How to live together more harmoniously?
September 23, 2008 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Living together: questions about money and space

(Anonymous because I don't want to link this question with my account, which could be identified by those mentioned.)

I have never lived with a boyfriend before and need some advice about sharing expenses and space.

I am living in a country halfway around the world with my boyfriend of almost 5 years. We decided to get working holiday visas for a year and go on an adventure. Back home, we didn't live together and would each take turns taking each other out for dinner, on dates, etc.

We're not married and I want to know what is fair in terms of sharing expenses like rent and groceries.

Right now, we're renting a room in a house with other people. We did this before he found work -- now he has a really high paying job and we will likely move into an apartment in a month or so. The room is relatively cheap, and we are splitting the cost between us each week.

He makes 4X as much as I do. Is it fair for him to pay more of the rent? (We both work full-time)

Normally I would prefer to split the rent, to feel more like an equal I guess, but I am really struggling to make ends meet right now. I also have student loans to pay back, he doesn't.

What have been your experiences in this type of situation? What is the fairest thing to do? If one person pays more, is the other indebted to them in some way?

I feel like he can afford a very luxurious lifestyle that I cannot afford to match -- lots of eating out, traveling, etc. What is the solution, without me making him a sugar daddy?

If I can tag a second question onto this, I want to know about sharing space.

I am more outgoing and sociable, whereas he prefers to be home most of the time. I leave for work before he does, and after work might stop by the library, or to an art group, to try to keep busy. When I come home, he is there. He never leaves. He doesn't hang out in the living room or kitchen, and has no desire to leave the room or his computer.

He has never had a roommate (even when he went to university, he lived alone), while I've had all kinds, have shared rooms in university, shared houses with up to 6 people, etc.

Is it reasonable to expect some "alone time" in the room? If so, how much? I don't need a lot, but the thought of going home and him being there every single time fills me with dread.

It didn't used to be this bad -- hence my need to ask these questions. Life was a lot simpler when we were back home, had friends, and had our own places!

Sorry if the answers to these questions are obvious. I really am clueless about these and want to do whatever is fair!

Many thanks for your help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For question #1: Whatever the two of you agree to be fair, is fair. You need to sit down and have a totally frank and honest conversation - both about the technical side (budgets, income) and the emotional side (wanting to feel like you're pulling your weight vs. not wanting to struggle to make ends meet.) As long as you both put all your cards on the table and come to an agreement, no one else's approval matters.

Question #2: The last time I had that kind of roommate, I resorted to staying out drinking all night, every night. (I don't recommend that - it's damned hard on the metabolism.) This is another subject for frank conversation - you can either claim a space as your own, make sure he understands your need for alone time and will respect your boundaries, and deal with it that way, or ask him to find something to do once or twice a week - go see a movie, take a long walk, take his laptop to a coffeehouse, or something. Again, this is something where the two of you need to come to an agreement after careful discussion.

If you can't agree on both of those topics, you need to rethink living together. It'll tear your relationship apart.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:45 AM on September 23, 2008

He doesn't hang out in the living room or kitchen, and has no desire to leave the room or his computer.... Is it reasonable to expect some "alone time" in the room?

You seem to be asking if it's fair to ask him to vacate the bedroom so you can spend some time in it alone. In this case, I'd suggest that you hang out in the living room, or the kitchen, by yourself, without asking him to leave the bedroom or the apartment.

You're hoping he'll agree to pick up more than 50% of your living expenses. I don't blame you for that, because dealing with such a income discrepancy will be very hard otherwise, but I think you also ought to be prepared to make some concessions.
posted by orange swan at 7:52 AM on September 23, 2008

I don't believe splitting rent and groceries proportionate to income is "fair" or expected unless the couple is married. I sympathize with your plight, I'm in the exact situation with my boyfriend, down to him making four times as much as me. But we still split rent evenly, and he in turn understands that if he wants to live with me and not pay my rent we are going to have to pick a place I can afford even if it's not as nice as he would want. As for groceries, we split what we both eat, and neither pays for what one person eats and the other doesn't.

If he wants to live a luxurious lifestyle, but doesn't want to pay for you (or you don't want him to pay for you), then the relationship is not going to work. I strongly suggest not pressuring him if he's reluctant to pay for more than his share, though. Understand that sort of move goes above and beyond what most dating people do for one another unless they are seriously planning on getting married.

Your second question is trickier, and I have no idea how to answer it. My boyfriend and I maintain two bedrooms (even if one is just being used as an office) exactly to avoid the problem you're having.

Communication is important for both issues, though. You guys have to talk calmly about it, things will go badly if you don't get this out in the open.
posted by schroedinger at 7:56 AM on September 23, 2008

You're really over thinking this.

Being together for 5 years already says something about the communication in your relationship- that it's GOOD. Has everything always been 50/50? I doubt it. Constantly trying to keep up with one another is not really healthy IMO. There's give, there's take, and no one should be keeping score.

Living together requires a whole lot of compromise. I'm sure he's very aware of that, and the difference in your incomes. I think it's generally understood that if you're living together, you're making a commitment to 'fill in the blanks' for each other. That means if he loses his job for example, you're the one paying the bills for the next couple of weeks, without expectation of being 'paid back'. You do what is in the household's best interest not what is "fair". You should both understand that before going all in.

As for alone time- I'm sure you'll both crave it enough to be reasonable about it. Negotiate ahead of time on how one will brooch the subject of "omg get the hell out for an hour or two or I'll explode but yes, sweety, I love you". That's the hardest part, when you need it the most. On thing about what you said kind of bothers me though:
"but the thought of going home and him being there every single time fills me with dread. ". It may be coming off too harshly over the internet, but if there's some serious dread going on, maybe you should avoid rushing into this. You will have to be in close quarters without wanting to be. It happens. That is part of cohabitation, as you should know well from having roommates. Thankfully though, you will have a lot more sway with someone you're sleeping with than you ever did with roommates.

In short: If you're going to live together, finances can't be an issue- you are there to support one another through thick and thin. Just keep that good communication going, make sure the bills are paid and you're bothwell fed, and everything should fall into place. Relax, and happy adventures in cohabitation!
posted by sunshinesky at 7:57 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

My partner (husband, whatever) and I split rent and utilities proportionally based on our income while we lived together before marriage. We split groceries evenly, and the person with more free time did more of the chores.

You do what is in the household's best interest not what is "fair". You should both understand that before going all in.


When it came to eating out and drinks, we just communicated about our feelings. If 'Dude was feeling poor that week, and I wanted to go out for drinks/dinner, then I'd pay. If 'Dude wanted to go out and I didn't want to spend the money, then he'd pay.
posted by muddgirl at 8:03 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

(To be clear, I made and still make more than twice what my husband makes. Now that we're married, we split pretty much everything based on our proportional income).
posted by muddgirl at 8:05 AM on September 23, 2008

At four times what you're making, you should share proportional costs (ie., not 50/50, but 25/75 or whatever makes sense). That's too dramatic a difference to expect a 50/50 split. We do his/hers/ours for money. We each have our own accounts and pay into a third account for our shared expenses, which include dinners out. Sometimes if one of us has a little extra we'll take the other one out.

That said, you don't sound like you like him very much. The big difference for me between Mr. Llama and my ex-husband, in terms of how I feel about them, is how excited I am to see Mr. Llama when he gets home. With my ex-husband, I'd see his car pull into the driveway and go, Oh crap. I have found this to be a pretty good indicator of whether or not I want to be in a relationship.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:09 AM on September 23, 2008

This can be simple or you can make it endlessly complex.

Decide as a couple how to spit costs - proportional or 50/50. If you go with the 50/50 split you must constrain your choices to the budget of the lower salary. You can't afford 50% of the apartment. It is then outside of your choices as a couple unless he is willing to pay more.

As to alone time, you negotiate. Or start taking long baths. Or encourage him to make some friends and get out of the house.
posted by 26.2 at 8:15 AM on September 23, 2008

you don't sound like you like him very much

This is really unfair, as it is based only on a stated desire to have some alone time every once in a while. That really doesn't seem unreasonable (although asking someone to leave the bedroom when you have a living room to hang out in is).
posted by grouse at 8:25 AM on September 23, 2008

For space - how flexible are your work hours? If you start earlier than him, can you finish earlier? Or work later a few evenings per week and take an afternoon off? You do need to discuss it with him, though, frankly - the space needs to be both of yours.

For money - my partner and I pooled our money when we moved overseas, initially because I had trouble getting a bank account, but long-term it really works for us.

That said, you don't sound like you like him very much

Eh, they sound to me like two people who need time alone, aka introverts. If my bf is home all the time I get really antsy (three weeks is his record), and I love him plenty.
posted by goo at 8:26 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is really unfair, as it is based only on a stated desire to have some alone time every once in a while. That really doesn't seem unreasonable

you're absolutely right--I was responding more to this, though (and I'm admittedly biased for the reasons above so, you know, ymmv and all that):
the thought of going home and him being there every single time fills me with dread.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2008

Yeah, use of the word "dread" is a little concerning.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:33 AM on September 23, 2008

Eh, they sound to me like two people who need time alone, aka introverts. If my bf is home all the time I get really antsy (three weeks is his record), and I love him plenty.

Yeah, I mean, like I said, I'm biased. For the record, the Llama household members are quite introverted with a lot of separate quiet time. But I understand every relationship is different. That'd be a concern for me, personally, though.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:37 AM on September 23, 2008

there are as many ways for couples to negotiate finances as there are couples.

A couple I know had one intriguing solution -- the person who was making more money covered the total cost of their rent, and the person who was making less covered the utilities and the food. This let them both feel that they were contributing without either taking on any undue financial burden.

Other couples have a "house fund," and each puts in a certain proportionate amount per month -- and all house expenses come out of THAT account and that account only. (By the time you actually buy the house Cheetos, the thinking goes, you've forgotten whose money was whose, so it doesn't matter.)

But there are many ways to figure out what is right and fair for you, you just need to figure out what the two of YOU think is fair.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

In general, I think you need to talk openly and honestly about your concerns if you want to nip the anxiety in the bud before it festers into a big problem. Money and personal space are two of the bigger issues that can drive folks apart, in my experience.

Don't bring your fears up as a crisis thing, but in a calm and reasonable way, if you can. As someone else in the thread mentioned, your use of the word "dread" in a neon red flag that you need to communicate your concerns to him, and a caution that you should consider your own tone when you raise the issue. Will the apartment you're going to move into have more options for personal space -- a spare bedroom that doubles as a computer room, perhaps, so that you can do your thing elsewhere in the apartment without having to worry about him?

If his expectations for going out socially are too expensive for your comfort level (because you don't want to be treated all the time but at the same time cannot afford it all on your own) you will have to tell him that explicity somehow (though again calmly and ideally not in a way that will make him defensive).

All that said, with my domestic partner we share household expenses and rent proportionally to our salaries, though the imbalance is nothing like the 4:1 ratio you mention.

Good luck. Finding the domestic balance can be tricky. Openness and honesty are key, even if they seem scary.
posted by aught at 8:55 AM on September 23, 2008

If you're going to live together, finances can't be an issue- you are there to support one another through thick and thin.

This isn't a blanket requirement. I know at least one couple that has been married ten years and still maintain totally separate finances. There is no standard other than negotiate until you get an agreement that seems fair and affordable to both of you.

Income disparity: one idea is to agree to budget for a certain number of meals out or nights at clubs per month. Set that money aside and spend it on these events. If he wants to take you out more times than that, his treat, then you will accept graciously. But ask him not to pressure you to spend more than you budgeted for entertainment that month out of your pocket.

Also, there's absolutely nothing wrong with needing "alone" time, and the word "dread" with regard to that does not mean there is a relationship problem. If you're not a bit of an introvert, it might not make sense, but it's a very real feeling and it doesn't matter who the person is - SO, roommate, parent, child. You just need some time where no other humans are there. Introverts are people who need to be alone in order to recharge their batteries. When others are around, they can't help but be interested, distracted, and emotionally taxed - not necessarily in a bad way, but a real way - so that constant interaction begins to drain them of emotional energy. It's hard to understand if you're not like that, but it's completely normal and not uncommon.

So it's fine to openly negotiate for time alone. Ask him to pick one or two nights or afternoons a week when he can do something without you and leave you the room/apartment for quiet time. In my experience, even when you feel like you need a full day alone, in actuality, a couple of hours usually does it. After a short time of being with your own thoughts, you may once again be ready to be around others. But there's nothing weird about this or about asking for it. Again, I know of married couples who live in different houses for this reason. It doesn't mean you don't love one another.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on September 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it's completely fair to proportionally split expenses, especially if your S.O. insists on the apartment. As for your alone time - you need to deal with this NOW. I had a very similar experience with my ex-husband - the only time I could expect to be alone was when I was in the bathroom taking a dump. He would NOT leave me alone, nor did he react well when I requested some breathing room. Deal with this before your dread grows any larger, it's an ominous sign.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2008

As for the alone time, i'm seconding the "long bath" thing someone mentioned up thread. Seriously -- a good book and an hour in the bath is exactly what I do when I need to "escape" into my own little world. Also, sometimes two people plugged into earphones while in the same room can be an acceptable substitution for "me-time", as it eliminates the feeling you should be interacting with the other person, just because they are there. Effectively, you're both agreeing that's its okay to ignore each other for the time being.
posted by cgg at 9:45 AM on September 23, 2008

My husband makes 60% of our household income, and I make 40%. We have a joint account where he deposits 60% of a set amount every month, and I deposit 40%. All joint and household expenses (mortgage, home repairs, groceries, meals together) are paid out of that account. I was actually very opposed to this at first, and insistent on my ability to pay 50% of everything, but I've grown accustomed to it.

As an introvert who works in a very people-oriented job, I understand the need for alone time. In some of my rougher periods, I've made it very clear to my husband that I'm coming home from work, going into the bedroom and closing the door, and I don't want him to talk to me for 45 minutes. This usually allows me to decompress and after quiet reading or listening to my iPod, I come out sooner than the designated time.

I do like to be in the house totally alone sometimes (my mom can't understand that I'm not sad when my husband is on business travel), so I decline running errands like grocery shopping on the weekends a lot.

Not everything has to be shared equally to be fair, or good for the relationship, which has been a hard concept for me to accept.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:18 AM on September 23, 2008

Here are some suggestions... (On preview, sorry so long!)

1) Communication is key. Definitely bring up the issue. "I think these are things we need to discuss so that things go smoothly in our relationship."

2) It might help to think of it as a "proactive" conversation, discussing things as a preventative measure so you two can address issue before they become a big festering problem. It might even be helpful for the two of you to list various things (not just your two issues) that need tending in your relationship, or might need tending, so you both can pay attention to them to help your relationship go well.

3) Right now, when you're both in a new country, newly living together, etc., it's totally normal for things to get tough and for your relationship to need some extra attention. It doesn't mean your relationship is in trouble, unless you don't take care of things.

4) If you're thinking you could be with your sweetie for the long haul, some intentional conversations and tending of the relationship is a good precedent. The two of you could use this opportunity to figure out, together, "how do we work through difficult patches and what do we do when there are new stresses in our relationship?"

5) I've been in on both sides of having vastly unequal incomes. It can force you to think about money, and your feelings about money, and your spending patterns and lifestyle expectations and class background etc. Remember people have lots of (different) feelings about money, so it might not be easy. Lots of us don't ever talk about this stuff. If you have different class backgrounds from growing up it can be extra challanging, can add to the challenge of having different class levels now.

6) Question/suggestions:

If the two of you do better when living in different houses, could you stay in the current apartment (lots of social opportunities, shared home, cheaper) and he moves to his own place (more expensive, fewer people around)?

Or, the new place could be a 2-bedroom, so you each have a room of your own. He could pay what he'd pay if he were to get a 1-bedroom on his own, and you could pay the difference between a 1- and 2- bedroom place, which is probably less than 50% of the cost of the entire apartment.

If he's the one with the financial resources to move out and into a new apartment, and you don't have those resources, then I don't think it's a responsible financial decision for you to take on the financial burden of a 50/50 split for the higher rent. What if you contribute what you're contributing now, and if he wants to move to a nicer place with you, then anything above your current share of rent is on his dime, since it's due to his higher earnings? If you were on your own, you'd be paying much less, and you don't have the extra to spare right now.

7) Don't be afraid to ask for space/time apart when you need it. I find it can be difficult to ask and admit I want time apart (Internal voice: "Am I saying I don't like my sweetie? Is this bad?"), but when I do ask or take that time, I always find it's refreshing and good for the relationship. This has been true in many relationships.

8) I'm partial to a formula that takes into account not just earnings, but also non-optional or non-discretionary expenses. For example, how much discretionary income does each partner have after paying for non-negotiables, such as childcare, student loans, payroll taxes, etc? Or, if one had a much more expensive commute than the other (like one owned a car and one walked/biked/bussed to work) then a couple might deduce the cost of "transportation" from earnings before coming up with their ratio.

Good luck!
posted by quinoa at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it is important to remember that the poster isn't married. Financial arrangements between married couples and non-married couples are two different animals, both emotionally and legally.
posted by schroedinger at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2008

If your salary was double, could the two of you live on it? If the answer is yes, have him contribute a "match" to your salary to the household budget. Live on that. (You might have to work out some formulas to deduct the cost of you-only expenses like the student loans.) He puts the balance of his salary in savings. If you guys make the long haul, you have a head start on home purchase or retirement through these savings. (Jeez, why didn't I think of this when it was me?)
posted by nax at 1:24 PM on September 23, 2008

You sound like you want to have your cake (less rent) and eat it too (more space).

I would pick one or the other, either ask for a break with the rent and don't mention the space, or pay your 50% of the rent and ask for some space.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:41 PM on September 23, 2008

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