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Dear Penny: I make way more than my boyfriend. How do we combine finances?

Stephanie Bolling and Ian Sasseen spend some time outside of their office in downtown St. Petersburg. (Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder)
Published Dec. 31, 2018

My boyfriend and I have been together for years. He wants to get married, but we both have concerns about money. I make significantly more than him, and this bothers him. What do you think would be the best way to combine finances?

Thank you.

-M.

Dear M.,

If your boyfriend feels threatened by the fact that you make more money than him in our modern era, he can take a hike.

But don't let me jump to conclusions and/or your defense right away. Let's assume that your boyfriend is worried that he won't be able to contribute enough to your household expenses.

To figure out how to combine finances when you're living in two very different financial worlds, you need to stop thinking of your relationship as a 1 + 1 equation. Sure, emotionally and physically, it's 1 + 1. But financially, you've got to work out the percentages. Splitting your expenses half and half is just not going to work.

Instead, try this method I learned from my colleague Lauren Sieben: Add both your salaries together, and then determine how much you each contribute to the overall pie.

I'll give you an example. Say you make $50,000 per year before taxes, and your boyfriend makes $25,000. Together, you make $75,000 each year. He makes one-third of that total, whereas you earn two-thirds of the total. Therefore, he'd contribute about 33 percent of your household expenses and savings goals, and you'd contribute about 66 percent. To look at it another way: He'd kick in one-third of the rent each month, and you'd pay the remainder.

This may not be the most ideal setup for your relationship, but it's one example to get the conversation started. When it comes down to it, you can combine finances any which way that makes you both comfortable — emphasis on both.

Be prepared to discuss combining your finances several times (before you get engaged, ideally) before agreeing on a plan. Rushing to pick a method without buy-in from both partners can lead to resentment. That being said, there's no reason you can't switch up your method if you figure out a better one or if one of you experiences a substantial career change.

Not sure how to discuss money matters with a partner? Write to Dear Penny at thepennyhoarder.com/dear-penny/.

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny. For more practical money tips, visit thepennyhoarder.com.

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