“Who’s Paying For That?”: 6 Lessons From A Financially Disparate Relationship

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I have to be honest (it is #totalhonestytuesday after all), that this article is difficult to write. I started this journey with wanting to compare my financial upbringing with that of my partner; however, that article would have ended up being about our parents. Instead, this article is about us, two millennials being honest about the challenges of “financial diversity” to enlighten other millennials in the same situation. The majority of these situations apply to a variety of relationships, but favor couples who already live shared lives, or plan to do so.

In being with someone from a very different financial background than myself (which obviously leads to different values), I’ve learned a few key lessons about navigating the tricky waters of money while keeping your relationship in focus. This is what I know.

1. Your financial upbringing will affect your future spending habits.

Make a conscious effort to speak openly with your partner about his or her habits if they are making you feel financially insecure. My partner was raised a first-generation American who sees living above your means as a necessary evil (New Yorkers can’t seem to shake this point). I was raised in a very fiscally conservative home in the suburbs where we were taught to save everything you brought through the door. We have different sorts of cushions behind us to help supplement our incomes if needed. Given our current employment situations, I bring home more than he does right now. What we do with our incomes is related to our financial upbringing, leading me to point two…

2. The solution to financial inequality is proportion-based contribution to a joint account.

We did 25% personal and 75% joint, mainly because we live in New York and rent is… well, at least it’s not San Francisco. Agree on a proportion that you think is fair, and which is not based on dollars contributed, or you can back out of the percentage by using your credit limit like I did. That way, you can pay off your personal stuff if you hit your limit without relying on your partner (PSA — always pay more than the minimum. That’s first grade, SpongeBob). Also, the great Suze Orman always advocates that partners should be financially independent to some degree… and I agree with Suze. At the same time, you never have to argue about who pays for dinner; you are two grown adults so put it on the joint card. But sometimes, this doesn’t always happen according to plan…

3. Sometimes joint expenses will have to be covered by your personal account, and you have to let that go.

Everyone spends more than they thought in IKEA when you both have different views on what necessary & what’s nice-to-have. This goes back to Point 1. Unless you wanna cry in a store (I’ve done it; don’t do it. Sorry, Macy’s) then you have to have a great plan beforehand. Sometimes, the best laid plans go awry, and one of you is clearly buying that chair right this second (it’s the last one!) or buying those plane tickets to San Francisco two days before you leave (didn’t we just pay rent last month?). Unless your partner has your personal account number, you will always be in control of the decision.

4. Do not start tallying up who owes whom, especially after point 3 happens.

That’s why it’s called sharing, not borrowing. You are not a banker or a landlord; you are a co-owner of your shared lives now. It can be really easy to fall into the blame game when you find out that you don’t have enough in the shared account. The money is not longer “yours” or “mine,” but “ours.” You both have equal rights to access the account and spend its contents. My partner always says that anything in the joint account is automatically 100% his and 100% mine to use; however, you still have to be respectful of the other person.

5. On the other hand, one person should not be bailing out the other all the time.

If you suspect that your partner is overspending your shared money on personal expenses, then you need to evaluate if joint finances are working for you. It is perfectly okay to part your financial ways if it’s hurting your relationship. You will have to split the remaining pot 50-50, though. Otherwise, you’ll have a nasty battle of trying to track back every cent of that account. Don’t bring pay stubs to a knife fight.

6. All relationships will have money problems eventually.

Someone drained the account on Seamless, someone bought a new gadget, someone really likes riding in cabs, the list goes on. These are things that can be managed with open dialogue. My partner really wanted an Apple Watch for work, so we planned the most ideal possible time to buy one in between billing cycles. You want to make sure that any nice-to-haves are spent with the “money left over” bucket. This process helped us to avoid fighting about his purchase because we agreed beforehand on the best way to afford it. Whenever possible, prior proper planning prevents poor performance. Because this level of planning may not always be possible, you have to be prepared to cut back on unnecessary purchases or you may encounter problems with making ends meet.

Ultimately, the thread that runs through these lessons is a pretty hard-to-swallow compromise. But it’s a real life lesson. You cannot always plan the perfect budget every month. Sometimes, you gotta shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to money with your partner.

Catie is a media & advertising professional in NYC who is learning to worry less about money. Her favorite hobbies include reading, cooking, and watching political dramas.

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