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My boyfriend/girlfriend is broke

Money can't buy you love, but it can make your relationship easier especially when the restaurant bill arrives. So how do you handle a relationship when one of you is constantly skint?

couple arguing

"So we're staying in...again"

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All you need is love. Thanks John Lennon, but we’re afraid love doesn’t pay the rent. Or buy a Valentine’s Day present. Or a romantic meal out. So let’s put the idealistic theories to one side and look at the reality: if someone you love has no money, it can be a right pain.

Hang on. Is your partner really skint? Honestly?

Before we start saying “poor you, it must be so hard, having that penniless partner who can never shout lunch” – ask yourself: are they really broke? Money, and how much you’re supposed to have, is completely subjective. There’s a difference between not ever being able to afford ANYTHING, and not being able to buy you wonderful expensive presents and whisk you off on a mini-break.

Our late teens and 20s are notorious for ‘paying your dues’ work-wise, also known as working your butt off for low pay. So if your loved one is slaving away but not earning much, consider going easier on them. But if it’s just their general uselessness with money that’s causing the broke-ness, it might be time to address the problem.

We have completely different attitudes towards money

Just like whether or not you love Marmite, attitudes towards money fall into two distinct camps – saver or spender. And if your other half plays on the opposing team it can cause tensions in your relationship. “Money reflects our values,” says Paula Hall, a Relate counsellor. “And if you have opposite money values from your partner it can highlight significant differences between you.”

But how do you get over these differences? “See the positive side of their stance,” says Paula. “You can usually learn from each other. Spenders can learn the benefits of budgeting and saving, whilst savers could discover that money can be something to be enjoyed.”

But they can never afford to do ANYTHING

Values aside, the practicalities of a broke lover can grate. You don’t want to spend all your couple-hours sat on the sofa watching TV, but, then again, it’s hard not to get resentful paying for everything when you leave the house.

“My boyfriend never has ANY money and it’s so frustrating,” says Wendy, 18. “It’s not his fault, he’s working so hard on his A-Levels that he doesn’t have time to work. But it can get boring staying in all the time.”

Unfortunately, studying is one of those periods in your life when lack of money is fairly inevitable. Being limited to night after night staying in can put a strain on any relationship, but, according to Paula, if you really care about your partner, you may just have to suck it up.

“The bottom line is, if you want to go out and you know your partner can’t afford it, don’t go unless you’re fine with paying,” she says. “You have to accept that’s the current situation finance-wise.”

Paying their way

One way of dealing with a bank imbalance in your relationship is to accept there are other ways of contributing other than paying for things. Does your partner help around the house? Are they really amazing at supporting you emotionally? Do they cook most of the meals? If they’re keeping up their side in other ways, try not to get too wound up about their lack of financial backing. If they’re skint AND slobby, then you’re probably going to have to talk about it.

Lorna, 24, had to do just that. “When my fiancé got made redundant I expected him to be down for a while,” she says, “but months later he was still loafing round the house watching TV all day. I started to resent coming home from a hard day at work to find the house in a state. After a while I just flipped and told him he had to start cleaning and cooking more. We had a big row and he said I was being insensitive, but after a few days he started doing more chores. Thankfully, his general mood improved because he felt more useful.”

How do you talk about money in a relationship?

Firstly, don’t ambush them. People hate being hijacked with an awkward conversation – especially about money. It sounds clinical, but try booking an ‘appointment of time’ to discuss your finances.

Try saying, “I want to have a talk about money, when’s a good time?” and give a broad outline of what you want to discuss. This gives them time to prepare and think about how they feel.

When you are conversing, use the classic relationship-saving phrase “I feel like…” to express yourself. Straight up accusations such as “you’re a money-squandering swine and I can’t take it anymore” will quickly spiral things into a raging row. Instead try, “I feel like I’ve been paying for everything recently and it’s making me uncomfortable. What do you feel?”

We’re living in a cash-strapped world at the moment. Your broke partner might be annoying, but it’s very possibly not their fault they can’t get a better job, or any job at all. This doesn’t make the situation less exasperating, but talking about it will definitely help put your relationship back into credit.

Next Steps

  • Use the Money Advice Service's budget planner to take charge of your finances.
  • The Money Advice Service offers free, unbiased and independent advice about all financial matters. 0300 500 5000
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Thompson

Updated on 25-Sep-2012

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