6 Ways We Keep the Budget and Survive Our Long Distance Marriage

Courtney Ramirez and her husband pose for a photo on a front porch.
Photo courtesy Courtney Ramirez

Less than a year into marriage, my husband and I found out we would have to spend 10 months living 2,000 miles apart. My husband was offered his dream job in our home state of Minnesota late last summer. As a teacher in California, I couldn’t break my contract two weeks before the beginning of the school year, so our only option was to live apart.  

This idea seemed crazy to me, but my husband was used to the long-distance marriage concept. His parents have lived apart for six years and counting due to his father’s job transfer and his mother’s desire to stay in the state where they built their life. Since they were nearing the end of their careers, they decided to make a long-distance marriage work until they retire.

Overall, long-distance marriages are not uncommon. Based on 2005 census data (the latest data on this topic), The Center for the Study of Long Distance Relationships found that 3.6 million married people were living apart in 2005 for reasons other than marital discord. Since living apart, my husband and I have met multiple people who were in long-distance marriages at one point or another.

No matter how normal it might be, we crunched the numbers and long-distance living had the potential to be expensive. We also had some significant financial goals for the year, including saving for a down payment on a house, paying off student loan debt and purchasing one of our vehicles after the lease matured.

We are currently seven months into our 10 months of living apart and are thankful we found ways to save money despite our living situation. Below are seven ways we are spending a year living apart while still meeting our financial goals.

1. Budget as a Couple

A budget is an essential part of meeting financial goals. Without a budget, you don’t know where your money is going, and it is easy to overspend.

We use a zero-based budget — where your income minus outgoing funds must equal zero — and EveryDollar helps by providing a digital budget we can access at any time. Our budget talks, which we have at the beginning, middle and end of each month, help remind us of what we are working toward: paying off $10,000 in debt and saving $24,000 for large purchases.

Budgeting will not necessarily save us any money, but it ensures we are on the same page with spending and saving each month.  

2. Be Realistic About How Often You Will See Each Other

Be honest about how long you can go without seeing your spouse. Plan your trips in advance and, of course, make sure you are getting the best deals on travel expenses. Don’t underestimate how often you will see each other and end up paying more for last-minute airfare.  

Living in Minnesota and California, our only option has been to fly to visit each other. We find huge savings by flying in and out of various airports and taking voucher options.

If you have time to be flexible with your travel plans, most airlines will give you vouchers worth $400 to $1000 for giving up your seat on an oversold flight. So far, I have racked up $800 in travel vouchers — that’s two free trips to my husband.

Seeing each other one to two times a month for 10 months, our flight costs will be about $2,900 — an average of $250 per trip.

3. Don’t Live Alone

Having two living spaces is a huge expense when living apart. It’s best to figure out a way to save on your rent or mortgage by having roommates, living with family and friends or renting out your space.

Prior to living apart, we were spending $830 per month on rent. In an effort to keep our housing costs the same, my husband lives rent-free with his parents in Minnesota. We looked into reasonable renting options for him but decided the $900 each month was better spent elsewhere.

I lived in our apartment in California until our lease was up. At that time, we had to decide if I would pay the month-to-month rental rate of $1,160 a month or find different housing. I found a coworker to stay with until the end of the academic year. We pay her $500 a month, saving more than half the apartment’s month-to-month rate.

Our living situation will save us close to $10,000 while living apart.

4. Use Your Time Apart Wisely

Being apart has allowed us to spend more time on our careers than we probably would have if we were together. This additional time allowed me to take on more career-advancing opportunities, like tutoring and coaching, which earned us an extra $4,000 during the school year.

Moreover, my husband’s extra hours in the office earned him the maximum salary increase after his probationary period. This refocused time has gotten us that much closer to our goals. This will look different for everyone, but we figured if we can’t be together, we might as well make money.

We estimate we’ll earn about an extra $6,000 while living apart.

5. Don’t Go All Out When You Are Together

Figure out what makes your relationship feel as normal as possible and spend your time together doing those activities. We found doing normal things like going to the grocery store, Target, budgeting and doing laundry together were more meaningful than lavish dates or mini vacations with hotel expenses.

Not splurging on fancy dinners, hotel stays or all-out dates has saved us about $200 per month together, which will end up saving us $2,000 over the full 10 months.

6. Make Sure You Are Insured

This one might not seem obvious at first, but different states have different insurance requirements and policies. You want to be covered! Ensure both parties are covered with health and auto insurance that follows the state requirements, and don’t forget to have homeowners or renters insurance in both locations.

We found health insurance that covered us in our respective states, but we had to choose our plan carefully. We also changed the insurance on the vehicle that would no longer be in California, saving us $300 for the year.  

Long-distance relationships can create many hardships, but don’t let finances be one of them.  Communication and planning are essential to ensure that the long-distance life doesn’t create a headache when it comes to money.

Courtney Ramirez is a teacher and wife living in California. She is passionate about budgeting and finding ways for her family to be financially responsible. She loves learning, road trips and food truck tacos!