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What Price Money? The Debate Over the Bill

July 20, 2006 By:
Adina Matusow, JE Feature
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"Oh, no -- I left my purse in the car, and it's so far away ... would you mind picking up my part this time?" She asked the question when the car was really right across the street.

"I pay for you all the time anyway, so whatever." He responds, annoyed.

"You make more than me anyway, so what does it matter?" she retorts.

I overheard this conflict at lunch, and my stomach churned when I realized how common this fight must be with this particular couple and other couples. Fights about money can go way beyond who pays for the bill.

Money proves one of the most common topics couples argue about in serious relationships. We are also fully aware that financial problems can lead to divorce. If one person makes more than the other and their finances are still separate, is it okay for that person to pay for more?

In this particular situation this woman disrespected herself by making herself appear helpless. Her attitude showed she did not appreciate her boyfriend, and purposely left her purse in the car. She expected he'd pay; in return, he resented it.

You should never expect a man to pay for you, even if he paid for the first date and even if you've been together for awhile -- especially that. After dating for a few months, isn't it time to establish a system, or to have a mature conversation about money and how often each of you should pay so that you don't bicker about who picks up the tab every time you go out?

How do you determine the best formula for paying? For each couple, it's a different issue; what works for some might seem not right for others.

A friend of mine was dating a woman who, in his words, made him "go broke." He said it wasn't that he always paid, but that she would drag him to places that were way out of his price range. She never wanted to go to the inexpensive bars that he preferred to frequent. Luckily, he realized their relationship wasn't going to work, and cut it off before he became destitute.

He learned that it's important to date someone with similar lifestyles. Now he makes sure to go out with women who understand the value of a dollar -- and to dismiss a person who'd treat him as if he were made of money.

What's Too Fancy?
I hear stories from guys all the time in which they say, "She made me go to this expensive restaurant for the first date, and then I was stuck paying." I hate when a guy says that because she can't "make" him do anything, especially before a first date. Isn't it an eye-opener if she suggests Buddakan or Le Bec Fin, and you haven't even met yet?

Most likely, if she suggests an expensive restaurant for a first date, then she is expecting you to put down way more than you bargained for. The point of the first date is to see if you have anything in common and want to go out again. If you want to pay for the first date, suggest meeting for coffee or a drink to make sure you like her enough to see her in the future.

I once went on a second date with a guy who took me to a very expensive restaurant. The minute we walked in the door, I felt uncomfortable. It was as if he was trying to recreate some romantic moment he had in a previous relationship. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu and when it came time for the bill, I sincerely offered to pay my way, though he didn't accept.

Still, I was relieved. He had chosen a place far beyond my pocketbook, thus I felt completely comfortable with him footing the bill. If, however, I had suggested the expensive restaurant on the second date and he agreed, I would want to pay my share.

So, you've actually made it to a third or fourth date, and you're planning on dinner and a movie. Then who pays? I can't speak for all women, but I like to take turns treating, if we make it past the first few dates. However, some of my friends think since it's still early on, the guy should pay.

But I disagree. Unless he has made it clear that he's a millionaire -- or maybe he's just the type who insists on paying -- why should he spring for multiple dates? Does that mean, at date No. 6, you have a conversation that the woman should fork over her fair share?

When you split the bill, it takes away from the "date" feeling of the evening and makes you feel like you are just friends. It's better to take turns treating each other. That way, you can both feel special, and both feel empowered.

Let's say you spend the day together. You pay for lunch and the afternoon activity, he pays for dinner and the movie, and you pay for the cab ride home. Does it really matter who paid a little more this time? If you stay together long enough, doesn't the money come back to you?

So, what do you do when one person in the couple makes significantly more cash? My answer is to talk about it. Regardless of who makes more, if every time you go out you bicker about who paid for the last meal or who bought the groceries, what does that say about your future together? What will happen when one day you combine your finances?

As the relationship progresses, this issue won't get easier. It shouldn't really matter who makes more money, but in reality, it does. If you know you make more than your significant other, then what's the harm in paying extra? If you care about the other person, you should want to make sure he or she feels comfortable in every aspect of the relationship, especially finances.

If you can learn to feel at ease discussing fiscal matters early on in a relationship, then it's a good sign that you just might be one of those happy couples that just doesn't fight about money -- ever!  

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