A green neon heart with dollar bills inside


Going into the relationship, I think we both had a good idea of how the other person thought about money. My boyfriend and I went to middle school together, and both grew up in lower income backgrounds as first-generation students. We reconnected after college and have been seeing each other for almost three years now. When you’re going into a relationship with somebody, an explicit “values talk” may not necessarily come up, but you’re definitely on the lookout for what their values are and what they invest their money in. Coming from a similar background really set the tone for us, so from the very beginning I found we were compatible in our values.

Our relationship started off very slow and mindful, and we did not cut any corners. He and I previously discussed that we hadn’t learned how to communicate properly in past relationships, and we hadn’t had good examples. We knew that whatever we had been doing didn’t work. This is the healthiest, most vocal relationship I’ve had, and it definitely started out the hardest simply because we were so worried about doing everything right. Honestly at first, it did not feel natural to constantly be so open and vulnerable. But I think that’s what geared us up to have a very “unnatural” talk about finances.

It started off with our income disparity. I come from a very prideful family — we don’t talk about money and we don’t take “handouts,” so I grew up not accepting big gifts or shows of money. In the beginning of our relationship, he was very honest about the fact that he was making more money than he’d basically ever seen in his life. It was very new to him, and he never bragged about it, but I most definitely watched what he did with that money. The first thing he ever did was pay off all of his college loans and then send money to his mother, so I knew his priorities were straight. When he moved into a sleek Nolita apartment — 2BR/2BA between him and his roommate, brand-new appliances, washer and dryer — I thought to myself, “I don’t even know if we’re ever gonna be able to live together if these are what your standards are.” But even still, he was attached to his values from before all of this and kept money-saving habits like meal prepping, so I was able to be a part of that with him.

I hit a really bad rough spot in my finances one year after my graduation when my second student loan was activated. I’d not signed up for electronic billing, so they were sending paper bills to my home in Virginia. Months later I came home to about $800 of bills. I knew that waiting would hurt my credit score with the amount of time that had already passed, so I wiped my bank account, including a lot of my savings. I was an anxious mess. The ever-present tension I felt with New York City lifestyle and my income and class started seeping into other places in my life.

My anxiety persisted until one day he asked me about my wellbeing. We’d agreed that when one of us asks if the other is okay, we owe it to our relationship to be very honest. I was so embarrassed, I was crying, but I told him I’d wiped my bank account and I honestly didn’t know how I was gonna eat that week. I had -$32 to my name because I’d overdrawn my account. He never asked me if he could send me money, because he knew I’d tell him no, but he Venmo’d me $200 for the month saying, “Pay me back when you can — I’ll never ask you to. This is just to make sure that you eat, and I would love to feed you too as much as possible.” I declined the request, and he kept sending it to me, until he eventually was like, “Will you please take this money? It would make me feel better.” So I did, and of course I eventually paid him back, because money comes and money goes.

We got more comfortable having explicit conversations. We started planning our very first trip together, which I think was a nice look into future planning as well. I really appreciated that he actually cared about getting the cheapest flight, but also making sure it wasn’t a red eye that would leave us dead; getting a nice AirBnB but making sure we were getting a wonderful experience for the amount of money that we paid, rather than just balling out. He’s always been able to see everything from every angle and keep a lot of his core values present. It eventually got to the point where I started asking about his thoughts on investing, cryptocurrency, and getting out of debt. I felt very comfortable having those conversations only because of how much I admired his values and the way he truly weighs every option. He gave me deep talks and great advice about all of that.

These honest insights into each other’s values are what lead up to deciding this is someone I’d like to live with — someone I like being teammates with. He wanted Manhattan and I wanted Brooklyn, so we settled on Williamsburg. We were honest about our max budgets and priorities. Once we found the perfect place, we roughly estimated equitable rent proportions based on our post-tax incomes and other bills, like my crushing student debt. Having these talks every step of the way has been such a worthwhile exercise, and we still do check-ins to make sure neither of us feel stretched too thin. We’re just starting our financial journey together, and it’s nice to see the mindfulness we practiced from the very beginning still be present in our relationship.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

A keychain


I purchased an apartment in NYC when I was 23 years old.

Growing up, my mother and father always told me that purchasing real estate in a good place will always be stable and I should invest in that when I’m early.

I come from a family where real estate is a big part of how we operate and stay financially stable. As I look back, I wonder if my Persian culture played a role in my family’s philosophy. Because my family was politically involved in Iran, their financial assets were frozen during the revolution. After the revolution, it was very hard to say something was yours unless you had a deed. My family invested in real estate post-revolution since that was the only thing that they trusted — a piece of paper that said this land was theirs.

When I knew I’d be staying in NYC for awhile, buying a property with the support of my parents made the most sense to me. We spend so much on rent — yet it doesn’t go toward anything in the future for yourself. The money just goes for that month. When you pay a mortgage, it is a healthy debt since you’re paying for an asset and building a good credit.

I had no idea how to navigate NYC real estate. It wasn’t a happy time. I cried when I couldn’t find a place, when I couldn’t find a place fast enough. I didn’t know what I was doing and it was stressful. While my family was there for emotional support, they live in LA and have no idea how real estate works here. What’s the difference between a co-op versus condo? It was a learning process for all of us.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from purchasing a property, is how to be an advocate for myself. Not everyone will have your back in this process. I realized if I didn’t stand up and say no, I wouldn’t get what I want. My advice for anyone who decides to go through buying is to give yourself the time to do your research, ask questions, and trust the right people.

This isn’t going to be the last apartment I ever live in. Yet, I have a control in the choices I make. I don’t see purchasing a property in my 20s as a heavy weight on my shoulders. I’m looking at this as a stepping stone to continue building my future. One day, I want to live in a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone and this is a step in that direction of the bigger things I want for myself in life.

Stack of bills and scattered coins on a desk


After graduating NYU, I stumbled upon a role in consulting for human capital and employee experience. I learned so much about what employers are communicating to their employees today, and also about personal finance. The role really opened my eyes and was the catalyst for how my relationship with money would change — especially as I stepped into the adult world and became financially independent.

In the past, I was always attracted to sales, but now I ask myself, “So what if it’s discounted — do I really need this?” Marie Kondo’s method has been a big influence for me. She talks about how so often we hold onto things because we can’t let go of the monetary value that we paid for them in the first place. But if it’s not adding any value to your current life, don’t force it. Get rid of it if you need to. On the other hand, it’s fine if you want something just because it makes you happy. I love designer handbags and shoes, but I budget for them. If you are the same, then for instance, instead of spending on 10 sale items, use that money for one quality item you’ve been eyeing. Don’t deny yourself anything that you want, just be realistic about your resources!

Of course, in order to be realistic about your resources, or plan for purchases, you have to understand where you are financially. You have to make it easy for yourself to achieve both your short-term goals while contributing to your long-term goals, and make it all automated.
The first way to automate your finances is to get out of debt. If you have student loans, pay those off first.

Then, start saving. If your employer offers a 401K or a contribution plan and a match, make sure you match all of that, because that’s free money they’re giving you. A lot of people think they can’t or shouldn’t contribute too much to their 401K, because their paycheck isn’t that high and they want to have enough for their current lifestyle. But if you’re contributing pre-tax to a 401K, that lowers your taxable income so overall, you’re getting taxed less by the government. For example, if you’re sitting on tax brackets, and starting to earn more in your career as you’re developing, if you’re getting taxed at a higher percentage than you were when you first started your career, a very easy way to lower that tax rate is just to contribute more to your pre-tax accounts like 401K, so your amount of taxable income is a lot lower. You actually save more that way!

Another way to help you save is if you go to specialty doctors like dermatologists, gynecologists, and you need extra funds for the co-pays, tests, treatments, etc — why not contribute to a FSA (flexible spending account)? Again, when you add in pre-tax dollars, it lowers your taxable income and it lowers your expenses pre-tax. That’s money that you’re already going to spend anyway. This way, with some simple planning, tax won’t take a cut, so you end up with more money to spend on those health services! You basically get a chunk taken out every month from your paycheck (pre-tax), but you have access to the full-year funds to that FSA account at the beginning of the year. But do plan accordingly, because if you don’t use it by the end of the year, you lose it!

My other tip is, depending on where you are in your life savings, know what benefits or tools can take the burden off of your out-of-pocket costs. For example, if you’re thinking about buying a home, legal insurance your company offers may actually get you access to a free real estate attorney, so you don’t have to be spending your day-to-day funds on it.

A lot of companies don’t know how to communicate all this legal jargon to their employees — it’s part of the reason I had a job. It’s hard, for millennials especially, to wade through the jargon. What helps is finding if your employer has a hotline or chatbot and ask the agents. You can also google the benefits — there’s tons of articles online. For example, 401ks are still confusing to me, so I’ll find 401k calculators online that tell me “if you contribute this much, it will impact your take-home pay this much.” There are a ton of resources out there, you just have to take the first step to find them.

Finances and money are a taboo topic. A lot of people don’t openly talk about their salary and part of the reason is you may have friends making a lot more or a lot less, so it’s hard to bridge that gap. As long as you have a few friends that you can talk to openly about your salary and general finances, you’re in a good place. It’s not anything to be embarrassed about. It’s good to share so you can empower each other to ask for more money, or just benchmark in general. The other key is not letting other people influence your own spending. You may have friends who are very frivolous or have different starting points. Know what’s realistic for you and budget accordingly. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else — everyone’s financial situation and lifestyle are different.

Half of all Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. The city is expensive, especially when you’re in your 20s, but once you take that step to get educated on your finances, set goals to pay off your loans, or automate your savings, pat yourself on the back. What you have left to spend at the end of the month, even if it’s not much, it’s yours and yours only!

Coins spilling out of a jar


The summer after graduation, I moved to New York with $5,000 and no job.

I knew I had to be frugal, and I was well prepared. Ever since I was little, I was financially conscious. My parents always made me save half of my money and when I applied to colleges, I made sure to also prioritize scholarships.

So I saved up all summer and stayed at my friend’s place in Jersey City for the first week to get my footing and meet new people.

I got in touch with someone through Airbnb who had an open room in Union City for the month, and it was perfect until she had a new renter and asked me to leave. I said, “I was here first,” and she offered me another room that didn’t have a bed for half the price, which wasn’t ideal, but I got an air mattress to save as much money as I could. I wanted to live within my means.

I finally moved into a real apartment on a long-term lease, and my biggest advice for that is to negotiate. It’s hard, since New York apartments are so in-demand, but you have to. I was able to negotiate $300 off my monthly rent by being able to show that I was a good tenant and I was going to take care of the place.

In terms of my paycheck, I contribute to both my 401(k) and Roth IRA, and once I see how much I contribute to both, I know how to manage the rest of my money.

To keep track of my spendings, I used the app Mint. It helped me easily keep track of all my accounts, including my checking, savings, credit card expenses, 401(k), Roth IRA and my transactions. The most helpful part was that I could say I’m only spending $20 this month on coffee shops, and it keeps me accountable.

But, I’m living in New York City! I wanted to have fun and experience everything the city offers.

Instead of starting my night late, I’d suggest getting drinks during happy hour and end up spending half of what I would have spent — plus, I can get home earlier, which is always nice.I took advantage of Groupon deals or corporate discounts that gave me deals on shows, baseball games and helicopter rides.

I once even found $7 tickets to see orchestra performances at Lincoln Center. I ended up making such a fun night out of it, on a budget.

Calculator and coins


When I graduated from college, I saw had $19,000 in student debt and I burst into tears. I was like, “How am I ever going to pay this off?” I started regretting my college experience.

But that feeling lit a fire in me.

I always knew paying off my loans was the first thing I wanted to get out of the way. So that’s exactly what I did.

I had four rules: budget out of your salary to pay off interest, think long term, forget immediate pleasures and check Reddit’s /r/finance to stay motivated.

The first thing I did was move back in with my parents. Of course I was jealous of my friends for being independent and having their own places, but it was huge not to have stressors like buying groceries, paying for health insurance or rent. Plus, it reminded me not to waste my parents’ time, money or generosity.

I also wasn’t getting myself into credit card debt. During moments of weakness, like when I’d splurge $300 at an All Saints’ sale, I’d make sure to spend out of my savings instead of money I didn’t have.

What also helped was increasing payment into my 401(k) when I realized my employer matches. Anyway, the less money that goes into my checking account, the better – out of sight, out of mind.

I increased payments into my student loans, which was easier which I started depositing straight into that account.

Two years after graduation, I’m finally at no debt – I’m at zero. I felt equal parts drained and elated. Like, wow, celebration!

A key theme of being in your 20s is comparing yourself to others. While I was obsessed with paying off my debt, everyone was enjoying their freedom or hitting new milestones in their romantic relationships. It seemed strange to me that financial health wasn’t something my friends ever talked about it.

But I realized we’re all in totally different places in our lives, with totally different goals and priorities, and none of it is a race. Move at your own pace, and keep your own long term goals in mind.

*Name changed to protect her privacy.