He makes more but wants us to pay equally
October 10, 2011 10:22 AM   Subscribe

How to fairly split expenses in a relationship?

My current boyfriend and I have only been dating for two months. Basically everything is great-- it's by far the best relationship I have ever been in: we get along very well; he's completely sweet and attentive; we have similar senses of humor, values, and goals; we communicate well and hanging out with him feels like hanging out with one of my best friends. He's smart, stable, mature, and has his sh*t together. I'm 24 and he's 25.

Here is the only issue we've run into, and one that I'm not sure how best to approach. When we began dating, he paid for basically everything (like 80-90% of dinners, movies etc) but made it clear that he thought a relationship should be 50/50. I'm not the most generous person ever, and I currently don't have a job despite aggressively searching. I'm not running super low on money ( I have some saved from my last job) but it makes me nervous to spend money with no source of income.

He makes what is, in my mind, a lot of money (far more than any of my friends my age). He is making enough that he could theoretically support a family on his income. I completely agree that he shouldn't be expected to pay for everything, but I guess I don't think 50/50 is completely fair either, given how disparate our incomes are.

We discussed this and he basically said he couldn't be expected to pay for everything (I agree) and he couldn't afford to go out all the time. I definitely do not expect to be taken out all the time, I don't have expensive tastes, and I don't need to be spoiled in that sense or have a lot of money spent on me. I like that he is frugal/careful with money, and he is generous with people in general and a good sharer/compromiser.

We started off being more lighthearted/joking about it but it's gotten a little more tense. We've recently become long-distance (cross-country) and we've discussed flying to see each other every two months or so. I asked him if he'd split my ticket out to see him in two months and he said yes, which I'm happy with. But if he flies out to see me, he wants me to split the ticket with him as well. It's a big expense for me and I logistically don't know if I can afford to maintain long-distance if I have to split the cost of airline tickets for both of us.

Although I hate to admit it, I think even more it just bothers me because I don't think it's totally fair for it to be 50/50 when he is earning so much more. On the other hand, I understand that my lack of employment isn't his problem. I've been in a relationship where my boyfriend expected me to pay for everything because I had more money and it really bothered me, so I understand his point of view. I wouldn't want to date someone who expected me to foot the bill every time either.

I know this, yet I can't stop being somewhat bothered when it comes up. We have a perfect relationship in every other sense, and he is such a kind-hearted and sweet person and as far as I can tell we are compatible in pretty much every way. How can I change my thinking about this/stop being bothered by his unwillingness to pay more in proportion to his income? I hate to feel this way because I feel like a bit of a spoiled brat, and I really don't want it to come between us or cause tension in an otherwise great relationship.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I think with a marriage, you're in a good position to negotiate spending expenses. If you've been dating for two months, you split things 50/50. Maybe that means not going out on nights that it is your turn to pay. Rent a movie.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:31 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, I missed the part where it's a LDR. If you can't fly out, then stay home. If he misses you, he'll come visit.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:32 AM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

You've only been dating for 2 months. If maintaining a long distance relationship is already causing you this much stress, the distance and monetary constraints will not improve your relationship.

If this were local, I would recommend that you come up with cheap fun dates to take him on and see if that was a reasonable compromise.
posted by Zophi at 10:32 AM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Easy solution: Do 50/50 on who gets to pick the date activity. Then, whatever he picks, he pays for 100% (and vice versa). If you want to save money, do something free (like a museum date). If you want to spend money, go out to eat. Simple. You can pick the cheap dates, he can pick the expensive ones (if he wants to spend).
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 10:32 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You know what? I don't think you should have to split things 50/50 when you're unemployed. Especially unavoidable expenses like the plane tickets. Would it be possible to have categories of expense that you split equally and categories that you don't? Like, the plane tickets you don't split, because it's a large expense and it's crucial to the relationship; dinner, you do split because it's small and trivial.

In all my adult relationships, it was "from each according to their ability to each according to their need, with a little bit of flexibility so that no one feels exploited".
posted by Frowner at 10:33 AM on October 10, 2011 [27 favorites]

This is all about your definition of "Fair". Why should he be penalized to pay more when he makes more? This sounds like the same argument about taxing the wealthy the democrats and republicans are having now. Why shouldn't the top 5% just pay more, they can afford it? It is simply a transfer of wealth.

But, that all takes out the emotional side of being in a relationship. Is it a relationship or business deal? It sounds like at this point it is a business deal to him.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would it help if you agreed to each spend a certain percentage of your disposable income on couple things? And mutually decided what those things would be, within that fixed budget?

So say you agree on 10%. If your income after rent, utilities, and food is $500/month then you pay $50 for that month, and if his disposable income is $1000/month then he pays $100. If your income is $0 then you pay 0. If that means you don't have enough money to do all the things you guys want to do, so be it.

If he wants you to pay 50/50 and won't back down from that, then you have to constrict yourself to the things you can afford. You can't destroy yourself financially. Then, you guys can eat homecooked meals, watch movies online, etc. If he's not satisfied with that lifestyle then he really needs to try to find a woman who makes the same amount of $$ that he does.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2011

What's fair is whatever the two of you decide is fair. If he insists on 50/50, though, he should accept that that will mean fewer cross-country visits and more date nights at home because that's what your budget allows you spend.
posted by contraption at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

What counts as "fair" varies greatly from person to person and couple to couple. My household works like this: I earn all the money. My wife stays home and takes care of our daughter. I have an automatic transfer of $200/week set up to go into her account. I pay all the bills. I consider this fair enough. Actually, "fair" isn't a concept that I actually care about here. I consider this "good because everyone is happy" and I value a happy family a lot more than I value "fair".

My situation is one you obviously wouldn't expect people who have just been dating a few months to use. I have had friends who have purchased all sorts of things for girls they were dating (covering all of the expenses for overseas vacations and such) only to shortly thereafter be cheated on and broken up with. One guy in particular stopped paying more than his share of things in uncommitted relationships largely because he viewed it like a risky investment.

Also, many people don't view splitting costs by income as fair. They want to split costs by usage: i.e., you make $10k/year and I make $100k/year. We go out to dinner and spend $44 (assume we each ate/drank the same amount). Is a fair split on that dinner $4/$40, or $22/$22? This varies by person.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:35 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

errr. I think that unless/until you're in a situation where you share your finances in a broader way, 50/50 really needs to be the way to go. If you can't afford to split something, you need to suggest doing something else, not expect him to pay (and likewise, if he wants to go out but you tell him you can't afford to, he needs to either decide to do something else, or to pay as his treat).

How much money either of you make doesn't really have anything to do with it.

If you can't afford the ticket yourself, stay home, or save up and go less frequently. If he can afford to come more often and wants to, he will.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:35 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

If he wants to come visit you, he should pay his way. If I were you, I wouldn't ask him to pay for half of your ticket unless he offers. You're an independent woman and if he wants to see you it sounds like he has the means.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:36 AM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Different couples arrive at this at different ways. Perfect 50/50 I think only works when either both people have the same expense expectations (one doesn't want caviar while the other wants Spam) or make the same amount of money.

What defines "caviar" also depends on how much money each person is making. Right now, for your budget, given you have no income, long-distance air travel is caviar. Lay out for him how much you can budget for air travel (and other stuff) per month/year/whatever. Explain that until your income situation changes, no more than this can be spent on tickets, yours or his. If he wants to see you more often than that, he will have to contribute more. If he wants to do more expensive stuff, he has to contribute more.

My boyfriend makes more that me. In general he is cool with being cheap. But at those times he's not, he understands that there's only so much I can spend on dinner and going out and whatnot, and if he wants fancy then the extra will be something he pays for. If we were in different financial positions I would do the same thing, and during times when I've made more money I've contributed more.

He shouldn't be required to pay in proportion to his income. But he should understand that you can only contribute what your limited budget allows, and if he wants to do things that require more money than that he can't expect you to go broke or seriously compromise your financial situation in order to do them.
posted by Anonymous at 10:38 AM on October 10, 2011

I was always raised that the guy should pay for everything no matter what. If you're a man, you also do things like hold doors open for women and pull out chairs. That's what being chivalrous is all about. He obviously wasn't raised this way.

You're unemployed, and he expects you to pay half his plane ticket? He's either a jerk, or he has no empathy for your situation, and either way I don't like it. What roomthreeseventeen said is right. If he misses you, he'll come see you. If he wants to go out with you, he should pay.
posted by banished at 10:41 AM on October 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, I should mention that this is what worked when I lived with a guy who made, literally, over 10x what I did (and well over the national average). We split rent, utilities, pet bills, food bills, everything 50/50, because we lived in a place I could afford on my income and we budgeted for that based on my income. If he had absolutely wanted to live in a fancier place, he would have lived by himself or paid more.
posted by Anonymous at 10:42 AM on October 10, 2011

You're right. It's a little unfair to expect to split everything 50-50, because having more money invariably colors decisions, so when you're together it's a problem if he wants to go do something fun and you don't only because you can't really afford it.

He's right too, though. It's just as much your relationship as his. Especially as you've only been dating two months. And you're long distance. I mean, if he bought all the plane tickets and then you broke up in six months, wouldn't you feel terrible, and wouldn't he feel like he'd been taken for a ride, regardless of the circumstances?

So split the expenses, but not 50-50. Maybe you buy 2 plane ticket for every 3 he buys? Or something like that...
posted by _Silky_ at 10:47 AM on October 10, 2011

I've always made more money in my relationships and if I were your boyfriend I'd feel like you were mooching. It's not his problem you don't have a job and asking people for things or money two months into a relationship isn't cool in my book.

Him asking you to pay half his ticket is probably and expression of his frustration with the situation.
posted by fshgrl at 10:50 AM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

How can I change my thinking about this/stop being bothered by his unwillingness to pay more in proportion to his income?

I also just wanted to say, it's okay if this bothered you and it doesn't make you a brat. When I was living in NYC in my early 20s, I was so broke that I was living in a railroad apt where people walked through my bedroom to get to theirs, and eating canned beans for many meals, but yet I was dating broke artist/musician guys who had far less money than even I did, and I can't imagine holding them to 50/50. It would have made me feel like shit. He has the right to do absolutely whatever he wants with his money and make his own choices. You have the right to find his choices troublesome and dislike them.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:50 AM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think the fact that you're unemployed but looking for work matters a lot here.

Here's what I think could make sense in the short term. He splits the cost of your ticket and you fly out to visit him. Being unemployed, you can take a midday flight or a cheaper flight with layovers without losing one of your few paid vacation days to travel, and you can plan a longer visit without worrying about missing too much at work, etc. so it makes sense for you (rather than him) to do the actual traveling.

Then, after you return from the visit, you stay in touch by phone, chat, and Skype rather than him visiting you. A while later, the two of you split the cost of a plane ticket for you again, and once again you visit him (making the cheaper travel arrangements afforded by your not having a work schedule). And so on. In this arrangement, you'd be respecting his wish to split the costs without making irresponsible financial choices.

When you have a job, you and he can work out a more frequent visiting schedule.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:58 AM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Stick with 50:50, but if you can't afford to pay for something, don't pay it.

For example, if he wants to see you, he pays for his plane tickets to you and back from you. If you want to see him, you pay for your plane tickets to him and from him. If you're in a LDR, that's the only "joint" bill you guys have, surely? This might mean that you don't get to see each other as much, but if you can't afford to see him, he'll have to deal. If he chooses to make more frequent flights to see you, that's on him.

If you guys meet up (who pays to meet isn't relevant at this point), then both of you decide how much you can put towards the night out. If you can afford $30, and he can afford $100, then he has to decide: do you go to somewhere costing $60, or does he put the extra to it and you go somewhere else?

To me, this seems fair. You're both paying half, unless he chooses to pay the extra. You're also not spending more than you can afford to. He's being constrained by your choices, yes, but can also choose to pony up the extra $$$ himself.
posted by Solomon at 11:02 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Finances can suck the passion and fun right out of a relationship. They're one of the biggest reasons why couples split. You're getting a little taste of what this can be like when money runs short, and couples have to deal with how to budget for the future.

Your boyfriend is a hard-nosed pragmatist when it comes to money--which is actually very good for a stable financial future. Especially on his own.

But you are more empathetic to each person's financial situation, which is a good strategy for budgeting as a couple long-term, because you are at least taking into account what happens when one partner is out of work.

You understand that your partner shouldn't have to pay for everything just because he is gainfully employed, but he doesn't seem to accept that you are unable to pay for half of the expenses because you are out of work, which is, honestly, not good for your future prospects.

Now maybe it's because you've only been going out a few months, maybe he's been burned financially before, but he doesn't seem willing to be flexible and take into account your unemployment. So what you have to do is say, "I really want to see you, but I have to save money until I get a job. I can't afford half on airline tickets or expensive dates. That's just the reality. I would love it if you could fly here, though. We can stay in and cook, watch DVDs, and spend time together."

If he doesn't respect that, and make plans to see you on his own, he's not invested enough emotionally to invest financially in a future with you. No matter how great the relationship seems, it's only "great' as long as you do things his way. And that's a big red flag for any future with this guy.

Look at it this way, if you two ended up together, would you want someone this inflexible handling the budget? This is the kind of person who tries to guarantee against ever getting "cheated" by making hard-and-fast rules, but in life and love there are no guarantees. For instance, I've known couples that thought when they had kids, they'd probably both keep working. But then maybe the job prospects are bad and daycare is too expensive, so the wife decides to work less hours or stay home with the kids. This is the guy who would expect you to stick to that promise, regardless.

So if he can't work with you now? It will only get worse later.
posted by misha at 11:30 AM on October 10, 2011 [16 favorites]

I've been in two LTR in which I lived with someone.
I can honestly say, we never really had this huge discussion over money. And anyone who I've dated LT but didn't live with - money was never an issue.

Currently, I make more than my BF. We just pay the bills depending on the timing and whoever has the funds. I can honestly say, I have no clue if we're at 50/50. I imagine It's probably more like 60/40 because, like I mentioned, I make more money and all of our money pretty much goes to things for US. We've both been in out of work since we've been together and we support each other.

I think it's ridiculous to bicker about finances if you're in a committed relationship. You're a couple. You SHARE things. You are doing thing TOGETHER. It benefits both individuals.

As for a relationship just starting, if the person i'm with has financial demands/plans already, I'd probably be turned off.

Unless someone is struggling because they're paying all the bills and the other person isn't (even though they have the funds), then I don't see what the problem would be.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:32 AM on October 10, 2011

I think 2 months is too soon to predict any future relationship status. If he wants to come see you, he buys a ticket, you cook at home, find free stuff to do while he's there. And vice-versa--you buy your plane ticket to see him, he entertains you while you're there.

You didn't like it when you last BF expected you to be the moneybags, so why would you expect this man to pick up the tab all the time?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:35 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

there is no "fair" way to split expenses, unless both people make exactly the same amount of money. even then there are more conditions. You could think in terms of absolute 50-50 or relative-to-income 50-50, but one set-up violates the normative conditions of the other, the one exception being when both parties make exactly the same amount. but even then there are further problems: what about things one enjoys more than the other?

my point being: any romantic relationship is also an economic one.

i think with such a high cost with airline tickets, it make more sense for him to pay relatively more.

start non-answer answer:

Two months is not long, and it seems like he lives pretty far away. Is there any potential for you two to be closer together? like, can you put into motion a plan to be in the same area within 1-2 years? if so, i'd say keep seeing him, otherwise, i'd say try to break up amicably. regardless of your economic situations, two months is a short time to continue a LTR without some potential for you to get back together. If it's open ended, i say break up.

if this is true:

Basically everything is great-- it's by far the best relationship I have ever been in: we get along very well; he's completely sweet and attentive; we have similar senses of humor, values, and goals; we communicate well and hanging out with him feels like hanging out with one of my best friends. He's smart, stable, mature, and has his sh*t together. I'm 24 and he's 25.

and you're unemployed ... can you move to his city? you're young, no job to hold you down, maybe you should take a risk and move in with him, or at least move to his city. then it would be easier to have a more equitable sharing of resources: there is less pressure due to not having to travel, and you can "pay him back" with cooking/cleaning/whatever else (note: i would suggest the same thing if the gender roles were reversed).
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2011

Dump this guy. He's stingy. Sadly, he's not good material for a longterm relationship.

I also look for friends who don't penny pinch, too, so I'm pretty firmly set against people like this. I'm likely older than you, and I've definitely learned to stay far far away from people that have issues about money. Stingy people are stressful, as you are discovering. I find that folks with money hang ups usually have other undesirable baggage, too.

It's only been two months and this is too much trouble already.

If he wanted to make this work, he'd be buying tickets he can easily afford, especially when he knows you can't afford it as easily. I think he isn't good enough for you. Don't go into debt for this guy! Focus on yourself.

Put yourself first, especially since he won't, and move forward your in life without this guy. There's much much better men out there!
posted by jbenben at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

Moving to his city could be an option, but 2 months in is way too soon to move in--if things don't work out, you're in a city with no friends, no money, and an ex-BF as your only contact. Please don't entertain that notion w/o serious, serious thought.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is a simple formula used by every couple in Sweden. Each pays "half" weighted for income.

If he earns, for example, twice as much as you, then each bill is shared 2/3 to him and 1/3 to you.

This works for any inequality in income and if both partners earn the same, then both pay the same.
posted by three blind mice at 11:51 AM on October 10, 2011 [11 favorites]

I never ever ever ever write in relationship threads, because I always wind up sounding like an old curmudgeon. This is the line that I think everyone is overlooking:

He makes what is, in my mind, a lot of money (far more than any of my friends my age). He is making enough that he could theoretically support a family on his income.

Yes, these things inevitably get around to trying to figure out party B's motivation through the filter of party A. You never tell us what the thinks about how much he makes -- is it a lot or a little to him -- the assumption is that he is stingy and holding back. I read your post and thought we need more background on this guy. I could (and do) support a family on my income, on paper it looks really good but as a single father of 4 I live without cable, or a fitness center, or new clothes, and my kids (teens) know that when they ask for something it can be a sacrifice for me. Now if your boyfriend grew up in my house he might see his income totally differently, there would be rational insecurity and a need not only to be conservative, but also to know that you showed the same respect for his resources that he feels having earned them. As is, this post sets his up as a straw man.

Anyway, I am a believer in LDRs, but this being so new and not knowing why and for how long he left, let me be provocative and say this: "hey young person, why can't you go be an unemployed jobseeker in the same city is him?" My curmudgeonly response: if you can't print out your original post and talk to him about the facts and your feelings, you've got a ways to go. On preview people have really turned on this guy so let me be the one to say that in the world of adult relationships this issue matters, he seems to have a concern, and unless you two are direct you are just playing around. God, I don't sound like the Romantic that I really am.
posted by cgk at 11:57 AM on October 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Don't more to a across the country while you're unemployed to live with someone you've been dating for two months who is clearly (whether for good or bad) frugal with his money. Moving is stressful and expensive and you don't want to give up your connections, friends etc for a guy you've known for a period measured in months.

I think that the answer to how to split things are going to be really different in a day to day context versus a long distance relationship context. In an LDR the amount of money involved is much great but so is the commitment of time. It might be better to address the two issues separately.

The cost of travelling seems to me to be a much more difficult issue but i think you need to set boundaries by telling him that you can't afford to pay for airline tickets and its not an issue of fairness but of you being unemployed.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:10 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

i agree moving can be risky, and agree with the arguments against it above. however, a LDR with no end in sight, over a distance you have to *fly*, for a person you've only dated for two months is also pretty risky. it's just that the costs are spread over time.

my point re moving is that you're young. the worse case scenario is that you move, and he breaks up with you. do you have a family/friends who could support you, and help you move back/help you get on your feet if that does happen? could you deal with the emotional fall out if he breaks up with you? if so, then i say do it.

if you're 24 you can take some risks and it won't completely mess up your life. but, i only say that with the qualifications i've already mentioned.
posted by cupcake1337 at 12:19 PM on October 10, 2011

I married the person with whom I was in a LDR. I made more than he did so generally my share was more. I paid for the trips to go see him and other travel expenses. When we went out I don't remember any grief about the bill. We usually traded off paying for dinner and such. We absolutely did not share household expenses. I paid my own rent, he paid his own rent.

When we got married, I had to quit my job to move where he was. From day one of our marriage, any income was and has ever since been seen as ours, not his or mine. If a guy who makes a lot more than you is giving you grief about paying for his plane tickets, then I think he's acting like a dick, pretty much and I wonder how he is going to be as a long-term partner. I can understand not wanting to support a girlfriend you've only had for two months but if you're paying your own living expenses, he shouldn't be giving you a hard time about plane tickets.
posted by compwalla at 12:21 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think two months in a LTR is way too soon to expect your partner to pay half of a plane ticket, especially since the past pattern has been him covering 80-90% of evenings out and he has asked for a more equitable split. He probably realised how much your trip to his hometown would cost him (plane fare + dinners/movies) and how little it would cost you and it made him start to think "gold-digger". When you moved away, I assume it was not for a job, was it for a cheaper living situation? In that case, your expenses of traveling back to visit him three times a year should have been factored into your budget to see if it really was a better place to choose to the detriment of your budding relationship. He must have been hurt you left him; expecting him to pay for your vacations as well must have really made him wonder how much you felt entitled to his money.

A better idea would have been that each of you paid your own plane ticket (choosing the timing based on price) but the host covered all expenses in town (so they can scale how much they wanted to spend). Although he is earning more, he may also have much higher debt load or expenses, and sharing that info so early in the relationship would probably make him wonder if you more interested in his bank balance than him. He has said he wants 50/50 after an initial period of generosity (maybe waiting to see if you would step up with him having to ask you?). I think you have two choices, accept that you will split expenses fairly at 50/50 until your dating becomes something else (marriage/co-habitiation) or accept that this relationship is simply coming at a bad time for you and hope to reconnect when you are on better financial footing.
posted by saucysault at 12:26 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm more inclined to agree with your boy than you, so you can take this with a grain of salt.

I think you get over this by accepting that you have no say in how other people spend their money. When you become a significant partnership that changes, but you're in a relationship that you can still comfortably count in weeks.

I am not him so I can't offer you his perspective, but I can offer you one as someone who apparently thinks like him. I walk the walk as well as talk the talk: when I moved in with the woman who is now my wife we set up a shared account and set automatic transfers to keep it full enough to pay our collective bills - utilities, house, etc. We've now been married two years and our collective pool has increased but we've kept some division. And she's the bigger earner by not quite a third.

For me, it's always been a question of keeping the rewards of my sacrifices and trade-offs. I worked my way through school. I drive an old car. I make an effort at bargain hunting. It's also a question of priorities. Electronic gadgets are more important to me than clothing so I buy accordingly, both in price and selecting things I don't have to dry clean.

So with that in mind, why should I be half-in on my wife's newer car? Or why should she buy fewer shoes because I want a new laptop? She's made life choices that have put her ahead of me in earning, some of them luck, some of them choosing the harder or less rewarding path. Why should she now have to pick the slack from my past decisions?

In our lives, as co-habituating and then married partners, we have integrated more and more of these things as our lives have further entwined. But it's a process and one you've barely started. Your boyfriend is only getting to know you now, but he knows what choices and sacrifices he's made over the last 25 years. It's possible he feels like he wants to continue to reap the rewards of his past choices without having the yoke his spending to your priorities.

Or he could be a jerk, but you certainly don't describe him that way. I think it's more likely he's trying to pick the least difficult of many problematic choices. Halving you half-in on everything leaves him the opportunity to step up and spend more when he's motivated to do so, but makes sure you have skin in the game so you're not cavalier with the money he's earned.

It's a tough line to walk and certainly one that has its own problems. But perhaps he'd rather have that up-front restraint from you than feel like he might have to respond to you proposing things he'll then have to shoot down as too expensive? Who knows.

I think you should accept this arrangement and feel very comfortable saying "I just can't afford that right now." It doesn't make this problem go away; certainly he could find himself irked when you decline for the Nth time to be the one who flies out to see him. You can find yourself pissed that this arrangement means he has 100% control over when you see each other if you can't afford tickets.

Every power imbalance in a relationship has its problems. The only right solution to deal with them is one you arrive at together. He's proposed this one and you're not comfortable with it. I think the fair question is whether the one you're proposing as an alternative will make him any less uncomfortable with this one.
posted by phearlez at 12:27 PM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Figure out how much money you can afford to spend on this relationship. Don't think about how much he's spending, or how much he wants to spend, or how much you think he should be willing to spend. Look at your budget and come up with a monthly amount that you can afford to contribute towards the relationship.

Then, call him up and tell him what that number is. Say, "I love you (or like you a lot, or whatever is true for you), but given that I'm unemployed and on a fixed budget, I can only afford to spend $XX a month on this relationship. That's not a reflection of my feelings for you; it's a reflection of my bank balance. I expect that you also have some amount of money you're comfortable putting towards this relationship, and you should figure out on your own, without any pressure from me, what that number is. Then, once we have our total budget, we can figure out together how to maximize the amount of time we get to spend together and the amount of fun stuff we get to do."

In other words, each of you should independently figure out how much you're able to spend to keep your relationship going, and then you should figure out together how you want to allocate that money towards visits and activities and gifts and whatever else is important to you in the relationship. Just as he doesn't get to decide for you how much you should spend on the relationship, you don't get to decide for him. But once you've each decided, you can discuss how to prioritize your spending to get the most out of the resources you have together. You need a budget, and while 2 months is a little early to be doing joint budgeting, your financial situation and the distance make it necessary. So, figure out how much money you have to work with, and then you can make decisions together about how to spend it.
posted by decathecting at 12:33 PM on October 10, 2011 [15 favorites]

I don't understand why nobody has given the following answer:

You follow a communist model. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." So when you guys want to go out for dinner and it's your turn, you buy everyone great local pizza. When it's his turn to grab dinner, he can opt for pizza or spring for Chez Fancy Pants. Everyone is still picking up half the tabs, just not half the amount of each individual tab.

The travel thing, I don't know. When I was in a LDR, he paid for 2/3rds if not 3/4ths of the plane tickets. I was basically a student and was not, so that was the only option. Again, this meant he had more ability, so that's what we did.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:36 PM on October 10, 2011

Stick with 50:50. You've only been dating for two months, which is barely any time at all. I think it's OK of him to not feel comfortable with paying for most everything so quickly in a relationship. I also think it's OK for you to feel frustrated. There's a fine line in the middle, which others have pointed out which is: you don't fly out to see him because you can't afford it. If he wants to see you he'll fly out to you. If he doesn't, well, you have your answer.
posted by Windigo at 12:37 PM on October 10, 2011

It's not about fair, it's about possible. You're living on savings. Figure out your budget, however much you're willing to set aside from basic living expenses, and explain what you've decided. "well, I need this money to last until March, so if I keep my expenses at the super-low level they're at, I have $600 that I can spend on visits with you. That means either 2 plane tickets for me, or 4 split tickets between the two of us. I would really love to see you next week, and of course if you want me to pay half the ticket I will. I just wanted to be sure you understand that I can only afford 4 half-tickets between now and March, including this trip and Christmas, so let's make sure we don't use it all up right away."

And if he wants to see you badly enough in between the times you can afford to pay half a ticket, he'll buy the ticket himself, since the bottom line is, you can't afford the things you can't afford. BUT, that's his choice: you can't say "I really want to see you and I can't afford to visit for another 2 months so why won't you buy an extra ticket to come see me more often, gosh you are so stingy!" It's his money, he's got to make his own budget and his own choices; you can't expect him to spend his money on you just because he has some.

In other words, yes, it's perfectly reasonable to split things 50/50, so long as the total is defined by YOUR disposable income, not HIS. It's not reasonable for him to ask you to split costs on things you can't afford, and it's not reasonable for you to ask him to cover costs on things you can't afford. If you can't afford them, you can't afford them.
posted by aimedwander at 12:38 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think what matters is what happens when you guys want to do something, and it would be appropriate for you to chip in, but you can't afford it (comfortably, even if you have the pennies in the bank account.) Does he say, cool, let's do something else? Cool, I'll pay (honestly)? Cool, I'll pay (and then resent getting tricked into paying)? Try to badger or guilt you into paying when you know you shouldn't spend that much?

Just make sure you have the discussion, as early as possible. That you feel guilty about not paying for more things, but you really can't. So now what? What you don't want to do is let him pay for half of your plane ticket, expecting that you'll do the same later, and then later discuss his plane ticket.

Never suggest expensive things to do. Even when he's paying, do things you would be able to reciprocate with, unless he explicitly wants to treat you with no strings. That's really the best way to do it.
posted by ctmf at 12:42 PM on October 10, 2011

I don't see how you can possibly do the 50/50 thing, given your financial situation. That should be fairly easy for him to understand. You're unemployed. You don't want to be unemployed, but as long as you are, you simply do not have the money to buy plane tickets on a regular basis. If he can't understand or accept this, then he's not the right person for you.

Maybe things change when you get a job - I don't know. If he's making $100K and you're making $35K, I don't see how 50/50 is fair, even if you were working. For now, the right thing for him to do is to understand and accommodate your situation and then revisit it when you get a job.
posted by cnc at 12:44 PM on October 10, 2011

My wife and I get around the 50/50 thing by using a joint bank account and paying a an equal percentage of our income into it.

I'm not sure how helpful this is to you in your situation but I imagine it could work if you can figure out what the total of the expenses you want to split comes out to, then it should be simple math to figure out what percentage of your income (I'm assuming you're receiving unemployment payment here, though you could just assume the going unemployment rate, if you're not) you should be paying in.
posted by soplerfo at 12:53 PM on October 10, 2011

Oh, for the love of god, you're UNEMPLOYED and don't have income coming in. You cannot afford to 50/50 everything. Period. If the man cannot make allowances for this gracefully, then he's got some kind of personality problem. I'm not saying it's fair to make him pay for most stuff or everything, but allowances have to be made when you have buttloads of money and the other person doesn't have it. But right now, you aren't even close to being on an equal footing on stable income here, and he needs to allow for that. Especially nowadays when people are unemployed for years on end and you have no idea when you'll have an income again. (And he's acting like this after 2 months? Geez.)

I have been the "moneybags" one in the relationship before while the ex was unemployed, and I just accepted that that was how things had to be at the time. He or she who can afford it must deal with the inequality, because demanding that the broke one pay up isn't going to go well. He may have to pay 70% of stuff, or buy his plane ticket and part of yours, because HE HAS THE MONEY AND YOU DO NOT.

Really, you need to come to some kind of amiable arrangement about this that accommodates your lack of money. Work out a percentage or something that y'all can handle, but he needs to work with you on this, and I don't think he wants to or possibly just doesn't get it. You cannot bloody afford your OWN plane ticket, and he thinks you can pay for part of his? Seriously? What's wrong with him?

I suspect if he's this nitpicky about it, and won't make allowances for your needing to save money after 2 months, this might not be the nicest guy ever. Or he just isn't cut out to date someone who is unemployed.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:24 PM on October 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't agree with 50/50 unless you're both making the same income. I think you should make plans around what you can afford on your income. If he wants to do more than that, he can pay for it. If you can only afford to fly out once ever 6 months, then only fly out once every six months. If he wants to see you more, he can purchase a ticket for either of you.

But, serioously, if he's holding on to this idea so early in the relationship, when it should still be dreamy and honeymoond-like, what will he be like if you get sick, lose your job again, want to quit an awful job, have children, or develop a chronic illness? I'd think long and hard about that.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:51 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems like you need to come to a mutual agreement on how to pay for things. Options:

1. You each pay 50/50. This means that you won't be able to afford to do as much as a couple.

2. You take turns paying. For example, he pays for tickets to visit you, you pay for tickets to visit him. He pays to take you out, you pay to take him out. Each person chooses to treat the other for what they can afford.

3. You pay according to a set percentage, like the swedish model. If his monthly budget is 5 times more than yours, he pays five times as much.

4. He pays for everything, with the understanding that once you get a job you will revisit.

Before you take these options to him and see which are acceptable to him, you should also consider which are acceptable to you. For myself personally, #1 would not fly, and #2 would not fly if I happened to be unemployed and in an LDR.
posted by mai at 2:53 PM on October 10, 2011

I make more money than my unemployed live-in boyfriend, and I've made considerably more money than a number of old roommates. In the past, this has caused all kinds of drama.

I keep my bills very low because I worry that eventually I will be supporting my parents. I have made a lot of decisions to be in this position. I don't have as large an apartment as I could afford. I did not go to graduate school, which would put me in debt for similar annual wages in a career I think I'd enjoy much more. I pay off my credit card bills monthly, and avoid large purchases until I can pay for them in full. Just because I make good money does not mean that my significant other or roommate has some claim to it.

I know that it is painful that my significant other is unemployed. But I don't feel obligated to mitigate his debt situation. We grew up with similar privileges, so the comparison to progressive taxation falls flat.

That said, a 50/50 relationship does not have to be defined monetarily. Currently my S.O. can devote a lot more time to making dinners, handling chores, and all sorts of other things that I would have to throw money at because I don't have the time. The difference we contribute towards bills and entertainment reflects that.

And if I want to do something that exceeds his budget that means I pick up the tab for both of us, or do it with someone else. I have bought plane tickets for my significant other, because it was important to me for him to be there. In these scenarios, he doesn't owe me anything.

As we continue down this path, I realize that we will make decisions and sacrifices for our relationship that will blur the lines between my income and his. I might turn down a job opportunity in another state so he can keep a great job. One of us might give up our career to have kids. But that doesn't change the fact I will insist that our relationship is 50/50. It just gets harder for us to decide what 50/50 looks like.

This early in the relationship? I would feel very uneasy if you asked me to pick up half of your plane ticket. I would understand if you told me that you could not afford to come out. I might even offer to buy your ticket. But I would not want to be in a relationship with someone who felt that I was obligated to fix economic injustice by giving them a portion of my paycheck. The proper venue for fixing that is higher taxes and charitable giving, not dating the poor.
posted by politikitty at 2:56 PM on October 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Slate did a long series on this a while back. The points in this thread outline the major positions the series: Common Potter, Sometimes Sharer, Independent Operator.
posted by gregglind at 3:39 PM on October 10, 2011

It's not really a question of fixing economic injustice, so much as it's just practicality. Like for example, if I wanted to eat, I was the one with money, and the ex had zero food in the house, then my options were pay for everyone, be rude and pay for myself only, or everyone goes hungry. I'm not sure if that kind of thing is as much of a factor here, but that's along the lines of what I was thinking of. If he wants a relationship with her, she can't totally support the travel costs right now. They will have to deal with it by not seeing each other unless she can afford it, or he pays for at least some of it. Either way, someone's gotta bend, and right now it's easier for him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:43 PM on October 10, 2011

It's not rude to pay only for my meal. It's rude for me to only pay for my meal and make the S.O watch while I eat it.

If he can't afford going to the restaurant I want to try, I get to decide if his company is worth picking up his half, or I go alone. If I go alone, he might starve. But once we decide to not have that meal together, that isn't my problem.

Sure, if he wants to see her more than her budget allows, he's going to have to make the effort. But I see that as distinctly different than asking him to contibute more. He gets to decide what he does with his extra money, not have the relationship dictate it.

What I like about this approach is that I don't get to feel that he owes me if I choose to spoil him with gifts or vacations. It's something I did for myself. It negates the power issue that can arise when people enter an unequal financial relationship. (The most accessible example is when your parents say "my house, my rules", but look through the divorce askme's and see how people feel obligated to the assets and alimony)
posted by politikitty at 4:16 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's not rude to pay only for my meal. It's rude for me to only pay for my meal and make the S.O watch while I eat it.

If he can't afford going to the restaurant I want to try, I get to decide if his company is worth picking up his half, or I go alone. If I go alone, he might starve. But once we decide to not have that meal together, that isn't my problem.

The difference in my outlook is that, if we are really a couple, I stop thinking in terms of me and mine and start thinking in terms of ours. We're a team, so what will work for us? In the scenario you describe, it almost sounds as if your SO has to entertain you or he doesn't get to go out to eat with you. I'm sure you don't see it that way at all, and that you do feel like that frees you from the power issue, but your boyfriend may feel like his company is assigned a dollar value, and when the cost goes above that, you leave him at home. I don't know, it would bother me, but I'm not him.

It can be very hard to be the one in the relationship who makes less money, whether through circumstance or choice, if you feel like there are two parties striving always to be equal, rather than a couple striving to be together. It puts too much focus on the material side.

I guess I am skeptical of the whole "insisting on 50/50" proposition, because in real life, often one partner gives more because the other just isn't up to it, knowing the other will come through the next time because they are both in it for the long haul. The success of the relationship is the ultimate goal rather than daily parity. And that counts across the board, whether it's time, effort or money being invested.

Does that make sense, OP?
posted by misha at 7:50 PM on October 10, 2011

When you pare everything else away it sounds like you're really starting to resent your boyfriend for not paying for more. Yet you resented your ex-boyfriend for expecting you to pay more. That's not a consistent position and doesn't make a lot of sense to me unless you're a woman with gendered notions about relationship finances with a (maybe subconscious) expectation that the man pays for most things.

Also, I think you need to assess whether or not you can afford to be in this LDR relationship? What are the job prospects for your industry? Can you stretch your savings out a year? Two? A fallback plan if your unemployment stretches out indefinitely?
posted by 6550 at 12:07 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Look, just break up.

Other people have given you good advice about splitting expenses, but none of that applies here because this relationship is more expensive than the two of you together can afford. (Yes, he makes decent money, but decent money for mid-twenties isn't nearly in the can afford plane tickets and traveling costs every few months category.) Even if you pay your percentage of not enough and he pays his percentage of not enough, it will still be not enough.

A few people have chimed in with maybe cutting expenses by not visiting so often, which is good, too, but a two month relationship which is very long distance with no plans on moving closer in a set time frame and only infrequent visits? Move on. This is a clear case for a relationship isn't just the right person, but also the right time and the right place. There are other "one"s out there, who live closer to you.
posted by anaelith at 7:00 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're both thinking about 'fair' a couple of months in, personally I'd get out fast. I don't think the words 'fair' and 'love' fit into the same sentence when fair means 'equal'. He's got plenty, let him pay what you can't afford, or live at the level you can afford (in which case I'd ditch him - and I'm a man, so it's not a sexist thing). He's sitting beside you on the sofa of love, counting money !!!! I paid 100% of literally everything for three years for my partner (she was in college and had no money), I had lots. When she started working we shared expenses, but I made up the extra for expensive things because I still had lots. Who cares. Are we going to start weighing out love - is it a commodity?
posted by nickji at 4:54 AM on October 12, 2011

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