Dear Penny: Will My $35K Salary Make Finding Love Impossible?

A woman walks down a path outside while holding red balloon shaped as a heart and carrying a bag on her journey to finding love.
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Dear Penny,

I'm a single woman in my early 40s currently earning $35,000 per year, which is definitely not enough to survive on in my area. I have less than $20,000 in my 401(k). In seven years at my current job, my pay increases haven't even equaled $3 an hour. 

I’m able to pay all of my own bills, plus I have very little credit card debt, which is a silver lining. Saving money has proven to be quite difficult with the recent increased cost of living. I've tried so many different career paths to change my station in life, but those led to nowhere. 

What concerns me is that I feel like I’m not a financially desirable romantic partner. It takes money to build a life with someone. I fear that I'm running out of time to find a career that will enable me to financially contribute to a relationship. 

My traditional family thinks finances are the man’s responsibility in a relationship and not the woman’s. But this is 2022. I just don't think that mentality holds up. I guess my question for you is, should I be this worried about my financial situation? Or am I just making myself feel inadequate? 

Society tends to judge men in my financial position as stereotypical low-lives. Is it the same for women?

-Financially Undesirable

Dear Undesirable,

Let’s reframe things a bit. You don’t rely on anyone to pay your bills. You have minimal debt. You’ve been employed at the same job for seven years.

You may not make much money, but you’re self-sufficient. That right there is a desirable trait.

I can’t tell you how society will judge a woman in your financial position. Obviously, the answer depends on the person. Money matters a great deal to some people. But plenty of people care more about building a life with someone who shares their values and interests. Regardless, your family’s beliefs that a man should swoop in and handle the finances are ridiculously antiquated in 2022.

You have a financial goal, which is to earn enough to save for retirement and keep up with the cost of living. You also have a relationship goal, which is to find a partner and build a life together. Treat these as two separate goals.

I’m not sure if you’re looking for a career overhaul or you simply want to make more money. Regardless, if ever there was a time to push for better pay, it’s now. The Great Resignation is forcing businesses to fight hard to recruit new workers and retain their existing employees. It’s worth asking for a raise at your current job. Try to emphasize your contributions, though you can certainly mention rising living costs.

In the meantime, apply for other jobs, even if it’s a similar level of responsibility. You may be able to negotiate for significantly more than you’re currently making. Consider reaching out to any former co-workers who recently quit for leads on better opportunities. If switching jobs isn’t an option, look for a side gig that doesn’t require a big upfront investment.

As for your relationship goal, I want you to think about what you’re looking for in a partner. I hope you recognize that your value as a person goes way beyond the amount of your paycheck. You say men in your financial position are often dismissed as “stereotypical low-lives.” But are you doing any of this stereotyping? Would you be open to dating a man who’s kind and responsible and treats you well, but who only makes $25,000 or $30,000 a year?

In no way am I suggesting that you can’t date outside of your tax bracket. But it isn’t fair to have expectations from a partner that you can’t meet yourself. If you want someone to be open to your financial situation, extend the same openness to others.

Typically, we don’t exchange salary info early on in relationships, though you often get a sense of where someone is at based on their job and lifestyle. You don’t need to disclose that you only make $35,000 right away, but I would be clear to any potential partner that you’re on a tight budget. Focus on finding common ground through shared interests.

Someone who truly values you will meet you where you’re at. That may mean you both agree to embrace frugality. Or if you find a relationship with someone who significantly outearns you, they may need to be comfortable paying for a greater share of expenses.

Earning more money is clearly important. But please don’t put your love life on hold as you work toward this goal. We’re all works in progress.

More importantly, stay focused on your career prospects, even if you meet the man of your dreams tomorrow. Financial security is something to work toward because you deserve it, not because it will make you a more attractive mate.

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