Dear Penny: Should I Pay Half for Vacation if My Boyfriend Earns 5x More?

A couple look unhappy on a beach vacation with mixed drinks next to them.
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Dear Penny,

My boyfriend makes almost three times more than I do, or five times more if you include the money he makes in stocks. He has no debt or mortgage and has fewer payments than I have. 

He has complained that he wants me to pay 50% for dinners and activities. I try to cook food and have paid for concerts and entertainment. Last year I paid for our lodging up North. This year he wants me to pay half and for meals and entertainment for the two nights that we will be there. 

He knows I’m struggling and has called me entitled for not paying 50% in the past. What do I do?

— R.

Dear R.,

You set firm limits and communicate them. For example, you could tell your boyfriend, “I’d love to join you up North this year. It’s looking like my half will cost $800. Unfortunately, I can only afford $300. You can go on your own if you prefer, but I wanted to let you know my budget before we plan any further.”

If your boyfriend confuses honesty with entitlement, then he needs a new dictionary. You, on the other hand, need a new boyfriend.

Dear Penny

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Just as one person is usually the taller one in a relationship, coupledom typically doesn’t involve a pairing of two people with identical net worths. It’s unrealistic to expect that your partner will have the same salary and level of savings.

But when you default to splitting everything 50/50, there’s an underlying assumption that both people have the same resources. That’s especially problematic when the higher earner expects their partner who has less money to upgrade to their lifestyle.

Typically, a much fairer way to split things is according to income. For instance, if your boyfriend earns three times more than you, the starting point would be for him to pay about 75%, while you pay 25%. You can adjust things upward or downward if one person has significantly more in savings or is clawing their way out of debt. Finding other ways to treat your partner that don’t involve spending large amounts — as you do by cooking dinner, for example — is a good way to show the other person that you appreciate them.

We all get a limited number of deal-breakers in a partner. Setting financial standards, like wanting your partner to have a job and not have a trail of unpaid bills, is certainly reasonable. But it’s hard enough to find someone whose company you enjoy and whose snoring and morning breath don’t send you over the edge.

It’s possible to find someone who can afford to pay exactly 50% of everything without adjusting your lifestyle. If that’s a priority for your boyfriend, maybe this isn’t the relationship for him. Perhaps it’s best to set him free so he can find someone to grow old with, haggling over every penny. Of course, since you can’t custom-order a human, your boyfriend might find that he has to be less picky about the traits that actually make someone a good partner.

What you shouldn’t do under any circumstances is pay half for a vacation just to accommodate your boyfriend. You’re in control of your budget. You’re not entitled if you say, “I can’t afford that.”

You may not get the answer you want from your boyfriend. But you’ll get the answer you need to hear from him. Because if he’d rather ditch you at home or he pressures you to break your budget to avoid the horror of paying more than 50%, he’s telling you loud and clear how much he values you and your relationship.

If you’re sweating making it to payday, here are 50 ways to bring in extra money this month.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].