When you’re in a relationship, one partner is bound to make more money than the other. Depending on how wide that financial gap, the person with the smaller paycheck can sometimes feel inadequate (whether it’s justified or not), and the insecurity of earning less may cause problems.
There are, however, ways to facilitate healthy discussions about uneven financial affairs that lead to satisfying results for both parties. These seven tips will help facilitate feelings of worthiness and appreciation among partners — even if somebody’s boss is being stingy.
Discuss the situation and expectations. Don’t avoid having a conversation about where each partner stands financially. Pretending that the issue doesn’t exist can lead to resentment. Sit down and talk about how much each of you makes, your savings plan and ultimate financial goals. Discuss how you’ll handle the everyday expenses, too. Perhaps your partner makes enough that he or she doesn’t mind taking on more than you. Maybe you have enough in savings already to contribute equally for the time being. Whatever you decide, make sure that the communication is open and honest and all expectations are clear from the get-go.
Do the math. How much difference is there between your two incomes? Does your partner make twice as much as you do? A fair way to divvy up expenses is to base how much each person is required to pay for monthly expenses on how much each person earns in a month. If your partner makes double what you do, it’s a reasonable compromise that they will pay twice as much in rent (or somewhere thereabouts). The discrepancies between salaries should be accommodated at bill time somewhat accordingly.
Contribute to a joint recreational account. Many partners who earn less feel guilty that they can’t pay for as much during recreational outings or vacation. To ensure that both partners feel like they’re contributing equally to these activities, consider establishing a joint account. Decide how much you can afford to put in the account on a regular basis — based on the lowest earner’s ability to contribute — and start building up the slush fund. When it’s time to use it, both partners can feel that they each worked equally as hard to enjoy that time together. I don’t, however, recommend combining all your income into one account. Each partner should maintain their own financial independence in some aspects so the waters don’t get too muddy in this regard.
Thinks of ways to have free or inexpensive fun together. If money is particularly tight and saving for entertainment isn’t feasible, research low- or no-cost activities in your area. There are an abundance of activities that don’t cost a dime, like free outdoor movies, bike and kayak rentals, and admission to museums and exhibits, plus plenty of nature-bound DIY fitness activities … all free if you look hard enough. If no one has to put anything out of pocket, no one will feel guilty that one paid more than the other. Another perk: a free activity this time means that you saved even more money for next time.
Consider alternative ways of making cash. It’s a harsh reality, but some careers don’t pay much. If you’re a teacher and your partner is a Wall Street broker, chances are you’ll never earn as much as them. That’s OK. But just because your salary is capped doesn’t mean your creativity has to be. Maybe you’re good at crocheting knit caps that you can sell on Etsy, or perhaps you’re a talented graphic designer who can provide freelance services. There are a million ways to make extra money outside of a 9-to-5 when you embrace your own motivation.
Set limits at gifting times. Holidays can be hard for the financially strapped, so the best way to avoid hurt feelings and disappointment is to set a limit (again, based on what the lower earner can afford) for how much money will be spent. This isn’t difficult to do. As we get older we tend to want less at holiday time anyway (probably because we buy ourselves presents all year round, but that’s another issue), and it’s the thought of the gift that ultimately counts. A limit also helps ensure that the lower earner doesn’t overspend, which could push him or her into deeper — even if perceived — debt.
If your partner pays more, do more. If you’re the lower earner and your partner is willing to take on more of the monthly expenses than you — no questions asked — show your appreciation by doing more of the household chores. Wash the dishes, take out the trash, and make dinner more frequently than he or she does. You’re not getting paid to take on these tasks, per se, but in the real world those chores are considered work for some (people make a living from it) so it’s OK to assign monetary value to the extra time and effort you’re putting in. Taking on more of the households chose when he or she is taking on more of the expenses also is an excellent way to show your thanks in small, thoughtful and inexpensive ways.
— Mikey Rox