In 2015, we have spent only 8 days together in the apartment that we share in snowy Toronto.
It’s been this way since day 1. Our first kiss was followed by her jumping on a plane the next morning.
Our relationship really started on Skype… and a big part of it continues through that magical service.
Living with that much long distance can sometimes be hard, but I’m not complaining. We’re both artists, and have to travel a lot for the work that we do. It’s a life that we want, and we knew when we started dating that long distance would be a big part of it. So after 3 years, we continue to live this crazy life and are constantly trying to find ways to make it work.
I’m sure it’s different for everyone living with long distance, but I usually track a similar timeline.
Getting to stage 5 isn’t fun, and whenever we’ve been apart that long it seems to take a few days to just get used to the other person again.
When you approach stage 5 it feels like the entire universe starts to tilt against you. The internet at hotels gets worse, skype starts to drop more calls, cell reception leaves your texts undelivered….
We try to avoid stage 5 at all costs.
In fact, we have a rule that we try to follow.
No longer than 4 weeks (when at all humanly possible).
That’s been the tipping point for us. Any longer than 4 weeks, and things get really hard. So no matter where the other person is, even if it’s just for a couple of days, we try to bus/train/fly out and spend some non-skype time right around that 4 week point.
It’s a great rule. But… I’m sure you’re already seeing the complication.
It’s expensive. It’s one of the things that people don’t talk about when it comes to living long distance. We all talk about heartache, and how it’s hard to communicate, but also… plane tickets really add up.
And when you’re looking at two artists who have a lot of demand on their dollars, it can just become another drain on your resources.
Which is the last way that you want to be thinking about your relationship.
It’s terrible to be in a dry spell of work, far away from your partner, and have to make Sophie’s choice: being financially responsible by staying home and eating rice, or putting a flight on your credit card and hoping you get a gig soon.
The worst part is it’s not really a choice at all. At least it isn’t to me.
To put it in the least romantic way possible, my relationship is a huge resource for me, and one that is a major priority to invest in (and women the world round swoon).
So there are things we did: splitting costs, or sometimes the one who was working more shouldered more of the cost.. and that all worked fine.
But it didn’t take away that feeling of choice, even in the face of our 4 week rule. Wondering where the money was going to come from to make that next trip.
Our Long Distance Fund:
New in the last 3 months is a joint account that we both contribute to, and use to fund all of the trips that we need to survive the long distance life.
But before I talk about how that works, I want to address the more important question.
How did we find the money for it?
It’s all well and good to say that we have an account that we use solely for long distance… but unless you feel like you have some extra income lying around… that can be a hard thing to contribute to.
How we created a savings opportunity!
Last fall we started looking for our first apartment together. We had just spent 18 months living out of suitcases and short term rentals and were really ready to put down some roots somewhere.
I, being the budget nerd that I am, had looked at the next 12 months (saw how little work there was at the time) and crunched the numbers.
I came up with a MAX amount of rent that I could afford to spend (800 dollars a month for my portion). When I say afford I don’ t mean the largest amount of money that I could possible spend, I mean the most I could spend and not be living beyond my limited means.
So we looked for places that fit to that max.
As we looked through apartment after apartment I started getting an idea.
I had already created a budget for the next while that incorporated spending 800 dollars a month. If we managed to find a place that was less than that, it would be a great opportunity to tuck that money away … a self-imposed ‘forced savings program’.
I’m always looking for ways I can do more traveling so my original idea was to make it a travel fund. Save up over the year, and then take an epic trip.
It didn’t take long to realize that a better way to use this potential money would be to fix the chronic problem of long distance costs. Or at least to subsidize it.
No more stealing money from the food budget for a plane ticket in order to avoid another bad-hotel-internet skype call.
My lovely girlfriend was totally up for the idea, and we went on our apartment search (read: her search… I was out of town and really didn’t do as much as I should have… ).
What she eventually found was an amazing place (sometimes the universe is just really kind) which was way under budget. It was huge, so we took on a roommate and managed to end up with only 650 bucks each in rent costs.
That meant that there was 150 dollars a month (EACH) to put into our travel fund.
Three hundred dollars a month.
Actually Making the fund
The practicalities were so simple.
We both have accounts with Tangerine, and set up a free joint savings account. On the first of the month when the rent is due, we pay the full 800 dollars that we budgeted for… but only 650 goes to our lovely landlord, the rest we tuck away in that joint account.
It’s also easy to take some out every time you need to get a plane or bus ticket.
What we use it for?
Our biggest long distance costs are the actual travel tickets.. so train, bus, and plane. Mercifully, there’s usually a place to stay when we get to the end of the line.
But even though it’s just a few months old, it’s already dug us out of a few situations.
We were able to have wonderful visit around our three year anniversary to Québec City where she was singing at the Château Frontenac. We took advantage of a free room, saw an amazing city and celebrated together when we didn’t think we’d be able to afford it.
A canceled bus when I was returning from New York wouldn’t normally have been a big deal, but it took away the opportunity to spend one day together before another month apart. The fund stepped in, I booked a last minute plane ticket, and we got our day.
These things might not seem like a lot, but those of you who have lived this kind of life know that it can mean everything.
Why it’s important?
There may be a few of you who are shaking your heads. “A frivolous use of money. Just put your heads down, power through the times apart, and save that 300 hundred dollars a month for something important… like your future, or your career.”
But there is no more important investment for me than the investment in the people in my life. And this, being one of my most important relationships, is so worthy of that investment.
In honour of Valentine’s Day, I am seeing a lot of personal finance chatter about how being frugal can be the best way to share your love.
I don’t disagree.
But for those of you who are living a long way away from your partners it’s a little different. Some of you have oceans and mountains between you. Some of you would kill for the 6 months with your partner that I get….
To you all… I say… invest lavishly… in any way you can: Time spent, letters written, funny drawings and cute texts, plane tickets and anything else you can do.
Invest in the things, and the people, you love.
And I hope for you an incredible return on investment.
Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?
Financial Planner/Opera Singer
Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.
And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.
And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.