How to split the costs over uneven incomes?
October 6, 2012 6:59 AM   Subscribe

I want to fly out to see my boyfriend, and can afford to cover all costs myself. Should I?

We've been dating only a couple months. We are in our twenties: he's older, but in grad school, whereas I'm holding down a steady, well-paying job. While we were still able to see each other in person, I was doing all of the driving and paying for 90% of our expenses. I felt a little uncomfortable with the arrangement, but what I was spending was well within my means, and I knew that we'd only be together for a couple of months anyway before he left for school halfway across the country.

Well... he left, but we didn't break up. We're doing the whole Skype thing, but we both miss being together in person. I have some vacation time I need to use up by the end of the year. I could easily take a week of it, spend 200 bucks on a plane ticket, and fly myself out there. Both the time and the money are quite affordable, and I'd really like to see him in person.

Is this a good idea, though? I have the sense that when one party puts significantly more (work/time/money) into a relationship, rather than causing the other party to appreciate it, it's more likely to cause him to take her for granted, or even lower her value in his eyes. I'm not precisely sure what my concern is here. Maybe that it'll set up the precedent of me fronting all the costs. Maybe that it'll make me seem more invested in the relationship than he is, and that will give him power over me. Maybe that it gives the impression that I have to spend all this effort to earn his affection. Are these reasonable concerns?

Is it enough that I want to see him and that I can afford it, or is it a mistake to invest so much more than he is? Is there anything I can ask him to do to make me feel like he's putting as much into this relationship as I am?

tl;dr - I'm the one of us with a disposable income. Does this mean I should pay for everything I'd like us to do together, or does it mean I should try to hold back?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If this relationship continues, in the near term, it's going to be very hard for you to not be fronting much of the cash. This is not going to change any time soon. So your question seems to me to not really be "Should I fly out," but "Is this relationship, long-distance, reliant upon me for all of the money-parts, going to be a healthy one?" Inasmuch as it can/will be, flying out seems like a no-brainer. But it's not about this flight - if you chose not to, it'd be the next one, or the one after that, where you'd have exactly the same concerns.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:13 AM on October 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

You sound like you thought you were OK with paying for everything but are now trending on resentful and want people to tell you that, "no, really, you should keep paying for everything."

I don't blame you. I've been on the same end of that stick.

You just need to figure out what you want to do for yourself. If it's no big deal to you and that's how you want to spend your vacation than do it. If you're doing it expecting a heros welcome then it's probably not the best reason.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:17 AM on October 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hi. I was you (but I actually really loved paying for everything). Anyway, I came in here to say I got a huge paycut and he got a raise... You never know when hardships, life changes,etc will turn the tables. For me, "investing" more was a total nonissue. It's really a question only you can answer.
posted by murfed13 at 7:25 AM on October 6, 2012

There are a lot of ways he can show generosity besides with money. I would go this time and assess if you're happy with the arrangement. During your visit, will he clear his schedule as much as he can, cook for you, think of fun things to do that are inexpensive? My husband and I dated through college and law school, so there were lots of lean years, but we had just as much fun together then as now when we have a lot of disposable income.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 7:31 AM on October 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's OK to break up with someone over money. It's OK to be footing more than your fair share, financially, in a relationship.

That is to say, you are not wrong (cheap, being taken advantage of, etc.) however you proceed. Just make sure you know yourself well enough. Some people (like me) really don't mind picking up the bill or financial slack. If that's you, don't worry about cultural ideas of fairness/what your friends say, as long as you aren't being taken advantage of. OTOH, if you resent this, don't want to or are being pressured into spending money, it doesn't make you greedy or miserly to say, "This relationship is financially imbalanced and I am not comfortable with that for X, Y and/or Z reasons."
posted by peacrow at 7:31 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The key question is whether, if the situation was reversed, he'd be spending as much as you are now. Sounds like a talk is in order, to figure out if he would.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:36 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

When you were still in the same place, why were you getting uncomfortable with doing the driving and paying most of the expenses for your dates? Your answer to that question will be a lot more useful in resolving this problem than any generalities about what's likely for couples in general.

Some guys find it hard to feel financially inferior to their girlfriends. Is your boyfriend one of them, and was that generating tension from his side? Did you feel like you wanted to be treated more often? Is he taking but not giving in whatever ways he can? Or was there anything else about your particular relationship that was beginning to feel like that hot spot in a shoe that, left unaddressed, would become a festering blister? If it was anything like that, you need to work out whether you (both) can address it before it gets too big.

If, on the other hand, your hesitation is due to a more general sense that relationships aren't supposed to work like that, you might need to rethink the script you learned earlier in life about what relationships are like. If you're both happy, and he's contributing what he can given his resources right now, then go for it.

BTW, if you do end up making this a long-term relationship, you'll need to work out the money thing sooner rather than later. Long before my wife and I got married, but after we had made a long-term commitment, we decided that we wouldn't divide up money into mine and hers; rather, our money was ours, collectively, because we were each contributing in whatever ways we could to our life together.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:39 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Let's play economic utility! Are you going to be happier with the $200 or a week with your partner? If the answer is the cash then don't go but think about whether you have a future. If the answer is 'not sure' consider spending the money to go over there anyway and find out whether you are fed up of spending the money, and if you are then you can consider it well spent on helping you work out whether you have a future. Otherwise, yay, a nice week with your partner.

I have been in your shoes myself. The answer is probaaly to select the top items from things you would like to do together, see if you get buy in from your SO to pay their own way or offer to pay for those items yourself. Its bad idea to force the issue on a lot of things they can't afford if you know you will resent it. Also bear in mind that your SO is not the only person to do things with, find some friends who can do things with you; this is actually an advantage of the LDR as it means you're not rubbing your SO's face in his restricted means but you get to do enjoyable stuff.
posted by biffa at 7:44 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think do it, why not? You are the one on vacation and doing the travelling so you pay. However, the next visit has to be on his time and his expense.
posted by bquarters at 7:54 AM on October 6, 2012

You paying for stuff doesn't mean he's taking advantage of you. It doesn't mean he has power over you. In fact, he might be really upset about not having as much money to offer the relationship.

Basically, you're confusing an interpersonal question with a money question. Do you feel like he is putting in as much effort into the relationship? Or are you planning everything and paying for everything while he's just along for the ride? Is that because your relationship has been predicated on doing stuff that requires money?

Someone on metafilter once said that as a couple, they switched off weekends to plan and pay for dates within their own budget. If she wanted to go on an expensive dinner because she made 4x what he did, then they did, on her weekend. She paid. It also worked because each of them felt the fun/honor of treating your sweetie AND the fun in being treated. Each weekend was just as fun regardless of the expense of the date.

My own perspective is that I could go enjoy things with my money alone or with her. With her sounded so much better. I'm the opposite of you - it can feel like the person with money has more control than the person without. I've been ├╝ber intentional about ensuring that the money allows us do stuff and buy stuff we want as a couple, not so that I get to call all the shots and have control.

Money dies not automatically create imbalance in a relationship. Relationships can have imbalances related to money. There's a difference.

You have to talk to him.
posted by barnone at 7:59 AM on October 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Spending money on your partner is an investment in the relationship. Like any investment, you need to calculate how much you put in vs the expected returns. The "returns" in this case are emotional rather than financial, which makes it more challenging, but it's still at root a cost/benefit decision. Do you think this guy is "the one?" If so, then maybe he's worth a little more effort. If you can't really see a long-term future with him, however, you may wish to limit how much you put in.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:59 AM on October 6, 2012

Easy: it seems to be an issue for you, so talk to him about it and you'll be much wiser.
posted by oxit at 8:13 AM on October 6, 2012

You have two different questions here. In this instance, if my boyfriend had the means and time to come and visit me when we were long distance, and then decided not to because he felt like I might take advantage of his money, I would be incredibly hurt and not particularly want to be in a relationship with him anymore. If he did come, I can't imagine how that would make me value him any less - presumably, if you're both in a relationship, you both miss each other. If you could see him, and you have the luxury of vacation time and funds, why wouldn't you?

Regarding splitting money when there are significant income disparities, this is something you need to talk about, hopefully in some other context than a visit after a long separation. If you want to live like you've got your income instead of like you've got his, the reality of the situation is that you've got to pay for more things. He was probably putting a significant portion of his monthly income into your relationship when you were together, even if it was a lot less actual money than you were paying.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:22 AM on October 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

You sound like you have a good head on your shoulders and whatever feels right for you to do you should just do it. In a relationship, there are too many factors to consider to be able to methodically assess the right amount of give and take. So long as the spirit of balance is there on both sides, the relationship should work on that point. You should never give more than you feel comfortable with, and in my opinion it really does come down to a feeling. If for some reason you feel uncomfortable with giving him what he considers "enough", especially this early on, then maybe you're just not in the right place to be in a relationship with him. However, if you feel like he's a keeper, and is worth the extra give right now because you feel like he's got a similarly generous spirit, then the temporary imbalance shouldn't matter.
posted by alusru at 8:23 AM on October 6, 2012

I agree with those saying that it shouldn't matter if one party puts more financially into the relationship than the other. With my ex, he paid for most thins because he made exponentially more than I did. I paid for what I could.

If you don't get the sense he is taking advantage of you, don't overthink it.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 8:28 AM on October 6, 2012

I think it's great if you pay for a plane ticket to see your boyfriend and make a vacation of it, if you think you'll have a good time. I don't think that would cause him to undervalue you; I bet he'll just be happy to see you. I second the young rope-rider's suggestion of finding other vacation things to do in his area so you don't feel like you're just there at his beck and call.

I think it could be a problem (although all right in some situations) if you paid for his plane ticket, or if he expects you to pay for everything both of you do on your visit. But you would pay to fly out to see anyone, not just your boyfriend, and I'm not sure why the cost of the plane ticket should be an issue. If it turns out he wants you to fly to see him and pay for it eight times and doesn't offer to pay to go to your area once, then it would be an issue.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:30 AM on October 6, 2012

Those advising "continue to pay" perhaps are ignoring ... unintended consequences. There is a strong possibility he will (and maybe already) had started to conclude you are willing to make the harder effort to get together, and spend more if not all, $$$ to be with him.

The is in a relationship of 2 months. Very bad dynamic introduced so early.

He's getting companionship and sex, "delivery style" , and no bill. You are now at the point of asking on a message board. Your feelings will get worse.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:50 AM on October 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I guess I wonder why you were paying for 90% of your expenses when you were in the same city? When I was in grad school I had SOME disposable income -- enough for inexpensive drinks/food at least. I only dated other grad students at that time, but I think if I had been dating a guy with a well-paying job I would still have paid my way some of the time... maybe more like 70/30 rather than 90/10. I guess it would depend on what we did ... if you're talking opera, fancy restaurants, of course a grad student isn't going to pay for that... but you can still buy a round of beers sometimes, you know?

That aside, there are other ways to demonstrate investment in a relationship apart from money. I wouldn't question paying $200 to go fly to see him, but if he can afford it, will he visit you the next time? And as another poster suggested, is he willing to clear his schedule as much as possible for the week you're there, plan fun activities, etc? I don't see any reason why he should pay for your plane ticket, but there are other ways he can reciprocate what you're willing to put into the relationship.
posted by Asparagus at 9:14 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

You have two points here - financial and non financial contribution to the relationship.

If you want to be in a relationship with somebody with significantly less disposable income and you want to do things you can afford to do but the other person cannot you either have to pay for them to do these things with you or you have to do them alone. The latter would have a pretty adverse effect on your relationship if it happens you're either happy to pay or find somebody to date who has a similar income level.

The other problem is one of putting effort into the relationship such as spending time to travel to see each other or other contributions to both your welfare and happiness - I am talking about non financial contributions here. If you feel that you are constantly providing a greater non financial contribution as well as financial contributions I would find that much more worrying, especially as he cannot really contribute significantly financially at the moment. The only thing he can do is put non financial effort into the relationship. So the question you really need to ask is if his contributions - whatever they may be - make this equitable for you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:20 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did what you're describing, and we've been married for 8 years now. When I met my husband, he was an undergrad and I had graduated and was working, and I lived in Canada and he lived in the States (we didn't live in the same place except for 3-4 months at a time, until we got married and were able to straighten out our immigration issues). Had we broken up, I think I would still considered the trips I took to see him to have been worth it, since (a) seeing him made me happy and (b) I got to explore Nashville and surroundings, a place it never would have occurred to me to visit, but which it turns out I really like. I did touristy things as well as visiting him (we just did them together, or on a few occasions I did stuff with his friends when he had to be in class), so the trip wasn't all about him.

However, I never felt like it was a problem that I was spending more, or that I was setting myself up for anything. To me, the fact that you feel that way is a red flag. I can think of several possibilities:

-- He makes you feel that way by being a bit of a mooch.

-- He makes you feel guilty by being sensitive about you having more money than him.

-- It has nothing to do with him and is your hang-up.

None of those are deal breakers, at least not to me, but to figure out how to approach the issue, you need to figure out which it is. If he's a mooch, that's imho the worst problem, and would need to be addressed head on. If he's got issues with women making more money than him, that's kind of regressive and annoying, but if it's something he's willing to talk about and let go of, I think it could be ok. Finally if it's your issue then you need to do some hard thinking about why that is: have you been taken advantage of in the past, or is it a trust issue, or are you just tight with money, or is it you who has the regressive attitudes about gender roles?

Good luck. In the short term, I think you should enjoy a vacation in which he covers what would have been your hotel bills had you gone anywhere else, and see another part of the world as well as him.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:00 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My son is in grad school.

He paid his way over to Europe this past summer to see his fiancee (she was in school over there at the time.)

You need to evaluate what kind of priority you are to this person. Two months of dating is not that long in the scheme of things, and if you put forth 90 percent of the effort when he was in town this does not bode well for the relationship for the long run. Could be he's not THAT into you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:21 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this a good idea, though? I have the sense that when one party puts significantly more (work/time/money) into a relationship, rather than causing the other party to appreciate it, it's more likely to cause him to take her for granted, or even lower her value in his eyes.

This is a deeply cynical, and sad, way to view relationships, and I do not agree, at all.
I do know, though, some people who might agree with that (though I do think they are cynical, sad people in depressing, transactional relationships).

I actually wrote up a long response about being a grad student with a partner who covers most of our joint expenses, and how we make that work out, but then I realized: we live together, are in this for the long-term, and basically know it is a temporary blip, and that by next year, it will change.

You are in a two-month relationship.
Of course you might be hesitant about this!

I don't think you need to view yourself as a sucker. And I don't think that you need to withdraw your contributions as a kind of power play. But it's A) okay to not do what makes you uncomfortable, and B) talk to him about this, and work on compromises together.

As a grad student, I can think of a few thoughts:

- Maybe you can both agree to take turns flying out, even if it is a ratio of 3:1 (where you fly more often than he does).
- Maybe he can agree to come out and see you, if you can agree to go out of your way if it helps him get cheaper airfare (like, drive a couple of hours to pick him up at a cheaper airport).
- Maybe you can pay for dates, except for those activities where he would qualify for a student discount.
- Maybe he can agree to plan dates around the cheap-to-free events they have on campus.
- Etc.

One thing to consider is that maybe he does appreciate your financial sacrifice, but doesn't bring it up because he feels a little embarrassed that he can't contribute more. Or maybe he has no idea that you are starting to feel weird about this, but would be happy to work out something with you. But you will never know if you don't, you know, talk to him about it...
posted by vivid postcard at 12:10 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone above saying that you need to figure out how you feel about visits generally and not just this one visit. Keep in mind too that the person who pays doesn't need to be the person who flies out. In fact, if he's a grad student his time might be more flexible, so going through the hassle of flying and traveling could be one way that he contributes to the relationship.

Most grad students are going to have some disposable income, yes, but especially at state schools, especially in expensive areas, there really isn't much of it. He may technically be able to afford it but it mean his budget has no breathing room. Having been in a similar situation, it can be hard to say that you can't afford it when you know that if you squeezed yourself to the bone then you could. If the cost of the tickets won't affect your day-to-day spending decisions, then I think you should be generous here.

The other thing is to decide whether you care more about splitting the costs of travel evenly or the costs of dates evenly. He might be able to split or alternate the costs of plane tickets as long as he doesn't have to pay for anything when you're together or vice versa.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 2:10 PM on October 6, 2012

Is there anything I can ask him to do to make me feel like he's putting as much into this relationship as I am?

Yes. Tell him you have some vacation time left and ask him if he'd like to come visit you for a week. Then let him figure out the details.

If you have $200 to spend, you can find some fun things to spend it on when he's in town. Or, spend it on something that makes you happy.
posted by kellybird at 2:19 PM on October 6, 2012

I was in an LDR with a student where I had more disposable income. This meant that I paid my way to visit him (but also meant I could choose what means of transportation I took) but once I got there, we split costs as evenly as possible. If there was something fancy that I wanted to do specifically, I would invite him along and pay for his ticket, but if it was something like eating out, we split. He was very sweet about it and was incredibly happy that I chose to visit him, so there was no toxic power dynamic there.

Perhaps you should investigate why you feel this resentment about finances. Is it because of something he's doing or is it because of what you feel is normal (ie. woman should make less, man should take care of her)? This will help you pinpoint the cause of your unease, which will then give you a clearer path to resolution.
posted by buteo at 2:43 PM on October 6, 2012

If you resented the money situation before, you'll probably continue to resent it into the future. If that's the case, it sounds like this isn't the relationship for you, unless you feel like recalibrating your expectations in that respect.

He can't take advantage of you if you don't let him. The key here, as always, is communication. When my SO and I were still doing the long distance thing (6 years!) it was almost always me flying to see her. I paid for the tickets somewhat more than half the time, but she was in school and I wasn't. Now that she's out of school with her fancy professional degree and job to match, we live together and she makes a crap ton more than I do and consequently pays most of the bills and still has more disposable income than I have income. It works for us, but we communicate with each other about what it is that we see going right and what we see going wrong rather than building up resentment.

If you can't have those discussions, or don't feel like the relationship will progress to the point that you can in the nearish future, the prognosis is not good regardless of what you decide about flying out to see him. If you can, good news. You can discuss how his budget looks and decide what makes the most sense given each of your financial situat
posted by wierdo at 4:15 PM on October 6, 2012

I have learned the hard way to bail when she always wants you to come visit her, but never comes up to see you.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 5:34 PM on October 6, 2012

I'd go, but I'd make the vacation about more than just him.

This is kind of exactly what I did recently. Actually, my bf pays for most things in our relationship, but in terms of travel, I lived away from home for three years in his city, and he's visited my home (where I'll now be living for awhile) once, so there is an imbalance in terms of turf. I still want to visit him (without question), but I didn't want to feel like I was spending all my time in his city right after moving to my city when moving home for me was an important decision at the moment. So this time when I visited him, it happened to fall on a date where 1) there was a comedy show in the city at the same time that I've been wanting to see for years, and 2) a friend from out of the country happened to be visiting there too. That way it wasn't just me being a martyr all "I know you can't visit me right now so I'll give up all my free time/family time/travel freedom to visit you and then feel weird and displaced." (This issue is not one that seems to really bother either of us overtly, it's just something I suspect might feel weird in the long-term, since we are both a bit attached to our homes.) I recommend it. It kind of distributes the mental weight of travel/money over several different objects instead of just one (highly emotionally charged) object.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:52 PM on October 6, 2012

Don't date long distance and don't date kids in school
posted by MangyCarface at 10:24 AM on October 8, 2012

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