Dear Fusion Money,
I'm a guy in my mid-20s who makes about $50,000 a year and am carrying $15,000 in credit card debt with very little savings. My girlfriend has no debt and makes about same. We recently moved in together and are trying to be as equal as possible on bills—cable, electric, gas and rent. We don't eat out much or take cabs. There's not a lot of fat to trim, in other words. My main problem is that my card has a high rate as a result of missing a few payments so my minimum payment is taking a lot of my cash per month. Any suggestions for an equitable way to handle the other bills that won't create resentment? Thank you!!!
Without saying so directly, it sounds like you want your girlfriend to foot some of your bills, and she isn’t havin’ it. Because you make about the same amount of money, and already spend as little as possible, it’s probably difficult for her to squeeze out a couple hundred more dollars per month to help you out.
So, unless she’s a secret millionaire, we can’t really blame her. But there’s a lesson to be learned here.
There is nothing necessarily equitable about bills in cohabitation. Equitable has to do with justice and fairness, meaning you might split them according to how much each of you can afford, based on your incomes and debts. But equal means: hey, we’ve both lived here for a month, turned on lights and eaten food, so you need to pay half.
You may feel that the cost should be equitable, whereas your girlfriend may feel it should be equal. Fusion Money isn’t sure what you charged up on the credit card to rack up $15K in debt—we’re going to be charitable and assume they weren’t frivolous expenses. But, if they were, maybe that weights into her feelings.
We aren't going to make a judgment on who’s right or wrong—different couples work in different ways. We are going to say that if one of you isn’t there to back the other financially during tough times, it’s probably best to learn it at 25 because these issues can present themselves in more serious ways down the line.
Say one of you is out of work for an extended period of time. Say one of you gets a great job in another city where the other doesn’t have a job lined up. Say one of you wins the Lotto or gets a huge inheritance. Say one of you gets seriously ill and incurs medical bills. Say you two have a child, and one of you needs to stay home for awhile. Etcetera.
There are all kinds of situations that come up during a long-term relationship that present financial balances that are not 50-50. In fact, it’s pretty rare to find couples who earn exactly the same amount, with the same safety net, the same debt burdens and, therefore, the same ability to pay all shared bills equally forever.
Different couples make different decisions about bills, because the ultimate goal is to not make anyone resentful—whether the person who can pay more, or the person who is expecting the other to pay more.
The best solution is to talk about the bills and figure out a payment system that doesn’t create resentment. If she’s not willing to pay it scot-free, maybe you can have her shoulder the burden as you pay down your credit cards, and pay her back without interest. Or maybe you two will decide there’s no way to do that, and save yourself more trouble down the road.
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I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.