Can My Boyfriend and I Be Equal Financial Partners?

Our editor-in-chief 'makes cents' of uneven financial partnerships

Illustration depicting one person earning more in a relationship

The Balance/Alice Morgan

Dear Kristin,

My boyfriend and I live together. He makes a lot of money and has significant savings already. I make decent money, but it's still much less than he makes. He's thinking about purchasing a house or condo/apartment in the near future, and while we would live together, I'm not currently able to contribute significantly to the down payment. I want us to build a financial future together, and this feels like a real first step, but I don't know how to handle it when we wouldn't be equal financial partners. How should we go about this?



Dear Becca,

Building a financial partnership with someone is hard, especially when the other person earns a considerable amount more, and the best way to approach this is to first figure out what you want your relationship to look like when it comes to finances.

The reality is, it’s unlikely two people will ever be 100% financially equal. So don’t strive for this. An equal partnership doesn’t have to mean “exactly the same.”

So what would make you feel good about commingling finances with your boyfriend? Is that contributing 50/50 to expenses? Is it having a say in big decisions, even if you don’t contribute financially? Perhaps it’s feeling a sense of security that your boyfriend can’t kick you out of the house if things go south because you aren’t on the mortgage or the deed. Once you decide what makes you feel empowered, you can proceed to have a conversation with your boyfriend about how you can and want to contribute financially to the household you’ll be forming.

You might find that once you talk, he’s not looking for you to split a downpayment 50/50. But do you want to be on the deed or the mortgage? If so, your boyfriend might want you to contribute some money to the down payment, even if it’s a small amount. Talk through how you will split expenses going forward. Will you both share in the mortgage obligations? How will you pay for utilities? Or food? I always think it’s best to split expenses proportionally to income. So if he earns twice as much as you, his financial obligations to the household would be twice as large as yours.

Now if you won’t be on the deed or mortgage, that means the house will solely be in his name, and I’d suggest you don’t spend any money making improvements or repairs to the home that will increase its value. A landlord wouldn’t expect you to fix the roof or renovate the kitchen, and neither should your boyfriend, unless you’re also a legal owner of the home. And if you won’t be on the deed, make sure to protect yourself in case the relationship ends. You can enter a contract with your boyfriend to make sure that he can’t just kick you out of the house if the relationship goes south. 

You haven’t asked about joining finances together, but it’s perfectly ok to maintain separate accounts. You don’t need a joint account to pay bills, and again, putting your money into an account that he can also access does put you at a small risk. 

Lastly, set some financial goals, separately, and together. Make a household budget and save, invest, and spend according to that budget. But also take care of yourself and start building robust savings. If you do, you might feel better about your own financial situation—so even though you might earn less, you might feel more and more like his financial equal as your personal finances improve.


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