How do you and your partner handle your finances?
Let's say you're a two-income family. Do both paychecks go into a joint account from which everything gets paid? Or do you put some of what you make into a personal account for personal expenses and the rest into a joint account for joint expenses?
Here's where it gets sticky: Does the person who makes more get to keep more? Does that mean one person shops at Saks Fifth Avenue while the other rifles through the sales rack at Target? Or that one person brown-bags lunch while the other dines at fancy restaurants?
But that's not all. Who decides how to spend the money in the joint account? Who decides how much to save, when the house needs to be painted, or when you can afford a vacation or a new car? The one who makes the most money? Or is both of you?
Bart and his girlfriend have worked out a plan that strikes me as bizarre in the extreme. Tell me what you think.
He says: "My girlfriend makes about twice as much as I do. On my birthday, she might treat me to a nicer restaurant or more expensive piece of clothing than I would usually buy for myself. I'm fine with this.
"But for day-to-day stuff and for splurges like an annual vacation, I prefer to stay within my budget rather than mooch off her. I don't want to acquire a taste for things that I can't afford. It's fine to strive for things currently outside my budget, but I never want to use dating or marriage to supplement my income.
"I think this builds trust. We both know that the relationship doesn't make either one of us better off in terms of material things. We'll never stay in the relationship because we don't have the money to maintain the lifestyle that we have together.
"When I was married, my wife and I were totally accustomed to living on the lower of our two salaries. If I could not afford payments on the house without her contribution, then we could not afford it.
"To me, being an adult means two things. One: I'm happy to live within my budget without being subsidized. Two: I'm totally comfortable letting my partner enjoy things — vacations, outings and other stuff — without me because I can't afford them.
"When I was in my mid-20s, a stretch of illness and then a career hiccup forced me to live in my mom's basement for two three-month periods. I understand that fortunes change and we sometimes have to take help from loved ones. But that is totally different than being dependent on someone else's paycheck to maintain a lifestyle.
"A woman who wants me to become accustomed to and dependent on her income could become controlling or manipulative while appearing generous. I'm not sure I would want to be with a woman who would pay for the pleasure of my company. Should I expect a tip when I'm better than usual?
"What's so terrible about enjoying the things I can afford and passing up invitations that would kill my checkbook or compromise my integrity?"
What do you think about Bart's plan? How do you and your partner handle finances? Send your tale, along with your questions and problems to [email protected] And check out my new e-book, "Dear Cheryl: Advice from Tales from the Front."