Love & Money: This couple never talks about money — and they never fight about it either
Love & Money is a MarketWatch series looking at how our relationship with money impacts our relationships with significant others, friends and family.
Michael Hayes, 60, an architect, and Jamie Brickhouse, 50, a writer, performer and owner of a speaking bureau, met in 1990. Jamie had been in New York for just six weeks. They’ve lived in a co-op in Chelsea since 2004. They spend their summers on Fire Island, N.Y.
MarketWatch: Could you guess how much money the other has saved for retirement?
Jamie: Part of our secret to our finances is that we really don’t talk about them. Maybe a $1 million. I’m probably a quarter of that.
Michael: I have no idea.
MarketWatch: How did your upbringing inform your attitude to finance?
Michael: My parents were both blue-collar workers and there was no extra money to be passed around. My father was not good with money management and my mother was in charge. I even had jobs when I was in high school and college during the summer. I was taught to pay my own way at a very young age. I worked in supermarkets and, when I was in college, I had a job in an architectural firm in my home town of Johnson City, Tenn. During the years at the University of Tennessee, I worked for the Agricultural Engineering Department. We dealt with a swine-research facility and waste management.
Jamie: I grew up middle class and then evolved to upper-middle class. My mother started as a realtor and then become a financial planner in her 40s. We appreciated the finer things in life. My mother was a clothes horse. I love clothes and fashion as well. She would say, “I want to have more money so I can have nicer things, a nicer car and house and a fur coat.” As a financial planner for Merrill Lynch, she was constantly telling me about money and savings. When I started working in publishing and didn’t make much money, she convinced me to open an IRA. She wished she had started much younger.
‘My mother started as a realtor and then become a financial planner in her 40s. We appreciated the finer things in life.’
MarketWatch: What has been your biggest financial challenge?
Michael: In 2004, when we decided to purchase our place, we’d been living on the Upper West Side for several years in a rent-regulated apartment. At that point, we could own a place for the same we were paying in rent. The challenge was coming up with the 20% down payment. I thought it was a lot then, but now it’s really crazy. I’m an equity owner at my business, so I was able to put enough money aside. Jamie relied on his parents to help out and they organized a loan for him. We took out a 30-year mortgage and we refinanced a couple of times to take advantage of the lower interest rates.
Jamie: I’ve been on my own, not working for a corporation, since 2012. My biggest challenge was getting my business off the ground, which I have done pretty successfully, while also starting a writing and performing career. As a couple? There’s not really there’s been anything I can think of. It’s not like we’re trying to buy a second home or adopt that baby.
MarketWatch: What do you fight about when you fight about money?
Michael: We don’t because we’ve never had a joint checking account. He’s been pretty reliable. If he did get himself into a situation where he was carrying short-term debt, he was able to pay it off.
Jamie: We don’t fight about money. We’ve never had joint checking accounts. We have always kept our finances separate. We pool our resources and split the living expenses, mortgage and maintenance. Michael takes care of dry cleaning and he takes care of the cat litter. Neither one of us talks about the bank account of the other one. When I started on my own, he would pick up the slack. He would never say, “You spend $200 on lunch or Bed, Bath and Beyond? What’s that about?” We don’t have that information about each other.
MarketWatch: What is your main financial goal as a couple?
Michael: Me being 10 years older, I always wonder whether I’ll outlive Jamie and always wanted to make sure that he would be financially sound if I die first. I have a life insurance policy to take care of that. I also have health insurance with a long-term care policy. I want to continue our lifestyle when I’m out of the workforce. We want to see the world and travel, and want to be in a position to continue that.
Jamie: To pay off this co-op. We’re culture seekers, so we go to the theater fairly frequently and eat out. We love to travel. The goal is to continue to have the resources to enjoy all those pleasures. Maybe then we can retire and move to Mexico, and maybe downsizing.
MarketWatch: What was the best financial decision you ever made?
Michael: I remember our attorney said, “Don’t buy a place because you want to make a lot of money. Buy the place because you love it.” Our broker had the most outgoing personality and we found a place the first day we started looking. We put an offer in and we were No. 3 in line and the broker kept pushing. We offered a little more than the asking price. The value over 14 years has almost tripled. At this point, we would want to keep a smaller place in the city. We have grown really fond of Mexico.
Jamie: Buying this apartment. I give him a lot of credit pushing us to do that. Our previous apartment was rent stabilized and then it wasn’t. It was going to be a huge rent increase. I was afraid of that leap into home ownership and I’m glad he did.
‘Our attorney said, “Don’t buy a place because you want to make a lot of money. Buy the place because you love it.’
MarketWatch: Why did you never decide to get married?
Michael: We never really thought that was important, but we have everything set up. We have living wills. Everything I have would go to Jamie.
Jamie: We’ve been together long before gay marriage was a possibility. We never had a ceremony, but we did exchange rings. I would sometimes get into a snit when we were in our 20s and 30s and still going to a lot of weddings. Then we would see those marriages dissolve and I would joke, “I want those gifts back.” I used to say, “I want to get married for the loot.” I don’t need a marriage certificate to validate our relationship. On the financial and legal side, we thought it might make sense. It’s still under consideration. Will we have a big wedding and dress in matching white suits? Probably not.
MarketWatch: What is your greatest extravagance?
Michael: Traveling. Jamie does like clothing.
Jamie: I’m not a serial shopper, but I love clothes. I will occasionally binge on something that I have to have, but don’t really need. I like really flashy blazers. Mr. Turk is my brand of choice. It’s very Palm Springs, resort-y stuff.
MarketWatch: How does your approach to saving differ?
Michael: I’m not sure. Jamie doesn’t really share his finances with me. That might be part of the reason we’re together for 28 years. I hear so many stories of other couples that have so many troubles with finances, arguing about them. When Jamie decided he was going to start his own business and leaving the corporate world, I didn’t share this with him, but I thought I would have to support him. But that never happened. I think I’m more aggressive in putting more money aside and making sure that my investments are secure in tumultuous markets.
Jamie: He is much more diligent and disciplined about it and I am probably a little lax in that area. I still have a Roth IRA that my mother, who was a financial planner for Merrill Lynch
set up for me a thousand years ago. My 401(k) has been a little lax since I went out on my own. Michael is much more organized and disciplined.
MarketWatch: Financially, what are you most proud of?
Michael: Being able to set myself up to continue the lifestyle we enjoy past retirement.
Jamie: Ownership of this apartment. I really love the place we live in. It’s a beautiful apartment that we have decorated to our taste. I love old Hollywood glamour. It’s art deco, but not heavily art deco. I love living here and the life we have created together.
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