Tax season is upon us. It’s just like the holiday season! But replace Santa with an angry representative from H&R Block and snowflakes with W-2s. Instead of trimming the tree, we’re counting out deductibles. Instead of eggnog, there’s cheap scotch. And not only have you gained holiday weight, but your mid-winter savings are quickly drained by the taxman.
There are two people in my household, but we can’t claim each other. We’re the modern New York norm: two adults in our late 20s/early 30s, sharing a bed and dividing the rent check. And dividing the cable bill. And dividing the groceries. You get the idea.
Money is always a sensitive topic. You’re supposed to avoid conversations about that, religion and politics. Though, where I’m from, religious and political leanings are often built around money anyway.
Money is just as sensitive in my household, though the subject comes up so frequently you wouldn’t know it. For although we file similar tax returns, our bank accounts couldn’t be more different.
When we started dating, my boyfriend made double what I did. But over the course of the last year, I changed jobs twice. I was sick of barely squeaking by, paycheck to paycheck. I was sick of eating Ramen. I had dreams of purchasing some new Ikea furniture to swap out my hand-me-down Ikea furniture, buying expensive scotch, and taking a cheap flight to head somewhere warm.
Now, I make the same amount of money as my boyfriend. We work in the same industry, put in similar hours, and each bring home a comfortable paycheck. That’s nice. We have a perfectly adequate walk-up in the city. We eat out at restaurants and have a shared love of keeping a bottle of cheap scotch in the liquor cabinet. That’s nice, too.
But the numbers in the boxes of our W-2 forms tell a different story.
Not only did I double my salary over the course of one year, I also sold some stock I had purchased in my teens with leftover bat mitzvah money. My parents had paid most of my private liberal arts college tuition, but I was left with about $15,000 to pay off myself. Luckily, my old stock had spiked and I was able to pay off the debt.
My boyfriend was not so lucky. He went to a private art school for his undergraduate degree, but his parents didn’t help with the tuition. Thanks to lucrative freelance work, he paid some of the loans off throughout college, but he still graduated with almost $100,000 in debt. Five years later, he’s managed to bring that number down to $55,000.
Yes, we make the same amount of money. With my salary, I am happily contributing to my 401k, saving for long-term emergencies and trying not to leave my pay stubs lying around in the open.
It’s not that my boyfriend resents me for this money. He doesn’t feel emasculated and he doesn’t feel jealous. But he still has $55,000 hanging over his head. I cannot imagine the amount of pressure he feels.
It’s become an issue in the household. While, I’m talking about my 401k, he knows must save $450 a month just to pay off interest. His laptop died months ago, and he’s stuck using his old desktop computer in the kitchen, working on freelance projects to save up money to put toward his debt.
To call him stressed would be an understatement. He worries about not saving money to eventually buy a house. He worries about how he can afford a future with me. He worries that the person who did he taxes at H&R Block filed one of his 1099 forms incorrectly.
I encourage him to look for more lucrative freelance work. And I calm him down. Everything, I tell him, will be okay.
In the meantime, I’ve started buying furniture for the apartment. I replaced the kitchen table his computer sat on, bought a new couch, and found a credenza for the empty space in the living room. I stocked the liquor cabinet with fancy scotch. I decided that my new, handsomely-paid job was soul-crushing, and I began hunting around for flights to Europe.
We know the student loans will not disappear overnight. But my boyfriend knows that I won’t, either. Money can’t buy me love. Money can only buy fancy scotch.
So I will buy the fancy scotch. I will buy the new furniture. And maybe one day we’ll find a cheap flight and get a break from the pay stubs, the loans and the taxman for a while.