90 percent of those. Does ordering in count as “dinners out?” I pay for most of the Seamless and Postmates deliveries.
Seth: Well, at least we can agree on one thing: no one in this house is hungry.
Hitha: YES. That is 1000% correct!