There’s an interesting discussion in the forums about money and relationships. Specifically, it’s about how to split expenses — especially expenses that arise from things like weddings — in a committed, live-in relationship. The LW writes:
Our financial situations are so different now that there is a huge disparity in our spending habits. For instance, I always buy groceries so that I never need to eat out. My boyfriend thinks nothing of exclusively eating out and taking us out for $200 to $300 dinners (he considers eating out at good restaurants training/networking for him), even though I insist that I would rather just make dinner at home and snuggle on the couch. And since my boyfriend takes us out for expensive dinners — dinners that I would rather skip — he thinks splitting our household expenses 50-50 is fair.
Additionally, I’ll be a bridesmaid in three weddings in the next year and have a lot of related expenses that will put a financial strain on me. Yesterday, I mentioned my financial concerns to my boyfriend and he said he could “lend me money interest-free.” I have to admit, I was sort of taken aback by his wording (and won’t be taking him up on the offer since I’m not in that dire straits). Regardless, I thanked him and asked whether he thought we should both contribute to wedding gifts or if he thought the gift should be handled by the person closest to the one getting married. He said it should be handled entirely by the one closest to the people getting married, which makes sense, but now I am wondering if he expects that I will also pay for his travel expenses? We got rid of our cars when we moved to the city, and to rent a car or take a train/get a hotel is going to be expensive. We will need to travel to the suburbs for all the weddings I am in. I know I need to communicate this with him, but I am curious what other couples do.
My questions are: In your relationship, who pays for what when you are attending or in a wedding? Does your SO contribute? And, if you have a big paycheck discrepancy with your SO, how do you handle rent/bills/entertainment? — Money Matter in Love
First of all, while it’s interesting to hear how other people handle finances in their relationships and their stories can give you ideas and inspiration, in the end it doesn’t really matter what other people do. What matters is your and your partner’s needs and desires, and what makes the most sense for you and your level of commitment. Obviously, to figure out what matters to your both and what makes the most sense to you, you have to communicate — a lot. And compromise.
For you specifically and for people in general, the best way to approach discussions about finances in relationships is to first think carefully about what YOU want. Based on your combined income and the amount of time you both spend at work, how would you cover your expenses and your household chores if you could wave a magic wand? Would it be a 50-50 financial split and a 50-50 split of chores? Would you contribute more toward finances and expect your partner to contribute more toward chores or vice versa?
Once you figure out what your desire is, figure out what your needs are. In an ideal situation, you might like your partner to do more chores, but in reality, you have more time and/or less money than your partner. If your NEED is for more financial help from your partner, figure out what you are able to offer in exchange. If what you can offer meets a need your partner has, then you’re in a better place to find a compromise. Certainly, if you ALREADY do more in terms of household chores, it would seem fair that your partner contributes more financially, but it’s your job to prove to your partner that you are, in fact, meeting a need he has (for a clean house, clean dishes, a walked dog, etc.).
If he doesn’t think you’re meeting his needs, you either have to convince him that, yes, you ARE — which may mean explicitly listing all the things that you do that he may not realize you do because chores tend to be invisible once they’re done. If he still doesn’t get it, you may have to NOT do the chores for a period of time so he can see that, oh yeah, those things are kind of important and do need to be done and he doesn’t have time or energy to do them — OR you have to ask him what other needs he might have that you can meet. I would not use sex as a negotiating tactic or you risk commodifying intimacy in your relationship which is weird at best and unhealthy, degrading, and disastrous at worst.
On the flip side, when you sit down to communicate your needs with your partner and negotiate the split of expenses and chores, he has to express HIS needs and try to convince you how the things he’s already doing — or things he’s willing to do — meets yours. In your specific case, it would be your boyfriend’s job to convince you that those $200-$300 dinners meet your needs, and you have to be prepared to let him know that they don’t (and that maybe that money would be better spent on a cleaning lady!). And then you have to let him know what would be, in your mind, a more fair exchange of what you do and what you want/need in return.
When a couple lives together and plans to get married, these conversations also need to include talks about future goals. What kind of wedding do you want? Where do you want to settle down? Do you want to buy a place? Do you want to have kids? What’s your desires timeframe for these things? What are you doing NOW to meet these goals in the timeframe you have in mind? Once you start talking in terms of goals you have 5-10 years from now, those $200-$300 dinners may not seem to your boyfriend like the best investment of his money. Even if he’s not willing to contribute more to your current household expenses, he may be willing to put that money in an account that you may BOTH use, say, to buy your first home or pay for your wedding or go on honeymoon or send your kid(s) to college one day.
Obviously, these can be tough conversations. They can break up a relationship. Money often does. But if you want to spend your life with someone, these are conversations that HAVE to be had, and these are compromises that not only have to be made NOW, they have to be re-visited and often re-negotiated over and over. Luckily, as commitment between two people grows, and goals start to align, these conversations can get much easier. But if your goals DON’T start to align, you may decide that the relationship doesn’t have a future. Because what’t the point in staying with someone if you don’t share the same vision of a desired future? And what’s the point in staying with someone who can’t or won’t or doesn’t have any interest in meeting your needs?
Living together is a wonderful opportunity to test the waters of a life-long commitment. Being spouses or “life partners” or whatever you want to call it means being teammates. You work together to not only make each other’s life a little easier, you work together to reach your longterm goals. Now is your chance to see how well you’re doing that. Does your partner make your life easier? Is he doing anything to help you reach longterm goals? And what are YOU doing to make his life easier? What are YOU doing to help him reach longterm goals. If the answer to any of these questions is “nothing,” then it’s time to re-evaluate this relationship and either break up or figure out how to make some changes.
Finally, when it comes to the wedding expenses, if you can’t afford to be a bridesmaid in three upcoming weddings, you either need to back out or figure out how you can earn more money. If you CAN afford it — even if it means scaling back on other expenses — that’s the choice you’ve made. Your boyfriend didn’t have the option of you being a bridesmaid in these weddings and it’s not fair to expect him to help you out. Now, he DOES have an option about whether to go to the weddings, do if you can’t afford to pay his travel expenses, let him decide whether he wants to pay for himself or not. You may not like his answer and it may affect your overall picture of your relationship and your future together, but it’s better to learn that now that another year or two down the road. As for weddings gifts: your friends or family, your expense. And that goes until you merge finances and/or mutually decide otherwise.
Readers, in interest of discussion, let’s go back to the LW’s questions to all of you: “In your relationship, who pays for what when you are attending or in a wedding? Does your SO contribute? And, if you have a big paycheck discrepancy with your SO, how do you handle rent/bills/entertainment?”
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.