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Ask Amanda: What do I do if my boyfriend makes more money than me, but still expects me to pay half?

As a clinician specializing in financial behavior, Amanda helps people live empowered, engaged, and educated financial lives.

How can two people with widely different incomes find a way to live together on common ground?

Things have been very challenging lately with my boyfriend, and money is one of the biggest reasons. I'm growing a small business, which takes a lot of my time but so far isn't generating much income. My boyfriend has a good job, and the lifestyle to go with it. He recently bought a house, and a $30 sushi lunch is a normal thing for him. I don't even buy myself the occasional cup of coffee. A few months ago I gave up my apartment because it seemed like a waste of money since I was hardly ever there. I've basically been living with him, even though he resents that I don't contribute equally to household costs. I wouldn't pick such an expensive place, if it were my choice. I could live with my mother for free, but then we would hardly spend any time together. I feel like anything I can contribute is a huge thing for me. It's just a drop in the bucket for him, and it feels like it's more about a control issue. He seems to think I'm a leech with a sense of entitlement. Let me tell you, I'm not and I don't. I wish he was a "starving student" or "starving entrepreneur" and we were both financially sensible together. He doesn't quite get how hard this is for me. Or maybe it's me who doesn't get it.

I am sorry that things have been challenging with your boyfriend. I understand that part of the issue is that you have very different incomes, but it seems to me that money is just the tip of the iceberg here.

Take the household expenses, for example. You wrote that anything you contribute is a huge thing for you, but a drop in the bucket for him. You wouldn't choose an expensive house or fancy restaurant meal, in fact you wouldn't even choose an occasional cup of coffee. Why, then, do you let him choose those things for you, especially when that just sets you up to fail?

couple arguing over finances

Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/360/Getty Images

Map out your own financial turf

Too often, we make the mistake of trying to play on someone else's financial "turf." This usually happens when you haven't properly mapped out your own. Your map, in this case, is your budget. I understand that one of the challenges of starting your own business is that you may not always have predictable cash flow, but "always try to spend as little as possible" is not a good enough plan. Create a budget that flexes to adjust with your circumstances. You can allocate the amount you feel comfortable with for housing, food and other essentials, and in months where you make more you might contribute more (I would be very specific about what "more" is). If you really aren't in a position to pay anything in some months, then that needs to be clear, too.

You are the queen of your own turf

Once you have mapped out your own territory, the next step is to own it. Sure, in your boyfriend's territory someone who can't pay her own way might be seen as a leech. But in your own territory you are sovereign. If you can live in a cheaper apartment or with your mother, if you are prepared to be frugal with your groceries and eliminate meals out, then those are your choices. You do not have to apologize to anybody about not choosing a $30 lunch. Period.

Can you and your boyfriend find common ground?

After you've shared your map for your money and talked about your values... your values around being able to spend time together and re-invest in your business... then the ball is in his court. He gets to choose what his map looks like, too. This is critical. The power of choice is what you denied him when you made the decision to give up your apartment and stay with him. It may, in fact, be what is fueling his "control issue" around you paying your share.

He gets to decide whether splitting expenses 50-50 is more important than spending time with you or living in the best house he can afford. Maybe he will agree to move to a more modest dwelling that fits both of your budgets, or to freely accept paying a larger proportion of expenses.

You may not be able to find enough common ground to live together right now, and that's okay. Sometimes in a relationship you have to create some space for each person to pursue what's important to him or her. If the connection is there, it will endure.

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