Money and Relationships: Freelancers and Their Partners

By Liz Alton, Contributor, on August 14, 2017

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Money and relationships are incredibly complex aspects of human relationships, and partnerships often reach a point where finances become entangled to some degree. Even when both members of a couple have a steady job and good benefits, money can still be a source of debate. Add in the variability of the freelance life, and a hot-button issue can become a full-fledged conflict. Here’s a closer look at how freelancers can navigate complex conversations around money with their partners.

The Reality of Risk Tolerance

One of the key variables in determining how your partner will react to your freelancing career is their risk tolerance. In order to be a freelancer, you need the spirit of an entrepreneur. When someone is willing to take the leap and stake their future on their abilities, it’s not just faith — it’s also a reasonably high risk tolerance. However, risk tolerance can be mismatched in relationships. How many couples do you know where one loves to skydive, while the other can’t comfortably climb a six-foot ladder?

My husband has worked with Fortune 500 organizations for his entire career, and has an average tenure of 10 years per employer. He’d love to find one company to stay with until he retires. Security speaks to his soul in the same way that freedom and variety speak to mine. Initially navigating conversations surrounding my transition to freelancing went something like: “I’m thinking about leaving my lucrative, established career to become a writer. No, I don’t have a clear plan, but I’m confident I can make it work.”

Over time, he’s seen that security in freelancing isn’t black and white. In fact, I’d make the case that not being dependent on a single employer not only puts no upper limit on my income, but also protects me from market shifts. One client stream may dry up, but I have eight other income streams to cover the shortfall. It’s an evolving conversation, and honing-in on risk tolerance is key to understanding patterns and speaking the same language.

Sometimes You Lead, Sometimes I Lead

When I first became a freelancer, I transitioned from a job where I was earning more money than my partner. While I had savings and faith that I could make it, there was a shift in the financial dynamics of our relationship. Every relationship has different parameters for who covers what, and this isn’t just the big decisions regarding the mortgage or car payments. This manifests in a thousand small interactions. Who will pick up the tab if you go out to dinner? What if I don’t have the cash available to attend a concert my husband wants to go to? What’s the plan for who picks up dog food when you run out?

Long-established patterns may change. Think about what each partner needs, and have an open conversation about these factors. Understand that fortunes change quickly in freelancing, and your ability to contribute more (or less) can shift quickly.

Asking for Support When Needed

When I first launched my business, I had a business partner. I made a commitment to pay her salary each and every month — no matter what. It came before my own pay. However, when clients were late to pay or projects took longer than planned, there were some short-term challenges. There were two months where my husband temporarily covered my share of the bills, and he advanced me some cash to pay my colleague.

I’m infinitely grateful for that support, and it was my top priority to pay it back. Consider discussing whether your partner can help you with your business if needed, whether it’s covering a financial gap, or putting you on an insurance plan. Your partner is often your greatest supporter, and can help you grow your business — or weather tough times — in unexpected ways.

Meeting Halfway With Opposite Issues

Another element of discussing freelancing with your partner is to be aware of the advantages it gives you — especially if your partner works a full-time job. If I don’t like working with a client, I just have to replace that income and move on. My day-to-day quality of life is less dependent on one person. However, if your partner suddenly gets a new boss that he hates, it’s a lot harder to frame the conversation. “Just leaving” is a lot harder, and schedule mismatches can be challenging. Someone with a nine-to-five job may be less understanding about working late or on the weekends.

A partner with two weeks of vacation time may be frustrated when you’re suddenly seeking the digital nomad life. Think about the different ways your new lifestyle deviates from your significant other’s, and how you can each bridge those gaps to provide a supportive environment. Don’t let anyone feel frustrated, jealous or trapped. These conversations aren’t always bad, though — nor do they have to be. In fact, when a consulting opportunity came up, my husband drew on my knowledge to navigate the process and felt confident that he could do it. Your success can inspire other people to experiment with their own indy paths.

Not every freelancer has a partner, and that can add more complexity to launching your business without the security of another person’s income and support. For those indy creatives who are involved in a partnership, navigating difficult conversations around money is an important part of making the freelance journey work for you. Take a proactive approach to money and relationships, and help your partner be a strong ally in fostering in your long-term success.

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