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The Moneyist: ‘I don’t want to be taken advantage of’: My boyfriend moved in during the pandemic and pays me $400 a month

‘The cheapest I could imagine his overhead being in our market would be about $700 for rent, plus another few hundred dollars for utilities and transportation.' Read More...

Dear Quentin,

My current partner moved in last year in a bit of an emergency situation as a result of the pandemic and personal issues. He was furloughed from his job at the time. 

Our financial situations are very different. We are roughly the same age (mid-40s, with him a couple of years older). I’ve been working longer and would consider myself comfortable — low debt, equity in house, strong retirement and other savings — but I also have several dependents who live with me full-time, one of whom is a disabled adult son, and I haven’t always been this solvent.

I’m very careful with my spending and savings, and I have only gotten to my current income level in the past few years. He, on the other hand, spent a lot more time in school and didn’t start his career until later in life. He has more debt and no savings or assets, and spends money more freely. He makes about a third of what I bring in.

Six months ago, after giving him time to get back to work and to catch up from a period of unemployment, I asked that he contribute to the household expenses. Originally, I took the total bills — mortgage, utilities, car and cable/internet — and divided them by the number of people living in the house. This put his share at about $400 a month. 

‘Six months ago, after giving him time to get back to work and to catch up from a period of unemployment, I asked that he contribute to the household expenses.’

Since then, however, we have combined bills in other ways that save him money. His credit is not great, so I let him use one of my cars when his car has broken down. This didn’t increase my premium, but it saves him over $100 a month. 

Similarly, it cost me far less to add him to my plan than he was paying on his own. I also think he benefits in other ways from my financial position. The low mortgage on my home, which is large and in a good area, is due to a substantial down payment. 

At the same time, I recognize that the money he puts in isn’t gaining him equity in the house, which I would expect to increase in value over the next several years. I am not willing to combine assets, as my first priority is making sure I can continue to provide a nice life for my children.

I am not interested in bean counting or making any money off of him, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of. It would bother me less if he were more responsible with his money. He has started saving and paying down debt, but I consider his spending to be extravagant for his financial situation. 

He does say he wants to contribute, but he has had his overheads subsidized for most of his adult life, and I think there is some sticker shock for him to finally realize what it costs to support yourself independently as an adult. I also think he looks at where I am financially, and thinks it’s a little petty of me to take money from him when I’m better off. 

The cheapest I could imagine his overhead being in our market would be about $700 for rent, plus another few hundred dollars for utilities and transportation — and this is a nicer living situation than what that would afford him. 

How do I work this out to be fair?

Comfortable Homeowner

Dear Comfortable,

Four-hundred quid is unsustainable.

But before I answer your question, let’s take an appropriate pause to ask other, bigger questions: Do you want him to live with you? Would you have chosen this under normal circumstances? Or is the only reason he is living with you now because of the pandemic?

Are you happy for him to continue living with you because you like him there? Or is it because you see how it helps with your bills and mortgage payments? Or both?

He is getting back on his feet. Ask yourself whether this is something you would have both chosen. This situation was foisted upon both of you, and now you are — whether you like it or not — nickel and diming each other after the fact. Ideally, you would decide you wanted to live together because you saw a future in this relationship, and before that happened discussed finances. As it is, you are playing catch-up. But on what?

‘You are already counting beans. You are frustrated that he has a low cost of living while you have gone above and beyond to reduce your costs.’

If you are wondering how much more expensive his living costs would be had you had a smaller down payment and larger mortgage repayments, it’s too late. You are already counting beans. You are frustrated that he has a low cost of living while you have gone above and beyond to reduce your costs. You did all of this work, and he just moves in and benefits from it. That may or may not be true, but that kind of thinking is not a solid foundation for a happy house.

That’s not to say that you can’t have one, if it’s what you both want — but make sure it’s because you want to be together, and not because you both save money by living under the same roof. If $400 is a lot of money to him now, $700 will also be a lot of money, as will “a few hundred dollars” for utilities and transportation. So sit down with him and work out exact expenses, and what you believe would be a fair contribution. Critically, his income and spending should be laid bare too.

It may be that he is experiencing growing pains, and does not understand or appreciate why he should pay more than what makes him comfortable. You don’t want to be an enabler, paying his way, even if that’s what he has come to expect from the people in his life.

If you believe $700 is fair based on your bills and mortgage, and what he would pay in rent, then it’s fair. It’s not a fait accompli. He is not a child. He can negotiate, and he does not have to accept it.

If he doesn’t like your offer, he can pick up his ball and walk away.

Also read: Jamie Dimon insists his workers return to the office — here’s why that’s a bit rich

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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