Friday, September 9, 2011
What $5 bills taught me about relationships
I currently have $555 in rolled-up five dollar bills jammed into a Pat O'Brien's hurricane glass that sits on my bed stand. Please don't rob me.
How and why they got there is a fairly simple story.
Sometime around month two of dating I proposed the idea of saving $5 bills to R. It's an idea that my friend Michael once told me his friend Paula did with her now-fiance Adam (congrats guys!). So, I stole it.
The process is as simple as it sounds: both members of the couple save all five dollar bills that they receive as change. If you pay for a drink with a twenty and get two fives in return those must immediately go into a separate part of your wallet called the no-touch-zone where they're stored until you transfer them to the bigger pot. Or, if you're R you can just keep them with the other bills in your wallet because you possess the will-power to not spend them.
R agreed that the idea was fun slash smart, and we started immediately. As he puts it, five dollars is not enough to notice but definitely enough to add up. We have since spent chunks of $1-200 for various special occasions and trips and will soon spend the full amount saved on a fun weekend getaway to celebrate having been together for one year (R: "Why are you so opposed to saying Anniversary!" Me: "I don't know. Just sounds so serious." R: "It is!").
That's the how and why behind this extra chunk of dough. Oh, also, the Pat O'Brien's hurricane glass was a very clever Hannukah gift from R because we originally intended to spend the money on a trip to New Orleans. Turns out those cost way more than $555.
But as this blog post title suggests, there has been a surprise element of "what" to the $5 ordeal - specifically, what I've learned about being in a relationship, one five dollar bill at a time.
I am dating a man who commits to a task
Prior to beginning the $5 bill charade I would have called R driven, persistent, and future-focused. I had a good sense that he was the kind of guy who wouldn't give up easily. He seemed competitive about things that are important to him.
Today I would call him obsessively committed to projects he finds worthwhile, especially if they involve saving money for fun things (read: meals). The minute we started this little savings game it was as if he was put on this earth to save five dollar bills. On several occasions I witnessed him ask a cashier at Whole Foods if she could deliver his change in fives. Twice he scolded me in public for presenting a five dollar bill as potential tender. "That bill is frozen!" R once said, "You know the rules!"
In R's opinion, a project isn't worth agreeing to if you're just going to pick and choose when you do it. ...Which miiiight explain why he has not verbally committed to cleaning out his closet and uses language like, "that might be something I could do" when the topic is broached.
Lesson here: It's not a bad idea to find out how "game" your guy can be about something that benefits the collective. People who commit to things like saving money are generally more comfortable committing to things like other people.
It is important/nice/special/helpful to have "things"
Perhaps the most vague paragraph heading I've ever written, but what I'm getting at is very specific. The five dollar bills are "our thing" - they're something we decided to do together so we could have collectively slush funds for special events or occasions. They are simple. They are silly. They are often a source of frustration and bickering, but they are our thing.
I admit that the "we have a special thing" about this whole thing was not immediately my favorite part. My tough, former New York romantic exterior makes me averse to some elements of romance and couple "mush." But R's insistence on elevating this joint project to super special status - the Pat O'Brien's jar, the bi-weekly counting of the bills, the little list we keep of where and when we'll spend it - changed my tune. "We've gotta celebrate stuff," he said to me after I eye-rolled his $5 fan-fare, "That's what this is about."
Lesson here (brace for mush): relationships are built on many grand and important things, but I've come to be convinced that it's the silly little celebrations inside them that make you a unit, and not just two people who happen to be dating.
When you commit to not spending your own money you're not losing that money
I have a problem with finances. Well, technically I have a problem with numbers and math that presents as a problem with finances as it is my understand that finances are governed by numbers and math. So when I "lose" five dollars to the five dollars jar I feel as though I am losing money that I desperately need to break even on the monthly budget that I've built in my head using shapes and colors.
Nothing makes me more frustrated that getting three fives back as change from a twenty dollar bill. I have on multiple occasions asked if the cashier has singles instead.
But - and this is important - I never do that in front of R. I respect his love for the fives. I (mostly) want to save as much money as possible so we can do fun things. And I will admit that I've come to love the fan fare of the bi-weekly countings.
Lesson here: I used to feel like having those extra five dollar bills was more important than my commitment to the plan or my "special thing" with R. Now I think they're far less important around the 1st and 15th of the month and about even most other times. Or, in other words, pay attention in math.
I welcome and encourage the stealing of our little five dollar savings plan to fund your own special occasions. I also welcome and encourage you to share your own stories of lessons learned from "silly little plans" in comments. And yes, I know they're not really silly.