The surprisingly complex finances of a couple who are choosing to never get married

Kim Steins and Geoff Marshall have been together for 15 years, but they don’t ever plan to get married. The pair met at the College of Idaho when Kim needed a car to report on a college newspaper assignment at a cemetery and Geoff offered to drive her.

Post-college, they continued to live in Idaho, but when Geoff was diagnosed with cancer, they moved in with Geoff’s parents in Oregon. He was in treatment for two and a half years and racked up close to $15,000 in medical debt. At the time, Kim was facing her own debt: $50,000 in student loans.

Now, Geoff is cancer-free, they live in an apartment in Washington, DC, and both work at nonprofits. Kim makes $85,000 a year; Geoff makes less than half that. In some ways, marriage would ease their finances — most couples find that it’s better to file joint taxes — but for them, there are plenty of reasons, both personal and financial, to never tie the knot. When does skipping the “I dos” make sense, and when is it actually financially beneficial for you and your partner to get hitched?

Kim: I realized I didn’t want to get married sometime during college, but I’m honestly not totally sure what started it for me. I was a girly-girl who had spent a significant amount of time in my childhood looking at wedding dresses and cakes, and thinking about color schemes. I love the aesthetics of weddings and formal events. But the whole institution seemed gross to me. And even when I was in college, my sister had already been married and divorced, I had other friends who were starting to divorce. It just seemed like a big hassle.

Geoff: I think for me the appeal of married life, or long-term relationships, or whatever, was the sense of companionship and friendship, so the idea of signing a legal contract to promise to like or love someone just felt weird and unnecessary.

Kim: I kind of miss the opportunity to wear a big fancy dress and have a bouquet. But outside of that, nope.

Geoff: There was a concern about not getting housewares as wedding gifts.

Kim: The biggest benefit to not being married, at this point, is that we can make big financial commitments without involving the other person at all. So, after Geoff’s medical stuff, he was in collections for a lot of bills and had really bad credit. But I had really good credit, so we didn’t have a problem getting an apartment. Now, he has really great credit too, so if I wanted to take on something riskier, it wouldn’t impact his credit even if it tanked mine.

Geoff: I joked this year about doing counterfactual taxes just to see how much the difference would be for us [if we were married], but then I decided I had other things I’d rather spend my time on.

Kim: We haven’t made living wills or advance directives, but it’s on the list, and we’re planning to do it soon. And we don’t share a health insurance plan because we both get it through our jobs.

Geoff: If she were making less then there would be a lot more stress about money generally, but because she’s making more I feel like it’s a bit easier for me to relax about spending. I still get twinges and I’m naturally going to sort of be hesitant to spend, but I think Kim earning more helps me feel less worried.

Kim: Happily, my organization works on recession response policy, so my job is pretty recession-proof. It’s been nice to have that security right now!

Geoff: The funding for my organization definitely became a lot more precarious, due to Covid-19. We changed our major annual event to an online one, that was a big deal. We did manage to get a loan through the Payroll Protection Program and that has helped secure things, at least for a while. But there’s still big question marks for the future.

Kim: We have some specific savings accounts for various big-ticket items. We have a travel account, a general savings account, a computer savings account, and a couple others. The main thing Geoff likes to spend money on is computer and home network stuff, so I think it’s comforting for him to have a dollar amount that we know we’ve set aside for this specific purpose.

I grew up poor, and I think that makes me a more impulsive spender. There were always clothes, toys, food, events, all that kind of stuff that I couldn’t have, and I always felt really limited. So for me, it’s about freedom. I never felt free to really express myself or live the life I wanted to live. But now I feel like I have a lot more real freedom.

Geoff: My family was pretty thrifty while I was growing up. Definitely middle class, but my mom especially liked to spend money on experiences instead of things. So we didn’t have a lot of the sort of middle-class status objects, but we had a nice house and got to take cool trips.

We didn’t have a honeymoon, obviously, but Kim and I have actually said that one of our New Year’s resolutions is to take more short trips because we found ourselves in the position where we would go back to Idaho to see Kim’s family and Oregon to see my family — and that ended up being like seven years. We’re not doing well at our goal. We’re certainly not going out and about to do that kind of stuff; it feels reckless and dangerous. We are saving money, though. And we’ve had a couple long weekends as well, as little “staycations.” It’s something. Especially with Covid, with us both working from home, there’s an especially big problem of blurring work life and personal life. So we take an extra day off here and there.

If you have a compelling story about how money comes into play in one of your relationships — whether with a partner, a friend, a sibling, a coworker — we want to hear about it! Email alanna.okun@vox.com and karen.turner@vox.com with a little about yourself.

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