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How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

Brian_Earl_Spilner
Community Leader
Mega Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

Simple answer, we keep our finances separate. That being said, she is an AU on a couple of my cards. She knows that she can have whatever she wants, but respects me enough to not take advantage. She's also fiercely independent and doesn't like asking. It does bother me though when she asks permission to use the cards. If I didn't want her to use them, I wouldn't have given her one. She's finally, after 13 years, taken to the idea she doesn't have to ask. She simply let's me know that she did.




Message 11 of 23
iced
Valued Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship


@AliciaB2021 wrote:

I am happily in a new relationship with an old friend.

 

We are both mature adults, debt-free, responsible with money, homeowners (no mortgages) and compatible in many ways. We have known each other for years, communicate well, and have recently found ourselves in something much deeper than friendship. We're now talking about merging our lives and perhaps eventually marrying.

 

That's the good part.

 

The dicey part is that there is a HUGE disparity in our income and wealth and despite all the good I feel at a disadvantage coming into this relationship.

 

I've made conscious life choices that have kept me poor. Though I'm solvent and have excellent credit I've never in my life had anything more than enough to meet immediate needs. I have small savings, no stocks or bonds, no retirement accounts, no pension. My house is a tiny thing I bought as a fixer-upper and have worked on for years to make livable. I have a self-directed part-time career I enjoy but that never has and never will pay what most people would consider a livable income.

 

He on the other hand is wealthy by my standards. Not "1% wealthy," but he has built a demanding career and been well rewarded for it. He has multiple nice homes, freedom to travel, and every sort of financial vehicle I lack. He doesn't live or spend extravagantly, but he also never has to worry about things like medical bills or car repairs and if he wants to go to Europe or Asia for vacation, he doesn't have to save up.

 

We've talked about this difference and he assures me that it doesn't bother him at all that I would make almost no financial contribution to our relationship or any joint household we'd set up. I believe him. He's a nice guy and has been a close friend for a long time. He's already generous to me and begrudges me nothing. In fact, one of his only frustrations with me is that when he made me an AU on one of his credit cards (on which he pays the bills), I would check with him before spending $10 or $20 and would never use the card for even small personal luxuries.

 

I realize this is a "good" problem to have. I feel extremely blessed to be in this situation. But the disparity bothers me. I've always been fiercely independent, determined to pay my own way, and unwilling to be dependent on anyone. If I move in with him or we marry I might have a lot to contribute to the relationship in terms of emotional support, household management, and that sort of thing, but I'd be almost completely dependent on him financially.

 

I have a two-part question.

 

1. How do I get over these fears of being inadequate or at a disadvantage because my income and net worth are small?

 

2. If we do get together, which seems almost certain, what are some ways we might handle finances so that things would feel most equitable for us both?

 

 


I make around 4x what my SO does, but she never really fell into the inadequacy gap. What worked for us:

 

1. The keys to success on this is for the higher-earner to make it clear he/she doesn't care what the other makes. It's not a race. You contribute to the whole in other ways. 

 

2. We did separate accounts (and are still 90% separate), but on common expenses it would often be porportional to each's ability to pay. In our case, I'd carry the mortgage payment but she'd pick up the electric bill. If accounts are joint, I'd suggest starting informal and offer to help where you are comfortable and let him carry the rest. For the really methodical, you could do ratios and each contribute, but I feel that has a bit of a 'I love you but you have to contribute X%' feel of condescention to it.

 

Again, he knows your situation and is still choosing to stay, so if he's a half-decent person he's not going to lord the income inequality over you.

Message 12 of 23
AliciaB2021
New Member

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

@Brian_Earl_Spillner and @iced You sound like great guys to be married to. Thank you both for your helpful replies.

 

In fact, thank you to this entire good group. Even where your situations don't match mine, your words help me clarify my thinking and understand my feelings.

 

Because the income disparity we're looking at is probably 30:1 or maybe 50:1, I'm beginning to understand that the reality is that I'm likely to be something like a kept woman or a stay-at-home wife, a very old-fashioned style of relationship and not one I ever thought about before. The main thing is that instead of just talking to each other generally about what we can or can't contribute, it's time to get specific.

 


@Brian_Earl_Spilner wrote:

Simple answer, we keep our finances separate. That being said, she is an AU on a couple of my cards. She knows that she can have whatever she wants, but respects me enough to not take advantage. She's also fiercely independent and doesn't like asking. It does bother me though when she asks permission to use the cards. If I didn't want her to use them, I wouldn't have given her one. She's finally, after 13 years, taken to the idea she doesn't have to ask. She simply let's me know that she did.


I hope it doesn't take me 13 years to come around to your wife's attitude about those cards, but your attitude sounds exactly like what my love has already expressed to me.

 


@iced wrote:

1. The keys to success on this is for the higher-earner to make it clear he/she doesn't care what the other makes. It's not a race. You contribute to the whole in other ways. 

 

2. We did separate accounts (and are still 90% separate), but on common expenses it would often be porportional to each's ability to pay. In our case, I'd carry the mortgage payment but she'd pick up the electric bill. If accounts are joint, I'd suggest starting informal and offer to help where you are comfortable and let him carry the rest. For the really methodical, you could do ratios and each contribute, but I feel that has a bit of a 'I love you but you have to contribute X%' feel of condescention to it.

 

Again, he knows your situation and is still choosing to stay, so if he's a half-decent person he's not going to lord the income inequality over you.

+1 to all of the above. My love has made it clear that he absolutely does not care what, if anything, I earn. And being a totally decent person and a good friend of many years, he would never lord his income or his wealth over me. The worries are really all on my own head. I haven't been dependent on someone else's finances since I was a child, and back then in our family you were either the money earner or you were nothing and nobody, just a burden.

 

One thing you've all helped me to realize is that my fears are the bigger issue than whatever financial arrangements we come up with.

 

Message 13 of 23
SoCalGardener
Established Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship


@AliciaB2021 wrote:

The worries are really all on my own head. I haven't been dependent on someone else's finances since I was a child, and back then in our family you were either the money earner or you were nothing and nobody, just a burden.

 

One thing you've all helped me to realize is that my fears are the bigger issue than whatever financial arrangements we come up with.

 


 I hear you! And it's good that you're seeing this. Remember my earlier suggestion for pre-marital counseling? I really think it would help.

 

Something my husband and I did that's different from what I've read in this thread: we always combined our income into one pool, and used that pool to live on. So early on, when he was making much more than I was, the pool was 75%-100% from him (time off for me for pregnancy, illness) and 0%-25% from me. Later, after college, when I was established in my programming career, it totally flipped; it was like 75% me, 25% and then 0% him. At no point was there ever any animosity or bad feelings based on how much money we were contributing. Luckily, THAT was never an issue! Smiley Happy

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Message 14 of 23
babygirl1256
Valued Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

Greetings AliciaB2021 ~ Welcome to the forum . . . there have been absolutely fantastic responses -and- I wanted to tell you not to have fears of being inadequate or at a disadvantage because your income and net worth are smaller. I am grateful to have always been on the high pay scale (over 6 figures) since the early 90s. My wonderful hubby worked for the US Postal Service -and- without overtime made < $50k a year. I was really concerned but he assured me that finances were not going to be an issue . . . 22 years later, I'd do it all over again. Even when I experienced major credit problems due to my daughter's health issues . . . he was right there for us -and- I'm looking for more than 22 years with him in the future.Smiley Happy

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Message 15 of 23
GatorGuy
Established Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

My wife and me have been through the whole range. Started out with me being the sole earner. Then I went back to school and she was the only one working. Now we both work full time but she makes more than me.

 

We have never done anything but full combined finances. Anytime people describe separate finances to me it sounds like weird roommate relationships. There are some situations where it is temporary necessary like during divorces. But if anyone is making multiples of their spouse's income and keeping it separate, it creates a drastic power imbalance in the relationship.

 

I also second doing premarriage counseling. It helps you to find the problems and work on them before they happen! 

Message 16 of 23
Brian_Earl_Spilner
Community Leader
Mega Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship


@GatorGuy wrote:

My wife and me have been through the whole range. Started out with me being the sole earner. Then I went back to school and she was the only one working. Now we both work full time but she makes more than me.

 

We have never done anything but full combined finances. Anytime people describe separate finances to me it sounds like weird roommate relationships. There are some situations where it is temporary necessary like during divorces. But if anyone is making multiples of their spouse's income and keeping it separate, it creates a drastic power imbalance in the relationship.

 

I also second doing premarriage counseling. It helps you to find the problems and work on them before they happen! 


My wife was the one that wanted everything separate. I wanted a joint checking where household costs were deposited with any excess being our own to spend. It worked out great for us because we don't have to check in with each other before spending money. And that was her goal. She wanted some independence.




Message 17 of 23
Save-n-Invest
Established Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

When I read the suggestions about counselling I get the willies. If you go that route please know there are some really bad counselors. We went after we were married. Terrible experience. We would meet at the office. She rang the ringside bell and started needeling. All kinds of crazy went on. She sat there absolutely worthless. Fifty minutes later she rang the bell again saying time is up. Just running the clock and would have forever. We were ready to kill each other when we left.  Arrived smiling. Left in much distress.

 

I was getting my haircut before a sessions. Stylist could tell there was something troubling me. He asked and would not give up until I told him. I hated those appointments. They just caused trouble. He laughed and told me his parents do counselling all the time. I pursued that. His response was that sometimes neighbors three or four houses down could hear them counsel. His advice was to go since it was scheduled now. Don't say anything. Think of something pleasant and tune the whole session out. He gave post session advice as well.

 

He told me we should go home immdediately following the session. Go into a room together and close the door. Don't come out until we resolve the issue. He told me that each of us will have to talk and listen. He told me we have different points of view on the issue. Work it out.

 

We gave his advice a try. One session at home and we were good. We talked as long as we needed to. No ringside bell or time's up crap. Mission accomplished.

 

The issue was not money. We had disparate earnings and opposite money styles but that never created a significant problem.

 

Good luck to you. I wish you well. 

Message 18 of 23
calyx
Super Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship

I like Suze Orman's philosophy with regards to income disparities in couples and there's a link here: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/24/suze-orman-on-marriage-how-to-split-your-mortgage-income-and-bills.h...


But essentially that people should pay a proportional amount based on their incomes.    I've followed that philosophy with an additional "rule" that if something is a high priority to one party, they take full repsonsibility (my partner wants screaming high internet, that's his bill, I want higher limits on car insurance - I take that on).

I have offered to have a joint account that we can both put household moneys into from our private accounts, but we've not done that - so far our split works pretty well.

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Message 19 of 23
SoCalGardener
Established Contributor

Re: How to handle tremendous wealth/income disparity in new relationship


@Save-n-Invest wrote:

When I read the suggestions about counselling I get the willies. If you go that route please know there are some really bad counselors. We went after we were married. Terrible experience. We would meet at the office. She rang the ringside bell and started needeling. All kinds of crazy went on. She sat there absolutely worthless. Fifty minutes later she rang the bell again saying time is up. Just running the clock and would have forever. We were ready to kill each other when we left.  Arrived smiling. Left in much distress.

 


There are rotten tomatoes in any profession! You're unlucky enough to have found a bad therapist. I've had nothing but AMAZING experiences with therapy throughout my adult life, really great, compassionate, thoughtful, helpful therapists who got me through some of the most difficult times of my life. I literally would not be here today if not for therapy.

 

Since I lucked out each time I needed a new therapist, hitting gold on the first try, I've never needed to do this, but I always advise others to get out quickly if you don't click with the first therapist you meet. No sense wasting time, money, and emotions working with someone you're not comfortable with. I've clicked right away with each of my therapists, but always knew going in that if that didn't happen, I'd find someone else.

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Message 20 of 23
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