Should I Let My Partner Pick Up the Tab If They Make More Than Me?

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Today’s “Financially Savvy Female” column was inspired by one of our readers who asked, “In relationships where income levels are really different, I’m curious if people tend to split things down the middle or if they pay for a certain percentage of bigger items. Women tend to make less and my partner currently makes more than me, so we talk about what would feel equitable. I’m a working woman, but in reality, he earns more and splitting things down the middle just furthers our income gap.” To help this reader out, we spoke with Loreen Gilbert, CEO of WealthWise Financial Services.

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What’s a fair way to determine who pays for date nights?

When a couple starts to date, most of the time one person is picking up the tab. That person is typically the pursuer in the relationship and may or may not earn more money than the other person.

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Typically, the one asking the other out pays for the outings. However, there are ways that the other person can contribute. For instance, making your partner a meal at home is a great way to “pay” for a meal without it being an awkward situation when the tab arrives. Also, offering to pay would most likely be appreciated, even if it is not accepted.

Helpful: Who Pays for What? How You and Your Partner Can Fairly Split Expenses

Where it oftentimes gets trickier is when the one accepting the invite clearly earns more money and still wants the partner to pay for the outings. In this case, I suggest that the one accepting the invite do extra things not related to the date. For example, you may want to pay for the upgrade on both airline tickets or pay for a special concert or theater performance.

At what point should you have an open discussion about who pays for what?

Money and how to handle money is an important topic that usually comes up around the three-month mark when dating. That doesn’t mean that you are disclosing all of your assets at that point, but it is the time to talk about your expectations around finances and how you handle financial matters. This is also a good timeframe to talk about who will pay for what during this courtship time and before you merge your lives and your finances.

Good To Know: Money Questions To Ask Your Partner
Find Out: The Biggest Money Mistakes Women Make in Relationships

The key is not to build resentments around money. If one person feels that they are paying for everything and the other person isn’t paying for anything, resentment can build. Alternatively, if one person is financially sound and the other person is financially a mess, resentments can grow. Dating is an opportunity to demonstrate your generosity as well as your financial stability.

Is it OK to keep finances completely separate?

Even when married, you may decide to keep separate finances. At that point, a good practice is to each have your own accounts plus a joint account for contributing to the household expenses.

One best practice is to split expenses based on income. For example, if one person makes $100,000 and the other earns $200,000, the one who earns $200,000 could pay twice as much towards household expenses as the one who earns $100,000. Another way to look at it is to split expenses in half and save the remaining money from the higher-earning person.

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Be Aware: 4 Money Lies Women Tell Themselves (& Why They’re Not True)

Ultimately, money is not the only way to contribute towards a household. It wasn’t that long ago when one person stayed at home to take care of children and the household and the other person worked and provided financially. While that model is not as prevalent today, there are lessons to be gleaned from the traditional household model: each partner has different contributions to make in order for the household to be a better family.

GOBankingRates wants to empower women to take control of their finances. According to the latest stats, women hold $72 billion in private wealth — but fewer women than men consider themselves to be in “good” or “excellent” financial shape. Women are less likely to be investing and are more likely to have debt, and women are still being paid less than men overall. Our “Financially Savvy Female” column will explore the reasons behind these inequities and provide solutions to change them. We believe financial equality begins with financial literacy, so we’re providing tools and tips for women, by women to take control of their money and help them live a richer life.

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Last updated: Oct. 28, 2021 

About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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