The Moneyist: ‘I’m a man of simple pleasures’: I live with my girlfriend, 59, who owns several homes and has saved $3 million. I pay utilities and cable, and do repairs. Is that enough?

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Dear Quentin,

I think I am being more than fair relative to sharing expenses while living in my girlfriend’s house, but I could use a little perspective.

My 59-year-old retired girlfriend is well-off. Her lakefront home with an extra buildable lot, her Florida condo, and her residential and commercial rental properties are all paid off, and she has over $3 million in cash and investments. She is also collecting alimony from her ex for a few more years.

I am 62 and employed, and have just under $1 million in cash and investments. I have no debt other than a car lease, I manage my finances prudently, and I’m a man of simple pleasures.

I moved in with her a few years ago, and believe in paying my fair share of the daily expenses and contributing to running the household. I pay all the utilities and cable, try to contribute an equal amount toward the groceries, and do a substantial amount of work around the house, namely various handyman activities (replace a faucet, fix the dryer, etc.) and landscape upkeep, as well as minor property improvements for which I willingly contribute to the cost. 

These improvements have added value to her home. I do a lot of minor repairs at her rental properties and coordinate contractor work on her behalf since I’m good at making sure things are done right and that she gets what she pays for. I spring for most meals and entertainment, and am happy to do so. We typically share the cost of travel.

“‘When there is an expensive repair or the tax bills come around, she stresses and then focuses on me, saying that I should contribute more financially since I don’t have separate home expenses.’ ”

I realize that I am saving money by not having the expense of a separate home, and am grateful for the opportunity to live in her beautiful home and thereby further build my retirement nest egg.

Given our markedly different financial circumstances, I think it best to keep our estates separate, and she is in agreement. I do not expect anything from her estate should I outlive her and have made that clear to her.

Here’s the rub. She regularly complains about what certain things are costing her for the maintenance and repair of her properties and the things she owns (boat, vehicles, etc.), yet she spends freely and impulsively, with many of the things she buys falling by the wayside because they weren’t what she expected or really wanted.

I see this as simply wasteful spending and think that if she were really that concerned about her financial future, she would change her spending habits. Many of the property repairs are due to her bad choices in the past — which she admits to — in hiring friends or acquaintances who do poor work with no oversight.

When there is an expensive repair or the tax bills come around, she stresses and then focuses on me, saying that I should contribute more financially since I don’t have separate home expenses.

In my opinion, any maintenance or repair costs associated with things she owns are her responsibility, as they are for me. I would think the same if our circumstances were reversed — if I own it, it’s my responsibility. I have several friends, both male and female, who live with their partners, and they manage things the same way as I think they should be managed. What do you think?

More from Me

Dear More,

Your letter and situation are both simple and complicated. They’re simple because you already have the answer in the palm of your hand, if you choose to see it. They’re complicated because you need to come to a solution that suits both parties. Currently, from what you say in your letter, your arrangement appears to suit you more than it suits your girlfriend. 

The simple part: She has told you what she wants. She thinks it would be fairer if you paid more toward your living expenses. Call it rent, although I understand that “rent” seems like a dirty word in a relationship, particularly as it suggests an imbalance of power (landlord/tenant) and a temporary rather than permanent arrangement. 

She may tell you this when she is stressed out, but sometimes people only have the gumption to say what they really feel or what’s been preying on their mind during heated discussions. Is it a healthy way to communicate and talk about important issues? No. But does it mean that she does not wish you to contribute more? No, again. 

“‘Intentionally or not, you risk justifying your own wish to to shore up your retirement savings by telling yourself that your girlfriend has plenty of money, which she spends willfully.’”

The complicated part: how you contribute to the household, and the disparity in your economic statuses. As for the former, you “earn your keep” by carrying out repairs, knowing that these handyman tasks have a monetary value. You are happy to help out and — intentionally or not — you are deducting those tasks from an imaginary rent.

Ask your girlfriend if you can give her advice about her purchases. (It’s always better to ask if you can open the door to unsolicited advice before weighing in.) As I told the woman who wanted to buy the $30,000 bracelet, we often buy stuff believing it will fill an emotional or spiritual vacuum in our lives. When it doesn’t, we buy more. 

But those two issues — your contributions and your girlfriend’s spending habits — are separate issues. It’s a mistake to conflate the two. Intentionally or not, you risk justifying your own wish to to shore up your retirement savings by telling yourself that your girlfriend has plenty of money, which she sometimes spends unwisely and willfully.

So what do you do now? You acknowledge that resolving financial dilemmas such as this will — hopefully — make your communication skills and relationship stronger. Ask your girlfriend what she believes would be a fair monthly contribution. If there is room for negotiation, you could come to an agreement on money and hiring capable repairpeople.

Without having this conversation and dealing with the Peloton in the room head-on, you will keep tripping over it.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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