Couples are disparate in many ways. Sometimes this opposition makes for a fascinating life, sometimes it's a battleground. Income is one of those fraught areas. When partners are both earning an income, and one person has significantly more money than the other, there are three typical approaches:
1. Throw the money into a pool and share everything.
2. Split living expenses 50/50, each partner retains any surplus. In this case, the person earning less ends up with less discretionary income.
3. Split living expenses in proportion to income ("from each according to his means"); retain surplus. The Thin Wallet has about the same ratio of expenses to discretionary income as the Fat.
Because the issue of money sends its tentacles into other aspects of a relationship (work, aspirations, values), the best plan for the Wallets should be up to them. Le Duc and I, small-business owners, fell into the first approach when I joined his business decades ago. If one of us has a standout year, that might be acknowledged by a little splurge for the star.
Observations about living with income disparity:
1. For both partners, personal discretionary money is essential, even if it's $10 per week. You should have some money you don't need to account for.
2. If one partner has vastly more than the other, some at-home philanthropy is wise. My friend Laura's partner funds the exotic trips that she could not afford on a nurse's salary.
3. If one partner is emotionally withholding, money will be the red herring. You will fight endlessly about it or live with simmering resentment- and it's not the real issue. A woman I know is the partner of a wealthy man who insists he choose every item in, as he says, "the house I paid for."
4. Both partners need to be aware of the tendancies inherent in the situation.
It's tempting for the lower-income person (especially early in a relationship) to try to keep up with the wealthier one, a fast lane to debt and resentment. Or the lower-income partner may have to reign in the high-earner, because that income may not always flow abundantly.
Regardless of the relationship's stage, living as a Thin Wallet/Fat Wallet couple takes ingenuity and maturity, facing awkward moments with goodwill and trust.
Do you have experience with wide income disparity? How do you or those you know manage the gap?