Dear Penny: Will I Crush My Boyfriend’s Dreams by Charging Him Rent?

A couple sit a table in their home that has yet to be built.
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Dear Penny,

I live with my boyfriend of 12 years. We have always rented and split expenses. He owes me over $8,000, I helped him with truck repairs, car payments and credit card debt, among other things. I do all of the cooking and clean up and buy most of the groceries. 

We have moved around a lot because of his work. I end up leaving good jobs that I have been moving up in. I finally decided I want to buy a house and stay put. I have a good job and am tired of moving and looking for work. 

He has a small piece of land he wants to build a home on mainly for hunting but also to retire to. I will never have any ownership of this property, as it is on tribal land. There is no work near there for me to make a living if I did move again. I don't know what he will do to earn a living, either. 

Is it wrong for me to expect him to pay rent and split utilities if I buy a house and he lives there while he's working to build a home elsewhere? His credit is bad, and he is very poor at managing his finances. He has trouble coming up with his half of the rent. For the past two years that is all I get — no help with groceries, utilities or payment for the money I let him borrow. 

I have been able to save money for a down payment for a house, even though he makes way more money than me and I basically support both of us. I think he expects help from me financially to build his dream home, but he can't even support himself. 


Dear T.,

Wanting and expecting aren’t the same things. It’s 100% reasonable to want your boyfriend to pay bills for a house he lives in. Expecting him to do so is a different matter.

A person’s past behavior is a good predictor of their future behavior. Use your boyfriend’s 12-year track record as your crystal ball. Will he agree to pay for expenses and actually do it? Or will he treat this dream home that you’ll never have a stake in as the love of his life — assuming he can even get financing to build it — and brush off his obligations to you as an afterthought?

Dear Penny

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Your boyfriend can also draw reasonable conclusions based on your 12 years together. He’s stiffed you on $8,000, plus many bills, while also counting on you to rescue him from bad choices. He’s not wrong if he expects that the consequences for disappointing you will always be non-existent.

You have a few options. You could budget for two people on your income alone. That way, whatever money he does give you will feel like a windfall. You could also make your boyfriend. sign a lease spelling out his responsibilities. That’s typically a good move for any couple moving in together, since kicking someone out who doesn’t have a lease can get complicated. But for the agreement to have teeth, you’d have to be willing to take him to court if he fails to pay, just as you would an ordinary tenant.

Or you could skip the lease and dump your boyfriend. He’d be free to build his hunter’s paradise and move around as he pleases. And you’d be free to build the stable life for yourself that you crave.

You’ve been able to accomplish a lot during this relationship. You’ve advanced in your career. You’ve stayed on top of bills and saved for a down payment. You’ve done all that not thanks to your boyfriend, but in spite of him.

When you’re chained to an anchor, simply treading water is a win. But imagine how fast you could swim if you broke free of that dead weight.

Should you decide to keep this relationship alive, under no circumstances should your boyfriend’s contribution factor into your purchase. Buy a home you’re confident you can afford without him. That doesn’t let him off the hook for bills, of course. But the unfortunate reality is that you can’t rely on him for anything.

Meanwhile, be clear on what he can expect from you when he builds his dream home. And the answer here should be nothing. This home will only benefit him, rather than both of you in the long run. Treat it the same way you would any other purchase your boyfriend wanted to make for a hobby.

After 12 years, this situation isn’t going to change. If you’re not OK with that, don’t waste more of your money — and more importantly, your time.

Once you finally get your finances in order, you want to keep them that way. Here are several moves to make now.

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