How do I split bills with my boyfriend?

Money may be awkward to discuss when you're first moving in together, but it's important to work out a strategy that makes both you and your partner happy.

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Dear Fran,

I am a fan of your articles in The Daily Muse, and could use your advice. I'm considering moving in with my boyfriend (a divorced dad of one son) as a precursor to marriage. My boyfriend (I'll call him T) earns slightly less than I do, and is unlikely to increase his income anytime soon. T has a lot of financial stress in his own life, while I am slightly better off (though not completely secure). I'm wondering how best to plan our joint financing to create a harmonious household together.

I.e., if T's son is with us half the time, doing the math, T should pay 55% of the rent and household expenses and I should pay 45%.

When I mention these figures to my girlfriends, however, they suggest that I simply pay half of all the rent and expenses since dating T is a "package deal" that includes his son. And I should therefore accept the costs.

This advice worries me because I feel that T already has "money attitude" issues, that he is capable of doing more about his career and daily choices, and that I tend to pay more than half for our dating life than T does, even now that we don't yet live together.

Since these inequities already exist in our dating life, they could multiply once we're living together.

While I believe our life together could be a happy one, and that we do love one another, it is important to me that neither of us enters the relationship with feelings of resentment around money.

To that end, I am seeking a couple's money counselor who could help us assess our financial goals and values and give us some goals to aim for as we plan a future together.

Thanks for any of your thoughts in advance and regards,


Dear Worried,

Let me first agree that consulting a couple's financial counselor might be a good idea. Although I really can't recommend a specific one, I'd suggest either getting a recommendation from a friend or consulting an association in the field, such as the Financial Planner's Association, to ensure that the planner adheres to a code of ethics and practices. And be sure to check the person's references.

Next, I'm glad you're a fan, but I still have to be straight with you, and say that I've found in life that sometimes the questions we think to ask are not the questions we really need the answers to.

I fear that the money inequities and "feelings of resentment around money" you're focused on may be symbolic of deeper emotional issues (as they often are), and that if you don't address them, possibly with a therapist or marriage counselor (Yes! Even before marriage), you'll never have a "harmonious" household no matter how much financial planning you do. It's not the inequities that will multiply, but the relationship problems caused by your attitudes and behaviors around them.

I know that some couples approach relationships like a business arrangement, never pool their resources, and even sign pre-nuptial agreements, but it seems like you're approaching this relationship decision from a "scorecard" perspective.

Here are two questions to think about: Is your focus on the math here because you fear he's using you for financial security? If the answer is no, then I do wonder whether you've discussed these issues with T. Have you decided he has a "money attitude" problem because he reacted negatively to the idea of a 45/55 split?

I agree with your friends that you're taking on a package deal. T's child (and probably T, too) is likely still reeling from the divorce and will need every ounce of patience, care, concern, and emotional stability you can muster, especially if T's relationship with his ex is strained. If you go into this with a sense of being slighted or taken advantage of, you'll be unable to assume a positive stepmother role.

You also say that T is "capable of doing more about his career and daily choices." I would caution you that it's asking for trouble to go into a marriage with the idea that your partner could or should be different. A lot of women think they can change a man, and this usually ends in disaster. In all life, and especially in our relationships, we should try to operate on the theory that we can't change how another person is or acts or reacts—we can only change how we are and act and react.

Plus, going into a life together isn't about who brings what and how much to the table, it's about caring for and supporting each other no matter what. It's about respecting each other and each other's choices, path, and even each other's mistakes. And one of the biggest mistakes we can make in relationships is to attack our partner's personality or character globally with negative generalizations, such as, "You're always…" or "Why are you so…", instead of dealing with specific behavior that upsets us. So ask yourself this question too: Does "money attitude issues" translate to "He's cheap" or maybe "He doesn't care about money or success as much as he should?" If so, isn't this a kind of a global attack in implying you care the right amount, or have the right "money attitude?"

Now, I certainly wouldn't counsel anyone to jump in to a financially unstable situation, or stop worrying about security, but I would also challenge you to think about this: Isn't love always a risk? Doesn't risk always imply lack of security? Of course it does, since it leaves you vulnerable to having your heart broken. But that's one of the reasons it's so wonderful.

Let me leave you with a few romantic (and yes, idealistic!) words from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on the subject of love:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

Worried, my advice to you is to calculate less and love more.

I wish you the very best,

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This article was written by Fran Dorf from The Daily Muse and was licensed as an article reprint. Article copyright March 14, 2012 by The Daily Muse.
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