What My Long-Distance Relationship Taught Me About Saving Money

When deciding whether to have a long-distance relationship, the decision is often fraught with "what ifs." What if we struggle to communicate? What if we can't see each other more than once a month? What if it doesn't work out?

Believe me, I've been there.

The one thing I didn't consider — and perhaps one of the more important what ifs — was how much it actually costs to stay in a long-distance relationship.

My boyfriend and I have been long-distance for nearly a year and a half at this point — he lives in Washington DC, as he finishes getting his degree, while I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. Our decision to go long-distance was easy. We had already been together for four years and had survived a brief long-distance stint when he studied abroad in Chile.

After a year and a half, as our time as a long-distance couple is ending (we're finally moving in together at the end of the month!), I can honestly say that I'm surprised at how much the relationship cost. Perhaps our largest expense was frequent bus trips between New York and DC. My boyfriend and I saw each other twice a month, usually taking turns to do the long ride. Planning trips months in advance yielded those rare $1 Megabus trips, which was helpful. But even those weren't as cheap as expected: the company charges a $5 fee for an order, so a $1 round-trip ticket ends up costing roughly $12. If we forgot to plan ahead, though, a bus trip could cost $30 one way on average, or roughly $70 overall.

Travel costs became even higher thanks to the dubious public transit systems. The DC metro is notoriously bad, and my boyfriend didn't live within walking distance of the station. When my bus got in late (a frequent occurrence), the metros in DC were no longer running. I usually paid extra to book a Lyft to get to his apartment, which ended up costing around $12 per trip.

It's also important to factor in the cost of food for travel. At first, I'd pick up a $10 Sweetgreen salad to make my trip a little easier. Inevitably bored and maybe a little hungry at the rest stop, I would also purchase a fun drink or some candy to tide me over for the rest of the ride. Soon, though, I learned that packing a dinner and some snacks was a much more wallet-friendly option.

Once I arrived, I would settle in and realize I forgot something. I'm typically a bit of an overpacker and a product hoarder. Still, I managed to forget things like my brush, color-safe shampoo and conditioner, or extra underwear. Yikes. Of course, with some of these things (e.g. shampoo), I could just use my boyfriend's version. But he has short hair, so he doesn't own a brush, and off to the local Target we'd go. Ten dollars later — sometimes more — my comfort was ensured.

While staying at each other's places, my boyfriend and I often fell into spending traps. We'd try to fit weeks of dates into two days, so spending extra at bars or dinners was not unheard of. We're both typically budget-conscious, but in an effort to make our time together feel special, we threw spending rules out the window when we saw each other.

One instance in particular makes me cringe in retrospect. One Friday when my boyfriend visited, we went to a bar near my office in the Financial District in Manhattan and ordered one of our dive bar favorites: picklebacks. The tab for just the shots of Jameson and pickle juice clocked in at $28 before tip. I forked over the cash (we switch off paying for drinks and it was my turn) but regretted that shot for days. As time went on, we found more budget-friendly date spots (Alligator Lounge, anyone?), but the initial drain on both of our bank accounts was painful.

Similarly, the costs of prepping for a visit begin to mount up. Little touches, like making sure to have his favorite beer on hand (or on his end, my favorite wine), as well as making nice dinners can add up. And sometimes I'd spend extra on beauty treatments like waxes, which can net $50 (tip included) in New York. Of course, these weren't necessary. But we both felt this pressure to be our best selves when we were visiting because it was sometimes the only opportunity we had to see each other for the month. I wanted to feel my best, so sometimes I paid more for a manicure or a new outfit.

In retrospect, I could have spent less on my long-distance relationship. I didn't realize until late in the game how to time purchases of Megabus tickets (watch for emails from the company, buy them right after). I could have been a more organized packer and stuck to my budget by packing dinners or forgoing beauty treatments. My savings account certainly would have benefited from this — during my first year and a half in New York, I haven't been able to save nearly as much as I had hoped. This is in part thanks to my spending habits when it came to my relationship.

The thing is, though, I wouldn't give up the experience, even if it meant I'd have some extra cash in savings. What I would change is thinking about how I would pay to keep the relationship up, even from afar.