Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Should I Offer To Financially Help My Boyfriend?”

Love or money

I recently got a job which pays me almost twice what my live-in boyfriend makes. He’s got some student loans that he has to pay off, and he’s afraid to go back to school and accrue even more loans. We’ve only been together eight months, but we’ve not seen any red flags at this point, and we’ve got a joint cell phone line. We’ve discussed moving out of state together and we know we’re signing our next lease together, but we’re still in our early twenties and, though we have similar ideas of what we’d like our lifestyles to look like later on in life, it’s not as if we’ve discussed lifelong commitment.

I’d love to help him financially in some way now that I’ve got some extra income, whether that would be paying more for bills so he has more money for his loans, contributing to his school costs, or whatever would help the most. I’m not considering this a loan in any way, though I know that he’ll try to pay it back in full anyway, because he’s got integrity. Still, I know that, even with family, it’s best not to loan without the expectation that you might not get it back.

My question isn’t whether I should help him financially; I’m a careful enough budgeter and saver that I can do that without endangering myself or my stability. I’m also not concerned that he’ll feel emasculated — he’s self-aware enough and educated enough regarding gender roles that I don’t think that will be an issue. I’m mostly worried that it will seem like I’m trying to jump the gun on commitment with him when I’m really viewing it as an investment in his and my future, whether that is together or not. So, how should I approach that conversation with him, and do you have any thoughts on whether it would be better to pay more in bills or to pay his loans directly? — Intrepid Breadwinner

I’m starting to feel a little… I don’t know, alarmed isn’t quite the right word, and I’m not surprised exactly… I guess it’s disappointment I’m feeling. I’m disappointed lately at the number of letters I’m getting from people who already live with their significant others and avoid discussions about the seriousness of their relationship for fear seeming to want to move too quickly. Why are you moving in together before discussing where your relationship is going, what your future goals are, whether you see living together as another step forward toward life-long commitment?

I speak from experience: When you move in with someone before discussing longterm commitment, before thinking of an exit strategy if things go south, before doing all of these things, you set yourself up for a potentially much longer and more difficult break-up than you would otherwise have. Save yourself the grief and have these conversations before shacking up. And if it’s too uncomfortable or too awkward to discuss longterm commitment and bill-sharing in terms of your longterm financial future together, then maybe you aren’t ready for the commitment — even a potentially short-term commitment — of sharing an address.

But you, LW, are past that now. It’s too late to think about what you should do before moving in with your boyfriend, and now that you’ve already made that step you need to retroactively have the discussions you should have had earlier. And, luckily, you have a great opportunity to broach the topic of finances as they relate to your future together (and, yes, if you’re going to be helping your boyfriend financially, you need to think of it as an investment in your shared future, not, as you said, “in his and [your] future, whether that is together or not.”) Broaching the topic of finances will give you a chance to discuss your future together in a way it sounds like maybe you haven’t already. Will he think you’re jumping the gun on a commitment? Maybe. But if he does, then you know where he stands. And he knows where you stand. He’ll know that you imagine a future with him, are planning as such, and think of yourself as investing in that future together with him. If that’s too much for him, then you deserve to know that now. Before you invest more — of yourself or your money.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

32 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Moi March 14, 2016, 8:30 am

    Don’t lend, gift, co-sign anything to him. I don’t know of a single time where that worked out. The dynamics in the relationship will shift immediately and one of you will start feeling resentful. Suppose he meets someone and leaves you. Suppose you lose your job. Once people marry expectations about finances are different but this is a new relationship and you have no idea where it is going.

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    • avatar

      Sketchee March 14, 2016, 10:52 am

      Great point, Moi! This will impact the dynamics in the relationship. Once the dynamic is already setup as a trusting partnership, then this can be addressed later.

      Why not just save the money, LW? When you get to the point in your relationship where it makes sense to combine finances, decide at that point whether you want to help settle the loans. The difference is likely only a few years of interest on the loans, which you say are small.

      I do think it could be reasonable to look at how you’re dividing current household expenses that both are benefiting it

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    • avatar

      zombeyonce March 14, 2016, 12:17 pm

      The resentful thing here is key. It may be hard for the LW to imagine being resentful since she’s feeling so benevolent right now, but what about when, after she starts paying more of the bills, he buys something extravagant for himself instead of paying more toward his student loans? He’ll have every right to (it’s HIS money whether he earned it or she gave it to him) but I bet she’d very quickly feel resentful that her trying to “invest in their future” just means that he gets to treat himself. This is a bad idea.
      .
      LW, if you really want to invest in your future together, listen to other commenters and max out a Roth IRA, sock away a house down payment, invest in the stockmarket for the long term (ETFs are great, so are blue chip stocks), and start budgeting with savings accounts for things you’ll want to buy (vacations, clothes, car maintenance, etc.) because even if you’ve got a lot of money, you should be smart about spending it. “Pay yourself first” is a seriously beneficial mantra. And no one’s saying your boyfriend can’t benefit from these if you really do have a future together. I’m sure he’ll be really happy you put away money for a house down payment and a fabulous retirement if you stay together.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom March 14, 2016, 8:48 am

    Before lending or giving any money to your boyfriend make sure you are fully funding a retirement account for yourself. The early twenties is the best time to start a retirement account because you get the maximum benefit of years of growth. Funding generously now will also help if down the road you lose your job and can’t put funds into your account for a while or if you end up losing your job at 55 and can’t find another with benefits. You have now to get your retirement in order and that should be a higher priority than a boyfriend that you can’t talk to about commitment.

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    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover March 14, 2016, 9:00 am

      Totally agree with this. The extra money you have now can help set you up for life, don’t waste it. You don’t know what the future will bring, you may run into tough times and need this money. Don’t use it on someone who you don’t even know if they’ll be around in a couple of years.

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  • Raccoon eyes

    Raccoon eyes March 14, 2016, 9:06 am

    WWS, and what Moi and Skyblossom are telling you.
    *
    You have NOTHING but time in your early 20s. You and your BF both do- to live, to love, to get and lose jobs and money, etc. You have been together 8 months- I know it FEELS like forever, but I promise you that it is a mere snap of your fingers’ time-wise. You may feel like you are making an “investment,” but I think you are misunderstanding what an investment is… So if you want to make an investment, make it for you! Because as much as the two of you dont see red flags (duh what? “[W]e’ve not seen any red flags…”), that is because you JUST MET. And moved in together. And share a cell phone plan. Yet havent really talked in concrete future terms- and your underlying message is this: How Do I Offer Him Money and NOT Scare Him Off? You are, in fact, still not secure in your relationship with him, even after sharing a living space and a cell phone plan. So dont. Do not offer him money, or a loan, or investment or whatevertheh*ll.
    *
    For future reference, it is better to live with roomies than a significant other, for potential breakup purposes. While as roomies, you can live out the lease and be mostly civil and stay to yourself if things go south- but with a partner, that breakup is So.Much.Worse. And drawn out. And emotionally charged. And the fight over stuff you bought together becomes a minefield. And so much more.

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  • kmtthat

    kmentothat March 14, 2016, 9:11 am

    It’s been 8 months, and you aren’t even sure if you have a future. Please do what men have been doing for eons and take care of yourself first. I third what was said above about maxing out your retirement and also suggest you start saving aggressively for the future: for a down payment on a home, wedding, going back to school, vacation, etc. That savings CAN be used for your future together should that pan out, but WON’T be totally gone in the same way funding things now will should things not pan out.
    .
    As long as he is able to do what he needs to do (pay rent, pay bills, eat, etc.) let him take care of himself. Be respectful about finding a new place that isn’t too expensive and feel free to pay halfies on dates or pay for a few nice things here or there. You aren’t his wife, you are young, let him take care of himself. He doesn’t need a mother.
    .
    All this is coming from a recent breakup where I made double what my live-in boyfriend of three years made. I paid the majority of rent, did all of the savings, and it stirred up resentment on both sides, even though he was totally mentally “fine” with it. Just don’t go there until you are further committed and are a unit….like engaged or married.

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    • kmtthat

      kmentothat March 14, 2016, 9:24 am

      Oh and in case you are wondering, that bf and I broke up because I caught him cheating on me, which I in a million years did not expect. Invest in YOURSELF.

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    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover March 14, 2016, 9:28 am

      Excellent point that you can easily invest the money right now, and later on down the road if you two end up as a serious committed couple, you could use it to get rid of his student loans at that time. It doesn’t have to be right now.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros March 14, 2016, 9:11 am

    It’s way too early to be thinking about giving him money. Just because there aren’t any red flags yet doesn’t mean there won’t be (you couldn’t have possibly learned everything about him and experienced a full range of relationship situations after eight months). Not to mention that people break up for more than just red flags. They break up simply because they find the person isn’t who they want to be with or they’re just not feeling it anymore or they realize there’s some incompatibility, like one person wants kids and one doesn’t. To give large sums of money to someone who you’ve only known for eight months is reckless and naive.
    .
    Not only that, but that sort of gift or loan will likely create pressure on the two of you. Perhaps if one of you decides they aren’t feeling it anymore, it’ll make it more difficult to break up. Maybe he’ll want to dump you, but will feel guilty, so he’ll stick around, while you think things are fine. Maybe you’ll decide to dump him, but you’ll feel like you already invested so much in him that you should stick around. Or it’ll make him uncomfortable because he’ll feel like it’s too much too fast. Or he’ll do something like buy himself a new phone, and you’ll feel disappointed that he’s spending money on frivolous things while you’re paying for loans. Or you’ll fight over who should spend more on groceries. Point being that it’s more than just money. And I agree with the above comments that as an adult, you need to be thinking about your financial stability. Having a good income means that you should be socking it away for retirement and in your savings for future expenses, like emergencies or a house or whatever. I’m not saying this to be mean, but frankly, it makes me concerned for the state of young women as a whole when the first response to having a good income is to give it to a guy because you’re in love.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. March 14, 2016, 9:41 am

    Do not lend this man any money. He needs to figure out how to manage his money himself. When it is clear whether you have a future together or not, then you can talk about helping him out with his debts. (And if you decide to make him a loan, make sure the terms are clearly written out, so it can be enforced if necessary.)
    *
    I’ve also been saddened by letters like these. It’s ironic to me that people don’t want to have the big relationship talk because they’re afraid their SO may think they’re pushing for a commitment, but yet they have no problem making a commitment to live together, which would say to me, “Yeah, we’re committed.” Maybe it’s a generational thing.

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  • avatar

    Brise March 14, 2016, 9:45 am

    You are not a bank, you don’t invest in someone else’s future, except later for your children when you have a family. Save that additional money. It might then be useful for common projects like a wedding, a house, … But don’t give yourself this grand role of the provider and don’t “buy” a future with him. This is your boyfriend’s responsability to fund his studies, and yes, it is emasculating. It denies his capability to afford his own existence, and it is a heavy burden, for him, to carry your romantic expectations which come with your financial support – so young! Don’t add a transaction to a relationship. When you live together, divide the bills in proportion to your incomes – it will already be a help for him. But make it clear that it can reverse in the future, and never fund him completely. Bravo for your good career! Seek your own success, instead of fantasizing how to fund your boyfriend. He can sort out his career. But you could discuss how to support one another, other than by money.

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    • avatar

      RedRoverRedRover March 14, 2016, 9:59 am

      I wouldn’t say it’s emasculating, since the same thing would be true if the genders were reversed. It’s just a bit patronizing, in either direction. Grown adults shouldn’t need their SOs jumping in with extra cash when they’re perfectly capable (or should be) of managing their own finances.

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      • avatar

        dinoceros March 14, 2016, 12:08 pm

        Agreed. This isn’t about gender, and I think it’s a problem to imply that getting help, financial or otherwise, has some sort of bearing on one’s masculinity or that it’s only OK for women to receive help.

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  • Portia

    Portia March 14, 2016, 10:04 am

    Please invest in yourself, like others are saying. If the two of you work out, then investing in yourself will also be investing in your future with this guy – if he’s still saddled with school debt, them you can both decide whether it makes sense to pay down his bills together.
    .
    If you missed it in the Friday links a few weeks back, please read about the benefits of having a “fuck off fund.” It’s for any situation in your life where you need a financial cushion to say “no,” not just a bad relationship but also leaving a bad apartment, a bad job, fixing a future house, anything.
    .
    This may be totally off the mark, but I also wonder if the boyfriend has made any comments on not wanting to make a serious commitment until his ducks are in a row. If that’s something that’s influencing your decision to help him pay his bills, please rethink that. Getting his financial situation sorted out is his responsibility and you can’t do it for him and hasten a commitment that way.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph March 14, 2016, 10:08 am

    I generally agree with the above advice. Open an IRA and contribute the max every year, bump your 401k contribution, start a savings account for your own future. These things are an investment in you future and also in your future mate’s future… whether it’s this guy or someone else.
    However, I think if I were in a live-in relationship with someone who was financially comfortable while I was struggling to pay my expenses and loans, I do think this would breed resentment. I would take it as an indicator that the other person didn’t see a future with me. Which is true… but that doesn’t make it FEEL good!

    If you’re not at the point where you can have honest discussions about finances, then I guess you needn’t tell him how much you make at all and then it’s not an issue. If he knows though, they you ought to be able to be honest about how you are prioritizing savings and that if your relationship continues it will be to both of your benefit in the long run.
    I would make a policy that you not pay down anyone’s debt without [insert level of commitment you require– I’d say engagement, but I recognize that’s not where everyone would draw the line]. However, if you are able to squirrel away savings, max out all your tax advantaged contributions, and still have enough left over to pick up the tab on more than half of your dates/outings/dinners/whatever or, say, pay the water bill every month without his half, then I’d say that would be a nice gesture to relieve some of his financial strain.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros March 14, 2016, 12:09 pm

      That’s a good point. To me, I think if you honestly see a future with someone (like decades down the road), then your financial stability will benefit them. If she funds retirement accounts or saves for a house, then if he’s still around then, it’ll benefit him, too.

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  • avatar

    commonsense March 14, 2016, 10:13 am

    Maybe I missed it, if anyone mentioned this, but are you paying your “fair” share of expenses already? if you make double what he does you should be contributing more to the household bills. Example: you make $2000, he makes $1000 giving a total income of $3000. That means you should be paying 66 % of bills and he should be paying 33 % to do the math take your total household income and then divided it by your individual income and that will give you the percentage you should be paying ( 3000/2000 = .666667).

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph March 14, 2016, 10:29 am

      I’m not convinced that this is THE way to split expenses. It certainly is A way and seems like a fair one, but I wouldn’t say that every couple has to divide it this way.

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    • kmtthat

      kmentothat March 14, 2016, 10:29 am

      This is what I did, and to be honest, at 8 months in I wouldn’t recommend it. In this way they’d be functioning as a unit and honestly, they aren’t yet. It’s more of a roommate situation in that just because one roommate makes more doesn’t make their share more. I don’t say this to discount the relationship, but 8 months with no real talk about the future…is not a financial unit.
      .
      I’d recommend finding an apt where they can do 50/50 and it’s comfortable for him at his financial level.

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      • Cassie

        Cassie March 14, 2016, 12:22 pm

        I agree with this. I did think of advising they split expenses proportionally, but since it’s only been 8 months I’d advise the LW to wait more time until the relationship has progressed further. At that point they can discuss commitment, relationship goals, and readdress their finances.

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    • avatar

      ktfran March 14, 2016, 11:05 am

      I would only be comfortable splitting finances proportionally like that if we talked about commitment and were on the road to a life long partnership or marriage. If not, I would consider living with a guy, even if he is my boyfriend, like any other roommate…. so splitting.
      .
      This LW is afraid to bring it up so not to scare him off, which means they aren’t ready for shared finances.
      .
      Basically, what Kmen said.

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  • avatar

    K March 14, 2016, 10:21 am

    Don’t do it. It’s still so early on in your relationship. My boyfriend helped to pay off his ex’s student loans, and then she cheated on him with multiple people once they were engaged. He eventually regretted helping her. Like others have said, use the extra money to invest in your retirement, or sock it away for a future down payment on a house, use it to go on a nice vacation, whatever.

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  • avatar

    Essie March 14, 2016, 10:32 am

    Seriously, LW – listen to the very wise advice you’ve gotten from everyone here. If you want to “invest” in your boyfriend/relationship, put the money in the bank for things the two of you will need together, someday, IF your relationship lasts. A house, car, etc.

    And Wendy, I’m right there with you. We’re getting an awful lot of letters lately from young people in very new relationships that are in such a hurry to “start their lives,” but aren’t anywhere near emotionally ready, or the relationship isn’t ready, to do that.

    I know I may sound patronizing, and I don’t mean to, but I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone in their fifties. What it looks like from this end is young people who are craving “adult life” – a house, a husband, children. And understandably so. They’re intellectually and in many cases financially, completely able to do that. But they still approach relationships like a teenager in some ways. I’m thinking of those same letters Wendy is, that say something like “eek, I can’t talk to him, what if he finds out I like him more than he likes me!” That’s the way someone in high school handles a relationship.

    When you’re in a relationship that’s mature enough, and you’re mature enough, to make a lifelong commitment, you don’t think that way. Or if you do, you push those thoughts away, because you know that that kind of partnership requires the willingness to be vulnerable.

    Anyway, what we’re all getting at, LW, is….slow down. Put your money in the bank. Let your relationship become whatever it’s going to be. No matter how “forever” it feels right now, it’s probably newer than most of your clothes. You’ll know soon enough.

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  • avatar

    Lovelygirl March 14, 2016, 11:02 am

    Do not offer to help pay his bills. If you feel there is an imbalance in splitting your rent/utilities 50/50, consider splitting them by percentage of income. If you make 2x what he makes, consider paying 2/3 of the bills regarding rent/utilities ONLY. But that is up to you to want to do that so early into a relationship. I did this with my husband when he moved in with me while we were engaged and it worked out well for us. He made a contribution and still had money leftover to pay his student loans.

    Listen to everyone else: invest in yourself by maxing out your 401k contribution and ensure you create a healthy emergency fund for yourself. Do this now before you get used to making a high salary.

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  • avatar

    Vathena March 14, 2016, 11:22 am

    Agreed with everyone else above. If you can’t even have this conversation because you’re scared he’ll think you’re pushing him into a commitment, you should NOT be giving him money. His bills are his responsibility. (As someone said above, you don’t want to start feeling like his mom and monitoring how he spends his money.) Save a nice nest egg for your future. If/when you are planning a formal commitment with him or anyone else, it will be there to pay off loans, plan a wedding, buy a house, or whatever you need. At the very most, you could treat him on more of your dates, or pay for a nice trip. Save any heavy financial assistance for when you have a more mature relationship in which you can comfortably discuss finances, commitment, and all the rest.

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  • FireStar

    Firestar March 14, 2016, 11:27 am

    Everyone else is right. Invest in your future. If he is still around when that time comes he will get the benefit of it.

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  • avatar

    Essie March 14, 2016, 11:28 am

    Oh, and what everyone else is saying about saving for retirement is spot on. I did put a percentage of my salary in an annuity starting with my first “real” job out of college. If it’s coming out of your check before you get it, you don’t even miss it.

    I had that job for 7 years and wasn’t making much, so I wasn’t contributing much. What that account grew into over the next 30 years made me able to semi-retire early. Honest to God, those little contributions I made for 7 years, in the 80’s, were the difference between working at my AWFUL corporate job for another 5-7 years, or walking away and doing freelance writing on my own terms and schedule.

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  • avatar

    artsygirl March 14, 2016, 11:43 am

    A sticking point for me is that there was no mention in the letter that states that the LW’s BF wants or needs a loan or financial assistance. Yes he makes less than the LW and has student debt, but there is no evidence that he is struggling desperately to pay his bills and the rent. LW, you sound like a very generous person but if he has not asked for help, you cannot assume that he wants or even needs it just because he makes less than you. As mentioned by many of the commentators above, your relationship is still so new that you should take care of yourself financially before you start promising to support your BF. What you can do is perhaps shoulder a bit more of the financial burden in small ways such as paying for groceries, picking up the tab at dinner, etc.

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  • avatar

    for_cutie March 14, 2016, 11:52 am

    Dear LW, use your money to invest in your savings and retirement. If you do have a long-term with this guy, those savings and retirement will become both of yours. Giving money to someone outright and financing them TODAY will put you at a disadvantage tomorrow. If your tomorrow is with him, then investing helps you both. Win/Win.

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    • avatar

      for_cutie March 14, 2016, 12:03 pm

      I just read all of the comments and everyone says pretty much the same thing. It’s a miracle. And it is all true, hope you read this and follow the wise advice.

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