Tired of paying for everything? Learn how to save your money and your relationship.
Last week, a woman name Alejandra, called into my radio show Let’s Talk Money saying that her boyfriend lost his job two months ago and is "getting way too comfortable" with her paying all of the bills while he watches TV all day long.
Though she said she doesn’t want to leave him "because of money," in the next breath it became clear that despite two years of dating him, after just two months of his mooching, love didn't matter, she was ready to walk away from the relationship.
Of course, his lack of income might not be the only reason for the sudden breakdown in her commitment level, but clearly money was causing tension in their relationship and they were on the fast track to a terrible breakup.
I can definitely relate to this. Maybe you can, too?
I bumped up against my own money panic button years ago, at the start of a relationship. My boyfriend "Joe" and I were spending an incredibly romantic Valentine’s Day weekend at my family’s cabin in the mountains. But throughout the weekend, as money flowed out to pay for everything, I found myself keeping a running tally of who had paid for what.
As I meticulously updated my mental scorecard with each purchase, I became very aware that I was spending way more money than Joe. I shrugged it off (or so I thought) until my bottled up feelings about it exploded during what I now refer to as the infamous "Dollar Store Incident."
On the way home from the cabin, I decided to stop by the Dollar Store to grab a birthday card for a friend (I mean, come on, why pay $4 when you can get one for a buck, right?!) I grabbed some other things and got in line with my five items. Joe threw in a pack of gum, candy and a water. As we waited in line, I was quietly stewing inside: "I’m sure he’ll pay for this. I bought the $60 groceries, I drove my car and paid for gas, we stayed at my cabin … surely he’ll at least buy the $8.60 Dollar Store items. This is his chance to catch up."
But he didn’t pay. And I was livid.
The perfect weekend took a turn for the worst when we got back in the car. I ceased my normal chattiness and began answering him in terse one-word responses. When he asked "what’s wrong" (well, after he asked at least five times), I went on the attack. I blurted out:
"How come you never offer to pay for anything?" (BLAM!) and "Why do I always have to pay for everything?" (KAPOW!)
Joe felt like I was taking verbal swings at him out of left field. He knew nothing about my secret scorecard. He knew nothing about my desire for him to pay for me. And more importantly, he knew nothing about what I had learned from a lifetime of watching my parents—the man is the breadwinner, it’s the man’s job to pay for things.
But, I acted like he should have magically known this (or magically figured it out). Clearly, ALL rational people know this, right? Clearly Joe was wrong and to blame.
(Except for the part where he wasn’t actually wrong … but I’ll get to that in a minute)
My money panic was compounded with terrified thoughts of our future, worrying about all that could go wrong if mooching is one of his trademark behaviors. My panicked brain raged on: What if he’s broke forever? What if I’ll have to make all the money and take care of the kids? What if we won’t be able to afford health insurance? Or be able to buy a house? What if we need to work forever and can never retire?
Add to this the fact that Joe had financial troubles and was filing a bankruptcy. How could I, as a professional financial planner be dating such a LOSER? More than one of my girlfriends had told me to 'dump this free-loader.'
Fears were slapping me in the face as I sat in the car unloading all of my money drama out on Joe. And I verbally hit him with that fear rather than being brave enough to speak the truth—that I was actually falling in love with this guy and feeling utterly vulnerable because of it. I was scared he might not be right for me. I was also scared I’d never find anyone else as amazing as he was. And, I was scared that being with him could mean a lifetime of financial struggles and challenges.
Here’s another truth for you … money worries are rarely just about the money. They represent something deeper and a lack of healthy communication usually compounds the problem. So, if resentment, anger, or frustration is mounting in your relationship because you make more money than your man (or you are paying for his stuff), then in order to know whether to LEAVE HIM or KEEP HIM … before ANYTHING else, you must go through these 5 steps:
1) Accept Responsibility
No matter what situation you are in, you play a role in shaping it, so take responsibility. Stop blaming your guy for making less money or for not paying his share. You play a role. It is about how you act, what you say, what you don’t say and how you behave.
Are you coming home and yelling at him every night, like Alejandra did with her boyfriend? Talk is cheap. What motivation is there for him to step up if you keep doing things that support the current pattern? Every time you complain, but continue to pay for everything, you send the message that your word means nothing and you do not honor your own boundaries. And, if you stay silent and don’t communicate your displeasure with the situation, shame on you.
With Joe, I was keeping a silent scorecard and he had no clue! As if it was something he should have magically known about? Keeping my expectations a secret was my fault, not his. So quit blaming and judging your guy and first identify your mistakes (how you contribute to the situation) and then admit them.
2) Define the real problem
Is the problem that you make more money than him, or is the problem that you don’t have enough to pay for both of you (or that you don’t want to pay for the both of you no matter how much you make)? For example, if you could double your income spending the same amount of time working, would your partner’s low income still drive you nuts? Is it that you want a man who takes care of you in all ways (especially financially) or do you just want to feel like he’s contributing?
For me, I didn’t need Joe to pay for everything. I just wanted to be pampered a little. I wanted to feel special and taken care of. To me, that meant being treated for dinner sometimes, or, at least, covering the Dollar Store bill.
3) Uncover and acknowledge your own money fears.
You have fears about money and about your relationship. Well, what are they? Are you afraid you’ll end up in debt or broke? Are you worried you’ll have to carry the whole load and won’t be able to manage? Are you scared you’re being taken advantage of?
Alejandra was deathly afraid of going into debt. So much so that she was constantly yelling at her boyfriend. But because she led with anger and fear (instead of positive communication) she quickly lost all power to influence him. He pushed back against her judging him so intensely.
Uncovering and acknowledging your own fears will give you clarity and empower you. This way you can choose behaviors and engage in conversations that serve you, instead of sabotage you.
4) Get specific about what you really DO want
A list of what you don’t want isn’t enough. What specifically do you want? I wanted Joe to pay at least half of our dating expenses. Also, I really wanted him to acknowledge and appreciate me, especially when I paid for things (hint: men feel this way, too, when they pay for us). I also at least wanted him to offer to pay. And, sometimes, quite plainly—I wanted him to treat me feel like a princess (and pamper me by paying for everything).
Before you can get on the same page with your man, you have to get clear with yourself about what your true wants and your own rules. You can’t hold someone accountable for something you haven’t fully communicated.
For example, Alejandra had set a mental timeline that her boyfriend needed to get a job within 3 weeks, but she hadn’t told him that. With an unspoken ultimatum, it would be hard for anyone to win. But, the real problem was that she was accumulating $500/month in debt because she was paying her boyfriend’s car loan. So, what she needed to be clear and specific about first, is that Carlos needed to at least make enough money to make that monthly payment himself. After that, she wanted him to pay his half of their relationship expenses. This difference (and its specifics) was important for her to get clear on and to communication in order to at least give the poor guy a chance.
5) Talk about it!
Now that you have gone through these steps, talk about it!
The night of the fateful Dollar Store incident, our relationship (thankfully) didn’t end. Joe didn’t let me shut him down or shut him out. He was patient with me, he was unconditionally loving, he didn’t judge me or blame me for my fears (even though I had judged and blamed him). I had lashed out at him irrationally, but he recognized that as fear. He talked me through it. He asked me what was really going on and helped me get clear. And in the end, it didn’t matter how much money he made or what he paid for, I ended up marrying him!
The key to working out our money differences was clarity and communication. Your relationship needs the same. Whether or not you decide you and your partner are ultimately meant to stay together, at the least, you can end things knowing you spoke your truth, took responsibility for yourself, and didn’t let your fears control you.
Work on becoming a better YOU, so that whatever relationship you end up in (this one or the next) is built on honesty and transparency. Never let money destroy your relationship, it's YOUR choice now!