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Dating maze #268 - Financial Inequity
Dating Advice 268

Dating maze #268 - Financial Inequity

Her parents have more money to give. Does that create a problem?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have been dating a guy for the past three months and we have started speaking about getting engaged at the end of this year. Since the beginning of our courtship there was one issue that had bothered me: We come from different economic backgrounds. His family has significantly less money than my family does. Since we are both in school and both plan on going to graduate school, our parents will have to financially support us for the next five years. I don't feel it's fair that my parents should have to pay for our apartment once we are married.

I really do love him and we are amazing together, but this keeps bothering me. We are both very motivated individuals who are not planning on living off our parents our whole lives, but it bothers me that this is not going to be split equally. Any advice you could give me would help a great deal.


Dear Veronica,

Thanks for writing to us. The issue you have described happens more often than you would think. It can manifest itself in a number of different ways when a couple comes from different economic backgrounds -- one side having the resources to pay for a fancier wedding than the other side can afford; one set of parents wanting to give a sizeable gift or home down payment that the other parents cannot match; one family offering a large amount of support while the young couple is still in school and the other side contributing a lesser amount.

Even though this imbalance makes you uncomfortable, there isn't much you can do to change either of your family's financial situations. The only thing you can do is change your perspective. Try to look at the long term, rather than the short term.

You'll each contribute different amounts of effort to housework and errands.

It sounds as if you and the man you are dating have talked about your long-term financial goals, and that you plan to support yourselves the best way you can once you are out of school. You'll be doing what most married couples do -- working together to build a home, family and financial stability. And as a husband and wife each of you will contribute according to your ability and the resources, financial and otherwise, you have available. You'll view your life together as a shared enterprise, even though one person will probably earn more than the other, and even though you'll each contribute different amounts of effort to caring for children, cooking, housework, paying bills, managing investments, running errands, handling the family's social calendar, taking care of the car, charity activities, etc.

Although each of your "contributions" to a particular area is inequitable, you will appreciate each other or doing the best you can, and of course will not descend into the dynamics of "keeping score."

Now try to look at the short-term in the same way. Both sets of parents want their children to be happy and will help them out the best they can. They'll contribute love, emotional support, and financial help to the best of their abilities. Can you accept and appreciate these blessings, without measuring who gives more love, who gives more emotional support, and who gives more money?

Two Choices

You can look at your situation from another perspective, too. If you and the man you are dating had not come into each other's lives, he'd still go to graduate school next year, perhaps paying his way with some financial contributions from his parents, his own earnings, and student loans. He'd minimize expenses by living at home or in an inexpensive apartment with roommates. Life would be pretty simple, but he'd get his degree and then go on to build his future. That first job may not pay too much, and he may have student loans to repay, but he'd be motivated to move forward without expecting more help than his family was able to give.

You could decide to share that modest lifestyle if you got married. You'll go to graduate school and receive the same amount of help from your parents that he'll receive from his. You'll each get your degrees, and you'll enjoy being together even though you're struggling economically, because of the promising future you can look forward to. And you wouldn't have to feel badly about any disproportionate contributions made by each set of parents.

At the end of the day, there's nothing "wrong" with either lifestyle choice -- many young adults struggle economically until they finish school and get their start in life, and many other young adults, whose parents have the means to help them, live somewhat more comfortably until they can go out on their own. If you prefer to have the more comfortable lifestyle, then you have to accept the fact that your parents will be paying for most of it simply because they are able to and the other side isn't. If you still feel uncomfortable about accepting more help from your parents than he can accept from his, you can choose to live more modestly.

Parents get great joy from giving to their children.

There is one more factor to consider: Your parents would like you to be more comfortable, and since they have the means to help you, they would prefer to see you living a more pleasant lifestyle while in school. It might be helpful to imagine the shoe was on the other foot: If you had financial means, and your child was in this position, what would you do? Parents get special joy from giving to their children, and although always "taking" may be uncomfortable, it can also be an act of giving to allow the other person to express their need to "give."

Have you discussed with the man you're dating how he feels? Is he also uncomfortable with being in the position of taking?

Future Expectations

One more point: It is important for two people who are thinking about getting married to discuss their lifestyle and financial expectations for the future. Each individual's socio-economic background, their parents' approach to finances, and their own life experiences play a role in shaping how they view this. If you haven't already done so, we think it's a good idea for the two of you to talk about the lifestyle each hopes to achieve when you begin to support yourselves; how much of your incomes you'd like to save; how you expect to allocate income between day-to-day expenses, vacations, large purchases; what financial decisions you hope to share and what decisions you think can be made independently; how to handle debt, and the like.

If your outlooks are very different, you'll want to figure out how to meld those expectations into something you both are comfortable with. Financial issues are a source of disagreement in many marriages, and those disagreements can be minimized when two people understand their differences and work on addressing them before they begin their life together.

It sounds as if the man you are dating is someone with whom you can build a good life. We hope that you can come to terms with your different economic backgrounds, because that is the only thing you can change about your respective circumstances, and it would be unfortunate to derail an otherwise good relationship over this issue. We wish you success.

Rosie & Sherry

October 10, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Heather, October 30, 2008 7:30 PM

what's the rush?

Another alternative would be to wait to marry until you both could support yourselves and not have to depend on either of your families? I think there is something in the heart of a man that comes alive knowing that he is going to marry a woman and he can provide for her safety, shelter, and the things they need as a family. Your time together thus far being only a few months is still very soon. Taking the time to get financially sound could also allow you time to explore any other potential concerns before bringing a child into the mix and needing even more financial assist. I think the success and happiness of your marriage will be very dependent on the first few years and the decisions and stresses involved.

(10) Anonymous, October 23, 2008 5:31 AM

R and S's advice is great but....

Rosie and Sherry made some great points about financial situations among young students across the board. Everything they said is very logical but there's a big BUT... If Veronica is already whining about the fact that her fiance did not win the financial birth lottery than no amount of logic is going to change her outlook. Everytime her parents send them a check or help them out she'll find some way of bringing him down a notch. As a woman I'm personally ashamed of women who make it sound like some guy is a free-loader just b/c he's not earning a six figure income even if he works/studies hard and can support himself and her in a decent way. Veronica should spend a day in the shoes of singles and couples who have to make their own way in life b/c their loving families have not had the fortunate circumstances her family has had. The children of hard working people who just never made the big bucks and could only instill a good work ethic in their kids and help them until they were 18 or 21. If she truly loved this guy then I doubt she'd be even asking herself if she should drop him due to his family's lack of financial luck.

(9) Victor, October 14, 2008 5:13 PM

Double Standard Dunk

There is only one reason that Victoria is uneasy with the fact that her parents may contribute more money than his: A Receiving Mentality. In this country, many women have been brought up to expect that a man is going to care for them, provide for them, and cater to them. I have never, nor do I expect to, hear a similar story coming from a man. Who has heard a man express unfairness about the fact that his family has more money and will contribute to such things as weddings or down payments more than hers? No, in this culture, men don't keep score like that because most people view them as the providers. I wonder if Victoria would similarly feel uneasy if positions were reversed and her family had an inferior financial position. This is clearly a double standard by someone who believes that she should take more than she should give. Lesson to the boyfriend: Get ready for whining about things you can't afford and guilt trips for things her parents have paid for.

(8) Debra, October 14, 2008 12:14 PM

More than just the money

Money issues are about more than just money. Conflict occurs because people have differing expectations and lack of communication. There can also be many emotional issues behind the money. Before you get married, discuss how you will approach decisions. My suggestion is to keep as much openness as possible. Whether you have separate or joint accounts, make sure you both have access to your bank information, and decide how much access you want each person to have for spending. Failure to be open about your financial situation leads to pitfalls when one spouse doesn't know what the other spouse is doing, and disasters can be avoided with a little communication. Work out realistically what your expectations of earning power and spending will be - what types of spending you value and what you are willing to give up. Also, it seems you are keeping score with regard to your parents contributions - discuss what issues you might come across with regarding keeping score with each other - what if one person ends up with more earning power than the other? What if one person's spending or debt gets out of control? Part of marriage is that each spouse can use their strength to compliment their spouse's weaknesses. In my marriage, I make significantly more money than my husband, but he is far better than me at negotiating deals with vendors and finding discounted prices for what we buy. Figure out how you can be "fair" instead of "equal" in a way that both of you feel comfortable, open, and trusting of each other.

(7) Feigele, October 14, 2008 10:22 AM

Who's Giving and Who's Not!

If you meet someone you care enough to spend the rest of your life with, there shouldn’t be any reservations about who’s giving more and who’s giving less. If you are fortunate enough that one side can help more than the other, it doesn’t mean that anyone is taking advantage of the other. I always helped my children not looking or questioning what the other side was doing. I was grateful if the other parents could do anything and if not, I did what I could no more. If you start your lives together by thinking and worrying about these matters, then you have a long way of uncertainties, which you could live without. Life brings enough tougher decisions and aggravations as it is. And what if one of you makes more money later on, are you going to question that too? Right now your should enjoy what comes your way and be thankful, unless, of course, it is your parents who are making some comments about it. Then maybe they shouldn’t get so involved. What they give you could be considerate as a loan that you could reimburse when possible instead of borrowing from an institution, which would charge heavy interests. or you could try to live like we did my husband and I in a one-bedroom apartment with 3 small children for seven years, and we were happy. We did not owe anything to anyone. But then, we came from Europe where people are very disciplined, very cautious about spending and appreciative of what they have.

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