I never thought I’d be in a long distance relationship. I was one of those of people who thought people in long distance relationships were ridiculous.

Why would I do that to myself? That’s so silly! Find someone new, find someone local!, I thought.

But sometimes things happen in life that make you re-evaluate everything. When I got into my dream school in NYC, I was living in LA and my boyfriend and I had been dating for 2 years. We had talked about me applying to grad school in NYC, but because it was my dream school I really didn’t think I had a chance. I thought for sure I’d get into my safe school, which was in LA.

I ended up not getting into my safe school, so I put my thoughts of grad school on the shelf. Then in a surprise move, I found out I did get into my dream school. My options were to move to New York or not go to graduate school at all.

To make a long story short, moving to New York for graduate school made sense at the time. My partner was also in school and was planning to transfer to another school. Before I moved to New York, we went on vacation to Portland, Oregon. We both really enjoyed the place, and I flippantly said he should look into schools there.

As life would have it, I moved to NYC for school and he moved to PDX for school. It was one of the hardest decisions we had to make, but we both didn’t want one of us to not follow our dreams and feel resentful. But what were we going to do?

At this juncture in time our options were to stay together or break up. I decided to go with the least painful option, which was to stay together. Suddenly, I was going to become one of those people in a long distance relationship and I was determined to make it work. Here are the tips that got me through it:

Come up with a game plan: How long will you be long distance? How often will you communicate? How will you communicate? How often will you see each other? These questions are so important to figure out on the front end, to avoid confusion and heartache later on.

Create a routine: Routine can be immensely helpful in feeling stable amidst so much change. Find out what works best for you two. Maybe you will decide to start the day off with a text, and end the night with a goodnight phone call or Skype session. Once you decide what that is, stick to it and if you can’t for some reason, communicate about it.

Sign up for air miles, train points, etc: When I was doing long distance I had an airline mile accruing debit card, and I also joined all the clubs to get miles for each flight. Because Portland and New York City are at opposite ends of the country, we accumulated quite a few miles during each trip. We were able to get three flights for free during our long distance adventure and that was extremely helpful. Also, empower yourself and know when the best time to buy is, and find deals. Buying flights on Monday and Tuesday is much better than buying them Thursday-Sunday. I also used TravelZoo to find deals. Flying on Thursday or Saturday is much cheaper than leaving on a Friday and coming back on a Monday, is much cheaper than coming back on a Sunday. Learn these tricks to save some money.

Schedule Visits: For me, the worst thing about doing long distance was not knowing when I’d see my boyfriend again. It’s a really unsettling feeling. We would schedule our visits months in advance, just so we’d have something to look forward to. Knowing exactly when you will see each other helps ease the pain and shortens the time between visits.

Find a support system: Make new friends, find others in long distance relationships, and make sure to have a steady support system. It’s important to feel independent, but also connected despite the distance. Have a friend to call if you need to vent. I don’t recommend that you talk to your partner about how hard it is doing long distance. Save those conversations for friends and do your best to keep conversations with your love positive.

Make visits fun and frugal: Seeing your loved one arrive at the airport (or train/bus station, etc) is one of the most glorious feelings in the world, especially if it’s been months since you’ve seen them. You look at your partner with a new curiosity, a renewed love, and a happy heart. Conversely, sending your loved one off to go back is utterly heart wrenching. I can’t count how many times I broke down and cried in the airport or train home. The time together is never enough, so make it fun! Go on walks, go to dinner using groupons, find cheap happy hours and stay inside a while 🙂 The primary cost with long distance is transportation, so save up your money for that. Being together should be your first priority, and not spending all your money like it’s your last night alive (I’ve done that).

Keep the romance alive: Being in a long distance relationship can be really lonely. You are technically in a relationship, but in a lot of ways you feel single, but you can’t act like it. It’s really important to keep the romance alive when you are apart, so you don’t move your relationship to the friend zone. My boyfriend and I set up this system where we would count down the days until we saw each other with a sweet note, or email. I’d send an email (62 days until….), the next day he’d send an email (61 days until….) and we would send each other love notes, songs, pictures, etc. I still have all the emails and they are really fun to go back and read. I know it sounds cheesy, but keeping the romance alive is SO important when distance is a barrier to physical connection.

Move or Breakup: I know that sounds harsh, right? But you are not going to be doing long distance forever. No one starting a long distance relationship intends for it to be a permanent thing. There was a point in my relationship where I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay in New York. I really wanted to, but the financial cost and missing my love was weighing heavily on me. After giving New York my best, I decided to move to Portland and be with my partner. Many of my classmates started graduate school in long distance relationships and to my knowledge I was the lone survivor. Everyone else broke up. Long distance is not easy, but if you are committed, you can make it work.

Adjusting to being together again: Ryan and I were inseparable for the first two years of our relationship in LA, which made doing long distance that much harder. But after a year and a half of being apart, you are forced to be really independent. I didn’t have to check in about dinner or plans, and I could take care of myself. When I moved to Portland, we both had to adjust to being together on a full-time basis and dealing with some of the unglamorous parts about living together: Who pays the bills? Who cleans what?  What are we having for dinner? After doing our own thing separately, it took a while to get back to our groove of being together. After one month of settling back in, everything was great! Now that we’ve lived together for two years, things are in a rhythm and really wonderful.

Are you in a long distance relationship? Have any other tips to add?


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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20 responses to “How to Survive a Long Distance Relationship – On a Budget”

  1. I’ll have to look at travel zoo. It’s especially difficult to plan my trip because I never know when work opportunities will arise. You don’t want to plan to leave the country then find out you have a major callback during that time, or you book a show that starts rehearsal while you’re gone.
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  2. Thanks for writing this! I’ll definitely have to take some of these ideas with my big move coming up.
    Ben @ The Wealth Gospel recently posted…Blogging HiatusMy Profile

  3. The support system is so important. There are probably a few other people who you know who will be going through the same thing and having get togethers takes away some of the loneliness aspect. I don’t think I could do a long distance relationship again, I have quite a few negative feelings from the one time I tried it. You really have to be mature and willing to go through all the ups and downs.
    Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life recently posted…For the Love of Clothing…My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      I know some people have horror stories relating to their LDR’s. Some crappy things happen and people do stupid things. You definitely have to be mature, and be ready for the ups and downs.

  4. I think LDR’s are tough. Never been in one myself longer than a 4 hour drive, but even that was pretty hard! Glad your relationship survived it!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Imbalance and Lifestyle InflationMy Profile

  5. I am actually doing a “taskrabbit” tomorrow where I am delivering roses, a small gift, homemade cookies, and a card to a girl. Her boyfriend is in China and they cannot celebrate their anniversary together. I’m only getting paid about $25 to do it, but at least it’s frugal and smart! (And terribly romantic!)

    I’ve luckily never had to live through this. I dont know if I could last so I tip my hat to you and your boyfriend!
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    • deardebt says:

      That’s an awesome gig and I love taskrabbit. I wish it was more active here in PDX. I’m glad the person hiring you is trying to keep the romance alive 🙂

  6. I know it’s never easy but my college boyfriend and I racked up some pretty hefty phonecalls in the days before cell phones, skype, google hangouts, and facetime. Nothing is the same as actually being there but definitely don’t forget to take advantage of the technology you have now to
    “spend time” with your SO.
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    • deardebt says:

      The phone calls and flights can add up quickly! Skype is a godsend to people in long distance relationships. We have so many resources now, it’s fairly easy to stay in touch.

  7. anna says:

    Great post, Melanie – I agree about having a routine, especially if there’s different time zones to consider. I had an LD relationship waaaay back in undergrad, and though it was before Skype, the regular IM chats were helpful. It’s a challenging task (we didn’t work out obviously), but I’ve seen it work out (though yes, a move was inevitable to truly make it work!).
    anna recently posted…Confessions of a Somewhat-Procastinating Early Bird with a Love-Hate Fitness RelationshipMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Skype definitely saved my relationship and probably so many others too. It’s difficult, but you can make it work. I think timing, age and how serious you are also affect the success of it. I could not do it if I was in my early 20’s.

  8. eemusings says:

    These are wonderful tips. Thank you for sharing! I was in a long distance relationship but it was kinda unique as he was in the army and so communication was extremely limited. We did the old fashioned thing and wrote letters.
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  9. I have come to realise that long distance relationships don’t work for me. I moved abroad when I was 20 leaving my fiance behind. It took me three months to move back home, it was unbearable. It does work for some people though, I’m just not one of them 😉
    Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…New Job, New Addition to my Family and my Huge 30th Birthday PartyMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      It’s good to realize that. I thought I was that person too, but I did my darnest to make it work, and somehow it did. Not easily. I don’t think I could have done it if I was in my early 20’s that’s for sure.

  10. I can feel for you! I remember I had a long distance girlfriend in high school and it was awful! However the advice you’ve got here is pretty solid. Plus with technology and all the various ways you can keep in touch I think that will really help to really make it all seem possible.
    My Money Design recently posted…Traditional vs Roth 401k – Is the Roth Really the Better Deal? Maybe Not!My Profile

  11. How lovely that you and your boyfriend made it work. When I met my husband he lived around 2 hours away from me which seemed like long distance. We saw each other once per week for ages and I really do think absence makes the heart grow fonder!
    Hayley @ A Disease Called Debt recently posted…Why ignorance is definitely not bliss when it comes to debt!My Profile

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