Episode 74. “I’m $450k in debt but she still wants me to treat her to dinner” (Part Two)

We pick up part two of Serena and Nate’s conversation with an equity problem—a serious one, and one they didn’t realize they had. Serena earns considerably more for now, but Nate stands to triple her salary in a couple of years. His medical school debt, in the meantime, crushes him. 

He needs help but she doesn’t see it. 

He can’t, or doesn’t, speak up. 

Can they meet one another where they are?

Tools mentioned in this episode


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Serena: [00:00:01] And I definitely operate from more of a scarcity mindset than not, this was maybe two years ago. I upgraded my computer from a laptop to a desktop and it took me almost a week to unpack it because I was honestly driving myself crazy with like, “What did I do? I fucked up. I can’t afford this. Can I return this? Should I return it?”

I was so scared that it was like, “Oh my gosh, what if I can’t afford a vet bill or something else? In my mind, it was one that almost felt really scary and irresponsible. Even now, it overwhelms me to be able to be in a place to afford nice things for myself. I came from an immigrant background. There was never enough money. Seeing the stress that money played in my parent’s relationship, I feel it was inevitable that I would run into the same thing.

Ramit Sethi: [00:00:57] I think that if you don’t change anything, you will find yourself continuing to argue and spin about money, and it will become even more painful.

Serena: [00:01:11] I really don’t like the sound of that.

Ramit Sethi: [00:01:16] [Narration]

Thanks for joining me on part two of this absolutely fascinating conversation with Nate and Serena. Now, they’re both in their 20s, they’re engaged and living together, but they have a big income disparity. Serena makes $80,000 and Nate makes $45,000 a year today, but soon he’ll make $300,000 a year as a doctor. 

Last week, on part one of this conversation, Serena told us that they split the rent about 50-50, that Nate pays for dinner most of the time and that she wants to be taken care of, even though she earns nearly twice as much as he does. But when I asked if she’d be comfortable paying 50-50 once he starts making $300K, she said no. In Nate and Serena’s relationship, you can hear deeply embedded gender roles, hidden expectations, and grappling with changing incomes. 

I have to tell you that I really appreciate their candor in this two-part conversation. On today’s episode, we’re going to go much deeper than last week. Remember that you can watch this couple on my YouTube channel where I’d encourage you to subscribe to get new episodes. I’m Ramit Sethi, and this is I Will Teach You to Be Rich. 


Serena, how much do you make per year?

Serena: [00:02:38] I make 80K before taxes.

Ramit Sethi: [00:02:41] Okay, cool. And, Nate, what about you? You make $45,000?

Nate: [00:02:45] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:02:46] All right, fine. Let me make sure I understand. So you’re each paying $1,000. Your rent went up. That made it very difficult for you, Nate, to afford it. Serena, you wanted to stay in this particular area, so you had a back and forth, and you concluded with Serena you’re paying a little bit more like $160 more per month for this apartment?

Serena: [00:03:08] At first, I was not thrilled at the prospect of spending more when we’re both splitting the apartment. But after thinking about it, now I’m completely fine with it and it’s totally normal and I don’t mind at all. I’m okay paying $160 extra.

Ramit Sethi: [00:03:26] The most successful couples I see, especially in situations like this, where you have separate incomes, etc, is proportional. So proportional means if you’re making 65% of the income, you pay 65% of the joint expenses. And that would probably suggest that you pay more for this rent and that Nate pay less. How would you feel about that?

Serena: [00:03:51] It’s like talking about the check. I think it would be really hard for me at first just because it’s not something I’ve done ever before and not something I even think I would have considered. It wouldn’t come to mind at first just because I can very easily rattle off other things that are also important to me with how I spend my money.

Ramit Sethi: [00:04:17] Your 401K, your investments, your travel, family, gifts, all of those things.

Serena: [00:04:22] For sure.

Ramit Sethi: [00:04:23] You can always find something to put a lot of money towards. But I have to ask you this. Who’s your person?

Serena: [00:04:34] Nate.

Ramit Sethi: [00:04:36] And of all those things, shouldn’t Nate be up there somewhere?

Serena: [00:04:42] Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought of Nate as, okay, this is someone that is a very important part of my life, if not the most important. But the way I spend my money doesn’t really reflect that. And I think it’s because I’ve never really thought of money as emotional. For me, money has always been transactional.

Ramit Sethi: [00:05:11] That’s amazing. Think about it now. Now that you have this new lens, it’s almost like you took off the glasses you’re wearing, which were transactional, and you put on this red pair of glasses and they’re emotional. And now that you have this set of lenses on, take a look back at some of the things we talked about, the fact that Nate comes home and within 15 minutes you’re asking him those questions. With the emotional lenses on, what do you now see about that scenario?

Serena: [00:05:43] I see him coming home in his scrubs looking really cute, saying that I missed him, maybe offering to pour him a glass of wine, talking about our day, and maybe ahead of time deciding on what is a neutral time for us to talk about more serious things in our relationship, whether it’s money or something else that’s affecting us. But I think when he comes home from work is not that time.

Ramit Sethi: [00:06:16] Because it’s about more than just your need to check the box although that’s very important. If you want to do it, we should find a way to do that. Absolutely. But the message of money communicates more than just numbers. What money messages did you learn growing up?

Serena: [00:06:35] Seeing the stress that money played in my parent’s relationship, I feel it was inevitable that I would run into the same thing. I came from an immigrant background, so there was never enough money. It was very much that energy growing up. I feel they are always like, be as conservative as you can–

Ramit Sethi: [00:06:59] Why?

Serena: [00:06:59] Be as cautious with your money as you can until you are 100% certain that you are covered to pay more than the lowest amount or whatever like when I–

Ramit Sethi: [00:07:13] Do believe that?

Serena: [00:07:16] Do I believe that? Yeah, I think so. I think so.

Ramit Sethi: [00:07:19] I believe that, too. But I think that can be taken too far, perverted. I think it can be misconstrued and you end up fixating on like $10 expenses.

Serena: [00:07:32] Yeah. No, 100%. And I definitely, I think operate from more of a scarcity mindset than not.

Ramit Sethi: [00:07:42] Can you give an example of when you operated from a scarcity mindset?

Serena: [00:07:45] I feel like Nate would be able to come up with one [inaudible].

Ramit Sethi: [00:07:50] I know Nate’s got a million. Just hanging on Nate, I want to hear from you.

Serena: [00:07:57] Oh, this was during the pandemic. This was maybe two years ago. We’re all working from home. I was like, you know what would really make work from home way easier and way more efficient and just generally better like if I upgraded my computer from a laptop to a desktop. 

And this is something I could comfortably buy. I didn’t have to save a penny for it, literally had, I just had to dip a little bit into savings and very comfortably roll up to the Apple store and buy myself a desktop. So I bought it online and it took me almost a week to unpack it because I was honestly driving myself crazy with, what did I do? I fucked up. I can’t afford this. Can I return this? Should I return it?

I could list off so many reasons why it was a great investment and now I can see that it really was great, and I use it all the time, and I don’t feel guilty about buying it. But in the moment I was so scared that I was like, “Oh my gosh, what if I can’t afford a vet bill or something else or groceries or something else?” I was really scared that no one’s buying computers every month.

Maybe some people are, but I’m not. It was this very isolated investment that I made. But in my mind, it was one that almost felt really scary and irresponsible.

Ramit Sethi: [00:09:35] Do you like that feeling?

Serena: [00:09:37] No, it sucks.

Ramit Sethi: [00:09:38] What did you get out of all that agonizing for 10 days?

Serena: [00:09:42] I think letting it sit there was my way of not accepting it for myself. And this is one thing that I think does tie back into how I grew up. I think even now it overwhelms me to be able to be in a place to afford nice things for myself. But I still felt really conflicted over accepting it and unwrapping it was my way of accepting it and leaving it in the nice shiny box was my way of almost being in limbo, like, I own it but I don’t have it, if that makes sense.

Ramit Sethi: [00:10:28] I’m putting some pieces together. You, growing up with your immigrant parents, encouraging you to be cautious. The fact that you spent your 20s in New York being broke like so many people do, and the fact that only recently you’ve gotten this big raise, but it seems like maybe psychologically you haven’t yet caught up to your financial situation. Would that be fair?

Serena: [00:10:54] Oh, yeah. No, I would say I’m very much not caught up with where I’m actually at.

Ramit Sethi: [00:11:01] Yeah. And to me, this is a great moment because you’re 29. And if we can identify that and start working on it now, gosh, you can really improve your money psychology versus, I talk to people who are 55 years old. They have millions in the bank and they worry about a $50 charge here and there. I don’t want you to have to do that. 


It’s really hard for people to turn the page. Once you learn the skill of making money, it’s relatively easy to increase that. But to change your money psychology is very hard because it’s rarely taught, and frankly, it’s not really valued in this society. Anyone can be rewarded financially and socially for working hard and getting a raise. 

Just think about when that happened to you. But how do you get rewarded for having a monthly money conversation with your partner? Or creating a rich life list and automating money for your anniversary? Or perhaps even taking a lower-paying job because it fits the type of lifestyle that you want? The truth is, those type of decisions are not rewarded in our society. So it’s much more common to meet people who have lots and lots of money, but fewer money psychology skills. 


Can I just point out that the two of you are soon going to make at least $380,000 together?

Serena: [00:12:29] Yeah, that’s like, I can’t even process that.

Nate: [00:12:32]  Same. Honestly. 

Serena: [00:12:33] You might as well be saying you’re going to make $380,000 monopoly money together.

Ramit Sethi: [00:12:38] Well, should we talk about that? Because the fact that you can’t process it, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. And the fact that you both have compartmentalized that very large top 5% income earners away, is allowing you to fight over tiny questions about dinner out.

So can the two of you have a conversation? Can you actually just sit and with the concept that you’re both together, going to be making almost $400,000 a year in less than three years?

Serena: [00:13:18] Okay. I don’t know what we would do with all of that money, to be honest. We don’t, and it feels like it would be happening. Believed us.

Nate: [00:13:32] Yeah. Honestly, I filled out the same form with the future earning or whatever, and it basically was, I guess I’m paying a lot more towards my debt and savings. That’s part of it. I don’t know what it means. It’s literally six to 10 times more than I’ve ever made in my life. And it’s going to literally happen in the space of one month. I’ve grappled with it and I thought about it, it’s so foreign to me.

Ramit Sethi: [00:14:16] Serena, what’s going to change? If nothing changes in terms of the way the two of you communicate about money, behave, and treat money, four years from now, what’s going to happen?

Serena: [00:14:27] It’s hard for me to think granularly. I think four years from now it would be really awesome to get to a place where talking about money, thinking about money would be a source of potential like what can we do with this money versus right now when we talk about it. It’s hard to not be stressed about it.

Ramit Sethi: [00:14:53] You think you’ll stop the stress the minute that he starts getting those $30,000-a-month paychecks?

Serena: [00:14:59] Not the minute. I think we’ll be closer to it.

Ramit Sethi: [00:15:06] I think the stress will go down, that’s for sure. I think it’ll be easier to sign a check at dinner. Rent will be it, no question.

Speaker4: [00:15:12] I don’t think the conversations will increase. I think what would happen is the stress would go down. And so us needing to have conversations about it would go down. But then we probably just wouldn’t have any conversations because it’s probably fine. But then that might start affecting the more longer-term goals that people have.

Serena: [00:15:33] I think there’s always going to be something to like today, it might be rent, or it might be splitting a check, but if we bring life into this world, that’s a whole other thing that is very much not on our radar right now. 

Ramit Sethi: [00:15:51] Yeah. Private, public school, renovation, vacation, should we pay for our family to do X, Y, Z? Those are big decisions. I think that making five times what you’re making or whatever that number is, it’s going to be a lot more. That’s going to definitely reduce a lot of the day-to-day stress. Questions like, when are you going to pay me back?” It’s going to be gone. 

Questions like, who’s paying for dinner? Well, once you combine your finances, I think that question will go away because you can just use a joint credit card. So that’s irrelevant. But, I think that if you don’t change anything, you will find yourself continuing to argue and to spin about money and it will become even more painful because one of you will say, why are we fighting about money? We make $400,000 a year. How can we still be fighting about money? And you’re not going to know why you’re still fighting.

Serena: [00:16:58] I really don’t like the sound of that.

Ramit Sethi: [00:17:01] Do you believe that that’s possible?

Serena: [00:17:03] I think it’s definitely possible. I would like to know how to get ahead of it and avoid that fork in the road, though.

Ramit Sethi: [00:17:12] Yeah. I want to show you how to do that, but I wanted to set the stage for the fact that just making more money does not solve your money problems. It’s a really common misconception. Basically, everybody thinks if I made $10,000 more or $25,000, if I had $100,000 in the bank, all my problems would vanish. 

And then they make it and they’re like, “Oh shit, I’m still unhappy. I still worry about money all the time. My partner and I still fight.” And the point is, you need to work on two things. One is improving your tactical financial situation so that your conscious spending plan is all dialed in. The second part is the money psychology. How do we talk about money? What is our rich life? And that part is often neglected.

Let me just tell you what I would do if it were me knowing what I know about money. And I’m making 380K household income with all that debt. Oh, my God, I would fucking crush it. I would have a debt payoff plan. Depending on my interest rate, I would invest the max of every account I could possibly do, because I know in my early 30s, just three or four years of super aggressive investing, talking about 50, 60, 70, 80K in a year would make me multimillionaire, okay make us multimillionaires, just those first few years. 

Next, I would definitely increase my lifestyle spent. Let me say that again, because a lot of people, they go, “The hedonic treadmill, fuck the hedonic treadmill.” I go, “Fuck you. The hedonic treadmill is real and we should accept it. If you’re making $380,000, you’re still living the same way you lived when you were making $45,000 as a resident, you fucked up somewhere bad. You should go out to eat out more. You should take a nice trip. You should buy a new pair of shoes, do a few things but within reason. 

That’s what the conscious spending plan guilt-free spending categories for. Because you got your percentages, it all flows. When you were making 45K and your guilt-free spending was 20 to 35%, you weren’t spending that much. It was probably below 20% because you’re really frugal. Cool. When you’re making $300,000 or $380,000 household income, that 20 to 35% is quite sizable.

Now, you could do it all with that income. You have some choices to make, but that is how I would do it. I would stay in a small apartment. I would not go out and buy a house the first day. I would keep the cars that I’ve got. I would invest super aggressively for three or four years. And by the way, during that time, I don’t know about your income, Nate, if it’s going to go up, but I bet your income will, Serena.

And so you’re starting from a place of aggressive investment and then slowly over time, maybe you have children, maybe you decide, okay, I want to cool a bit on the investing. We’re investing super aggressively. I would like to be able to take a couple more trips. That’s a great discussion to have. That’s just me. I’m not saying you have to do it, but that’s what I would do. And I would absolutely dominate my finances if I had 380K household income like you two.


God damn, that’s how you make money exciting. I talk about taking the win on this podcast, but I’m about to take the win for myself. I just eviscerated the hedonic treadmill losers. I laid out a sensible spending plan, including eating out and traveling. I offered two options for debt payoff, including based on interest rates and an extremely aggressive investment plan to become a multimillionaire. Some dudes get excited about sports. I get excited about how to spend your newfound income, which just quadrupled overnight. You just learn something.


Serena: [00:20:54] I remember, Ramit, when I signed a lease for an apartment I thought I couldn’t afford. It was the last apartment I had in New York, and Nate, from the beginning, was like, “What are you talking about? You’re fine.” And I was making less than I am now, mind you. And I was freaking out because it was an amazing apartment. There was nothing I didn’t love about it. I got my own bathroom which one does that ever happen in New York when you have a roommate. And it was like with the computer, I was like, I signed the lease, but I was still like, Hhly shit, what did I do? 

And there was not one month where I was like, “Oh, no, I’m not going to be able to make to rent.” So I think it’s like, this has been a pattern throughout my life, and it’s not even about how much money I make. It’s like my first inclination is to always feel really stressed and anxious that I can’t afford something even before I even see if I can.

Ramit Sethi: [00:21:55] Yes. And tell me, what do you get out of that?

Serena: [00:22:00] In a very long-winded way, the worst way possible, I find out that I actually can afford it and that I probably didn’t need to stress so much in the first place. But–

Ramit Sethi: [00:22:10] So what does it get you then? Why not just skip to the end? Why do you like doing all those checklists? Why do you ask him more than once a week, when are you going to pay me back when you know that his financial situation has not changed? What do you get out of the checklist? What do you get out of ruminating about the apple? What is it that you get? It’s all tied together.

Serena: [00:22:33] I don’t know. I guess it’s an itch that I like to scratch, but it doesn’t actually do anything.

Ramit Sethi: [00:22:43] When you cross that thing off that checklist, what do you feel?

Serena: [00:22:48] Temporary dopamine. But it doesn’t solve any issue. And again, as you said, it’s not like anything else has changed.

Ramit Sethi: [00:23:00] To make you feel in control?

Serena: [00:23:03] Oh, my God, Yes. I’m such a control freak. How did you know?

Ramit Sethi: [00:23:06] Oh, how did I know? I don’t know how did I know? 

Serena: [00:23:09] Oh, God. It is control. That’s what it is.

Ramit Sethi: [00:23:13] Serena. Serena, I could read the word control within 10 seconds of meeting you. Nate knows it. I know it. Every listener, every viewer on YouTube knows it, everyone except you. God, I really love this job. So talk me through it. Talk me through those examples. Put on the new set of lenses. What are the lenses you’re going to put on right now?

Serena: [00:23:38] The red ones that you talked about.

Ramit Sethi: [00:23:39] Although the red ones are the emotional ones. Put those aside for now. You’re putting on the control lenses. Now, look at the world through control. When you create a checklist, what is it giving you?

Serena: [00:23:53] A semblance of being in charge, a semblance of knowing where everything is at any given time.

Ramit Sethi: [00:24:00] Yeah. And when that Apple thing sat for days and you agonize over it, what did it give you?

Serena: [00:24:09] I think I was scared that I went out of control.

Ramit Sethi: [00:24:13] Yeah. Okay. And it gave you time to breathe and confirm that you hadn’t made a terrible decision because if you made a bad decision with a $2,000 computer, what would that mean for you?

Serena: [00:24:32] I’ve lost control.

Ramit Sethi: [00:24:33] Yeah, and if you lose control, what does it mean? If you lose control, the $2,000 purchase, what does it mean for you?

Serena: [00:24:41] I don’t know. It’s bad.

Ramit Sethi: [00:24:47] It means that you could lose it all.

Serena: [00:24:49] Oh, yeah. No, it’s like that’s the slippery slope.

Ramit Sethi: [00:24:53] Yeah, it’s really slippery. If I buy a $2,000 computer, I might trip and fall and go completely bankrupt.

Serena: [00:24:59] Yeah, I know. I’m hearing it too you now.

Ramit Sethi: [00:25:03] It’s funny, right? I like to highlight the absurdity of it by just saying it out loud. Let’s just shine a light on it. Yeah, it is absurd. But we all have absurd beliefs. That’s what’s beautiful about this whole process. I don’t think you’re stupid for having that belief. I think actually, I find beauty in the commonality that whether you make 80K as you do raised by immigrant parents, or whether we have someone I know who makes $200,000 per month, she was on this podcast, there are similarities– so many. 

And that’s really the beauty of talking about your rich life. We are all in this together. So you realize now that when you go through this process of worrying and using the word cautious, what is it really get you?

Serena: [00:25:55] Nothing.

Ramit Sethi: [00:25:58] Nate, what did we just discuss? Help her out, Nate. You guys are partners.

Serena: [00:26:01] We are. Please.

Nate: [00:26:03] Control.

Serena: [00:26:03] Control.

Ramit Sethi: [00:26:05] Do you agree that Serena likes control?

Nate: [00:26:10] Absolutely. It’s the same thing with the check sharing earlier and being very on top of every financial situation.

Ramit Sethi: [00:26:20] That’s why it surprised me that you didn’t ask him about his interest rate on his loan because I knew you were super into control. But it seems like you compartmentalized that one away, Serena.

Serena: [00:26:34] No, totally. I would agree.

Ramit Sethi: [00:26:36] Okay. Even though potentially that could affect you?

Serena: [00:26:40] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:26:41] Wow. Can I ask you a question? Do you like being– you called it a control freak.

Serena: [00:26:48] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:26:48] I don’t know how you want it. Some people call it a control freak. Some people, they lead with being in control. Do you like that?

Serena: [00:26:55] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:26:56] You like it? I love the honesty. Tell me this, when can control go right? When does it really give you advantages, and where can it go wrong?

Serena: [00:27:06] I think when it goes right, it’s a sense of preparedness. And I think when it goes wrong is when you’ve got your blinders on and you can’t see outside of that. Before we have this conversation, I didn’t have potentially paying more in rent on the brain whatsoever. I didn’t think about how treating me to dinner word make me feel.

Ramit Sethi: [00:27:34] I love that. I love that. I love both of those. Listen, I like to be in control, too. I’m an entrepreneur. I want things done my way. I love it. But I also realized that it can be destructive. It can be destructive to me because it makes me less spontaneous. And it becomes very narrow. As  you said, it puts blinders on, it’s just like my way or the highway. And that is not good.

Serena: [00:28:02] I’m pretty quick to say no, which is something Nate frequently points out.

Ramit Sethi: [00:28:08] Love it. And it can rub people the wrong way. Everything has to be in control, and some people just don’t operate that way.

Serena: [00:28:19] Yeah.

Nate: [00:28:20] [Narration]

I really love Serena’s honesty. Even though I don’t think her views on money were fair to Nate, I think her candor has made this conversation really enjoyable. And I have to tell you, it’s been really cool to watch the body language between Serena and Nate as they connect more.

Now that she’s opened up about her need for control, I often find that people can start spinning by talking about something they’re not good at. It almost becomes addictive. They just want to talk so much about it. Instead, I’m going to shortcut that and I’m going to focus on who she wants to be.


If you had to describe your top three values, personal values, would you say control would be in the top three?

Serena: [00:29:02] Yeah. Control for sure will buy twin sister would say judgmental if she’s listening.

Ramit Sethi: [00:29:07] What else? Feel free to brag about yourself. You often don’t get the opportunity to brag about yourself. What would you say?

Serena: [00:29:15] Ambitious.

Ramit Sethi: [00:29:16] Ambitious. Love it. Okay. Love it. All right, so you have your top three, let’s call them characteristics. Would be control, judgmental and ambitious. Cool. Love it. That’s you. Cool. Now, let me ask you this. What do you want them to be?

Serena: [00:29:35] Oh, God.  think being ambitious, being determined is a really good thing, so I’d probably leave that one in there. I said this earlier, I think I would really like to get to a place where I am more generous.

Ramit Sethi: [00:29:53] Love it. What’s the third?

Serena: [00:29:54] The third, probably, I think I’m pretty thoughtful in certain ways, but I think thoughtful. But I guess I would like to embody it a little bit more than my current state.

Ramit Sethi: [00:30:16] Wow. I believe you.

Serena: [00:30:18] I know myself pretty well, I think.

Ramit Sethi: [00:30:21] I think you do, too.

Serena: [00:30:22] Yeah. I’m not afraid to be honest about my flaws and things like that.

Ramit Sethi: [00:30:28] Well, I love hearing this conversation with you, and certainly with both of you. So I notice that in your current three characteristics, you have control, judgmental and ambitious, and in the ones you would like to be, you are also ambitious. Then you added generous and thoughtful.

Okay. Let’s talk about that for just a second and then we’re going to come back to the apartment. So you’re generous now. How would I an anthropologist with a clipboard know that you are generous?

Serena: [00:31:07] Let’s say again, we’re back at the restaurant, I would grab the check when it arrives.

Ramit Sethi: [00:31:13] Love it. Beautiful. Give me a couple more.

Serena: [00:31:17] I would show up and surprise Nate, with a really nice cashmere sweater, which I actually did that a few weeks ago.

Ramit Sethi: [00:31:27] Wow. That is very generous. Love it. What else?

Serena: [00:31:34] I don’t know. I think Nate, is definitely much more spontaneous but surprising him with a date that I had planned. And just enjoying going out together.

Ramit Sethi: [00:31:47] That’s awesome. What about being generous with yourself?

Serena: [00:31:51] Gosh, I don’t even know what that would look like. I guess not freaking out about buying a computer would be a good place to start.

Ramit Sethi: [00:31:58] That’d be great. What would that look like if I were there with my clipboard watching you buy a computer? What would I see generous Serena doing?


The clipboard question. The reason I ask that is it helps people focus on their behavior. It gets them out of their head using vague words and focuses on the purely behavioral, the way that I, as a sociologist or anthropologist, would be able to observe with my eyes and the clipboard. It gets them out of their head.

Serena: [00:32:30] [Interview]

I don’t know. Like–

Ramit Sethi: [00:32:32] Don’t tell me what I wouldn’t see. Tell me what I would see.

Serena: [00:32:34] Okay. Yeah. I think it would look like I was buying a computer and I wasn’t freaking out about it. I was just handing over the credit card or doing the Apple Pay thing and just moving on with my life.

Ramit Sethi: [00:32:48] It would be a calm thing. You would know your numbers. You would, of course, walk in knowing what you can afford. You would buy the thing. How does it feel to really live in that characteristic?

Serena: [00:32:59] That was nice.

Ramit Sethi: [00:33:01] Yeah. Do you think that you could do all those things you said?

Serena: [00:33:04] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:33:06] I think so. You didn’t tell me anything that seemed crazy. It all seemed very reasonable. I think it’s a very achievable goal for you. I love personally that you picked generous. I wish more people would pick generous. It’s one of my personal crusades. 

Now, can we go back to the apartment, to the conscious spending plan? So based on a quick calculation, Serena, you make 65% of your joint income. And, Nate, you currently make 35% of your total income. You’re essentially splitting the apartment like 55-45.

Serena: [00:33:49] Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: [00:33:51] How would you like to decide what to do for this apartment? Serena, why don’t you take the lead?

Serena: [00:33:58] You said 65-35 income split?

Ramit Sethi: [00:34:04] Mh-hmm.

Serena: [00:34:04] I guess closer to 60-40 now sounds perfect. It makes perfect sense.

Ramit Sethi: [00:34:14] Okay. And why 60-40?

Serena: [00:34:19] Well, this is the first time we’ve outlined our fixed costs, our everything. It is first time looking at it on a spreadsheet. And so based on these numbers, I’m paying, I guess, 66% of my income. So I guess two thirds goes fixed cost. But if Nate is doing 97, seems fucked up now.

Ramit Sethi: [00:34:46] That’s cool of you to say. Nate, how does that feel to hear?

Nate: [00:34:50] That’s going to take some time to set in. It’s been contending with this a little while. And it’s nice to hear that. I literally can’t afford these things as I’ve been pigeonholed into spending.

Serena: [00:35:16] And another thing that it’s a relief now is like, in let’s say, less than five years it’s almost a given that Nate is going to be paying more than 55% of our mortgage or rent. And so something I’ve worked on separately in therapy, millennial women love to talk about therapy, and I’m one of them. It’s like there are times in a relationship where one partner’s going to need the other person more and vice versa. And I think now I’m seeing maybe this is that period of our life. And it’s hard to see it with objectivity when we’re currently living in the year 2022, etc. But I think now I’m seeing maybe this is that moment where Nate’s going to need to carry the weight a little bit more. That happened.

Ramit Sethi: [00:36:20] Nate.

Nate: [00:36:21] I really appreciate that. I really thank you for thinking that. It means a lot. I know I keep saying that, but I’ve been struggling.

Serena: [00:36:36] I don’t want you to struggle. And I think–

Ramit Sethi: [00:36:40] Hold on. Let him finish for a second.

Nate: [00:36:43] Yeah. I’ve just been struggling with feeling like I can’t– I obviously can’t pay things for you as much as I would. I would like to buy you dinner and pay my share of the rent being 90 whatever percent. But I just can’t right now. And as much as I want to, it’s logistically impossible. I really appreciate hearing some recognition of that where  I am and where we’re right now isn’t where we are going to be forever.

Ramit Sethi: [00:37:27] It’s really nice. It’s really nice to hear, Serena, you connecting your work with your therapist, with your situation that you’re in with Nate right now. And Nate, it’s really nice to hear when she bounced that ball over to you for you to really receive that and acknowledge what she said. That is a really beautiful way of talking about money. I just loved watching that. 

Well, Serena, I totally agree with you. I think this is one of those times. I think it’s been one of those times. I think Nate may have been looking for the words to say it, but talking about money is really hard. And so it comes out on both ends, it comes out in peculiar ways. 

When he comes home from work and you ask him, like, when are you going to start the debt payoff? I know you’re not trying to badger him, but deep down you want to control. And this is that one thing in your life that you don’t have an answer to. And that doesn’t feel good. 

And Nate, you know that now. And she’s even explicitly said, “Oh, yeah.” At the same time, when Nate talks about the check, it’s not really about the check. It’s about something much bigger. I don’t want to have to come to you and beg for money because I don’t have $50 for gas. That doesn’t feel good. And also things are going to totally change. 

If we can’t get through this right now, are we going to do? Are we just going to paper it over with a lot more money? That doesn’t feel good. So I love that we’re at this moment where– and I love that you reached out to me and that you’re also getting help from a therapist and whatever other sources. I love it because you’re in such a beautiful position to be able to get your process right. And then when the money comes in, and it will come in, to be able to have all the money flow through this beautiful process and beautiful way of communicating together. How are you both feeling right now?

Serena: [00:39:27] I’m feeling really good. At the beginning, I said I wanted to feel like I had the tools to talk about money in a more or less judgmental way, in a less hurtful way, and a less selfish way. And I’m feeling it. I’m feeling like we’re finally getting there a little bit. 

And I have to admit, I was perhaps a little confident going into this conversation. I guess I didn’t think it’d be this hard and I didn’t expect to have a breakthrough as we did at all. And I didn’t anticipate how foreign it felt for me to get to that place.

Nate: [00:40:09] I feel very safe, actually, which is nice. I think it’s been really interesting to put these things in a different context. I think that really helps.

Serena: [00:40:18] I almost want to go out on the town and make him my sugar-baby right now.

Nate: [00:40:22] No complaints here.

Ramit Sethi: [00:40:26] I love that. All jokes aside, you paying for your partner who’s in his residency does not make him your sugar-baby.

Serena: [00:40:35] I know.

Ramit Sethi: [00:40:37] Just so we catch that. But I love the way the two of you are connecting, and I like the smiles. That’s what I want. So I’m really, really happy to watch the two of you grapple with these conversations. They’re tough. It’s not easy. 

And every minute we spend on this right now will save you years of heartache down the road. It’s not about dinner and it’s not about the check. It’s about how the two of you talk about money and love together.

Serena: [00:41:07] The way I see it, it’s only going to get better from here. And that feels really good to say.


Ramit Sethi: [00:41:16] I received follow-up letters from Serena and Nate. I’d like to excerpt them here for you. Serena said she learned that money could be a sense of joy, not stress and anxiety. I also learned I’m capable of spending more on rent than I thought I could. Having actually taken a clear look at my financial state. I also learned that my overly cautious spending habits are more indoctrinated than I thought. 

Nate wrote how emotionally intense Serena’s relationship with money is, and how much being in control financially really mattered to her subconsciously. Now, they sent me a list of new rules that they created for themselves and money. Let me read them to you. Number one, dinner and drinks– rule we talked about on the podcast, whoever covers dinner doesn’t cover drinks when we go to a bar afterward. This can alternate. If we don’t do drinks after, we split dinner 50-50.

Number two, rent will be split 60-40. Okay. Let me share my feedback after reading their update letter. First, I’m happy that Nate and Serena could talk about these very difficult topics with each other, with me, and with you watching and listening. That takes a ton of courage, and all I have to do is say, would you be willing to come on this podcast and do exactly what Nate and Serena did? I think they are extremely courageous. I want to give them a round of applause. 

Second, I’m not loving these rules. On the episode, we spent a lot of time talking about generosity, but the new breakdown of 60-40 is not generous. Nate is actually still paying more than he proportionately should. He makes 35% of the household income, but he’s paying 40% of the rent. Why? Well, one of the things I’ve learned with this podcast is that people make changes at their own pace.

To have Nate be explicit with what he needs is a huge step for him. And for Serena to acknowledge some of the invisible scripts she’s carried, for example, that she should be taken care of, that she needs to constantly be in control, and that Nate is her person but that’s not really reflected in their spending, those are all steps in the right direction. 

Now, do I wish they’d gone further? Yes. Am I glad they came on the show and took steps in the right direction? Absolutely. Thank you, Nate and Serena. Thanks to everyone for listening and watching. I appreciate you participating in The I Will Teach You to Be Rich Podcast, and I will see you next week.

Thanks for listening to the I Will Teach You to Be Rich. I’m Ramit Sethi. Please follow the show on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you haven’t read, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, my book, pick up a copy. You can get it at any bookstore or any library and it will show you the specific tactics for how to build the I Will Teach You to Be Rich system into your personal finances.