It is my well-meaning aunt’s greatest hope that I marry a nice rich doctor or lawyer someday. But as a freelance writer with little but lint (and the occasional hair elastic) in my pockets, I wonder if my hypothetical high-earning future beau would resent our dizzying income discrepancy.
It seems that couples with very different numbers on their respective paycheques must sometimes navigate choppy domestic waters.
Travis makes three times more money than Stacy, his fiancée.
“I work at a software start-up,” he says. “She works more or less full-time at a costume shop.” This situation is fairly new to both of them; until recently, their incomes were similar, with Stacy pulling in slightly more cash. The couple makes most of their financial decisions as a team, but there has been a bit of tension with this newfound disparity.
“We’d always only ever gotten Internet, but I saw that we could avoid a costly installation fee if we also got cable, which would be more cost effective if we cancelled before a certain date,” says Travis. “(Stacy) wasn’t sure we’d remember to do that. I got frustrated and said ‘Well, since I’ll be paying for the whole thing, I’m going to go ahead and do it!’ I immediately felt bad about it, and later she told me she didn’t like me holding stuff like that over her. I promised to never do it again, and I haven’t.”
Kira Vermond, author of Earn Spend Save: the savvy guide to a richer, smarter, debt-free life (Wiley, 2010) says that it’s not uncommon for couples to split based on these differences.
“I once interviewed a woman who said that a guy she’d dated for four months broke up with her because she made more money than he did. He said, ‘You know, it just feels too weird having you make as much as you do compared to me.’ “¦ We hate to think of ourselves as shallow, but sometimes, the more that we make, the more we feel that we’re worth.”
Travis and Stacy are making their differing incomes work, and neither one feels like they are any less part of a great team.
“We’ve never made it about who ‘works harder’ or who is ‘more valuable,’” Travis explains. “It’s good fortune I have a good paying job right now. We feel very lucky.”
Vermond says that money is never just about money. Income disparities can really affect how people see themselves in the relationship and how they view themselves.
She encourages couples to communicate openly and talk through financial worries, being open and honest about any feelings of resentment or guilt, and realizing that you are each contributing in your own irreplaceable way.
“It’s about realizing that what you’re doing in that relationship is important – maybe (the lower income earner) is taking care of the kids and picking them up every day and making lunches and all of that. So what you’re doing is you are actually adding a lot to that family and a lot to that lifestyle. Money almost can’t buy that.”
Travis generally treats when the pair goes out to dinner or a movie, and also handles the household bills and other living expenses.
“Sometimes, I do wish [Stacy] was more aware of where the money went in our house. But I don’t know what that would serve to know our electric bill was such-and-such this month when she already does what she can to encourage less spending and waste,” he says, adding, “I just hate paying bills and want someone to suffer with me.”
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – atSexytypewriter.com