Q. I’m a grad student in my 20s and from the Boston area. My boyfriend, who’s in his late 20s, is from another part of the country. I’m pretty sure we’re on different pages financially and in terms of life. I love to travel — frequently and to faraway places. He has issues with it because of the cost of the trips on top of my education.
Meanwhile, he spends his money on more material things, as opposed to experiences or education, even though he’d like a better degree. I wouldn’t mind how he spends money, but I’d like for him to have a plan.
He complains a lot about where he’s living but refuses to do anything to change it (he says it’d be too expensive for him to move). Otherwise, everything is fine, but it’s just frustrating between us because of where we are in life.
Am I being unreasonable or should I break up with him? Is there a way to compromise when it comes to our differences?
A. The big question is whether you’ll ever be able to appreciate each other’s priorities. Let’s say he gets a better degree, and you make more money after finishing yours. At that point, would he be happy to jump on a plane with you and see the world? Would he get any joy out of that experience? If you think he’d still be critical and wouldn’t understand the point of the expense, it’s probably a deal-breaker.
Same goes for you. If you’re going to roll your eyes every time he uses his extra income to buy nicer clothes or a car, you’re probably with the wrong person.
Those conflicting priorities are a bigger red flag than his living situation and lack of plan. Sometimes it takes people years to make decisions about education and where to live. Those are questions that require thoughtful answers; he’s allowed to take his time.
It’s more productive for you to focus on whether you’re working toward the same kind of life. That’s all you need to know.
Letter writer, you should know by now, even as a millennial, that money is a primary cause of the breakup of relationships. If you’re having difficulty with it now, imagine what it will be like 10 years from now when your career is established and you’re on an upward arc, while he’s playing the latest “Call of Duty” bought with your income.
You’re a grad student. Those expensive trips are not coming from your barista job. So what’s up? He works. He gets the only vote on how he spends his money.
You may be overlooking the fact that he DOES have a plan. He spends his money on stuff, you spend yours on school and travel. You both sounds like big spenders — do either of you expect to save at any point? That seems to be the discussion you should be having.
You should break up with him and find someone who values experiences more than things.
You don’t mention whether either of you are in debt, which I think makes a huge difference here. Are you taking expensive trips while running up a huge credit card balance? Is he buying a new phone while he struggles to pay his rent? . . . Also, being from different parts of the country doesn’t account for your differences here. Being from Boston doesn’t automatically make you more “cultured,” and being from “another part of the country” doesn’t automatically make him less so.
Boiled down, you like to spend your money on experiences and he likes to spend his money on things. If you cannot accept that, then break up. But know that every relationship you enter into you will have differences about money. For instance, if you are spending tomorrow’s money today, many people would not want to take on your perpetual debt.
This is not a relationship killer by any means. It’s just a thing that can be worked out with some financial counseling. A decent financial planner could help them with this because they are used to dealing with couples who have views on money that don’t line up perfectly with each other.
Ain’t no romance without finance.