Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Gaby Dunn tackles the tricky mix of romance and finance. Her takeaway? Honesty is always the best policy.
Q: My boyfriend is a spender, and I’m a saver. Are we doomed?
A: Not if your communication skills are top-notch. You both need to be good at honesty and even better at compromise. Money differences aren’t a deal-breaker, but you should balance each other out. For instance, director Carly Usdin is a spender, while her wife, photographer Robin Roemer, is a saver. Carly says being with Robin provides her accountability. “She has absolutely made me want to plan for the future,” Carly tells me, adding that she’s better with money than she was before they met. Robin agrees that Carly encourages her to treat herself on occasion. “She helps me with the guilt I have after we go on a trip or I buy something nice,” Robin says. “She talks me off that ledge.” While money is an important thing to be on the same page about, it’s also important to date someone with qualities different from yours if their influence makes you better. Hopefully, you and your boyfriend can do that for each other.
Q: What should I know about combining finances with a significant other?
A: I’m single, but I’d argue that expenses should be based on percentage of income as long as the person making more money doesn’t resent the other person. Doing it by percentages ensures that no one’s income is being unfairly drained. Kristin F. Jones, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, also says to consider that money isn’t the only currency in a relationship. In an episode of my podcast, Bad With Money, comedian couple Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher said that in the beginning of their relationship, when Cameron made more money, Rhea took care of all household chores. This greatly reduced Cameron’s stress and contributed more to their relationship than Rhea’s lesser income could. Jones agrees with this approach. “The ratio should make sense in terms of ‘contributions,’” Jones explains. “That includes managing the household needs, child-care needs, etc.” So think about more than just money when combining finances and choosing how to split expenses. Other work counts, too!
Q: My partner had a credit card I didn’t know about. How do I handle financial infidelity?
A: Your partner was in the wrong here, but I understand the impulse. The idea of someone I love knowing how often I eat fast food or what I spend on clothes when I’m in a bad mood makes my skin crawl. But if you’re a unit, you’ve got to share that information so both parties can make informed decisions. What if your partner is dreaming of buying a house and you’re secretly spending a third of your income on Candy Crush? One married couple I know shares finances completely, so each can act as “the lookout,” making sure the other isn’t putting them into more debt. You should be lookouts for each other. Explain that it’s unacceptable to hide a credit card from you. There’s a compromise wherein your partner has a card for embarrassing items that you don’t have detailed access to, but you need to know of its existence and what’s on it. Your partner has to trust you, because one person operating in the dark is never a good sign for a relationship.
Gaby Dunn is the creator and host of the podcast Bad with Money and best-selling author of the novel .