Ask Colin: Unconventional Setup

Hi Colin,

My husband got a job in another city, and I am tied to our current city professionally as I am in the midst of taking over my family’s art business, which I feel is my mission in life (at least currently).

The job my husband got seems like it’ll help him pursue his own passion. We both respect each other’s need to go on these paths for our own fulfillment, so have decided to live long distance for a maximum of two years (my husband thinks he will get what he needs from the new position in that time). We also have a 7-month-old daughter, which makes things more complicated.

We have decided I will live with my family and he will rent an inexpensive apartment to save us money for flights back and forth, and he will call/Skype our daughter and I daily, and we will visit each other frequently. We will also get rid of a lot of our things to make the various moves easier and less expensive. We will check in with each other frequently to make sure it’s working and if not, reassess.

It’s a setup that is perhaps unconventional but we think necessary for both of our growth.

Any advice from you about how to keep strong financially and as a family, especially in terms of providing a strong family foundation for our daughter would be appreciated.


Hey Robin-

I don’t have any direct experience raising a child, but I do have some general thoughts about your finances and maintaining healthy relationships.

You have the right idea in considering streamlining before the moves, to ensure you’re not having to lug a bunch of additional stuff around, paying for both shipping and storage space.

I would add, though, that figuring out what sorts of possessions serve you and which don’t can help ensure you have exactly the right stuff and no more than that.

Curating your possessions in this way—aiming to own things that add to your life, rather than just taking up space in your home—can help you save money for the rest of your life. You’ll also be less likely to expend resources thoughtlessly in the future, and will be more likely to buy high-quality versions of the things that are most important to you; which can also save you money over time, in addition to potentially providing you with a better experience than a lower-quality, discardable version of the same might.

In other words: a higher up-front investment on better versions of the few things that matter most.

It’s also possible to save money by shopping around and having flexible travel dates.

Google Flights (my current favorite resource for this, though there are other, similar options out there) allows you to set an origin and destination, then see a calendar of the cheapest flights between them each month, which can allow you to shift your plans a day or two and save tens or hundreds of dollars per flight.

You might also consider looking into alternative modes of transportation (like trains and buses) in your region. If you have the time to travel a bit more ponderously, these can at times be substantially cheaper while also giving you the opportunity to see some of the “spaces between places”—the journey can be part of the adventure (Rome2Rio is a good resource for these sorts of travel plans).

It’s possible to save money by using airline points and rewards plans and the like, but I would recommend against becoming too dedicated to just one brand when it comes to travel plans.

It will almost always be cheaper to have flexible travel dates than it will to make travel plans that align with the flights available from that one company whose point-based credit card you use. If you’re aiming for airline status or have an expense account, that’s another story. But the pure dollars-and-cents math usually comes out in favor of flexibility over brand-loyalty.

Let’s talk about staying strong as a family.

It sounds like you’re probably already aware of this, but try to remember along the way that there are no wrong or right shapes for a relationship to take: only shapes that align more or less closely with what you aspire to and what fulfills you.

That means you needn’t adhere to someone else’s ideas of how you’re supposed to connect, interact, or behave with each other. This lifestyle can be whatever you want it to be, as long as everyone involved is on the same page, uncoerced, and getting what they need out of it.

That’s liberating, because it means you can build something truly you-shaped; which in this case means something optimal for you, your husband, and your daughter.

That in mind, I’d suggest taking the time (if you haven’t already) to really home in on what everyone involved needs from each other, and then assess how you might work together to ensure everyone’s needs are met over time: even when things aren’t going according to plan and everything’s gone seemingly off the rails—because that’ll probably happen at some point, and it’s prudent to acknowledge that beforehand.

It’s also a good idea to recognize and acknowledge to each other that your needs will almost certainly shift along the way, and that it’ll be vital to be willing to try new things and perhaps even adjust your plans mid-step, as these shifts occur and as those new conversations happen.

Which brings me to my last point, this one about long-distance communication.

Every communication medium has its own quirks, its own personality. As a consequence, different tools will be more or less appropriate for different sorts of discussions; and that appropriateness will vary from person to person, relationship to relationship.

It’s possible for crucial meaning and nuance to be lost in translation if you’re not careful, and it’s possible to give the wrong impression, or an incomplete impression, which then leads to a hurtful or damaging misunderstanding.

Take the time to figure out which types of information need to be communicated in which ways.

Commit to giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and maybe even figure out a communication “safe-word” that you can use when you need to step outside of the conversation you’re having in order to have a meta-conversation: a conversation about the conversation you’re having.

Essentially, if someone says the word “platypus” (or whatever word you choose), you momentarily set aside what you’re discussing, and what you’re feeling about that discussion, so that you can clarify what you’re talking about, where you’re coming from, or some other vital element that can help that main conversation go more smoothly and productively.

Perhaps most importantly, remember that this is something you’re doing together as teammates, and that you’re giving each other a remarkable gift: this collection of discomforts and burdens are aspects of these wonderful things you’ve decided to do for each other.

Keep that alliance, that camaraderie, at the forefront of your mind during your most trying moments.

Things won’t always be perfect, and there’ll be a lot of educational failures along the way. But it’s an adventure that you’re lucky to be on together, and reminding yourself of that fact could prove to be a powerful salve when you most need it.

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