In Search of Gay Money: Odd couple: When financial opposites attract
As gays and lesbians writing about money, we’ve grown weary of reading all the personal finance content that’s written from the perspective of straight marriages. So at Queercents, we’ve turned the tables on money and relationship advice by asking: What if all of our favorite money columnists were gay? Would their advice be more relevant to our lives?
We think the answer is yes! And as such, this is our weekly series called In Search of Gay Money where we reprint their advice by swapping out pronouns and a few other words to make it seem like everyone is queer!
Odd couple: When financial opposites attract
By Yuval Rosenberg and Queercents
Opposites attract, and Michael Roth and Robert Durkin prove the point – at least when it comes to their finances.
Michael works for a financial services firm and is a self-described hoarder. Robert is a lawyer and an impulsive and generous spender.
Michael despises debt. Roberts sleeps comfortably with $25,000 in credit-card balances.
“We’re night and day,” says Robert. Knowing full well that financial issues are a prime reason that partnerships fail, Michael, 32, and Robert, 43 – who met at a party in Miami Beach and have been dating since last July – want to bridge their differing views on money and figure out a way to marry their finances before making the decision to move in together.
Where they are now
Robert and Michael are starting their partnered life on solid enough footing. As a criminal defense attorney, Robert earned $209,000 last year while Michael, who works in IT, pulled in $80,000 plus a bonus.
Although Michael is younger, he’s off to a better start as a saver. He has already amassed $190,000 in investments and retirement savings. Plus, he has $50,000 stashed in money-market funds for emergencies.
Robert, on the other hand, has $62,000 in his SEP-IRA. And his rainy-day fund consists of $10,000 in cash and silver and gold coins.
What they should do
Get on the same page: Robert concedes that he’ll need to make some changes.
“I’m just going to acquiesce,” he says. But Ruth Hayden, a St. Paul financial educator who counsels gay and lesbian couples, warns that this approach won’t work in the long term because no one can alter his financial personality that easily.
Instead, Robert and Michael need to find a middle ground. For instance, Hayden says Michael might enjoy life more if he were a bit less cautious about money. And Michael admits that he admires Robert’s generosity, such as his willingness to pay for nights out with friends who earn less than he does.
One solution: The pair should keep individual and household accounts or what is called the “three-pot” money system. Robert can deposit several thousand dollars each month into a checking account earmarked for joint expenses. With what’s left he can pay down his debt and spend as he desires.
As for their investments, Ross Levin, a financial planner in Edina, Minn., says newly partnered couples shouldn’t rush to combine their portfolios. But Levin suggests a few changes.
Between them, Robert and Michael invest in 16 different funds managed by American Funds. Where there’s clear overlap – for instance, both own balanced funds run by the firm – they might want to pare that down.
Meanwhile, they should consider adding blue-chip funds run by other firms, such as Vanguard Dividend Growth (ticker symbol: VDIGX).
Another issue: Once the couple move in together, they will have near-term goals to consider, including buying a bigger home. And that means they’ll need some safe fixed-income investments to protect their down payment.
Levin says the couple needs to boost their bond allocation to about a quarter of their portfolio. He recommends adding a well-diversified, low-cost fund like Loomis Sayles Bond (LSBRX).
Deal with the debt: Robert, who worked his way through college and law school, feels strongly that Michael should not use his savings to wipe out his debts. Levin agrees. He says Robert’s income is more than adequate to attack his hefty credit-card balances, $30,000 in car and motorcycle loans and $76,000 law school debt.
Levin suggests paying off the smallest balances first. This should give Robert confidence that he’s making headway, while also freeing up future cash flow to pay down his credit-card debt.
Budget for a new home: The couple’s two condos are on the market (Robert’s one-bedroom is listed for $214,900; Michael’s two-bedroom is going for $279,900).
Once the condos are sold, they hope to find a larger house nearby. Michael is comfortable spending between $400,000 and $500,000, but Rory thinks they can go as high as $600,000.
Hayden says that these partners are putting the cart before the horse. Before wasting energy fighting over price tags, Robert and Michael need to hammer out a household budget to see what they can actually afford.
“I think that makes a lot of sense,” says Michael. And ever the long-term planner, he adds, “I’m excited to start talking about those things.”