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Long Distance Relationship & Getting Ahead Financially

In an ideal world, I doubt many people would move 3,000 miles away from their husband or wife a month after saying their wedding vows. But in the real world, that’s the situation CB and I are faced with, a move can save us some serious cash. That makes me wonder: would you enter into a long-distance relationship with your significant other because of financial reasons? Minimizing loans, attending a better school, securing a job, or winning a bigger promotion are all admirable goals, but what if they can only happen if you commit to living apart for hundreds or thousands of miles?

Long distance relationships and marriages and becoming more common, to the point that the US Department of State has coined a new term, “geographic singles.” Another term is “commuter marriage” or “weekend marriage,” representing folks who work too far apart to see each other during the week. During tough economic times, many couples are willing to live apart for a paycheck. Then there are the super LDRers who engage in transcontinental relationships and arrange for romantic weekends in Europe when one partner lives in the U.S. and another lives in Asia.

CB and I have always knew that a long-distance marriage would be in our future, for at least a few years. But we are now considering going from same-coast long distance (2 hour direct flight) to opposite-coast long distance (6 hour flight + layover = 8+ hours of travel). This is a move that could save us up to $50,000 in students loans. Is NOT having to repay $50,000 in loans (which would cost us $60,000 of net income once taxes and interest are factored in) worth putting 3,000 miles between the two of us for a year?

Long distance relationships and getting ahead financially: would you do it sometimes, always, or never?

  • Emily @ evolvingPF - Being in grad school myself, I know a lot of married couples who are or have been long-distance for at least a year – three of them opposite-coast, actually. My husband and I have to be open to it ourselves – if he can't get a postdoc/job in our area when he graduates (or has a great opportunity elsewhere), well… we can't live on my stipend alone! He'll have to work elsewhere. But I would like to limit that to one year at the most. That's not necessarily about money, though, that's about career advancement, which to me is an important distinction. Obviously he could get a nothing job and stay with me, but to set us up for a better future he needs to accept the best job offered to him.

    My opinion on your situation is that if you're going to live a flight apart anyway, the two choices are close to even with respect to your relationship. Being three time zones apart is a pain but you can probably still find a way to talk daily if you want to. If CB can go to a less expensive school or one that gives him more financial aid or whatever, I think that could tip the scales toward the west coast school. But I would also ask, which is the better program? And does the program justify the additional debt? That's the career opportunity part of the question. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - CB will be going to the same school either way – he will just do PT for a year and take some lower division classes at a community college, continue to save up, and then head to school FT next year. That way his last year of school and my first year of work will overlap, and the plan is for me to cash flow his $40K in tuition for that last year. Which means the pressure is on for me to get a traditional MBA job with a traditional MBA salary, but that isn't far-fetched if the economy doesn't implode. ReplyCancel

      • SP - I'm sure you have already considered something like this, but is there a way he could do community college and work part time in the city that you are getting your MBA in, rather than… staying here? i'm presuming that the plan is for him to stay in SoCal, but I could be mistaken.

        Also, i disagree with Emily that being opposite coast is no different than being a short flight away. I've traveled back and forth from SF area in the same day for work. It's much more convenient and cheap to be on the same coast, especially if you are in airport hubs. Getting to the east coast take a full day!


        • Well Heeled Blog - He could do CC at the city I'm in… but he'd have to find a job first (and PT wouldn't pay as much as the job he has now), he would have to get approval for those courses to transfer to the university, and he'd have to build up his reputation at work. He's well-liked and respected by his current boss and coworkers – it's much easier to take outside stuff (like classes) when you already have a reservoir of goodwill. ReplyCancel

      • Emily @ evolvingPF - In that case, what's the feasibility of CB getting a job and taking classes in your new city? If he can get a job, wouldn't it be much cheaper to live together in the lower cost of living city than apart with one of you in a higher cost of living city? Plus you'd be together. I bet you could save up way faster even if he didn't have quite as high paying a job. ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - I'm in a LDR with my boyfriend of a little over 2 years and have been for the last 8 months as I attend graduate school. However, the prospect of another year away from each other with limited visit time was really tough to contemplate and my boyfriend will actually be moving out to where I am next month for a 1-year contracting job. It will end up being a great opportunity for him personally and professionally, or else I don't think he would do it. ReplyCancel

  • Jordann - That's a tough one. I would say no. I've been with my fiancée for eight years, and the long distance portion of it just sucked. It's not worth it to me. ReplyCancel

  • shopping2saving - I am going through this same exact dilemma right now except I have already made the choice to do a long distance relationship, but not just for saving money (because I can live rent free where I am now too) but because it will give me one last opportunity to be near my family and friends. Being away from them for the past 2 years has been difficult for me, especially since my grandma is old and may be passing soon. It's more important to me to not deal with any regrets or what ifs in the future. If you are both willing to compromise and work together at your relationship at a distance, at least you know that you can handle a lot together. In answering your question though, yes I would do a LDR to save $50k. ReplyCancel

  • Matt - Is money really more important than a relationship? I would say no. I think the process of paying $50k together would bring you closer, than saving $50k a part. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I would never think money is more important than a relationship, but if a marriage can't withstand a few years apart (with visits, Skype, phone calls, etc.), is it that strong to begin with? ReplyCancel

  • @samjo - There are many things to consider when doing an LDR. I think you have done a good job of listing out some of the items to consider. I would also consider: How often could you see each other in person during that period of time? Are your two personalities cut out for it? Also, what period of time in your relationship is this going to happen? It sounds like it might be happening this fall and won't you two be married by then? Therefore it will be during your first year of marriage, right? How busy will you two each be in your respective locations?

    The lure of saving that large amount of money is a very strong argument though. ReplyCancel

  • PKamp3 @ DQYDJ - I worked on the East Coast during summers from college, then moved north to the Bay Area immediately after – so there were two periods where we were long distance. Now? We're married in the Bay Area, so it all worked out fine.

    However, as a married couple we haven't done anything like that, but I have heard about people who do (and do it successfully, but I didn't see any follow ups). ReplyCancel

  • Bryan - The year after I got married, my wife and I were in a part-time long-distance relationship. We live in San Diego, but I went to grad school in San Francisco. We were planning on moving to SF, but the year I got into grad school was the year the economy was most in the toilet from the recent recession. Because my wife had/has a good job in San Diego, we thought it would be smarter for her to keep working in SD and for me to commute via flying every week. So, that's what we did for two years. I was up in SF for 3-4 days a week (I rented a room close to school for a few hundred a month, which was a pretty great price as SF is super expensive), and then I'd be back in SD for 3-4 days around the weekend.

    It wasn't perfect, but I think it strengthened our relationship. Plus, it gave both of us some free time to work on stuff on our own (she with her job while I was away, and me on school work). ReplyCancel

  • Cristina - For me it would not be worth it, and I would be willing to make some sacrifices in order to increase our options and not pay the entire extra $50k (e.g., reapply to schools that are closer, reapply to schools that will provide scholarships, etc.). My husband and I have been in a long-distance relationship before, and while it worked out for us, I did not feel like it was the same type of relationship as it is when we live in the same city. However, I definitely know couples who have done it for a longer period of time successfully.

  • Daisy - I have been reading your blog for awhile so I hope you are not insulted in me asking: have you factored in how much money you're also saving by paying rent twice instead of once, phone bills, money spent on flights to visit each other? I am sure the amount you are saving will be still a lot of money but it is worth doing the math on this and figuring it out.
    Only you as a couple will be able to know at heart whether or not this is worth it. I think for that amount of money, I, too, would be tempted to go for the savings. That is a large chunk and will help in lessening the stress of your finances. In a strange way, this time apart will also allow the opportunity for you to really immerse in your graduate school studies and extra curriculars because the other one is not there as a distraction, which is good and bad. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Not insulted at all! Our rent will actually wash out – we'd both be moving from high COLA to lower COLA. Our visits will be probably around the same. Instead of spending $300 on flights every month, we'll be spending $600 on flights every 2-3 months. ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - It cut off my last comment for being too long so here is the rest:

    But having been in two long distance relationships myself, it is also painfully lonely sometimes and can be downright unbearable. But you have been together a long time, seem like you have your head on your shoulders, and both seem very driven and dedicated to each other and your goals outside of your relationship so I have no doubt you can make it work, either way!
    I am curious to find out what you guys decide and best of luck to you! ReplyCancel

  • Leah - I couldn't do it. I spent three months apart from my fiance early in our relationship and I was a complete mess. I didn't sleep well for our entire time apart.

    I guess if you're used to it though, it's not the worst thing in the world. One of my good friends is getting her PhD in one state while her fiance is getting an MD in another. They've made it work for them, so it's totally possible…but like you said, not ideal. ReplyCancel

    • Jade - Completely agree with you. We had an awful two-month-long long distance thing a few years ago and it was.. well, awful. It could never be worth it to me… I hate to exaggerate, but probably not for a million dollars. Too much heartache. ReplyCancel

  • belowhermeans - I would say no. Even with the amount of money saved, it's just not worth it. ReplyCancel

  • Crystal - My husband and I have been together for 12 years (we met in high school) and have been married for 4.5. We lived together and worked in Japan for the past three years, but currently we are geographic singles as he is back in the States and I am teaching English as a second language for the U.S. Department of State in Ukraine for a 10 month fellowship!! This opportunity will mean that we will have $20,000 for a down-payment on a house (obviously, we live in the midwest) in 10 months; the downside, of course, is our being apart as it was not feasible for him to get a job here since he is a chef and not a teacher (nor does he have any interest in teaching English).

    Yes, at times it has been lonely and we have missed each other terribly, but it's also REALLY improved our communication skills as our precious time on Skype is not wasted on arguments over petty things! We really focus on each other and the good things that we miss about one another. I think I will definitely come out of this experience with more of an appreciation for the things that I previously took for granted within our relationship and concerning my husband himself (and I DEFINITELY have more respect for military families who are parted, but with the additional "loss of life" risk involved!).

    So, as a married couple who is now going through this situation "for the money" so to speak, yes, it is do-able; yes, it is difficult at times; yes, it is also incredibly beneficial with the added bonus of having a down-payment on a house to come back to this summer (which will take a lot of stress off of us working the "standard" way to save up for it). Not everything is all about money, of course, but when an opportunity arises that is temporary and can help strengthen your marriage not only financially, but also emotionally as well, I say go for it! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I love hearing stories of youngish couples who have been together for a longer time! It warms my heart. Good luck with your down payment, I am sure the joy of buying your first home will make the sacrifices worth it! ReplyCancel

  • filofit - I guess what works for some may not work for others. Forget time zone differences, we were in different continents!! I met my husband online and got married while I held a steady job in Dubai and he was living in the UK. We had this arrangement going on for two years. During this time my husband visited me just thrice. In the end the wait paid off as my company transferred me to the UK. We were very clear that we would be apart only for two years and if the company could not provide me with a suitable position in the UK then I would quit my job. It doesn't always have to be a sad story. ReplyCancel

  • wmwo - I have done that one before while I was working on a job site up north. The job paid me a good 50%+ over my usual wage, they flew me in and out of the site, and they paid my room and board. Financially it was beneficial, but I don't think I would do it again. It's very straining on the relationship. ReplyCancel

  • Aleksie - I agree with Daisy. While $50k is a large savings, are you really saving $50k? How often will you see each other?

    In terms of quality of life, grad school is so busy. On one hand, that means you may not have that much time to see each other anyway but on the other hand, the back-and-forth traveling may be exhausting and cut into what time you have together. The good news is that it is only one year and not an indefinite situation.

    I don't know what you should do but just throwing out those other aspects. From what I've seen with friends, whether it works depends upon the couple. Good luck. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - We'll probably see each other once every 3 months? We'll both be busy and we'll both have to fit our travel around an academic calendar, so it'd be hard to get away for long for either of us. ReplyCancel

  • addvodka - Weird. There's another Daisy in the blogosphere! In any case, I would do it. Not permanently, but to make more money, and to broaden my skills, definitely. I love my boyfriend but if he didn't want to come with me if I had a great opportunity, it would be disappointing. If he wanted to move to Alaska for a job opportunity I'd do it! But I'm a little more adventurous.

    I'm an extrovert, but just barely. I'm introverted in that I love hanging out with just myself – when the boy has something to do in the evenings or over a weekend, and I get the apartment to myself, it's bliss. As long as I saw him every couple of weeks and it was a temporary basis, and we talked at least once a day, I'd be more than okay :) ReplyCancel

    • thisthatandthemba - :-) Maybe she prefers gin?

      There is no way I could live apart. I lived away from my wife for a bit during college and it was hard. I would miss her terribly during the week and I couldn't wait until the weekends. Then it would be spent with us driving to see one another. Time went fast and we were back together and married a few years later…It was tough, I wouldn't want to do it again. ReplyCancel

  • The Happy Homeowner - This is certainly a tough decision. Based on what you've laid out here, it sounds like you two would weather this storm together beautifully. I think it's going to be something only the two of you can decide, regardless of what we say, your friends say, or your families say.

    My personal experience would most likely lead me to take the year apart. I live in the same city as my BF now, but I really only see him on some weekends because he travels M-F for his job. It was weird and hard at first, but we've both adapted beautifully. And I echo Crystal's sentiment about communication. We've been together for so long because ours have improved with distance.

    This obviously isn't a popular decision or one that most agree with, but it's really what works best for your decision. Best of luck to both of you!!! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I'm looking at career paths that require pretty heavy travel as well… and if I want to pay for CB's last year of school, I'll have to get something that's fairly close to or above six figures first year out. ReplyCancel

  • SP - I have a vareity of long distance experience, though all before we married. We used to take turns driving ~500 miles each way to see each other on weekends during college, and honestly, it wasn't SO bad. Or maybe that is just looking back with rose colored glasses, but I honestly never doubted that it was the right thing to do. We always had the summers and holiday breaks to recharge.

    When I did study abroad for a semester, we just were not as close emotionally. We could not be. With limited phone time (12 hour time difference) and no physical contact, we drifted a bit. We were committed, yes, but we definitely had a distance to overcome when it was over. But it was still manageable. We were both busy and having fun with our own things. Many couples who hadn't done long distance previously fell apart in the first weeks.

    However, when T moved to California about 5 months before I did, it was the WORST. There were other factors in our relationship at the time, so grain of salt and all. But for me, seeing each other every 2 weeks (each person communtes once per month) was much more manageable than once every 1.5-2 months. Plus he was SO busy with his first year of school that it was hard. Different time zones was a big deal too. Then again, a flight instead of a long car ride was probably a big deal too. Like I said, it may have been a different dynamic if we were married.

    Now we're heading to a year of long distance again. I'm confident, but also dreading it, because I know it will be awful at times. He'll be 80-90% based out of San Fran and only a little bit out of the east coast, which is manageable. We are doing it because it is too good of an opportunity for him to pass up. It would surely be financially better if I would secure a job in SF, but I don't want to take the career risk of going to SF for just 1 year. Which is a little selfish/risk-adverse of me, but I only want to move for his job once and a lot has been coming together in my current job. Plus we'd love to end up in LA anyway… But it is a hard choice. ReplyCancel

  • BlueCollarWorkman - I see a lot of people had a lot to say on this. Honestly, it simply depends on what money versus your relationship is worth to you. Does having one sacrifice the other? Which are you willing to sacrifice? Which matters more? Personally, I'd rather be in debt and have no retirement savings for the rest of my entire life, but get to wake up to my wife every day, than be free of debt but be far away from her daily. If you and your husband have planned for this and are ready for a separation, then do what you gotta do, but only you two know what your relationship and finances can bear.ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Can't I have it all? lol. I'm not sure if I am confident or naive – or a combination of the two – but we've made it this long, and now we will be married (and say what you will about divorce, but the barriers to exit in a marriage tend to be much higher than those in an unmarried relationship). I feel like that we will be OK, no matter what we choose. So why not make the choice that will help us take out fewer loans? ReplyCancel

  • seedebtrun - For a long period of time, it would be really tough. There is some truth to the saying "Absence makes the heart go fonder", but too much absence can be very challenging for a relationship. I am sure you guys will talk all the time and visit each other regularly, but that won't make it any easier. I personally, wouldn't do it unless it was my only option to make ends meet.


  • Jessica - Gosh…I have no idea what I would do. I really hate the idea of a LDR during the first year of marriage, but sometimes life gives us extremely tough choices. ReplyCancel

  • bogofdebt - Since it seems to be a time limit on it and you seem like you have a strong relationship, I don't think it will be *too* bad. Obviously not the best thing ever but not the worse thing either. I've done them in the past and time always went by quicker than I thought. But it's what is best for both of you that really matters. ReplyCancel

  • kycam - I have been doing it since August. My husband moved 5 hours away in order to do a short term post doc while waiting for the paper work and visa on a longer term over seas post doc to clear. I didn't want to quit my jobs, which are both good, to move 5 hours away for 9 months only to quit them again to move over seas. I moved in with family while we rented him an apartment close to his current position that was cheaper than the one we used to share.
    We have also planned it so that I am pregnant at the moment so I will join him abroad once the baby arrives in August and we both get the necessary travel documents. This totally made sense to me and to my husband once I explained my rational. This has also allowed us to plan for Maternity Benefits and Top Up which we can collect out of the country, as I will be returning to my position once we return. So I can enjoy myself, the baby, and the new culture while receiving a pay check in a country that isn't currently handing out work visas due to the European Economic melt down. I think it is always important to approach decisions rationally and from a critical perspective granted I realize it isn't for everybody.
    Skype and face time work amazingly well to keep us connected and feeling like a married couple. We have also managed to see each other at least once a month- this will stop as he starts his position abroad in a month. I have always been of the approach that short term pain for long term gain. Our relationship is strong and while we miss each other we are both busy and also enjoy our time apart.

  • Heather - I know you all are facing some tough questions, but if you are used to spending a decent amount of time together and enjoy being with each other, it will be much harder than you would anticipate. You also need to factor travel costs into your budget. My husband and I lived apart for almost 2 years when I was working on my PhD. We didn't want to give up his full time job, and he couldn't find a full time job in the area. One of us was on a plane every 3 to 4 weeks, and that added $5K to $6K per year in cost, and we were in the same timezone.

    I don't think it would be the worst idea, and sometimes you have to do things you don't like, but I wouldn't do it for $50K. ReplyCancel

  • kim - For a year? Totally! We did it twice – once for deployment, and once for in-state tuition. Communication is key, so invest in a web cam, increase your texting limit, send each other a physical card or little something (brownies, keychain, origami) every other month, and when you visit the other, hide little "I love you" notes around their apartment for them to find over time. Do something together that you can monitor as your long-distance project, like planting a little garden. It takes WORK but will be okay – since it's a finite amount of time it will be easier. ReplyCancel

  • apenny4athought - I admire you! I don't know if I could do it! The fact that you are considering it is amazing to me! I know whatever choice you make it will be the right one and even if it is to be apart, it will probably make your relationship stronger in the long run and it will allow you to avoid unnecessary stress!

    Good luck with whatever choice you make! ReplyCancel

  • fabulouslyfrugirl - I was so relieved to read this, WH.

    My BF and I are about to embark on a LDR journey once again, but instead of 6 weeks apart, it may be a few months apart at a time. He's got a full tuition scholarship to Harvard Business School or INSEAD which I am very proud of him, but I have been really dreading the LDR part. BF and I have done LDR before, but it was for work, and he would be able to fly back every few weeks, which made it not so bad. But now that we have to do it for so long — it's scary.

    After reading your article, it made me feel better and reading all those comments, made me feel even less alone. Yes, it will be difficult, but I think that he is worth it and I think that our relationship is worth it. I guess I will be getting very familiar with the airports soon… :)

  • insomniaclabrat - Ryan and I were really glad that we got into the same graduate school so that we didn't have to face this dilemma right after we got married… but there is halfway decent chance that we won't get postdocs at the same time in the same place. The "two body problem", as it's commonly called in academia, is something that we've thought about a lot, and if we have to do long distance for a few years, we would do so, rather than let one of our careers take a major hit. Many of our coworkers and classmates are doing the long-distance thing, or have done so in the past, and they've all made it work. It's a tough decision to have to make, but I think for a limited time, we would do it.

    Good luck to you guys! Obviously you'll have to do what works for you, but I think you could make it work. ReplyCancel

  • Little House - To answer your question, I wouldn't do it, but that's just me. I'd find some other way to save money on a graduate degree to stay near my significant other. However, I'm sure that if you and CB have worked out all the details, it will work for you. In general terms, I just think that being away for so long and at such a distance puts strain on a relationship and the distance might make someone in the relationship think they're "free and single" again. But perhaps that's just my *old-fashioned* logic kicking in. ReplyCancel

  • Shawanda - I've been in three different relationships that had a long distance component to them, and I am completely tapped out. I think if I'm ever presented with the option again, I just tell the guy, "see ya." To me, even $50K isn't worth it. Money is great and everything but human relationships are so important and can bring so much more fulfillment than money can provide. But, you have to figure out what works for you and your relationship. ReplyCancel

  • Confession: A Long Distance Relationship (LDR) | fabulously fru-girl - […] Even though the thought of being apart of my BF for so long is daunting, having a plan makes it a lot less scary. Well-heeled also had a great article about how her and her husband to be will be getting ahead finan…. […]ReplyCancel

  • masterp1976 - I was in one for 9 months. It didn't work. Granted I wasn't married, but there is only so much talking over the phone you can do that will satisfy the needs of a relationship. That being said, in this crazy world where both husband and wife have to work 50 hours per week to support a household, it seems there is very little time to enjoy a relationship anyway. As long as the relationship is strong, I think it will work for quite a few months before you are sick of it. Go for it! ReplyCancel

  • Dannielle - I'm in a LDR at the moment and it's not that bad. That year is going to fly in no time especially if you can squeeze in a few visits every couple of months. Telephone, email, magic jacks, skype, messenger programmes are all there to help you. You can do it! ReplyCancel

  • Weekly Update 13 | Evolving Personal Finance - […] Heeled Blog shared a question she and her husband are weighing right now – a long-distance marriage to reduce a debt load.  She asks her readers if they would ever […]ReplyCancel

  • Belinda@nextpay.com - This is actually my current struggle. I applied for a graduate school in our local area but for some technical reasons I was declined. They gave me an option to go to a better school which is miles away with all the benefits I asked for such leave with pay and etc. But this means leaving my husband and 2 kids for at least three years(with visits in between of course). But I'm not emotionally ready for this. So I said NO. But I'm still weighing things now and trying to shift my mindset so I can pursue career advancement and eventually make some debt payments. ReplyCancel

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