How to fairly split household expenses
January 22, 2014 6:18 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are moving in together, and I need some input on the financial stuff.

So he makes six figures and I make nothing. I've been living at home and going to school and I've graduated and am about to work. My situation is different in that my family is relatively well off and I have a pretty healthy amount in savings that my parents gave me years ago. The money has stayed pretty consistent through investments, and I'm not a crazy spender. We've been dating for 2 years and I started voluntarily paying for half of whatever we did after the first few dates because it's not financially difficult for me to do so. My parents are always available to me for financial help should I need it, and I am expecting to receive at least one large financial "gift" in the future as well as an inheritance, assuming something doesn't go horribly wrong and they lose all their money.

So my boyfriend has bought a house with a pretty large chunk of his savings as well as all the appliances (with the exception of a fridge, which my parents gifted him as a housewarming present) and some major pieces of furniture. We've agreed that after I move in, he'll continue to pay all of the mortgage (since the house will remain solely in his name) and I will pay half of the bills/groceries/expenses. My question is: who pays for tangible stuff (of a not negligible value) for the house like vacuums, lamps, food processor, whatever? Also fun stuff, like game consoles. It's not exactly romantic, but I'm thinking in the event of a breakup, if we buy those together, how we would split those. Should we alternate who buys? Buy those things together anyway and then if we break up, someone just lays claim to each thing? I should say that more often than not, it is I who wants to buy it but would be used by both of us (like a new vacuum to replace his old, ridiculously loud one).

I'd also appreciate any opinions on whether or not our arrangement is unfair to either party. A lot of my friends tell me I shouldn't even be paying anything 'cause I'm not working, but my boyfriend works really hard for his money and he also takes financial care of his parents, so I don't want to take advantage of him, but I do also like the idea of a man taking care of me, even though that's not "in vogue" in this day and age. I never want to *need* a man to take care of me, and I'm expecting to have a successful career of my own, but I want a man to at least want to do it. So having said that, sometimes it annoys me that he's reluctant to buy stuff the house needs. I would consider myself a normal spender (I don't waste unnecessary money on name brands, but I don't deny myself things I want), and I would say he's frugal. So I think that Starbucks is a normal expense, and he considers that a splurge and overpriced. He comes from humbler beginnings like my dad does, so I already understand, through interacting with my dad, the mindset of wanting to save every penny despite doing pretty well in life. However, I've never had to live that way, so sometimes I do get annoyed. I'm not a proponent of blowing money, but I think if you have enough, it's fine to spend some money if it improves your quality of life.

Another point to consider: once I start working, my salary will probably be about half his salary or even less. It will not be as stable as his, either. I know a lot of people split bills proportionately to their income so as not to cause undue hardship to the lower-earning party, but I'm thinking that doesn't really apply to me, so I am still planning to continue paying half.

And if we got married, would that alter the terms of "fairness"? I should add that if we do get married, my parents are planning to help us a lot with the wedding and honeymoon expenses, and it is already understood that his parents won't be helping at all, which is understandable given their financial situation.

I will talk about this all with him, as we communicate pretty well and he has full knowledge of my financial situation, but I want to first calibrate my sense of normalcy and fairness so I don't put undue pressure on him and put strain on the relationship for no reason.

I'd also love to hear a little bit about your situation and arrangement, if it's at all similar to mine.

You can contact me at, but I'll contact the mods if I really need to comment anonymously.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Well, to start with, you go in almost one breath from "things the house needs" to "Starbucks". The house doesn't need Starbucks; not even remotely. I don't have much of an opinion on what he should or should not pay for, but if you think that you should limit yourself to getting his financial help on things that are really needed, I'd suggest spending some time thinking about what "needed" means.
posted by Flunkie at 6:27 AM on January 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

My question is: who pays for tangible stuff (of a not negligible value) for the house like vacuums, lamps, food processor, whatever? Also fun stuff, like game consoles.

You guys are going to be talking about this, which is the best first step - this is the kind of thing that can be really, really personal, and the absolute best thing is to work out what YOU two think would be best for YOU.

But anecdotally....I've heard of a lot of couples who deal with the whole "how do we decide who buys tangible stuff for the house" by coming up with a shared "household fund". You both contribute to the fund, but you each contribute the same proportional amount to whatever your respective income is (say, 40% out of every paycheck or whatever you two decide), rather than a set dollar amount; and then, all the household expenses come out of that fund - vacuums, food, utilities, rent, etc. You make mutual decisions about how to use the money you have, as well (he doesn't get to call all the shots if he happens to be putting more money into the "house fund" than you do, in other words).

This kind of avoids the whole "who's 'more responsible' for rent/utilities/etc." and "who buys the vacuum" issue, and also can accomodate fluctuations in income (if you get a raise, then your 40% of the weekly income can go up).

That's just one approach, though. Every couple is different, and every person has their own emotional issues around money that they need to take into account to - so this is really a very personal matter. The two of you talking this out - like you're planning on doing anyway - is the best first step. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 AM on January 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

My husband makes a fair bit more than me, but we still split things 50/50. We have from the day I moved in and it continues now even now that we're married. Even though the house is only in his name (we haven't bothered to add me to it yet) I still pay my half for EVERYTHING - mortgage, bills, groceries, restaurant visits, etc. We have a joint account that we each put the same amount in to every pay, and that is what we use for groceries. For stuff that is "fun" (like gaming consoles and movie rentals and other unnecessary items) we discuss. If it is something just he wants, he buys it. if it is something just I want, I buy it. If it is something we're both wanting and are going to use it equally, we split the cost when both people are able to afford to do so. I really wanted new bedsheets so I bought them. He really wanted a BBQ cover so he bought it. We both wanted to repaint the living room so we split the cost. When the fridge died we each paid half for the new one. When we wanted to get a new couch we each paid half for the new one. We also have a joint "emergency" account that we each put 50$ in to every pay so that when/if things break or there are major cost-incurring disasters we will have a way to cover it that doesn't involve debt or credit cards.

Basically, we keep everything even, despite the fact that he makes more than I do. Personally I don't want to feel like a kept woman. I want to contribute to my house and our life equally because that is something that matters to me. Do we keep track of every single penny? No. Sometimes one of us will pay more/less, but we run under the assumption that it will all come out in the wash. In time we may pool our paycheques and have it all be one, and then go from there, but neither of us are in any hurry to do so. Keeping things evenly split is what works for us.

So that is how WE work.

The thing is that what works for us may not work for you, and what is fair to use may not be fair to you. I have friends that do the proportional split thing based upon how much each of them earn, I have other friends that have one half of the couple pay for everything, and I have other friends who do the 50/50 split the same way my husband and I do. This is something only you and your boyfriend can decide upon.

That said, I think you and he have some pretty major differences in opinion when it comes to money. He is frugal and a saver. You, by your own admission, "don't deny yourself the things you want" and you think Starbucks is a normal and reasonable expense. You two have a huge expanse to cross to meet half way. A big reason why a lot of couples split is due to money and their differing attitudes towards how it should be managed, so you are wise to be thinking about this now. Perhaps you both should talk to a financial advisor and/or a couples counselor to get this hammered out, figure out how you are going to manage money (especially in terms of luxury items like starbucks and gaming consoles etc) so that it doesn't become the thing that you fight over. Maybe a good direction to consider would be to make luxury items like Starbucks be your responsibility to pay for (and yes, Starbucks IS a luxury item). If he isn't on the hook for your discretionary spending, and if you're still paying your half for household things, that may avoid fights down the road.

(FWIW I am in 100% agreement with your boyfriend about saving aggressively, living frugally, and that expenses like Starbucks are unnecessary and not a very good way to spend money. We are in very scary, unstable financial times. Now would be a good time to get in to the habit of saving and living frugally so that if the shit does hit the fan down the road you won't be totally screwed.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:59 AM on January 22, 2014 [14 favorites]

Yeah, literally everyone does this differently.

My experience is that "not sweating it" is really important, as in my household we are pretty radically different. (For others, though, sweating it is actually important!) But ease and lack of strife is most important to me, so I put all the bills under my name and my autopay. What's most important to ME is never having to think about the phone, cable, gas and electric, so I don't ever have to think about it. (Whereas my spouse would probably sit down every month with paper bills and review them, if left to his own devices, which, I would rather be dead.)

So to be specific: ("My question is: who pays for tangible stuff (of a not negligible value) for the house like vacuums, lamps, food processor, whatever? Also fun stuff, like game consoles."):

Basically, it doesn't matter. If you want it, go buy it. If you want it together, go buy it together. If one of you cares and the other doesn't, so be it. If you break up, one of you won't have it. Someone will have to buy a new vacuum some day. If this is stuff that you for some reason want to talk about with your partner (which would bore me to tears and or self-harm), cool! Have a nice chat, maybe make a chart. That's totally reasonable.

The best possible solution, of course, is to buy things that just one person wants as gifts for the party that desires them.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:09 AM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Nthing having some sort of joint funds. You could even have a separate account for non-recurring expenses, if you decide to split those differently than everything else. So since you're the spender, you contribute a bit more.

Another thing to consider in your situation is what you'll do if the house needs a major repair. Does he pay because it's his house? Do you contribute? Decide on this ahead of time.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 7:10 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I make about 4 times what my partner makes right now.

Our current arrangement is that we both contribute to a shared household checking/spending account in proportion to our earnings compared to total household earnings.

So our budget says, e.g., that we spend $2,500 a month on expenses. I deposit $2,000 a month and she deposites $500.

Over time with career/job churn we review our earnings, budget and spending and adjust the proportions.

Not sure how to handle savings-only type situations, but our approach suggests figuring similarly based on total worth.
posted by kalessin at 7:10 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think your friends are wrong. Why should you get to live for free, especially since you have money and are able to contribute? And as far as his frugality goes, you said he spent a considerable amount of his savings to buy the house you will be living in and he will be paying 100% of the mortgage because it is his house. That makes sense. But how do you think he saved all that money in the first place?

However, I've never had to live that way, so sometimes I do get annoyed. I'm not a proponent of blowing money, but I think if you have enough, it's fine to spend some money if it improves your quality of life.

You've got your own money! If you don't want to live that way, then spend it to improve the quality of your life. Why are you making this all about his money?

And all that stuff about how your parents will help with the cost of the wedding but his will not is irrelevant to your present financial sense of fairness, IMO. I wouldn't entangle those two issues. If your parents want to help, then great. That will be their gift to both of you. But that should not be interpreted, in advance, like some kind of "strings-attached" obligation on your boyfriend to release you from any financial obligations in the household--if that is where you were going with that info.

So, I think it is very reasonable for you to pay half the bills in the house, excluding the mortgage. As far as buying larger items, if you want something, buy it. And that makes it your property not his. And the same goes for things he pays for. Maybe the two of you should write it all down just so that you remember who bought what if you do break up some day.

I just want to emphasize that my opinions are based on the fact they you are boyfriend-girlfriend---not a legally married couple. If you do decide to tie the knot, then you should have a serious talk before hand about how and to what extent you will merge your financial lives. But for now--pay your fare share of the bills, and control the quality of your life with your own money not his.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:11 AM on January 22, 2014 [24 favorites]

Echoing the above comment that there are many different ways to work this out - you and your boyfriend need to decide what's going to work best for you.

For what personal experience is worth, for the first several years of my cohabitation with my partner, he made significantly more than I did. We split recurring house expenses more or less down the middle (rent and utilities split 50/50, alternating weeks of grocery purchasing, etc.) For tangible house stuff we more or less took turns, not terribly rigidly, but if something was particularly expensive usually he paid for it. (A lamp or a vacuum, no fuss. A large furniture purchase, he paid for it. An exercise bike I really wanted and he didn't really care about but might use if it were there, I paid.) But I knew that he was crap at paying bills on time, and that would make me crazy, so all those joint bills were in my name, and then once a month I'd tell him what he owed and he'd write me a check.

Neither of us ever really cared too much about being exactly fair - I just tried to be mindful that if I hadn't paid for a dinner out in a while, it was probably my turn. And he tried to remember that I didn't have his disposable income, so if he wanted to go on vacation, awesome, but he would probably be buying the plane tickets, and I'd buy a nice meal or two while we were there.

That worked for us. Wouldn't work for everyone.

Lo these many years later, he's unemployed due to a medical condition and I pay for everything. Fortunately I make more these days. But if this relationship goes on, I guarantee you that at some point circumstances will change. Probably more important than whatever actual conclusion you reach now, is establishing now that you can have good, open, sensible, generous communication about these issues. Someday you'll need to renegotiate them.
posted by Stacey at 7:12 AM on January 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

You will also want to discuss, at length, each of your opinions on debt, credit card use, and how much debt load you are each comfortable with. Some people have no problem with carrying a balance on their credit cards. Other people have a huge problem with it and thing things should only be bought if you have the money for it (vs. the space on you credit card). You need to discuss how you each feel and how that will be managed. This also relates to a house. If you guys ever look to get a house TOGETHER you may have very differing attitudes about what you can afford. Some people thing the amount a bank will approve them for is how much they can afford (which is categorically insane in my opinion), other people think a house should only cost x% of their income in mortgage payments. This all REALLY matters and both people in the relationship need to be in agreement. (As a datapoint, my husband chose a house that he knew could be paid for with just one income in case he or his wife lost their job. As it turns out his first (and now ex) wife did lose her job (or quit her job) frequently, so his choice turned out to be incredibly wise, though she was forever pissy over how small the house was and complained about it constantly. He and I now live there together and we get a great deal of comfort knowing we could afford it on just one paycheque, despite the fact that we both have very secure, stable jobs.)

I think your friends are wrong. Why should you get to live for free, especially since you have money and are able to contribute?

posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:15 AM on January 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

If he's from a non-rich background, has been working his entire life, and is currently supporting his parents, then dude, I totally get where he is coming from. He probably knows that he may not be making six figures forever -- shit happens, job niches disappear. (I know people who were making six figures as real estate agents back in 2006; ask me how they're doing now. The field I was in shrunk by 50% during the real estate crash. If he's been working for a few years, he's probably seen this kind of thing happen.) And if he's smart, he won't be thinking of your money as his, because he knows there's a chance you won't be around forever -- if you're concerned about who keeps the appliances in the event of a breakup, it sounds like that's a realistic possibility.

So my boyfriend has bought a house with a pretty large chunk of his savings as well as all the appliances (with the exception of a fridge, which my parents gifted him as a housewarming present) and some major pieces of furniture.

This sounds very stressful for him. It's a major expense and if he used most of his savings, he may feel like he's in a vulnerable spot right now, even if he objectively isn't.

I should say that more often than not, it is I who wants to buy it but would be used by both of us (like a new vacuum to replace his old, ridiculously loud one).

Does he actually need or want a new vacuum cleaner? If he is happy using his current one, I don't think it really matters that the new vacuum is better and gets used by both of you. It's still an expense that isn't actually necessary (to him).

Another point to consider: once I start working, my salary will probably be about half his salary or even less. It will not be as stable as his, either. I know a lot of people split bills proportionately to their income so as not to cause undue hardship to the lower-earning party, but I'm thinking that doesn't really apply to me, so I am still planning to continue paying half.

If he's paying the mortgage (which I assume includes property taxes and insurance), then you're not really "paying half" -- the exact split would depend on the mortgage relative to other expenses, but in my area, I think a split where I paid 100% of the rent and renter's insurance and split everything else 50/50 would work out at around 30/70.

And if we got married, would that alter the terms of "fairness"?

You might look into your state's marriage laws to get an idea of what is expected in your state. Different states divide assets in a marriage differently.

(What do your parents think about this? Are they planning on setting up a trust for your benefit, to exclude him from potentially profiting from any inheritance you may have? Would they want you to have him sign a pre-nup, assuming this is enforceable in your state?)
posted by pie ninja at 7:17 AM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

My husband and I, together for decades, married for about half of that time, designate certain bills and expenses for each person. He pays mortgage and internet/cable, I pay electric, gas and buy groceries and everyday household things (like cleaners, sponges, toothpaste). We try to calibrate this so we have a roughly equivalent percentage of our income going to household expenses.

What is left over is mostly ours to do with as we want, although we do have some mutually agreed-upon goals related to savings and retirement. My husband likes to buy a lot of stuff, and it is often stuff that I am not interested in/think is dumb. It has taken us a long time to get to a point of "live and let live" as long as the household expenses are handled and mutual spending/saving goals are met. Given your different perceptions about spending, this is something you guys may have to work through as well.

Whatever you decide, you should leave the door open to renegotiate as things change or if things just aren't working.

I definitely think you should be contributing to expenses if you have the wherewithal to do so. I wonder if you sort of equate people "taking care of you financially" with caring about you, based on your experience with your parents. Your parents are supposed to take care of you in this way, particularly when you are a child. You should have a different relationship with a boyfriend. With parents it is more "we take care of you" but with a boyfriend it should be more "we take care of ourselves, and support each other." I think this shifts after marriage to "we take care of ourselves and each other" but that's not as relevant to your question.
posted by jeoc at 7:24 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

One possible solution *out of a number* is that if you consider his income as just as much as yours as part of the same household, then he should be able to consider your assets just as much his. That's how I worked it out with my husband. I had savings while I was in school and he was working. So he paid for expenses, while I put his name on my savings account.

For stuff like Starbucks, in our household I would put it under the "small luxuries" line item in our budget that members of the household should be able to indulge in from time to time in an agreed upon proportion to the rest of the budget.
posted by waterandrock at 7:24 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, many ways to skin this cat. My husband and I are in a similar situation in that one of us has always made twice what the other does. When we moved in together, my then-boyfriend and I opened a joint account that we each deposited 30% of our paychecks into a joint account from which rent, utilities, bedsheets, vacuums etc were paid for. Other than rent and monthly bills, any purchase out of that account was discussed and agreed to. Any other expenses - movies, the fancy hand mixer - it wasnt a joint purchase and the person that wanted it bought it. if we broke up - that person would keep it.
Once we decided we were getting married, the dynamic changed. Each of us now has x% of our income put into a personal account. (the remainder is split between the above account to pay bills or joint savings accounts). How each of us spends the money in that account is our decision - he developed an obsession with vintage LPs? no problem. I saw a stunning pair of curtains to replace our completely serviceable ones? I can buy them. No resentment, no second guessing .... Important things for the house such as a new bed are discussed, saved for and paid for out of the joint account. This way, we're both comfortable with our joint savings (level was discussed) and both have unrestricted funds to spend as we wish.
posted by darsh at 7:24 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

He might be rich, but he's got poor people's habits. These habits aren't necessarily grounded in rational thought at all, and he can't be reasoned out of them because they make him feel secure.

I know because I have poor people's habits, too. My husband comes from financial security and doesn't hesitate to buy what he needs when he can afford it, whereas each purchase puts me in a tailspin of doubt about whether that purchase is necessary or whether I deserve it.

Anyway, we're in a similar boat, with income inequity and a serious portion of my husband's financial security coming from investment income (and it is income; I have no idea why you don't see yours as such). Time and experience has taught us that we both feel our set-up is most fair when we view our financial situation as a team effort rather than a pile of "mine" and "yours" to be split accordingly by some mathematical formula. If one of us can't contribute exactly half of the expenses one month, and the other can, the other pitches in (and this has been in flux throughout our relationship). If one of us gets a windfall, it might go to managing collective debt or go into collective savings. He generally is comfier with shabbier accommodations, but he understands that having decent appliances and such is important to me, so we talk about those purchases together and he's understanding. Likewise, I'm understanding when he wants to spend money on things that I wouldn't, assuming that we can collectively afford it.

Tit for tat and score keeping wouldn't work for us. Our system makes us feel supported and secure. As for what makes you (and your boyfriend) supported and secure, that's really up to the two of you to figure out.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:31 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If he's supporting aged parents, you should pay for discretionary items you primarily want and ask him to take you out and buy you presents every once in a while.

It's great to be taken care of but since his parents actually need it, he's right to be cautious and prioritize savings over Starbucks.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:37 AM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

As a co-habitating couple, what you've outlined for your arrangement sounds fair for right now.

I recommending having an on-going dialogue with your partner about how you feel, and how he feels as things change in your relationship. So, when you start working, you can re-calibrate your contribution.

Just because the house is in his name, you're still getting a benefit, so you can contribute a fair amount for "rent". Or you can buy something big for the house every so often, whatever each of you decides.

When you marry, you get to discuss it all over again.

We have a joint checking account and I pay all the bills out of it. I give Husbunny some walking around money, and that works for us.

The most important thing is to talk about money frequently. If you're stressed about it, say so, if you want to splurge on something, talk it over.

Talk about joint money goals for your future. What do you want your retirement to look like? How do you feel about savings and investments?

You're 100% right though, you need to contribute fairly to the household.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:38 AM on January 22, 2014

One's view on financial life is very different if you grew up with a safety net vs. without one.

As long as he's good to you, you are fortunate to have such a boyfriend. He provides above and beyond today, but also is looking after your combined futures. That's why he's frugal — he's saving to protect your current lifestyle. Instead of thinking about "fairness" you should be looking to ease his burden. He is not only without his own safety net, but he is his parents' safety net as well. Loved ones do that for each other.

You have some real catching up to do. Budget on both sides : "I am reducing my Starbucks expenditures to give him a bit of peace of mind." And, voluntarily cover more of your combined daily expenses.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:39 AM on January 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

As others have pointed out - that you guys are talking about this is great. Any solution you come up with will be highly personal. And, you should expect that it may have to evolve as your relationship progresses. Being able to talk about finances is critical to the success of your relationship.

How you guys decide to do it will be fine as long as it works for you. It doesn't really matter what form it takes as long as you are both on board with it. AND it doesn't have to be forever - you can try something, and if it doesn't work out well, revise it - you don't have to get it right the first time.

So - what me and my wife do ? Basically what EmpressCallipygos wrote - we have a house fund, that she and I both kick into a set amount (this varies as things change, but it's an agreed upon amount). Bills get paid from this - car payments, mortgage, insurance, etc etc. Neither of us can spend this without us both agreeing on it.

The other money is then ours. I have my own credit cards and bank account, and so does she. If I decide that Friday is steak and beer night, she can roll her eyes, but it's my money. Same for her if she sees a jacket that she really likes - she can buy it without having to worry about me poo-pooing it.

Good luck.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:40 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

One's view on financial life is very different if you grew up and live with a safety net vs. without one.

Quoted for truth. You believe you are a normal spender and that he's frugal-- he may see you as profligate and himself as normal. Neither of you is wrong or right about money-- maybe you can learn from each other how to better enjoy and manage it?
posted by travertina at 7:47 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's not exactly romantic, but I'm thinking in the event of a breakup, if we buy those together, how we would split those.

I think you're smart to be considering this possibility. This is exactly what property agreements are for (essentially pre-nups without the nup). Same-sex couples who don't have access to the protections of marriage laws enter into these with some frequency. You and he should split the cost of a consultation with a good estate planning attorney.
posted by southern_sky at 7:54 AM on January 22, 2014

A lot of solutions for this depend to a large extent on having shared financial values. That's because any workable solution feels fair to both parties, and what is "fair" to each of you is informed by your feelings on saving vs spending, luxury vs necessity, risk vs conservatism, etc.

In your situation, it looks like you two right now are coming from very different places. One of you (or each to some degree) will have to compromise, and it's not going to feel nice: either you give up on spending extra on things that aren't strictly necessary, or he spends money on things he thinks aren't necessary.

So it would seem a good first step is to do some introspection and thinking about what your financial goals are, how much you need to invest and save to make them happen, how much you absolutely need to spend on monthly expenses, and then how much is left for discretionary spending. Once you clarify those categories, the rest will be easier.

Finally, I feel it bears on your solution that you want/tolerate a situation where you are taken care of; the corollary to this kind of arrangement is that you can more reasonably be expected to have less say in decision making, since being taken care of cedes some authority to one degree or another. So this dynamic is a bit of an elephant in the room making typical conceptions of how to work out finances between couples who see themselves more as equal somewhat less applicable to your situation.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:58 AM on January 22, 2014

I own an apartment and my boyfriend pays me some rent (less than half the total costs). We put some bills (homeowner's insurance, electric) in my name and others (internet/phone) in his, and this seems to be working out for us. I don't have my SO here to ask him but I think he would say that he'd feel bad not contributing anything for rent, even though the house is in my name and he's not currently working, since he lives in/uses our apartment. FWIW, when we were thinking this through, none of my friends thought he should get to live with me rent-free.

I think it's legitimate for you to use your own money for stuff like Starbucks if you want to but you shouldn't ask your boyfriend to pay for that kind of luxury item.

For household stuff, I'd say if you both want/need it, then split the costs evenly. If it's something only one of you thinks is important, then that person pays and the item technically belongs to them. I dunno, I feel like if you break up there will be more important issues than if you don't own a vacuum cleaner anymore, and you can always get a new one; to me, it wouldn't be worth drawing up some elaborate agreement.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:00 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in a somewhat similar arrangement to you. My boyfriend earns about 4 times what I do, and I moved into his house a little over 6 months ago. We keep things separate, he pays mortgage and electric but I pay for all groceries and cable/internet which probably ends up being roughly proportional to our relative incomes. For us, it works. When I was in grad school, I lived with a now ex boyfriend and we did the joint account contribute equal percentages thing, and that also worked, but was an easier situation because we were renting and had similar incomes.

For the tangible household stuff, I'm with RJ Reynolds. Whoever wants it buys it. We don't really even discuss the small stuff beyond 'hey look at this cool lamp, do you like it?'. We would probably split the costs of larger, more expensive furniture purchases but we haven't had to do that yet.
posted by Shal at 8:13 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

What Shal describes (one person pays the rent/mortgage, the other person pays utilities and buys the food) is what another couple with very divergent incomes also did.

I've also heard of a couple that waited until their anniversary to buy the big-ticket items - rather than each one buying the other a gift, they both pooled their money to invest in something big that they both could enjoy (so, instead of you getting each other an anniversary gift, you both decide "hey, let's upgrade the couch and that will be our gift to us"). Granted, that was a couple who'd been married a while, but it still was a solution they found that worked for them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

rather than each one buying the other a gift, they both pooled their money to invest in something big that they both could enjoy

I find this works wonderfully. My husband and I have done this pretty much from the get go of our relationship. Not romantic by some people's standards, but to us it feels like the gift is a nicer life for us to share.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:43 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ok I'm hearing a little bit of a princess here - you have the money to do it yourself, but you want to be / feel taken care of by your man.

I would sit down and seriously think about how you want to live. This guy will not be able to take care of you as well as your parents currently can. That is the limit of his earning power and family finances. So you will have to decide if you're ok with his level. If you really want him to take care of you, it will happen on his schedule. He will buy you that new vacuum when HE decides it is financially ok, not when you decide you want it. You can't have it both ways, you will run this poor dude ragged.

So imagine that future and if you can have the patience to wait for his schedule. It is not easy and I'm not sure I could do it myself if I were in your shoes. You are considering "marrying down" as they say. Your friends agree with your views (are their parents rich too?) but you are dating someone from a strata of working-class society whose values you simply don't share because you've lived a very different life and no one can fault you for that.

The reasonable 'middle way' forward would be to do as people are suggesting - make a list of needs (lamps, couches, vacuums, dishes) and wants (xbox, unicorn, ipad) and prioritize them. Split the costs. Pay for the extras yourself, but out of consideration, limit your self to not buying it all at once all the time. Waiting is your compromise in this relationship.

Btw, even financially matched couples squabble about "when" to buy that new vacuum. She wants a new one, he thinks the old one is fine. It's a common trope. It's just that in your case you feel like you have the ability to supercede his opinion because you have the money to do so.

But honestly the way you write it, I'm wondering why are you guys moving in together? Is this "just for fun" or are you trying to build a life together? This is what will dictate how to handle things more than anything. For example, if he's just some guy, then buy your vacuum, keep his in the basement as a spare, and take your vacuum with you if things end. Keep a private list of what you've bought. If he is going to be your partner, then you discuss with him how quickly or how slowly to replace things, and split them 50/50. And stick to it. Just like any regular couple.

If you want him as a partner you've got to start thinking about him as a partner. It's not "me and my parents & our money" vs "him and his earning power." Your relationship becomes an "us."

So for your last comment

I want to first calibrate my sense of normalcy and fairness so I don't put undue pressure on him and put strain on the relationship for no reason

I'm hearing that you need to investigate honestly how you view this relationship and where you see it going, and how to build it there. This could be a huge pile of resentment (you can afford daily starbucks and he can't; do you buy him one, now he feels like charity; your parents wil pay for the wedding and honeymoon etc etc) that could blow the whole lid off the operation when you move in together.

There are so many ways to "technically" split finances, and a lot of people here have given good examples and illustrations, but the most important part is that the two of you feel like an "us" if you want this relationship to succeed.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:50 AM on January 22, 2014 [15 favorites]

The biggest problem I see here is that you instinctively think you're right and that he's wrong.

For instance:

I should say that more often than not, it is I who wants to buy it but would be used by both of us (like a new vacuum to replace his old, ridiculously loud one).


So having said that, sometimes it annoys me that he's reluctant to buy stuff the house needs.

So there is a vacuum clearn in the house that works, but you're bothered by it being too loud and too old and believe a new one is needed. He thinks the current vacuum cleaner works, so why buy a new one. Yet there's this consistent tone in your writing that you are right and he's the problem.
That's not good for any subject in any relationship.

I think you two need to sit down and talk about how you view things differently and what sort of plan/action ya'll can take to mitigate any one party feeling slighted or not listened too.

I'd also appreciate any opinions on whether or not our arrangement is unfair to either party.

It sounds unfair to him. He worked hard to build his fortune and you want him to spend more of it when he's already providing you with a place to live for free and taking care of his parents.

Someone who has received financial gifts from parents and is expecting at least another one in the future, along with them paying for wedding and honeymoon isn't making "nothing". You have non-traditional means, which sounds like you're not being taxed for, but its income.

There are so many ways to "technically" split finances, and a lot of people here have given good examples and illustrations, but the most important part is that the two of you feel like an "us" if you want this relationship to succeed.

This. It sounds as though you are thinking in terms of "me" and "him" instead of "us". Does it really matter who buys and then gets to keep the food processor? If you want one, go buy it and share it. If you break up is who gets to keep the food processor a key question? It's just a thing, one used while the two of you were relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:12 AM on January 22, 2014 [15 favorites]

I recently moved in with my girlfriend. This is not the first time I've lived with a significant other, but this is the relationship I'll use as an example.

I make more money than her, by about 3x (roughly 50k vs 150k).

I already owned this house. I pay the mortgage and all of the utilities and such. She pays me a small amount of rent (about 1/6th of the total mortgage payment).

I pay for my cell phone, she pays for hers. I pay for my car,gas and insurance, she pays for her.

Whoever goes to the store to get groceries pays for them.

When we go out to dinner or do something else "date-like" I pay for it.

If I wanted a game console, I would buy it. If she wanted a game console, she would buy it. If we both wanted a game console, in theory we might split the cost but realistically one of us would probably just buy it and share it.

My girlfriend didn't like my old slightly broken vacuum cleaner so she bought a new one. I don't actually like the new one any better than the old one.

When we buy big, one-off things, like vacations, we talk about how to split it. The goal isn't really "fair" so much as it is "can we comfortably go on vacation?" If we wanted to go to France and spend $5000 on the trip, and I had $5000 sitting in a bank account being unused and she had no money she could afford to spend, I'd pay for the trip. If we each happened to have $2500, we'd split the cost of the trip.

I am buying a boat. My girlfriend will sail on the boat but really, I wanted the boat, so I'm paying for the boat.

My arrangement is very much rooted in practicality, much mores than some notion of fairness.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:20 AM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

In my household the household account is only for absolute essentials: rent, gas, electricity, and very basic household goods like dishwashing detergent, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.

A better vacuum cleaner, a juicer, and other great, but frankly non-essential items are bought by the person who wants to buy them.
posted by melissam at 9:28 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Everyone does this differently.

What we did was combine all of our accounts that could be legally combined into joint accounts. Accounts that couldn't be jointly owned (IRA, HSA, etc.) were adjusted such that the beneficiary is the other spouse, and where possible "archived" and replaced with joint accounts for the same purpose.

Both people are named on any personal credit cards, and logins for financial systems are shared in a secure system such that any person can check on any financial matters, pay bills, look at old statements, talk to service providers, etc.,

Over the almost 10 years we've been married I learned this approach is seen as radically transparent. We've had zero issues with it, but I certainly respect that other approaches work just as well. It entirely depends on your combined opinions about lots of very sensitive things.
posted by odinsdream at 9:39 AM on January 22, 2014

Aside from the fact that any split is fair if you're both happy with it, it seems like the best thing for your situation would be splitting all utility bills and only the very basic household needs (cleaning supplies, etc) 50-50. Any improvements you both agree on can be split 50-50 as well, but in cases where he doesn't think it's necessary (and it's not something objectively necessary, like a broom or toilet paper or something) you should be buying it yourself, and vice versa. Starbucks is definitely in this category, as are game consoles and fancy new vaccuums.

It's not really fair for you to be pushing him into spending his money on things that won't make him happier - if those luxuries make you happier, that's great, you can buy it yourself.
posted by randomnity at 9:39 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not a lawyer but I have close knowledge of a couple of messy divorces.

Let me tell you how those assets would be handled in the event of a divorce in my jurisdiction. If the house is your marital home, the value would get split 50/50 regardless of who's name is on the title. Your premarital assets would be excluded however. So you would win big time unless you used some of those assets to match your BF's investment in the home. Sound fair? No?

It sounds like there are enough asserts involved here that a consultation with a family lawyer is in order. I imagine if there are substantial family assets, your parents would want you do do that anyway prior to a legal commitment.

As for treatment of day to day expenses, if you are receiving income from your assets, then it would be fair to include that when assessing your financial contribution to the household.

It sounds like you have a good guy. Be as generous with your own money as you expect him to be with his.
posted by TORunner at 10:17 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If its a tangilble thing you want, you buy it. If its something you could have made at home but wanted to buy it out (coffee) it is extravagant. If you break up, you keep the tangible things you bought unless its too much hassle to move or you just don't feel like moving it (furniture). Paying half of the bills, groceries, and expenses is your "rent" and you should definitely pay that cause despite what your background may tell you there aint no such thing as a free lunch.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:48 AM on January 22, 2014

Are you dating my ex-boyfriend? I was in a very similar situation to you. While he and I didn't break up over money, it caused a lot of fights. We had very different opinions about money - him basically always having to fend for himself, while my parents are always there to support me when I need them. I also came into the relationship with a large pot of money, but little income. He had a huge pot of money and a huge income, but always felt like he had to save every penny.

I think you need to discuss your views of money and see if you can accept one another's views. My ex-boyfriend refused to put curtains up on the windows of his new $500k home because they were too expensive and bed sheets would do just fine. I'm not sure if your boyfriend is this bad, but I don't think it's something you are going to change. These sorts of attitudes are ingrained in childhood. My boyfriend's spending habits were as baffling to me as mine were to him.

I suppose everyone looks at these things differently, but you are supposed to be a team and share the wealth once you've decided this is the person with whom you want to share your life. If you aren't at the stage where you know you want to share your lives together, then I recommend maintaining separate finances and homes. He buys his vacuum cleaners and household goods and you buy yours until you're ready to meld your finances. If you are ready to combine finances, then your money also becomes his, so let's say the family needed a down payment for a car, that money might come out of your stash since it's now the family money.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:18 AM on January 22, 2014

Joint account for shared expenses like food, rent and utilities. Otherwise, I think the answers are in your question. If you can afford to pay half, you pay half. If you can only afford to pay based on what you make, you pay proportionately.

For wants and non-household needs, discuss it, and the person who wants it, buys it.
posted by cnc at 12:47 PM on January 22, 2014

...but I do also like the idea of a man taking care of me, even though that's not "in vogue" in this day and age. I never want to *need* a man to take care of me, and I'm expecting to have a successful career of my own, but I want a man to at least want to do it. So having said that, sometimes it annoys me that he's reluctant to buy stuff the house needs.

It sounds from this like you view someone's willingness to spend money on you or things you want as an expression of love. This is not uncommon, and it is certainly the way many women are socialized to experience love/affection/value in their partner's eyes (the tradition of getting an engagement ring is sort of a distillation of this idea, culturally). In your case it may even have its roots in your upbringing with your father, particularly if it felt to you like he contemptuously denied you things that you wanted.

But spending money on someone is not how everybody expresses love, and it sounds like it's really probably not the way your partner is going to express love. I'm concerned that every time you two disagree about how to spend money on something, the subtext for you will be about how much your boyfriend values you, which is going to really complicate matters. I think this possible dynamic is something to think through and investigate every bit as much as the practical issues of how to divide expenses.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 12:53 PM on January 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think at the very least you should pay for anything that you know you would want to take with you in the event of a break-up. In a bad break-up he might demand gifts he gave you back, but if you bought it with your money then it's yours, end of story, no matter what he says about it.
posted by sam_harms at 2:23 PM on January 22, 2014

it is I who wants to buy it but would be used by both of us (like a new vacuum to replace his old, ridiculously loud one)

You want it, and he's happy with his old one/not having one/making do.

You buy it, it's yours, he's using it as a courtesy to you because that's what you are asking him to do. Or maybe he's using your game machine because you happy to share with him.

If you want him to buy something he doesn't want to buy, you're going to have to negotiate that on a case-by-case basis.

sometimes it annoys me that he's reluctant to buy stuff the house needs

The house does not need a lamp, a less loud vacuum, a food processor, a game machine. The house is not harmed in any way by not having these things.

These are things that you want. They are not things that he wants. That's why he's reluctant to buy them. If you'd like him to buy them you'll have to discuss why you would like him to do this, with actual reasons.

If you come to some sort of decision about him paying for things the house "needs", and decide what that is yourself and dictate he must buy these things -- well, if there's a recipe for long term happiness in your relationship, a food processor is not going to help you prepare it.
posted by yohko at 3:05 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Could be worth the two of you meeting a financial planner, together, and working out a join budget you can both agree to. Having an experienced, qualified and neutral party should put you both on your best behaviour.

To me, it reads that you are asking an awful lot from him in terms of resources. The vacuum is a good example. If you want it, you should buy it yourself with your money - or ask for it for a birthday or christmas etc. This is not to say you're wrong, but to illustrate how different standards should be.

Re: A man looking after you - forgive me, but you sound young and somewhat sheltered. There are many men who love the thought of looking after a woman, but you might not like the other attitudes that often accompany that one, and the roles women in those kind of relationships are expected to play, by dint of being "kept". Be careful what you wish for.
posted by smoke at 4:16 PM on January 22, 2014

Because you asked for reactions to your arrangement generally, I will say that I think you may be undervaluing the fact that he's going to house you rent-free. If you've been living at home while going to school, you may not have a visceral appreciation of how much paying rent can devastate your budget, especially if you're going into a poorly-compensated field. If you weren't moving in with him, you'd be paying at least a few hundred dollars a month in rent, and potentially significantly more (depends on where you are and whether you'd tolerate having roommates or living in low-quality buildings or bad neighborhoods). Every dollar you would otherwise be spending on rent is now available to you as part of your discretionary spending because of your boyfriend's generosity. That sounds to me like a significant way in which he is, in fact, taking care of you.

I also think you've a bit overly focused on salary as the measure of relative wealth. You're clearly aware of your family money and the ways in which that creates resources for you and a safety net he doesn't have, but you're still talking about how he makes six figures while you're about to make less. Not only is that not a totally fair comparison, but I also suggest that people feel really differently about money they earn vs. money they receive as a gift. Even after becoming a self-supporting adult and "learning the value of a dollar" or whatever, I am still way more likely to blow birthday money on a cashmere sweater than to spend my own paycheck on the same thing. You need to take that into account - it's normal for him to feel more protective of money he's earned than you do of money you've been given by your parents.
posted by prefpara at 4:27 PM on January 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Talking is good. And if you start communicating now, you set a precedent for when circumstances change or if you decide to do things differently. Consider also that what you decide now is not set in stone forever.

Another anecdote to add to your pile: I've been with my husband for a bit over two years, living together almost a year, married two months. I earn double what he does. We pool all our money, aside from a small amount we each keep aside each month for "discretionary spending" -- i.e. clothes, hobbies, birthday presents etc.

We didn't get to this arrangement overnight. Sharing of our money and expenses has evolved. In the beginning, when we were dating, it was a lot more conscious, with each of us alternating with paying for the other -- quite naturally, there was a certain amount of formality about the proceedings. Over time, it became less formal, every now and again we'd slip into one of us paying more often than the other, but if we felt an imbalance, we'd talk about it and smooth things out -- but it was all swings and roundabouts really. However, it was only money we were talking about at that stage.

When we moved into together, we had some things together and kept things separate but over the last year living together, our monetary situation has become more closely bound and it keeps getting more involved as time goes by.

The bit I really want to emphasise is this: money is just one of many things we share -- there's also chores and emotional support and looking after each other when the other is sick and driving and any other number of things that one or the other of us contributes different levels of at different times. Money is just one of many things we share in the relationship.

So the basic upshot of my suggestion to you is:

-- communicate
-- let it evolve -- it's bound to change so let it and
-- look at ways that each of you contribute to the relationship beyond money.
posted by prettypretty at 6:57 PM on January 22, 2014

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