My boyfriend's family has money, but I have none

Our different spending habits are putting a strain on our relationship.


Cary Tennis
March 10, 2006 4:18PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

It's hard when your friends have money and you don't. It's even harder when it's your significant other. My boyfriend and I have been dating for over four months now. We like each other, we love each other, we complement each other well and it's a good relationship for the most part.

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The problem is when money comes up. He comes from a wealthy family. While he doesn't have much of his own money, he knows there's a safety net so he's rather frivolous and spendthrift with his cash. I'm working two jobs trying to stay in an efficiency apartment.

I don't feel comfortable having him pay for everything and I've stressed this to him. It makes me uncomfortable. Given a couple of things about him and me, I want to steer clear of anything that says gold digger. Specific instances of the money miscommunications?

He wants me to come out (both of us don't have cars). That means a taxi there, a taxi back, which is money I don't have.

He offered to fill a prescription for me. I told him where I usually filled it, he said no problem. A problem occurred and he filled it at a much more expensive place. It took me three weeks to get the money to pick it up.

There's just this constantly wanting to go out and, damn it, transportation is expensive.

Since I can't reach up to his level, I'm hoping he'll come down to mine, but we're still having problems coming to an understanding.

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I want him in my life, but I don't know if I can afford him. And it makes me want to weep to say, "I'm sorry. This isn't working. I can't afford to date you." Do I break up, do I nag him into understanding I'm broke, or do I beat myself up for not trying to find some room in my budget for a boyfriend (you know, keeping priorities straight)?

Poor Girlfriend

Dear Poor Girlfriend,

If you really like this guy, I suggest you talk about money. Better yet, I suggest you try to experience together what it is like to not have money. I wonder ... you know how in high schools they make you carry around a sack of flour to experience what it's like to have a baby? Or how they blindfold you and make you walk around to know what it's like not to have sight? I wonder if you could do an exercise where you experience what it is like to have only a finite amount of money. Maybe you could live together for, say, one week on a certain amount per day. Say he comes over to your place but he leaves his credit cards at home. So each of you only has so much cash for the days you are together. That's it. No going to the ATM. No writing checks. No charging. You just have a certain amount of cash and that's it. Then you decide together what to do. Each purchase must be decided upon. There are no frivolous purchases. If he makes a frivolous purchase and his money is gone, then what does he do? Does he go hungry? Do you bail him out?

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It would be interesting to do that kind of experiment. Because I have a feeling that people whose families have money are never really, really out of money. There is always an ATM somewhere; there is always a cash advance on their credit card. If you've never skipped dinner to make it to the end of the week, you don't really know what it's like not to have enough money. If you've never had to choose between food and rent, you don't really know what it's like not to have enough money.

Wow, it's a very emotional issue, isn't it?

Money is also about class, of course. Are you of the same social class, or is he of the capital-owning professional class and you of the working class? Can you tell? Is it something you can talk about? What did your daddy do? What did his daddy do? Where did his daddy go to school? Where did your daddy go to school? These are all the ugly, touchy facts of life in America.

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At any rate, it might sound rather shameless of me to say, but I believe that in the long run it's better for a man's family to have money than not have money. Unfortunately, it does give them an amount of control over him that they wouldn't otherwise have, and if you were to marry, their money would give them a certain amount of control over you as well. But without money life is so much harder! I find little heroic about having to work one's fingers to the bone. I find little heroic about not being able to take two years off to attend art school if you should find you want to attend art school. It is hard enough figuring out what you want to do with your life; it is even harder when, once you figure it out, you find you can't afford to pursue it.

So if you really like this guy and you think you may have a future together, I hope you can try to understand each other on the issue of money. It could make all the difference for both of you.

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