Several months ago, we polled more than 500 women and found that when it came to dating, heterosexual women were oftentimes coupling off with partners who make significantly more money than them.
So we decided to start a series where we asked women with salaries much lower than their partners' to share how they deal with money. In part three of our series, we interview Hayley, a 24-year-old server in Arizona, with a salary of $32,000, about to marry a man with a $75,000 salary.
How did you meet your fiancé?
"We met nearly three years ago, at a restaurant where I was working as a host. He came in for a drink after work with a cast on his leg. I asked how he broke his leg, and we ended up talking for nearly seven hours!
Has money been a part of the conversation since the beginning?
"When we first met, I was living at my parents' house to save money, and was only making $10,000 a year as a restaurant host. He was a regular at the restaurant, so he knew hostesses didn't make tons of money. I told him that I'm still young, and I'm not really ready for an office job, and I like the freedom I have right now. But we knew very early on that our future was together. So when I got offered a chance to move into serving, I talked to him about it, and he said, 'Well, it's extra money, and you're going to be working the same hours. I don't see why you shouldn't do it. If you want to live together someday, you need to be making that kind of money.'"
How much does he make?
"I don't know the exact number — a running joke in the family is that my dad always tells our significant others that the one talent my sisters and I share is the ability to spend someone else's money before our own. So my dad's advice is that it's best to not tell us what they make. My fiancé found this so hilarious he uses it as a reason to not tell me. But when we applied for our apartment, I saw that it was close to $75,000 a year before taxes including bonuses. He makes enough money that he could cover us and I could just do whatever, but he doesn't want all that responsibility on him, because then we wouldn't have anything for the future. "
You mentioned an office job earlier. Would you ever consider one?
"My fiancé has asked me, but only because we were talking about health insurance. I said I think I will at one point, but not right now. I value my freedom, and I still make perfectly good money. One thing that did happen, though, is that my fiancé just got a huge promotion. I was so happy for him. But I also realized that in my industry, I'm never going to have something like that. The only other thing I could be is a supervisor, which I don't want to be. The realization stung, but was fleeting. I know I've made a choice to have this type of job and it doesn't mean it's permanent.
Can you talk about how your money habits have changed?
"Before I met him I was horrible with money, and my parents sat me down and told me I had to get things in order. Yes I was living with them rent-free, but I was making money and not saving any of it. So my parents gave me a monthly goal that I need to have x amount of savings in my account, and I paid for my cell-phone bill and my car insurance. So even before I met my fiancé, I had begun to get in the habit of saving.
"Then, I hate to be that girl, but when I met him my priorities really shifted to him rather than my friends. I used to go out, but in my area you have to pay a cover charge, and then get these insanely high-priced drinks. It was like $100 a night. But when we started dating, we were more into hanging out with each other — my fiancé is 32 and over the "going out" phase of his life — so I saved a lot there."
And now you live together? How did you prepare for that transition?
"I saved for a year and a half for us to move in together. My parents always told me that I should have six months worth of rent and bills saved up. So I saved, and I made sure if something happened to us, we would be covered for at least six months. When I told my parents that we were going to be moving in together, my dad was like, 'Well, you have definitely taught yourself what it means to save and set aside money for things, and what's important and what's not important.'"
So when you did move in together, how did you figure out who pays for what?
"We looked at what I was making, and what he was making, and what we wanted to put aside every month. We put a cap on what we wanted to pay each month in base rent, then worked around and priced out insurance, cable, internet, all that other stuff. Then, we went to Costco and bought stuff we would normally buy, and estimate how much we spend on groceries. We priced that all out, split it down the middle, and asked if we could afford it. So everything is 50/50. We don't do anything unless we both have the money for our half of it. Like we just went on vacation, and he covered the hotel room, and I paid for meals and gas."
Would you ever be comfortable with him paying for more things?
"I don’t actually think I would ever be comfortable with that. I like being able to treat myself. I never tell him what to do with his money, and vice versa. I feel bad when I hear from my friends that their boyfriends get mad at them for buying something or saying that they should’ve discussed their purchases. You know, we all work really hard, and if you want to treat yourself, you should treat yourself. But if I were spending his money, I would feel like I needed to do something more. Clean the house, take care of everything. Not that he ever makes me feel that way."
Do you run across people thinking that he does pay for more things, though?
"I bought a new Michael Kors purse and I posted a picture of it on Snapchat, joking, early wedding present! I went to work the next day and my friends wanted to see the purse, and I don't know if it's because they know he bought me Michael Kors stuff for the holidays, but so many of my friends asked if my fiancé had bought it for me. It's like, no, I bought it for myself. It was a very odd question to be asked, and frankly I didn't feel like it was any of their business."
Have you found that people expect him to pay for things more, even if they don't know what you do for a living?
"Once, we were out for my fiancé's birthday, and I paid for our dinner. The bill and credit card were on my side of the table, and the server ran the card and returned the card to him, addressing him with my last name. That memory has been stuck in my head. I thought, 'You read the last name, why didn’t you read the first name? What made you decide that it was his card and not my card?' It's a really nice restaurant, and I saved up to make sure I had the money to pay for his birthday dinner, so it was kind of surreal because I didn’t expect her to assume that he was still somehow paying for it. But it's a very moneyed area, and I’m sure they’re used to men paying, so they just made their own assumptions."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. This is part three of a series, Not A Trophy Wife, examining how women feel about money — especially when they make less than their partners. Want more? Here is part one and part two.