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7 tips for navigating income disparity in a new-ish relationship

navigating income disparity
Written by Mikey Rox

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. The following seven tips help promote feelings of worthiness and appreciation between partners — even if somebody’s boss is stingy.

1. 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 earns, your savings plan, and your 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. Maybe you have enough in savings to contribute equally for the time being. Whatever you decide, make sure you have open and honest communication, and all expectations are clear from the get-go.

2. Do the math 

What is the difference between your 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 should pay for monthly expenses based on how much each person earns in a month. If your partner makes double what you do, it’s a reasonable compromise that they pay twice as much in rent (or somewhere thereabouts). The discrepancies between salaries should be accommodated at bill time somewhat accordingly.

3. Contribute to a joint recreational account 

Many partners who earn less feel guilty that they can’t pay as much for recreational outings or vacations. To ensure 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 lower earner’s ability to contribute — and start building up a slush fund. When it’s time to use it, both partners can feel 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 financial independence in some aspects, so the waters don’t get muddy in this regard.

4. Think 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. An abundance of activities 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 pays anything out of pocket, no one will feel guilty that one spent more than the other. Another perk: a free activity means that you saved even more money for next time.

5. 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. That’s OK. But because your salary is capped doesn’t mean your creativity has to be the same. 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 nine-to-five when you embrace your own motivation.

6. Set limits on gifting 

Holidays can be hard for the financially strapped, so the best way to avoid hurt feelings and disappointment is to establish a limit (again, based on what the lower earner can afford) on spending. It isn’t difficult to do. As we age we tend to want less at holiday time anyway (probably because we buy ourselves presents 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.

7. If your partner pays more, do more 

If you’re the lower earner and your partner willingly takes on more of the monthly expenses — 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. You’re not getting paid to take on household 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 a monetary value to the extra time and effort. Taking on more of the household chores 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 is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He spends his time writing from the beach with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyrox.

About the author

Mikey Rox

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and blogger whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He lives with his husband and their cuddle-buddy furbaby, Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.

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