April 22, 2019 | 46 minutes
Our 9th episode features Jen & Ezra, who found each serendipitously in upstate New York while Jen was on a writer's retreat. The two hit it off right away, singing Harry Styles songs together drunkenly, and have been in-tune ever since: in love and in money. Listen to how they tackled a previous marriage, step kids, and giving up city life.
"Going into this arrangement, Jen was apprehensive because this isn’t just my daughter but my ex-wife’s daughter also, who is also part of this financial arrangement. So now you’re getting into a muckier area where there’s someone else who’s also going to be making financial decisions, complaints, and contributions. Although my relationship with my ex-wife is excellent re: the kids, now there’s a third party who’s part of the contribution. Even in the beginning, the rent was a slight increase on what Daisy has previously paid for in rent so there was some push back! But we talked about how it was her own apartment, and worth a lot more than the rent being offered..." - Ezra
Aditi: Hey guys, you're listening to the money date podcast. A podcast that my husband and I launched to help young couples get real about their money.
Dalmar: That's right. We'll ask our friends and a few strangers all the uncomfortable and awkward questions about how they handle their money.
Aditi: All the gory details and hopefully a few tips and tricks along the way that you can pick up and use in your own relationship.
Dalmar: Welcome to today’s episode of The Money Date. We’re back after a short hiatus and joined today, by Jen and Ezra. Jen is a writer and a journalist and Ezra is a former carpenter turned nurse. Welcome to the show guys. Why don’t we start with you Jen, tell us how Ezra and you met.
Jen: So how we met is - I had been through a kind of harrowing breakup, as happens in the dating life. I was invited to Kingston by some writer friends of mine to come up, hang out, have a little bit of a writers retreat and do a little talk about memoir writing (my first book was a memoir about going to weddings). So I came up here and stayed with a friend of mine and the second night I was here, had another friend invite us to dinner. Before dinner, we went to my Serie’s apartment for drinks. Meanwhile, Ezra had had long-standing plans to hang out with Serie’s husband, Brian. Maybe you should take this part, Ezra?
Aditi: This feels very destined! I’m hooked!
Ezra: So Serie was a classmate of mine when I was a student at the school for journalism. I hadn’t seen her in years and chance ran into her - I did not know she lived here. We reconnected and I became friendly with her and her husband. I had helped him with downsizing his store-front computer-repair business, and as a thank you for helping him move things and hang shelves, he invited me out to dinner and drinks. And it happened to be the same night that…
Jen: Wait, wasn’t it that it was postponed and it became the same night?
Jen: Right, okay so it was extra fortuitous. So we’re hanging out drinking and Brian and Ezra walk in. And there was just like that kind of weird, magical…
Jen: ...honing in on this person who suddenly walked into the room. And I was extra fun and charming that night for some reason so it really worked. And I got extra drunk…
Aditi: I like that the charm then continued huh?!
Jen: I was definitely like “look, i’m free, i’m partying, this is a cool person.” But then, we all went separately to dinner. At that point, Serie (who correctly sees herself as something of a matchmaker or Yenta or something because she has so many stories of married couples whom she’s brought together) then brought everybody back together in the same room. We all then ended up back to their apartment and hang out for hours. Ezra and I ended up drunkenly singing Harry Styles songs together…
Aditi: That’s when you know it’s love…
Jen: I couldn’t find the address of where I was staying so we slept in his car for three hours. And then finally, when it was daylight, I realized we were a block away and he dropped me off.
Dalmar: That’s incredible.
Jen: So then, I wasn’t sure he’d contact me again because I seemed like a little bit of a monster that night. But a day later, he showed up at my talk! He walked in and I said “Oh my gosh, he’s the one guy in this room full of women.” It was really sweet.
Ezra: One last sign of how fortuitous this really was - I had never done any internet dating. A couple days before I met Jen, I tried it - maybe OkCupid or something. I downloaded it on my phone and looked around a little. But the day after I met Jen, I immediately deleted it from my phone. I knew I did not have to go down that route.
Aditi: That’s an incredible story.
Dalmar: It really is.
Aditi: So what happened next? How did you end up engaged?
Ezra: I was living upstate and she was in Brooklyn and so immediately we were talking about the long-distance thing..
Jen: We met in April so I would come upstate and stay for the weekend and he’d do the same in Brooklyn. We did a lot of back and forth and it was actually extremely nice to be long-distance because it gave us the opportunity to date without feeling like the stakes were too high or play silly games. Keep in mind that we met when I was 40 so I had a long time of being really independent, and living on my own and having my own space and alone-time. And then we started spending more and more time together and started looking for a house to buy. Ezra was buying the house but I got involved in the process presuming that this would be “our” house. We didn’t really have a talk about getting super serious but it was just part of our arc that we assumed was going to happen. This is similar to how we approach money, where we implicitly saw that there was a sense of agreement and understanding that we were going in the same direction so there was no need to be like “wait, is this what we’re doing or how we’re doing it?”. I did feel a lot of emotions about my apartment in Brooklyn which represented my singledom and life in Brooklyn. Now, Ezra’s daughter lives in it and I’m so glad that can happen but at the same time felt nostalgic about giving it up. It all happened very naturally and easily.
Dalmar: Did the conversation around money and finances come up specifically and did it come up before or after you bought your home together?
Ezra: We kind of tip-toed around it but at the same time we didn’t avoid it - money always felt very natural. Jen and I enjoy going out to eat good food or have drinks with our friends, and our bills at the restaurant are handsome-looking bills. We never split anything, we usually traded off who paid. And we never accounted for each bill - it has always been easy-breezy. It’s always felt even without doing any accounting.
Jen: We’ve also both made very different amounts of money at different times. For example, if I’ve sold a book, I have a lot of money all of a sudden and I don’t want to spend it all at once. But I want to celebrate like picking up the tab. I didn’t want Ezra to feel like I was some flagrant spender who was going to take all his money, but I wanted to buy us dinner or food for the house.
Ezra: Counterpoint to that - I had some big financial struggles running my own business for many years. There were times it was great and times it was a struggle. I got into making furniture because I liked making things but what I never learned was making money or managing the money of a business. So the business man side of running a business was completely foreign to me and I just tripped into it. Some years, by happenstance, I made money and other years I really should have done better. Then I went through a divorce and was feeling very, very poor. For me to have a career change and then suddenly being on someone else's bankroll with a retirement account and time off made me feel reborn again financially. It felt really good to me to be able to spend freely on all the delicious food I wanted to.
Jen: Also, another thing that happened was that we’d been dating for ~8 months and Ezra got a new job. He’d landed a job where he was making a more stable income but it was much lower than he was used to. So it was more of a struggle to manage his money, although he didn’t share that with me. It was the early days of us dating, and as is normal, he didn’t want to expose me to that. But then he switched jobs with a much larger salary and the ability to get extra shifts which made things easier. Meanwhile, I was suddenly broke because of the way my income came in. So for us, organically, one of us has been doing well while the other might not be. Having that partnership where one person can take-on a little more when necessary feels really beneficial and what marriage or partnership feel like.
Ezra: It’s interesting to me because (not to disparage my former marriage) with Jen and I, I’m the regular earner and her money comes in here and there. My last marriage I was the person who got the bucket here or there and she was the steady earner. However, that relationship never had this easy assumption that it was still equal. There was much more pressure on me to up my game and if we didn’t enough money to make ends meet, felt like my fault. I have a little bit of PTSD from that which has been completely quelled in this relationship.
Jen: Aww, that’s nice. I’ll have to traumatize you in other ways.
Aditi: I’m really curious - each of you is independent, later in your career, and have been through a past marriage. How does your past change how decided to bring your finances together?
Jen: This came up recently, because we got a bill for the house. There was an underpayment of Escrow which isn’t a bill that isn’t pleasant to receive because it’s not usually something you’ve accounted for. In this case, I offered to use “my money” to pay the bill, but Ezra was hesitant to do so because it was important to him that he was able to take care of the house on his own. So our division of equity (or the way we deal with money) has been to some extent like - Ezra owes this house and I own the apartment in Brooklyn which are approximately the same value. And upon marriage, we’ll both be bringing the same thing to the table. And our salaries aren’t that far off either, unless I sign a major movie deal or something.
Erza: Which I would never complain about... Ezra: In terms of your question about how we decided to work our money… As you know, Jen is an independent writer and person and I am coming from a previous marriage where we combined one income into one bank account (but it made me feel micromanaged about what I spent), I felt that it was important for me to have my own money. And Jen feels very much the same. So we’re basically not combining our incomes into one bank account but maintaining separate accounts. I have not done my part but Jen has set up a spreadsheet to look at where our money falls and where we’re spending. Once we both have an idea of where our monthly expenditures are going, it will be much easier to break things up between us and trade off paying bills. So the idea is that we maintain separate accounts but share responsibility for expenses together. We even recently had a discussion, as we get closer to tying the knot, that with her finances becoming my finances and vice versa, there’s no questioning if she wants to buy something for herself (a dress, a bag, a piece of machinery). We set an arbitrary $1000 limit, where if one of us is going to make such a purchase for a personal item, we have to talk about it.
Jen: It’s the barest of rules. Because I don’t want to have the sense that someone else is breathing down my neck about what I can and can’t buy (that would make me so angry). I also have a very organized but probably very complex system of managing my money and I don’t want someone to be telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing, and nor does he. Right now, we’re in a state where we’re making enough money to buy the items we might want so it works. Generally, it feels like the items we’re buying also benefit us both. For example, I just bought this insanely cute desk from a market in Shelter Island and it’s now is a beautiful object in our home and helps us both be organized and make our home look good. I guess it also helpful that I write about money and talk to people like you guys and hear about how communication is more key than anything else. Being open, not feeling judged and talking about it feels much better than just saving a bunch of money. It’s not always about saving money but, for us, it’s about being able to do the things we want to do. Money is freedom - do we have the money to do the things we want, can we live the life we want, what do we need to do that.
Dalmar: I’m thinking back to Save the Date, the first book you wrote, which is a memoir about what you’ve learned about marriage, relationships and yourself through 17 key weddings. So weddings and then marriage is a turning point for some, and I’m wondering if you’ve talked about what changes once you do get married?
Jen: Once we moved in together, we definitely started having those conversations. Even earlier, actually. Getting married: is that something we want to do? why do we want to do that? how do we want to do that? what would it look like? No one gets that crazy surprise engagement out of the blue; no one wants that! You’re talking about it all the time in everything you do and say. I don’t know, what do you think about it Ezra?
Ezra: I think Jen and I are generally compatible, with a few minor exceptions. And for some reason, the way we both approach money, has always felt naturally compatible from the beginning - we’ve never had to wrestle anything into place. Call us lucky.
Jen: It also helps that I don’t have kids and we’re not going to have kids. So it removes some of the money pressure, whereas Ezra has two kids (Daisy & Quinn). I think it’s awesome to have them in my life, but I don’t have to stress about having our own kids or trying to save for them. We also don’t want to have a really expensive wedding and did go through a conversation about whether we wanted a prenup or not. I don’t have very strong feelings about it but Ezra definitely does.
Ezra: I think the idea of a prenup, to me, has always reeked of distrust.
Jen: They have a prenup.
Ezra: Oh I’m sorry!
Aditi: It’s okay! It’s totally fine. You’re totally allowed to feel that way - people feel very passionately about personal finances.
Ezra: Yeah, it is a personal feeling. And I feel like why enter into this situation with the idea of how we’d pull out of it.
Jen: Having been divorced, you want to feel a certain way about this new situation.
Ezra: Yes, exactly.
Jen: Because we’re largely on the same page about money and have similar assets and liabilities, it’s less worrisome. I was less worried about prenups and more concerned about getting things sorted out in case something happened to us. So a will that explains how you want things to be passed down was very important to me. And because Ezra has children, how they play into things was important to figure out. SO all those morbid questions are most important to me and need to be clear.
Aditi: Stepping back a little - it sounds like you’ve worked through a lot of the typical money challenges we face when we’re young (going into debt, living paycheck to paycheck, etc) so when you came together, you were in a more stable place in regards to your finances. Which has allowed you to have more open, honest and productive conversations about money with each.
Jen: Definitely a benefit to being old!
Aditi: But what’s different about being further along in that journey, is that you have “things that come with you”. Ezra, you have two kids from your previous marriage. And your older daughter is renting Jen’s Brooklyn apartment. I’m curious how you navigated that decision? I’m thinking about it from my point of view and if Dalmar said that to me, I’m not even sure how I’d feel. Can you tell us how it all happened?
Jen: I think it was my suggestion!
Ezra: Yeah, it happened when we were buying this house and Jen was moving up here. Jen had rented her apartment for a few months over the summer, and we agreed that it didn’t really make sense to pay full price for both places. The idea of having my daughter there was that she would have this wonderful place (after moving multiple times) but Jen and/or I would have a place to stay if we found ourselves in the city. It was kind of the best of both worlds. Financially, it’s a little more complicated. My daughter is 20, she’s in college, so she’s supporting herself via her mom and dad. So it was interesting to have a conversation where I’d have a discussion with Jen on one hand about how much we’d have to charge to cover our expenses but raising rent would simultaneously come out of my pocket. The magical thing about this (I don’t know if she’s listening or not) is that my daughter’s mom and I split the college expenses. My daughter did very well in high school and got into an honors program at Brooklyn College which gives her free tuition through college. So it’s really just living expenses, in NYC, which is not nothing. So her mom pays the rent (to Jen), and I pay her other living expenses via a college fund that my parents setup for Daisy. So it is conveniently removed from my budget.
Aditi: Interesting, how did you work through this? There are so many pieces here that could be hot button topics.
Jen: So what happened was, my previous tenant with whom I had a similar co-sharing arrangement, made it for tight quarters when I was over. The woman whom I had rented to was going through a rough time (and was a friend of a friend) so I offered her a deal where if she could pay me enough to cover my mortgage, I’d be fine with that (even though I could probably rent my apartment for much more). So I took the same plan I had with my previous tenant, and applied it to the situation with Daisy. I do have mixed feelings about it sometimes because, if I do go back, my apartment isn’t quite what it was before. And when the opportunity for Daisy to rent my place opened up, it was good timing because I was in a bind financially, and having someone reliable and trustworthy to help me with my mortgage payments was worth a lot. Now, with Daisy in the apartment and getting a steady stream of income has allowed me to pay off my credit card debt. Emotionally, it’s sometimes strange, and I’d think the same way if someone else was there paying full price. Instead I feel like I’m part of the family in some way and that I’m able to contribute in my own way.
Aditi: I love that you look at it that way - it’s an incredibly positive way to look at the situation.
Ezra: Going into this arrangement, Jen was apprehensive because this isn’t just my daughter but my ex-wife’s daughter also, who is also part of this financial arrangement. So now you’re getting into a muckier area where there’s someone else who’s also going to be making financial decisions, complaints and contributions. Although my relationship with my ex-wife is excellent re: the kids, now there’s a third party who’s part of the contribution. Even in the beginning, the rent was a slight increase on what Daisy has previously paid for in rent so there was some push back! But we talked about how it was her own apartment, and worth a lot more than the rent being offered...
Jen: There was kind of a weird negotiation there...
Ezra: Which was mostly on my end - I was coming back and reporting to Jen about where things stood and what we could go back with.
Aditi: It’s interesting to have to negotiate with your own family - that must have been a tough place for you, Ezra?
Ezra: It certainly was. And it also brought me back into the economic fold of dealing with my ex-wife. As I previously said, there was stress and tension there, since it added some anxiety for me to go back there and deal with her on that level. For the most part, the financial back and forth around the kids has been very easy, and in a way, almost organic. There’s no child support payments on either side - we just contribute equally on either part. And that’s been kinda nice. But this added a whole other layer to it.
Jen: Yeah, it could have been really bad. But the truth of it too is that even if something is good, it’s often a bit of a compromise. I knew I wanted to be mostly upstate at least for a while, and that brought me all kinds of weird feelings about giving up my Brooklyn life and my independence. But what would make sense - to have someone whom I love to live in my apartment or to rent it out to someone who is going to pay a lot of money? I would prefer to have that sort of family connection and continue to build my relationship with Daisy through my apartment, in a way.
Dalmar: So Jen and Ezra, we’re at the end of our conversation and we like to close out our podcast by asking couples what we refer to as the rapid fire section. These are a series of questions that we ask each of you to write down before we start this conversation. We’re now going to ask you to share your answers with our audience. First question, Ezra, if Jen won a million dollars today, what would she do with the money?
Ezra: The house is a forever project - we want to do re-do this, do landscaping here and do that. I think she would throw a bunch of money into making that happen. She’d also want to pay off all of her debts and possibly payoff mortgage so we have less overhead coming through. Also taking us on a vacation to an over-water bungalow in Fiji.
Jen: Wow, that is totally what I would do!
Dalmar: Did he get all the details of the bungalow right?
Jen: I just had restore the barn. We have this barn at the back of our house and it needs a lot of work for it go back to being a functional place. For Ezra to go back to making furniture and other things… we also have this grand idea of it being a writers’ workshop at some point. So I just put all of my million into that.
Ezra: That’s a nice barn…
Jen: I think we could probably do that and all of the things he listed. Wait, I was supposed to say what he was going to do...
Aditi: Haha, I like that you answered it that way. You embraced it as “our” million - forget Ezra’s million, it’s ours now.
Aditi: So, second question: what’s one purchase that your partner has made in the last year that you’re still trying to understand?
Jen: I couldn’t think of anything that I’m grappling with but he buys random stuff on Amazon all the time. For example, weird bits of machinery or some kind of saw. And I know that he has a place and purpose for all of this, I just don’t always know exactly what it is.
Ezra: Yeah, I sold my business and all the equipment within to fund my going back to school. You know, I had a very capable workshop, and I had a number of large machines that I sold off. And I have some remorse - though some of those machines are larger than what I would need now, and for what I’d like to do. But I’m slowly clawing my way back to have a functional stable of machines to make things again. But I don’t have that stable to do it in again so Jen’s wondering why I’m collecting all this stuff…
Jen: But for that question, there was nothing that I truly didn’t understand.
Ezra: My answer for Jen is a blue and gray striped fake fur coat. I shouldn’t say fake, I should synthetic (fake sounds bad). But here’s why it’s a WTF purchase for me. I like my jeans and my t-shirts - I’m not really fashion conscious (enough that I don’t look like a slob). But purchasing nice items of clothing has never been on my list as something I want to spend money on. For me, a significant amount of money for something that is an occasional thing is… I’ve never said this to you, but it’s like a Dr. Seuss look (Jen - yeah it is) and you look fantastic in it. But to spend that type of money on an occasional fashion accessory is like…
Jen: Do you know how much money it cost?
Ezra: Like $450?
Jen: Ok, it was more than that. BUT, the coat is more like a Brooklyn coat, not an upstate coat. It’s really cool!
Dalmar: There is such a thing as a Brooklyn coat - I understand that completely.
Dalmar: Ok, complete the following sentence: when it comes to money, one thing we cannot agree on is.
Ezra: I wrote a one-word to that question: stumped. I actually can’t think of anything that really is something we can’t agree on.
Jen: I put occasionally, you think food costs a lot. Like sometimes we’ll go to a restaurant, and he’ll be like - wow, that seems expensive. And he’s right, but I’m also like - huh?
Ezra: Part of the problem with that is that food is expensive and it’s gotten a lot more. We live in upstate New York, which is 2 hours from the city. And one of the benefits of living so close to the city, is that we get some of the cultural-offgassing of the city - we’ve got a lot of the good stuff and the bad.
Dalmar: That is an incredible expression - is that an Ezra original - cultural offgassing?
Ezra: And also, I’m of a certain age where an egg sandwich was $1.59. Now it’s $4.79 - which for an egg and a piece of bacon… okay! I also don’t want to make it sound like we’re boozers, but when we do go out to dinner, we like to have drinks.
Jen: Yeah, food isn’t expensive, alcohol is.
Dalmar: Unless you’re in San Francisco where toast costs $12. I mean it’s just bread and avocado.
Ezra: Right. Right now, we live in the country and we live in town so we can walk places.
Jen: We were taught about money very similarly - don’t spend all your money, you have to save money. But my inherent reaction to those things is - don’t tell me what to do, I’m going to spend whatever I want on this egg sandwich. Whereas Ezra’s reaction is more a desire to spend whatever he wants on the sandwich paired with a kind of shame and guilt about spending that much (Ezra: yes). That’s the key difference - I might eventually feel bad about it after I look at my bank account and don’t have any money, but in the time I’m like “party on, let’s just live!”. I don’t have that shame in that moment but he does a little bit.
Ezra: Yes, my parents were very, very frugal. My dad was a college professor who didn’t make a lot of money but managed to put away a lot of money. It was partly that time - he was a child of the depression and learned to save absolutely last bit of string. At my parents house (my dad passed three years ago), we still have buckets of Chinese-food chopsticks that my dad would take after the restaurant after eating because it would make good kindling for the wood fire. So I was brought up in the scarcity mindset, although I really wanted to spend money. I dreamed of owning Porches when I was 10 years old, but instead we drove around in a rusty-Red Volkswagen Beetle that my color-blind father use black linoleum paint on to paint out the rust spots. Far, far cray from the Porsche I wanted. I still don’t have one by the way.
Aditi: Soon! As soon as Jen gets that movie deal.
Jen: Yeah, that’s where we’ll spend our million on!
Aditi: Final question! When it comes to money, the easiest thing for us to agree on is _.
Jen: Just the way we manage it organically and know who’s turn it is without being studied or planned on.
Ezra: That’s a good answer! For me, it’s the money we spend on dinner and drinks. Even though I may things like “wow, that’s a lot,” it’s something we’ve always enjoyed and will continue to enjoy.
Jen: We should go to dinner tonight.
Ezra: We will!
Aditi: Well fantastic, I hope you use this podcast an opportunity to go celebrate, given how much on the same page you both are.
Aditi: The Money Date Podcast is an initiative of Zeta. A company that I launched to help couples track and manage their finances together. If you're inspired by what you heard on this show you can learn more about us at www.askzeta.com.
Dalmar: And if you’d like to support the podcast, here are a few ways to do so.
Jennifer & John share how finance became a gateway to talk about other things in their lives: everything from their upbringings and risk appetites to how they celebrate big wins and invest in real estate.READ MORE
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