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How I (Financially) Handle a Long Distance Relationship

   Posted On: January 21, 2014  |    Posted In: Love and Money  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

In August of 2010, I sauntered into Hickey dining hall with the specific swagger a senior in college carries. In a move of epic uncoolness, I was back at school two weeks before many of peers to be properly trained (for the third year) in the art of being a resident assistant. I strolled over to a table where my best friends sat shoveling food into their mouths before yet another training about dealing with [insert any cliche bone-headed college drama here]. While I started munching on pizza I looked up to see a cute junior walking over towards our table. He was a buddy of my friends, so I thought nothing of it when he sat down with us. Looking down at my multicolored Coach sneakers (yeah, I rock some designer footwear)  he said, “I like your shoes.”*

By the end of RA training, he’d mustered up enough courage to actually ask me on a date (or rather to “hang out” as you do in college). We watched ‘The Godfather’ and we’ve been watching mafia-related movies and TV series together ever since.

Peach and I were a year apart in college, meaning I graduated in May of 2011 and he had another two semesters left. This left us with two choices: 1) Break up 2) Give long distance a shot. IMG_1278

We’ve been in a long-distance relationship (LDR) since May 15, 2011. Why yes, that is a long time.

Peach has gone on to study for his masters degree and currently lives in Western New York, while I moved to and have stayed in New York City. We live about 45 minutes away from each other by plane, but can’t afford to fly regularly, so I’m intimately familiar with Greyhound bus routes and costs.

There are many, many reasons people give for why long distance doesn’t work, but the one I’ll focus on is, of course, the financial aspect.

Yes, long distance can be hard. One gripe I often hear from other people in long distance relationships is the expense of taking a plane, train or automobile to see the other person. My LDR secret: SPLIT THE COST!

Instead of having the, “I’ll get ya next time” mentality about your travel expenditures, cut your partner a check when he or she comes to visit or pay for everything until you’ve compensated for your half of the ticket. Peach and I do this because we don’t swap on-and-off going from one location to the other. At one point, I’d gone to see him four times before he could come visit me due to class/work schedules. It’s easy to hold resentment about your financial investment if your partner isn’t matching your contributions to keeping the relationship alive.

In a pseudo-feminist way, Peach doesn’t shoulder the burden of our “dates” when we see each other. We continue to primarily split costs of brunches, dinners, movies, mini-golf, Broadway shows or whatever else we’re up to during our time together. Yes, sometimes he insists on paying for a date and in an effort to not be completely emasculating I allow it — after profusely asking if he’s sure and if he can afford. In my defense, he’s the one paying for grad school. We also try to keep our dates cost-effective, Broadway rush tickets anyone?!

The other big secret is to openly discuss your financial situations. I don’t mean disclose your net worth or exchange pin numbers and bank account info. I mean to have an honest discussion with your partner about what you can and (more importantly) cannot afford. There should be no shaming nor should you constantly cover your partner because it will create a financial imbalance that could lead to resentment from both sides.

Like any relationship, long distance has it’s ups-and-downs and pros-and-cons. I am often asked, “why do you do it?” The short answer: I use the 80-20 Rule, except my application is different. If I’m happy in my relationship 80 percent of the time, why would I want to get rid of it simply because I can’t be at his apartment by hopping on the subway for a quick trip?

The long answer: I’m well-suited for this type of relationship. I’m 24. I have no interest in settling down, cohabitation,  having a “ring put on it,” nor starting a family on this side of my thirties. I appreciate the independence of long-distance and my ability to make plans at a whim without having to check-in with someone’s schedule. It isn’t a reaction against those who have committed to or are interested in that lifestyle. It’s simply my personal preference.

*This was particularly endearing because that is the exact line I used as a toddler when I was trying to get out of being punished for misbehaving. I learned the importance of flattery by age two.

Epilogue: After 4 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 3 days of long distance, Peach moved to New York City. We spent 1.5 years living within a 15 walk of each other’s apartments and now live together with my much beloved roommate and our dog. We still like to go-dutch during dates.

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77 responses to “How I (Financially) Handle a Long Distance Relationship

  1. When I started dating my now hubby we spent the first three months in a long distance relationship. We were also both traveling internationally at the time so we couldn’t really use a phone much. We relied on Skype and email. I was an RA during school too- wow those were crazy days. Did save a ton of money on room and board thoug.

    1. Always love to hear LDR success stories. Isn’t Skype simply the best?

      My RA gig helped pay for my car and build a nice nest egg for after college. It was such a great gig because it was pretty simple. I managed to luck out and have pretty calm floors all three years.

  2. For the first 6 months of our relationship I was here in Boston and my wife was still down in Pensacola. It was definitely expensive, especially since Pensacola is not exactly a travel hub. We basically switched off visits but I really like your idea of simply splitting the cost each time, no matter who’s the one doing the traveling. Especially if, like you say here, it just makes sense for one person to travel more often. Glad to hear you guys are making it work!

    1. I’m grateful we’re in a bus route distance of each other because it’s certainly helped with the cost. I can’t imagine having to always pay for flights. Awesome you two made it through six months because that can certainly be tough!

    1. It’s good to know about yourself. Long distance is for everyone, I just seem to be cut out for it while Peach happens to be incredibly tolerant and finds it worth his time.

  3. Greg and I were in a long distance relationship for two years before getting married. We didn’t really split travel costs because we traded off coming to see each other for the weekend. It balanced out =)

    1. I’m sure you would’ve put your foot down otherwise! You guys seem so well-balanced I can’t imagine it was/is difficult to discuss anything related to finances.

  4. I was in a long distance relationship in college, and like you, it actually made me more financially responsible because we had to “think” about our relationship more. Now I have been married 10 years, and I joke with married friends that an LDR with my hubby would be awesome. We wouldn’t see each other all the time so I could watch the tv shows I want to watch like So You Think You Can Dance and the Bachelor and when we saw each other we would appreciate each other more. 🙂

    1. That’s awesome it made you more financially responsible. If nothing else, LDRs certainly hone the art of communication.

      To your second point, I actually know several married couples who do LDRs at some point in their marriage. I think the acceptance of that practice varies based on culture — but I could see myself doing it.

  5. Good for you! My hubby and I have never had to do long-distance, but in college I was in a long-distance relationship and we traded off going to see each other, which worked out financially (the relationship eventually bit the dust, though!)

    1. Who knows, this may not last (don’t worry — Peach knows I’m uber practical) but I figure it works for now so stick with it!

  6. I was in a LDR when I was younger, slightly before I had a job, so it was a lot tougher to find funds to visit. That’s probably why it wasn’t meant to last :). I like your method and I’m glad the situation works for both of you! It takes some of the pressure off of making the trip.

    1. Yeah, it takes a lot of pressure off. I tried my first LDR in HS when he was still living in Japan and I moved to China. Needless to say we had zero control over when we could visit each other and were at our parents’ mercy/sports schedules because our schools played each other. It didn’t last either 😛

  7. I never thought of long distance relationships in the context of giving you some extra personal freedom… I think that has a lot of appeal!

    Relationships are hard no matter what — ok maybe not hard, but certainly have their own challenges regardless of circumstances — so when you find what works you just have to stick with it.

      1. Hmmm…not quite how I view my relationship. I do know couples who are long distance and have an open relationship. I’m not sure I’d be cut out for that though.

    1. [To Bridget] I think hard is a perfectly find word to use — at some point it will be. Even friendships and family dynamics can be a struggle at points.

      I find the persona freedom bit to be what I cling to as a silver lining of the whole situation. That had getting to stretch out the honeymoon phase for ages because we get so excited about seeing each other!

  8. Erin, thanks for posting this and sharing this aspect of your life. 🙂 I didn’t realize that you and Peach were in an LDR. I don’t know if I could cut it out, but I am happy that it works for you. At least you two cut the costs and make it work. It does make it nice when you have a bit of distance. 🙂

    Happy to see that you two are doing awesome and I am hoping that grad school works for Peach and that he is able to find a job afterwards! I remember you saying he is taking the non-profit route?

    1. It seems to be a “you don’t know until you try” kind of relationship. I probably would’ve thought the same three years ago.

      Peach currently works in the non-profit field and is at grad school for special and adolescent education. He would love to teach/coach inner-city kids.

  9. I’m lucky in that I have never been in a LDR, but I tip my hat to those who have. When my husband and I started dating, he drove an hour every weekend to be with me and that sucked enough! I cannot imagine the bus and the plan separating us!

  10. I have no been in a long distance relationship. It’s got to be tough. Sometimes, I think it’s a pain driving 15 miles to see my girlfriend, so I can’t really imagine having it worse than that.

    Also, nice job on the Yakezie challenge. It’s a great way to meet others and get yourself out there!

  11. You and Peach are too adorable. Seriously, it’s great that the two of you have worked out system where LDR works well for both of you. And like you said, being honest about your financial situation is really important. Otherwise it is easy for resentment to build and ruin an otherwise good relationship.

    1. Thanks, Shannon. I think we’re pretty cute too 🙂

      The only place we really disagree on money is the accumulation of “things.” I don’t want to acquire too much until I know I’m really settling down in a place for a decent chunk of time (6 years+) while Peach likes creature comforts. Good thing we don’t live together!

  12. My husband and I were long-distance for a bit over a year when we were dating – a four-hour drive. We traded off driving to see one another about two weekends of every five. Because the travel costs were the same, alternating worked for us, and we just kept expenses low during the visits.

    Definitely being long-distance was more stressful for our relationship and our communication improved a lot once we lived in the same city again. However, it was also a time of great personal growth for each of us individually, which I wouldn’t trade.

    1. I love that you also mention the personal growth. It’s really an under-estimated value in an LDR. Glad you two made it work!

  13. I particualrly enjoy this topic as I’ve known a number of people who dated long distance. My friend started dating someone from Washington and made the long distance thing work for a year as they took turns visiting each other (Minnesota to Washington, btw). After a year or so she moved here to go to school and they are still happily together. My manager when I was an intern was dating a girl who lived in Tennessee. She went there for a job promotion and they did the long distance thing for over two years when she moved back here. They actually got engaged while they were still long distance. They used to meet up in Chicago a lot since it’s about halfway.

    Anyway, my point is that it can definitely work.

    1. Minnesota to Tennessee is a pretty rough trek! Chicago is a nice hub to meet, but then I’d assume they had to tack on costs of hotel bills. Glad they were able to financially worth their way through that one!

  14. I was just about to write, “I don’t know if I could do that,” when I realized I’m about to! lol. Although we’re married so we’ll probably still talk about how we’re spending our money. Although I’ll probably be driving up to Arkansas more often than she’ll be driving down to Texas, so maybe I’ll have her start writing me checks every time 😉

    1. Haha, have fun with that conversation! Good luck with doing LDR for a bit. Everyone finds their own system for making it work and once you get into a certain groove it’ll be much easier.

  15. I’ve never been in a LDR but I think for each couple the circumstances will be different, meaning one of the parties may make a lot more money so it may make sense for them to pay for most of the traveling if they want to stay in the relationship or make time to see each other. It’s probably not a one size fits all scenario, but what is common in each situation has to be good, honest communication. I know, I should be Dr. Phil right? 🙂

    1. Absolutely a Dr. Phil moment. There is certainly no one-size fits all situation in LDR. Some couples talk multiple times a day while others go a day or two with just a few texts and nothing more. It is about finding what works for you and having 100% open communication. With money often being an issue for couples, I think an LDR forces you to confront financial situations earlier and hopefully help you learn to openly communicate.

  16. My husband and I did international long distance for a year while I taught English in South Korea (he was my boyfriend at the time). Not cheap at all! We made it work, though. He visited me three times during that year; he paid for his plane tickets, and I paid for all his food/transportation/outings during his visit.

    1. Good for him (and you) being willing to stick with it, especially with the time zone difference. International LDRs are tough. I had a (silly) one in high school when my family moved from Japan to China I stayed with my HS boyfriend who still lived in Japan. It’s a bummer when you’re at the mercy of your parents for trips to see each other! Needless to say, it didn’t last!

    1. Thanks, Charles. It certainly can be a financial drain. Another way we try to think positive is that we don’t regularly spend money on each other like we would doing dates if we lived in the same zip code. We use that money on our trips.

  17. We also made it work by splitting costs, using miles, etc. We also calculated our average date and what we “would spend” if we were together and budget that into one weekend visit. I did enjoy learning, growing and being independent. Ultimately it can get old or tiring, but if it’s not, enjoy it! I love your perspective. Also, I’m going to look into Yakezie, I need to finally get on that.

    1. Haha, I just mentioned doing that in the comment above. I see it as the little silver lining of long distance. We can save money during the month and splurge during our time together!

  18. My ex and I spent half of our five year relationship long distance and half cohabitating. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the long distance that broke us up. As you know, I’m long distance now with the new bf. Though he was on tour throughout the fall and I was away for the summer stock season, so we’re used to it. Although, no it’s an ocean separating us and not a short flight or bus ride 🙁

    1. But the silver lining is a pretty cool destination when you visit him! It’s nice that you guys have such a definite end date too.

  19. I was in one a while back for a bit. It just didn’t work out. A lot of money was spent on driving back and forth. I would much rather find someone that lives closer.

    1. It’s amazing to me how many people experience long distance at some point in their lives. Seems like possibly the majority for millennials.

  20. That’s really smart about splitting the travel costs. I could easily see that being a burden for a couple if one person wasn’t doing much of the traveling.

    My sister is in a long-distance international relationship but it helps that her boyfriend is in the oil industry and she lives in Atlanta where many of his flights from Brussels connect. In their case, neither he nor my sister had to pay for his trips to see her so it works out for both of them.

    Are you looking at moving to where ever he gets a job after graduation, so long as you can find a job? A friend of mine ended up moving to Bentonville, AR after her boyfriend got a job for Walmart Corporate and she ended up falling in love with the town. They’ve since moved up to New Hampshire and she actually went back to AR for a vacation because she missed it so much, lol.

  21. My husband and I where in a LDR for about 1 year. He lived in NYC (Queens to be exact) and I lived in New Jersey. The commute to Queens was rough by car. Sometimes taking me 3 hours to get there and don’t get me started on the tolls. He moved to Jersey after 1 year of that!

  22. Some great advice in there, Erin. Splitting costs and being up front about what’s affordable seems like a solid approach. And it lays the groundwork for joint finances down the road, too.

    My wife and I are doing long distance right now, as she’s working in Peru for about a nine month stretch (with a month break in the middle). It’s rough! But we’ll make it through.

  23. I’ve never been in a LDR, but have seen those who’ve been in them. I think that it’s tough to maintain a long distance relationship. I knew a guy who drove from Buffalo to Queens almost every weekend to visit his girlfriend. That is rough…I can’t imagine doing that trip so often…plus the toll on his car and wallet! It also seemed unfair as he was the one making the trip most of the time. In any case, it worked out since she moved back to Buffalo. I think it works if there is a goal of eventually be closer at some point in the near future. Another factor is personalities of the couple…even when my wife and I were dating and lived relatively close to each other, we didn’t have to see and talk to each other ALL THE TIME. LDR wouldn’t work for the clingy dependent types =)

  24. I’ve been dating my bf long distance for some time now and I agree with what you said about enjoying your freedom and not being in a rush to settle down. I’m currently finishing my Masters right now. Always great to hear what other LD couples are going through! Thanks for sharing!

  25. This post brings back so many memories. Before my husband and I were married, he moved to Atlanta to go to school and I stayed in PA because I had a really great job. We were apart for 4 years and it was not easy. This was in the late 90’s long before iPhones, social media and Skype! We just commented that Skype would have been awesome during those years. Since I was working I did most of the traveling, but I didn’t mind flying to Atlanta every 6-8 weeks–such a fun city. The flights weren’t too expensive back then and I flew out of Baltimore, so that made it cheaper. Our phone bills were pretty high though. When he graduated, he moved back to PA 2 months before we got married and we’ve been married for 13 years.

  26. You guys look so darn cute together, Erin!! I love that you split the costs. It shows a clear concern and caring attitude for each other, you know? No one person is getting a free ride while the other does all of the work. Great job, my friend!

  27. You guys really are so cute together! I was in a long distance relationship once. It was actually better before I moved to be with him. Found out we couldn’t stand each other when we were living together. That whole distance makes the heart grow fonder thing. He paid for almost all the travel and dates while we were still long distance, though. I was a broke college student and he had a pretty decent job. It was usually him coming up to see me anyways, since I still lived in the city we grew up in.

  28. Lesson I’ve learned big time after being in an international LDR (Hawaii-Ireland, whew!) around 3 years and always being the one who made the journey halfway around the globe, as well as paying for the long-distance calls…if the other person isn’t willing (or able as was the case in our relationship as he was unemployed and had little money, broke basically) to at least go half-half, it creates a huge amount of frustration, resentment and contempt on the part of the one who pays. Sure, I stayed at his place (which was very substandard and I say that as someone with simple tastes) and he provided the food…but his costs were very minimal and mine were huge and it resulted in my feeling how unfair it was and starting to keep score of not only my monetary input but also my effort and sacrifice and his lack thereof. And I couldn’t help but to think that if he can’t even pull his fair share, then there’s no way marriage, let alone continuing with a couple, is going to work. Wish I’d gotten out of that inequitable LDR much sooner and thousands richer!

  29. Helpful post! I recently got a serious wake up call that 1 visit every quarter isn’t enough to sustain my ldr. I’m determined to make it work until I can relocate. If anyone knows an airline employee that would sell me a buddy pass…well…;-)

  30. I love your comment about the 80/20 rule I never looked at it that way.
    My boyfriend and I have been in a long distance relationship for over a year now. After we attended college together he moved to Tampa Fl. to play in the NFL and I am in California. I think definitely discussing an end date (so as you have something to look forward to) and always discussing your next visit date at the end of a current visit helps tremendously. Right now I am job searching in NY and Atlanta in order to be closer to him and people are so surprised I wouldn’t just move to Tampa….Well unfortunately Tampa doesn’t have the best jobs for my field and he supports me moving to wherever is best for me!
    In my case he can rarely ever visit me because of his crazy football schedule so I always have to take off work. That’s the one thing I struggle with – requesting time off so that I can get longer than just a weekend with him. :/ I know every job is different but do you discuss your distance relationship with you boss and are they understanding of your situation?

    1. No, I tend to keep my personal life relatively private at work. I do have some flexibility to work remotely, but I don’t mention it as specifically to go visit my boyfriend. We see each other about once a month, but sometimes we are apart for six weeks due to our schedules, and it’s typically for just a weekend. If you can find a job where it allows you to work remotely, it’ll probably be easiest for your situation.

  31. My wife and I did a stint apart at the beginning of our relationship (Ottawa/South Africa) for 6 months and then a few years later (Vancouver/London) for a year. The long distances definitely test the relationship and if you can make it out, it’s a good indication you’ve got something good going!

  32. Both of us are flat broke an jobless, but we’ve decided to stay together, even if all we ever see of each other is on a screen.
    For some reason nobody wants to hire me :/ But I know if I did have the money, I wouldn’t mind paying for everything, she is definitely worth it 🙂

  33. My partner and I are currently in a LDR between the US and UK. Financially it is difficult as each trip costs upwards of £1,000 each. We try to see each other 4-6 times a year, and that can be a lot of money. We do try to split the cost equally, but as I am in university and my partner is working a full time job, often it does not work out that way. But we know that so long as we both give it everything we can, that is all we can ask of each other.

  34. I knew as soon as I read “hickey dining hall” you were sbu alum. It’s crazy how small the world is. I’m currently a freshman at bonas and my bf is currently living in the infamous bible belt. We visit maybe the times a year and it really can be quite difficult.

    1. Wow, very cool! Small world indeed. Hope you’re enjoying your time in the Bona Bubble and I wish you all the best in your long distance relationship. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need any advice (financial or otherwise).

  35. After reading your blog for awhile now, I just stumbled upon this post that is so relevant to me! In a long distance relationship with my boyfriend (of 1 year) I can completely relate. Though neither of us struggle with a financial burden, we mainly struggle with justifying driving 4 hours to see each other every weekend. We talk on the phone several times a day and FaceTime about every other. The main goal is to have an end point to the distance. In the meantime, we split costs of meeting half way in Chicago (I live in Milwaukee, he in central Illinois), while creating a schedule of when we will visit each other next. My gas budget has increased since we met, a small price to pay for the joy he has given me!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting! Peach finally moved to NYC in July of 2015, so our long distance life is now over. It’s been wonderful after 4 years of separation. Good luck with the experience!

  36. My current fiance and I were in an LDR for a few months a few years ago. The distance inspired me to become a travel hacking nut. I racked up 100k in Southwest points using a credit card sign-up bonus, airline shopping portal double dipping, and gift card churning. I was able to see him or fly him out to see me quite frequently (at least twice a month). Luckily he got a job back where I lived (he had to cut his dream internship short to do this and I still feel bad about it to this day) BUT we are engaged now and happy. Travel hacking also kind of got me into the PF world since I had to learn about all these hacks I didn’t know existed. Anyways – good luck with the LDR. I feel your pain.

  37. WOW! I love this post…I have been in a long distance relationship with my girl for the past two years and we’ve never been opportune to stay in the same state for once.

    Rely so much on phone calls and internet to be connected. Its nice and fun to say.

  38. I never thought to look up information on LDR until today because I had to much time to nothing and just wonder in my mind. I’ve been reading about LDR all morning and loving the success stories.
    I’ve been in a LDR for over 6 years now. It’s a 6 hour drive one way that I try to do every second weekend. As a silver lining I joke about how when we do get to live together we’ll need separate homes, or an in-law suite. I’m getting scared about next year though, our oldest child will be going to school full time which means we’ll only see each other on holidays. We’ll save a lot of money and maybe it’ll persuade him to come to me more often. I don’t think our relationship will waver with all we’ve been through. But it’s still going to be rough.

  39. i have known my girl for 7 years now and we only started dating in the last year. In all of the 7 years we have never met each other because she lives in Zambia and i live in Ghana. We are both have less than a year to graduate from College and i have been looking for ideas on how to be able to pay her a surprise visit. I recently decided to apply to volunteer in her country but any other ideas you guys can give will also be helpful. Thank you.

  40. In my case, my partner is Greek and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years you know their economy is totally shot with a harrowing youth unemployment rate. That means what little income he can make goes to necessities. All he can do for me in return is provide me with free accommodation and most of my food while I am there. This has begun to really wear on me mentally because it’s difficult for me to pay rent and buy groceries back home and also foot a $1000 plane ticket — especially because my anxiety disorder makes it extremely hard for me to keep more than basic jobs. I can maybe scrape up enough to see him once a year. This has been a major source of stress for me lately, but we really love each other and he’s the second guy in my entirely life I’ve felt this close to. I don’t want to break up with him…

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle with financially handling a long distance relationship. I do empathize that it can be tiring and a burden. Have the two of you discussed a future together in which there is eventually an end date? I know that really helped me in tough spots to focus on the fact it wasn’t forever and we knew it would end after he graduated with his masters degree.

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