Is My Boyfriend Cheap, or Is He Controlling Me with Money?

He makes 4X what I do, and he never lets me forget it

Q: My boyfriend of two years and I have been talking of marriage, kids, life, etc. He’s amazing, and we always have fun together. There’s just one little thing that is making me question our future, and it seems really stupid. He’s oddly cheap.

He makes a lot (A LOT) of money—over four times what I make. He takes me out to nice dinners and dates. He drives a very nice car and never hesitates to spend money on his motor toys. Neither one of us is super into “stuff” and big gifts, but I secretly want him to get me jewelry one day.

The thing is that he will comment and complain about money he spends on me or us. At dinner he sometimes points out the cheapest meal and the cheapest wine even if it’s something I don’t like, and snorts if I might want a second glass or dessert or an appetizer. He’s all about happy hour or getting a great deal. Who isn’t, but it’s all the time. He rarely ever lets me pay for anything, but he reminds me of the nice dinner he took me to or how much he spent on our date night. I paid the bill last weekend, because I didn’t want any comments about my second glass of wine; he forgot I had paid, and the next day asked me if I liked the dinner he took me to. We went to the market together to get stuff to make dinner. I wanted to add nuts to the salad (I’m vegetarian so it’s my protein), but he told me it was getting too expensive as is, so I put them back. I made and cleaned up the entire meal, and he still had the nerve to remind me what a nice dinner he’d gotten for us to make. If we go out for lunch during the week, he always wants to split something, even salad, but then he will get a side for himself, and I’m still slightly hungry.

He’s never really gotten me a “nice” or romantic gift. I know it’s petty, and I don’t need a lot of stuff, but I feel like when it comes to getting me a gift, he just looks for the best deal and doesn’t think about what I might really want. But he will spend a fortune on his own things. It’s just weird, and I don’t even know if I should try and talk to him about it? I feel like I’ll probably end up saying something extremely snarky and sarcastic, and I want to avoid that. Is this a major red flag that I’m ignoring?

—Anonymous

A:

Dear Anonymous,

Yep, it’s a red flag. But let’s be clear about what’s so astounding here.

It’s not the frugality, no. That’s a good thing, no matter how much he has.

It’s not the difference of opinion regarding how the money should be spent. That’s all too normal. Loads of couple work through that one just fine, and it might be easily solved by saying, “Yo, I want a second glass of wine, live with it.”

It’s not even the fact that he spends more on himself than he does on you. That’s thoughtlessness, sure, but your average sort of oblivious selfishness that you can work through in couples counseling.

What really startles me here is how he uses money as a weapon. He’s not only withholding, but then also lords his “generosity” (which is in no way real) over you. In any relationship you have to assess the unspoken power dynamic involved in finances. In this relationship, the power dynamic isn’t unspoken. It’s purposely, intentionally being exploited to create unequal footing.

If this was just about being cheap, about finding common ground in how money should be spent, about the handling of money at all, I’d suggest talking it through. But don’t be distracted by the money angle, here. This is about much more than that, and whoa, it’s a red flag.

—Liz Moorhead

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  • emilyg25

    You are literally letting yourself go hungry over this asshole! How is that amazing?

    • jem

      And “we always have fun together”? No you don’t, if he’s constantly monitoring your choices (a package of nuts, a second glass of wine), and later lording his largesse over you…

      • Zoya

        The nuts thing killed me. Like, that’s not a luxury, that’s you attending to your own nutritional needs. And he’s talking you out of that? NOPE. Not okay.

        • Amy March

          But also get out! Why are you in a position where you can’t buy your own nuts? Like, it’s not only that he won’t buy them, he’s so controlling you think you can’t buy them either. His is not your father. He doesn’t get to tell you no in the grocery store.

          • jem

            Right!!! The no nuts thing was very creepy. Why didn’t she buy her own nuts? Or kick his in?

          • Ashley Meredith

            All the upvotes.

          • Colleen

            “He doesn’t get to tell you no in the grocery store” might be the best thing I’ve read all week. I pity the fool who tries to tell me “no” about food, anytime, anywhere.

          • Arie

            The fight I have with my husband when I’m hungry is totally different than the fight I have when I’m not. LW, have the hangry conversation!

        • kazeegeyser

          It’s one thing to say, “hey babe, pine nuts are super expensive right now, maybe go for walnuts instead?” and another to deny any nuts.

          • jem

            And another that LW doesn’t feel like she can stick up for herself and say “actually, need those nuts” and add them to the basket/pay for them herself. This relationship sounds unhealthy nutritionally and emotionally

  • Amy March

    “I don’t even know if I should try and talk to him about it?”

    How can you possibly be thinking you’re having an adult conversation about your relationship and marriage if you’re not talking about finances?

    No. Don’t bother. Break up with him because he’s a jerk. It’s not about him spending more money than himself on you or not getting you nice enough gifts, it’s about him being mean to you. Constantly. That isn’t okay!

    • emilyg25

      Or even say, “Um, I need those nuts for protein on my salad.” I don’t want to sound too hard on the LW, but this is not a healthy relationship.

      • Kathy

        I think that’s the point with this letter: they are not in a healthy relationship and it’s not just because this guy is cheap (though cheap people tend to be cheap in all areas of their lives, avoiding expensive stuff even for themselves)

        • Abby

          Yes, this. He’s not cheap – if he were, he’d hold himself to a no-nuts budget too. He just doesn’t think she’s worth more than the bare minimum, & makes it a point at every turn to make that abundantly clear to her. Making your partner feel worthless like this is textbook emotional abuse. Dear LW: you are worthy of all the finest nuts and wine in the land. Please never let him make you think otherwise.

    • Her Lindsayship

      Man, my jaw dropped at that line! You don’t know if you should talk about it?? You think maybe you could live the rest of your life trying to muster up gratitude for shitty gifts and dining on emotional blackmail from your partner? Life can be so much better than this for you, LW.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      This is 100% who he is. Take the warning because it will only get worse from here.

  • Eve

    So much deja vu with this letter. When I was in college and on food stamps, I dated a recently graduated engineer who immediately got a job at a big tech firm and started out making $60,000/year… but insisted that I buy groceries for us with my food stamps and was similarly mean and controlling about gifts and meals out (and also wouldn’t help cook). Yes, we broke up, but it’s embarrassing now how long I put up with his controlling behavior and making me feel unworthy and unhappy.

    • flashphase

      Don’t be embarrassed. Many people make mistakes about their dating choices or hang on too long – especially when young. I think this letter demonstrates how hard it can be to see what’s going on from inside a relationship. Be kind to yourself and give yourself compassion for your mistakes (this goes for you and LW)

      • Eve

        Thank you. It really is so hard to see from the middle of it.

      • Sarah

        Seconded because why aren’t we taught about how to have a healthy relationship in this country?? 18 year old me could have used it like for real.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I’m so sorry but the important thing is the lesson you learned and that you go out!!!

    • Micaela Campbell Hill

      Eve, I was in an abusive relationship for over 5 years. YOU are not at fault. YOU have nothing to be embarrassed about. It took me years to accept that. It took quite a few people telling me that to accept it. You are not unworthy and you deserve to be happy.

  • Kathy

    the problem with talking about this is that he will make it as if you are only interested on his money, no matter how you phrase it. The detail the caught my attention was how he would not let you add nuts to your salad, even being able to afford it. If he can’t be generous about food to his girlfriend, he will never be generous about anything to anyone, except himself. Or, sorry to say it like this, he doesn’t love you that much.
    Dear LW, you deserve someone who would work harder and longer hours to feed you well if needed, not a rich guy who refuses to buy you food.
    (Besides all what Liz said, which was on point)

  • Laura

    Relationships cannot be based on strict ‘tit for tat’ rules. Someone always spends more time, energy, money, emotional resources, etc. than the other person. You try your best to approximate 50-50, but that balance ebbs and flows over the course of the relationship, and most couples find themselves constantly negotiating when something gets out of balance. So it’s not the fact that he makes more money than you. It’s the fact that he makes more money than you, lords it over your head, and causes you to feel insecure and off balance about your role in the relationship.

    Plus, it seems like generosity is a quality you’re looking for in a long-term partner. This guy has proven over and over that he doesn’t have a generous bone in his body. The most frugal people in the world can still be extraordinarily generous — it’s in the tone, not the content, of the gift (whether tangible or intangible) given.

    • Sara

      I have a very frugal friend, who I know gets a good paycheck (just because we’ve been friends for years and years), but will go out with everyone and just drink water, or will eat a side salad while everyone else gets a full dinner (or mooch beers at parties, but that’s another story). But he’ll treat on birthdays, or offer to be DD, or host parties at his place so he doesn’t have to spend money. He’s kind, but cheap. You can be both things.

    • ItsyBit

      “it’s in the tone, not the content, of the gift” YES YES YES YES YES.

  • Your boyfriend is trash girl, and I think you already knew that. This isn’t about how he makes so much money than you, this is about his attitude towards you – he thinks that you should bend over backwards, be on your knees groveling and thanking him for doing the bare minimum for you. People spend money on their partner, and the vast majority of them do it without lording it over their partner’s head. He’s absolutely trying to control you with money, so you have a choice to make – stay with him and start paying for things, or follow Dan Savage’s advice and DTMFA.

    • CMT

      I think this is definitely a case that calls for DTMFA.

      • Laura

        DTMFA, and then we APWers will all chip in to buy you a case of wine and alllllll the nuts your heart desires.

        • Jessica

          Yes!

          • jen

            AND CASHEWS!!!!

        • PAJane

          You’re right, we should totally throw a wine and nuts party.

          • Zoya

            With pecans and pine nuts, the most expensive and delicious kinds.

          • PAJane

            Don’t forget macadamias, and pistachios.

    • SS Express

      DTMFA is exactly what I was going to say! Although “your boyfriend is trash girl” is pretty perfect too.

  • Emily

    Go now. I was in a relationship just like this. He would insist we go to nice dinners (nice for college anyway), pay, and then talk about it. (“You’re so spoiled”, etc). If I bought something too cheap, he would mention that, if I bought something too expensive, he would mention that. Yes, it was controlling behavior, and these behaviors only get worse.

    Like you, I didn’t feel I could talk to him about it, which was the real red flag. Because you know it will set him off, which again, is controlling.

    • sage

      Yeah the line about not wanting to bring any of this up to the boyfriend for fear of saying something wrong (how will he react?) set off alarm bells for me.

      You should be able to have honest discussions with your person about things that bother you / are concerning about the relationship without fearing that your words will come out wrong!

    • Her Lindsayship

      I once got into a rather serious fight with an ex who, when I playfully batted his hand away from stealing off my plate at dinner, spat at me that he could eat whatever he wanted because he was fucking paying for it. The real dysfunction of that story is that I dated him for another like three years after that, and spent much of that time afraid to bring up any concerns with him.

      Funny, I also told myself that “we always have fun together.” Was I really always having fun? Of course not. I was tip-toeing around his terrifyingly unpredictable emotions, and feeling guilty for my own emotions (fear, loneliness) because they kept resurfacing despite how hard I tried to bury them. I couldn’t see that while I was in it though.

      • Oy Vey

        Same same. Now that I’m out of it, I realize “always having fun” tended to mean “as long as I do what he wants me to do and seem like I enjoy it and he seems satisfied, my anxiety levels become low enough that I can almost relax.” And not having that guard up about “what is he thinking? what’s wrong?” feels like “fun.”

        • Her Lindsayship

          This is heartbreakingly familiar.

        • Aurélie

          I remember being incapable of answering the question “what would make *you* happy?” by anything else than “I want the people around me (AKA the ex) to be happy”.
          I had no idea what would make me happy, I only knew that him being unhappy meant me being miserable. But I thought it was normal, because doesn’t everybody want people around them to be happy? (Spoiler alert: that’s not the *only* thing they want.)

      • sofar

        I was in a similar relationship — also for far too long. And also told myself we “always have fun together.” It was only “fun” because his behavior had become my new normal and I’d learned really well how to cater to him.

        LW has learned to cater as well, unfortunately. I do not think that, in her case, “talking about things” will improve the situation, since he will see it as her wanting to spend more. Because controlling money is his security blanket. It has remained so well into adulthood. It will not change unless he wants it to (he doesn’t want it to).

        If LW needs to try “one more thing” for her peace of mind, I suggest calling him on his behavior in the moment, telling him it hurts her to the core, and asking him to change it. Refuse to argue, just tell him to change. Then, count how many times in the next month he reverts to his original behavior. Mark each occurrence on the calendar. While scoping a new living situation. Whenever you start thinking along the lines of, “Well he’s not THAT bad, maybe I’ll stay” look at your calendar for a visual reminder of how many times he has reverted to doing something you TOLD him hurt you.

      • Eve

        I realized many years after my relationship with a guy like this that “we always had fun” because we always did things he wanted to do, because he was an absolute child about doing things that “weren’t fun” (i.e. the things I wanted to do).

    • Em

      >>>>>>> “I didn’t feel I could talk to him about it, which was the real red flag.” <<<<<<<

  • Jessica

    2017 is the year to get rid of controlling, dead weight men.

    2018 is the year for you to get all the packages of nuts and second glasses of wine you want!!

    • Oy Vey

      *snaps*

    • Abby

      #JessicaForPresident

    • Arie

      if *certain people* are still creeping on you in here, I sure hope they read this one.

    • sofar

      I co-sign this statement.

    • PAJane

      I generally don’t bother with New Years Resolutions, but I’m willing to make an exception just this once.

      • Jessica

        It’s not even a resolution, it’s a lifestyle upgrade

    • julia charlotte

      This is the content I’m here for.

  • Jess

    Stories like these are why I will always internally cringe when I hear a man talk about “spoiling” his significant other.

    Get yourself out of there and go buy yourself a damn nice bottle of wine without feeling even a little guilty.

    • Abby

      Ugh. Totally with you. Was just out with a friend and his new boyfriend. New BF was talking loudly at one point about how he “spoiled” our friend by buying him a new coat and how maybe our friend should figure out how to spoil him in return. Ick. Just buy your own things!!

      • Jess

        Ugh. Not here for that. Don’t coerce your boyfriend into giving you stuff just because you gave him something, new BF.

        Buy your own cool stuff or if you really just want stuff to feel loved, maybe be up front about that!

    • Zoya

      Yes yes yes. There’s a difference between “treating” and “spoiling.”

  • Loran

    He didn’t “get” you a nice meal, you made it for the both of you. In a healthy relationship, if one person purchases and the other cooks that’s effing teamwork not one person benevolently making food happen. And the nuts thing isn’t about generousity, he literally denied you nutrition you require. If this were about funds, you could talk about it or start paying for the second glass of wine yourself, but it isn’t. It’s about him dictating the terms of your nutrition and time together and throwing it in your face. That’s not a romantic and supportive relationship. That’s how an abusive owner behaves to property.

    • Emily

      A cheap boyfriend wouldn’t go out to the dinner in the first place. If he only had a certain amount of money budgeted for the dinner, after two years, he should be able to say so. A controlling boyfriend goes for the dinner then dictates your choices.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        BINGO!!!!

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Also the passive aggressive asking the next day or whatever if she liked/enjoyed whatever it was he paid for. Ewww.

        • Abby

          Ewwww is EXACTLY how I felt when reading that.

        • I got actual skin crawls at that.

  • Sara

    Ooh this reminds me of my friend and her ex husband. He came into a lot of money with an inheritance and they upgraded their car and a couple house hold things, but he would always remind her that its HIS money and HE was so generous for that nice car to drive their kids in. She then spent like $15 for an early check-in on a flight without running it by him and he FLIPPED OUT that she spent his money.

    Its ok to be cheap. Its not ok to lord money over you like he’s better than you.

  • Oy Vey

    First – in my experience, if you’re asking strangers on the internet and/or a search engine to confirm your Spidey-senses, that means that yes, your feelings are on target.

    Second – this reminds me of my ex like whoa. He wouldn’t use money or “generosity” as a weapon, but his opinions; 75% of our conversation would be him asking me to affirm how smart or right he was and how terrible and wrong everyone else was.

    You already know something is wrong here, so don’t feel like you have to live in his orbit (as much fun as you think you’re having, trust me, it will be WAY better when you make your own decisions without the anxiety of “what will he think?!”) Get your nuts, enjoy your second glass of wine, and find someone who will buy you pretty things because you want them and he can afford him and he wants to make you happy! It’s not a crime to want jewelry as a present. It should be a crime for someone to claim they love you someone and treat you like they’re doing you a HUGE favor by going to dinner.

    • flashphase

      Glad that you have this perspective now that you’re on the other side. Hope everything’s still going well!

  • Zoya

    Oooooof. My husband and I have a similar income disparity, and I think Liz nailed this one. It’s not about money, it’s about power. I spent the first several years of our relationship terrified that we’d fall into a power dynamic like this one.

    In case anyone’s interested, here are some of the “green flags” around money/power in our relationship:

    – Before we joined finances, he took his cues on shared expenses from me. If I wasn’t comfortable with him paying for something on my behalf, he didn’t.

    – He shares. When he chooses the nicer/more expensive version of something–a hotel room on a trip, a household item, etc.–he’s excited that we both get to benefit from it.

    – He takes my career aspirations incredibly seriously, and gladly invests in activities/opportunities that will let me pursue my passions.

    – He’s willing to talk about this, endlessly, whenever I want to. Even when stuff feels seamless and stable, we check in routinely on how we’re feeling about money and what our priorities are.

    ETA: Thought of a couple more!

    – After we joined finances, he was very clear about the joint account being *our* money versus *his* money–to the point where he would correct me if I started talking about spending “his” money.

    – We each kept our own personal accounts and draw an “allowance” from our joint account each month. He does not ask (or, frankly, care) about how I spend this personal money–it is mine to do with as I wish.

    • Jess

      I love seeing the “things to look for when income is different” list!! We should do this all the time!

      • jem

        Agree this is super helpful & constructive.

      • penguin

        I also like the thought of “green flags”

    • Chloe

      Amen! I’m in the same boat (single mom + grad school) while the man owns a company and travels internationally a lot. From the very beginning he said, “I care about spending time with you, and if that means I use my miles or my dollars so that you aren’t stressed over the budget, that is what we will do as partners.”

    • Chloe

      Amen! I’m in the same boat (single mom + grad school) while the man owns a company and travels internationally a lot. From the very beginning he said, “I care about spending time with you, and if that means I use my miles or my dollars so that you aren’t stressed over the budget, that is what we will do as partners.”

    • Abs

      Yes to all this. It’s so hard when you’re in a controlling (or even just bad) relationship to see the difference between actual differences about money and things that are ostensibly about money but actually about all kinds of messed-up shit.

      I had an ex where we had “differences about money” that I was afraid to bring up with him. We did come from different backgrounds, but in retrospect I can see that it wasn’t about his not spending money on me, it was about that as part of a pattern of his not thinking or caring about me, and my normalizing that as “class differences”. The thing that broke my heart about this letter was the part where the letter writer “secretly hopes he’ll buy me jewelry one day.” That hit home. I feel like one of the (many) things that can be so toxic about a relationship like this is that this power/money language starts masquerading as a love language. I remember secretly wishing that my ex would buy me this ring that I had seen in a jewelry store, even though I *knew* deep down that marrying him would be the worst idea, because I wanted so much to feel loved, and that was the only way I knew to wish for it.

      In a relationship like this there can often be so much wrong that you hide from yourself–disagreements about money seem small, so they might be the only things you really let yourself see. But really, truly–if they are just differences about money, you won’t be afraid to talk about them! My husband and I had differences in how we spent money when we met (and still do), and they were NEVER a big deal, because they were really and truly just about money.

      • ebass

        I’m reading about people who have so much more healthy financial discussions with their partners and kinda dying inside. My husband and I struggle with this hardcore. I manage our joint finances because he honestly gets too stressed out by them that it REALLY starts affecting our relationship. So I plan for the month and pay the bills and etc. We make a good amount of money, but I unfortunately have CRAZY student loans and about a sixth of our take home pay goes to those debts. In the past, he has gotten mad and shamed me for buying a dozen donuts when we were sharing a hotel room with friends (that was like $10 dollars). He got mad when I bought us new sheets. And of course, he questions whenever I spend money on myself. When I read the OP’s letter, I kinda felt her because my husband buys my jewelry, but often it’s really cheap knockoffs, like he can’t value a nice piece for me – but then he turns around and asks about buying a new motorcycle because he wants to be able to go faster than his start up bike (that he bought last year). It’s difficult because it’s not like he controls our money or that he only spends on himself, he just shames me and insinuates that I don’t care about us if I do spent on myself. In therapy, we’re trying to work through this as “he likes to skimp on small things in order to buy big things and I like to spend on my every day and not buy big things often”. Sometimes I feel like I’m crazy or selfish for wanting to be understood and I too sometimes feel like our therapist is trying so hard to find middle ground that she’s ignoring the pain I’m in. But we’re going to try Liz’s financial advice with the separate spending allotments to see if that might ease things for us. That way he can save up if he wants, and I can spend regularly if I want. Sigh we’ll see. I can only hope.

        • Loran

          It sounds like you’ve got a good plan, and I would be totally curious to hear how it turns out. It can be a long haul, but I’mma reiterate others here with talk, talk, talk. Glad you’re having a therapist’s help, because these convos can be tricky, especially when spending habits are different. I am also a fan of the your money, my money, our money, and we have endless discussions about what constitutes an “our” money expense (mortgage obvs, food generally, gas money for car… maybe, beer… sometimes??). Being able to splurge on something and not justify it is key for me and for my partner, but being able to pay the utilities is key for both of us (although more me). It can be messy.

          • quiet000001

            Also remember to talk to the therapist about how things are going, too. If you feel like an approach is missing your point or your issue, say so. A decent therapist won’t mind feedback and will have more than one approach to take.

    • David Gant

      Nice, I like the green flags.

    • Han Malyn

      Hi Zola! I do a weekly advice column fan podcast with a spouse, and we’re going to discuss this question – I LOVE your notes here, and was wondering if you’d be okay with us mentioning them? The podcast is called Hannah and Matt Know It All. Thanks!

      • Zoya

        Sure thing! Thanks so much for asking.

  • Anne

    LW – please know that it’s not petty at all for you to want a partner who cares about supporting you and hearing from you about what would make you happy, regardless of whether or not that entails “big gifts”, extra wine, vegetarian protein, or anything else.

  • Meredith

    Run, girl. My husband has never once been like, “did you like that dinner I paid for?” That sounds creepy.

    • Jess

      For real. I once thanked R for paying for dinner and he went, “Thank YOU, it’s also your money.”

      (ETA: We have a weird “Thank you” thing where we are constantly thanking each other for small things. It’s helpful for us, but I get that it could read as weird)

      • PAJane

        Frequent thank-yous for the little things can do a lot of good.

      • Zoya

        Saying “thank you” for little things is not weird! We do it all the time too.

    • AmandaBee

      I actually, for real, cringed at that line. So creepy.

  • Geeze, this guy’s red flags have red flags… Bounce. I’m a little extra disturbed by how much of this seems to be centered around food. I think it’s maybe worth considering that this isn’t just about controlling LW with money – It kind of sound like he might have a bit of a thing about controlling what she eats as well (see, nuts). Bounce.

    • theteenygirl

      I was thinking about this too.. all her examples are food related. He seems to be controlling not only in money but also in what she eats/drinks. The nuts example stood out to me the most for that.. nuts are delicious sources of protein but can also be thought of as “fatty”.

      LW please leave this guy.. I can only imagine the nightmare of joining finances. Or paying for things for kids. Or you not being able to contribute to the mortgage so you’re living “in his house”.

    • Jess

      I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME!!!!!!!!!

      Seriously, it really drove me nuts that the examples were food-and-wine-related. One thing I am super not down for is judging/controlling/making people feel bad for their food choices.

      I seriously read this and was like, “Is this my disordered eating filter, or is this actually super intensely about controlling food?”

      • Anne

        Same same same. The bit about splitting lunch orders set off all kinds of food-control alarm bells for me.

        • Jess

          yes!

      • Zoya

        When LW writes, “I’m vegetarian and wanted to add protein to the salad,” it makes me wonder whether this meal was meat-and-a-salad for him, and just salad for her. In which case, she’s making him food she doesn’t even eat AND being pressured to settle for less than a full meal EVEN WHEN SHE’S COOKING. Which is extra-double-nope.

  • rqued

    I have to diverge a little from all the “leave him” comments here. Is your BF being thoughtless and selfish? Yes. But is this a fact that is irreparable? I really hope not and I don’t think so. You guys have had separate finances for your whole relationship (if I’m reading this correctly) and it seems like you probably grew up with different beliefs and standards about money. You’re in the phase of figuring out how you work together financially with some clear issues to deal with. I think you should talk with him exactly about what’s bothering you and call it out every time it happens. If that doesn’t work, then maybe it’s time to leave. But I wouldn’t just ditch this relationship because something’s bothering you if you haven’t tried to address it with him first.

    • Amy March

      Someone who snorts at you when you contemplate a second glass of wine doesn’t strike me as someone open to a discussion about different approaches to finances.

      • Kat

        Yeah I don’t think “different financial upbringing” is the heart of this issue. Power and control and an inability to understand balance is.

      • Oy Vey

        Yes and – she doesn’t feel safe* to begin such a discussion with him. That’s the reddest of all the flags.

        *she says she’s afraid she’ll say something snarky or sarcastic, which to me says that she thinks his behavior will take her to a place where she can’t calmly discuss something – this is textbook behavior for an emotional abuser.

        • AmandaBee

          Yes yes yes. Having arguments about money is normal. Fearing your partner’s response to a disagreement about money is NOT ever ever normal.

          Women tend to downplay their responses or assume they’re being irrational in these situations – but from my experience, if she feels like she can’t talk to him about this without him being snarky/demeaning/angry, she’s probably right about that.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I strongly disagree that this relationship’s problems have anything to do with “different beliefs and standards about money.” Dude seriously denied this girl nuts for a salad (and she complied with that despite knowing the nuts were important for her diet), meanwhile he apparently “drives a very nice car and never hesitates to spend money on his motor toys.” I mean, yes, I guess beliefs do come into it: he believes he can have whatever he wants and that she needs his permission to eat. Normally I’m all for talking it out, but when we’re talking about a man who wants to control his partner, there is no safe middle ground for them to meet on.

      • penguin

        And like… she has a salary. It’s just controlling for him to be like “no don’t buy the nuts” rather than “hey could you pay for groceries this time” or something.

        • Zoya

          Or he could say, “Hey, please use your own money if you’re going to buy expensive ingredients that only you use.” Which still feels icky to me when we’re talking about FOOD THAT SHE NEEDS FOR HER BODY, but at least it’s ostensibly allowing her the option.

          • Violet

            Oh God, everyone needs to read The Joy Luck Club, and the scene with the goddamn ice cream. Scarred me for life, but in a good way. As in, stay away from bean-counters and score-keepers when it comes to intimate relationships.

    • Laura

      “Thoughtless and selfish” is relationship stuff where one person is spending all of his spare income on flashy toys that he wants while not wanting to spend money on a partner or shared expenses. Fine, that can (sometimes) be overcome with conversations about values and goals. But choosing to spend money on a partner so that he can make her feel like shit about it? Emotional abuse, full stop.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Agreed. I don’t think every relationship problem needs to be discussed or hashed out. Sometimes, shit is bad enough to where you are looking at a character issue and you just have to bounce.

        • quiet000001

          And stuff can be not that bad in the grand scheme of things (though this dude sounds like a prize) but still not something you personally can handle working through because of whatever you have going on yourself. Like someone who has a lot of anxiety about money, maybe isn’t going to be healthy or happy in a relationship with someone who also has money related issues, because working on those issues as a couple isn’t something possible at the time due to the anxiety.

          A relationship can totally be something that might work out fine for someone else and still be not good for YOU personally. It’s okay to recognize that and end things.

    • Zoya

      This is reasonable advice for standard-issue disagreements where both parties are acting in good faith. From what the LW describes, that’s not the case here. This is a case of one partner actively undermining the other, and no amount of measured, well-reasoned conversation is going to change that.

    • If I’m feeling super generous, I’d say he gets to be the recipient of precisely one “what the hell” conversation, where she lays out to him why his behaviour is controlling and manipulative, and why that’s not something she’s willing to live with. If it’s a come to jesus moment for him and he gets himself some therapy to deal with his control issues, then maybe there’s something to salvage there, but if he doubles down on his right to be in control and gets angry at her for having noticed it, then it’s time to burn that bridge on the way out.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    Lose him. It’s only been two years. You can start the new year fresh without this drama and find a man who won’t use money as a weapon against you. He’s an asshole. I wouldn’t even try to fix this. When people show you who they are believe them.

  • Abby

    My husband makes a ton, is very fiscally conservative (I.e., absolutely cheap when it comes to certain things), but has NEVER considered or made me feel like a single penny he makes is anything other than “our money.” (This includes when we were seriously dating too)

    GF – This guy isn’t normal and he’s absolutely manipulative. (Who the F wants to make you feel bad about nuts or a meal you generously took the time to make?) And honestly – that anxiety you feel over the potential he’ll act out because you ordered a second glass of wine? It only gets worse the longer you’re in the relationship. In my former relationship, those actions turned into full-fledged emotional / verbal abuse.

    Money is a big deal but it’s a very manageable item when you respect your partner and they respect you.

    *On our Honeymoon, we discovered bloody mary’s ran $14 each on our resort in Hawaii so we snuck bloody mary mix and vodka into our hotel room (under our summer clothes) because the convenience store didn’t use bags…We laughed for days*

    • Cleo

      I LOVE your Honeymoon story. It reminds me of stories my grandparents told me and my cousins when we were little and have become the stuff of family lore.

    • Jess

      Honestly that honeymoon story sounds hilarious! Every good trip needs some sort of caper, in my book.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    Few things annoy me more than a man of means who is not generous toward his partner with his time and resources, particularly when his partner has significantly less wealth. This a fundamental pet peeve of mine.

    • Zoya

      THIS.

  • AmandaBee

    Normally I would say that if you haven’t raised concerns yet, you should let him know why this bothers you and see how he responds.

    But you know what? This guy is an asshole. He’s demeaning you by acting like you can be purchased for the price of a (nut-free) salad. Next time, throw the “nice dinner” he’s purchased in his face and dump him. He doesn’t deserve anything better.

  • Another Meg

    A+ to all the red flag comments. I can tell you what marriage to someone like this might look like. I was in it.

    Once we combined finances, I no longer had any control at all over finances. He paid every bill, and he watched what I spent like a hawk. He used the real-time update feature on our debit card to track where I went. I called him before spending any money. Like, he got a call before I coughed up $7 for a rolling pin. I’m never going to forget the look on my sister’s face while she watched me ask for permission to spend $7 on a kitchen tool.

    Once I took my mom out to lunch because she doesn’t have much money and it was near mother’s day. I got a call from him on our way to the car to ask if my mom had enjoyed her free meal. It still makes my skin crawl.

    Get out. Get out now, before you have legal and (!) financial ties to this person. It only gets worse from here.

    ETA: It never occurred to me before that being financially controlling was just one step on the path of abuse, but it totally was. He grew emotionally abusive and I was very afraid of coming physical abuse. In my case, it was all linked.

    • Jessica

      uuuggghhhh. I’m so glad you got out of that. So, so glad.

      • Another Meg

        Yep, it was bad news bears all the way. And when I left, he had to give me an index card with all of MY financial sign ons for student loans and stuff. He was the worst.

        • Jessica

          You should see my angry, disgusted face right now.

          • Another Meg

            It was so long ago, and I learned so much from that experience. Everyone outside of the relationship thought I was selfish for leaving, and I stopped going to couples therapy because he even had the therapist openly sympathizing with him.

            I never told him to his face that he was awful because it took me so long to realize it was emotional abuse. I just thought I was a bitch, because that’s pretty much what the world was telling me.

            And it was abuse, and it was escalating towards physical abuse. He got violent when he drank (which was often) and made “jokes” about hurting me that were terrifying. I am so happy I got out when I did.

            Ladies, go with your fucking gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Even if everyone else just sees how “nice” he is.

          • Em

            You know what, even if he genuinely *was* nice (which is definitely not the case!!) you’d still be right to leave if it persistently just didn’t feel right.

          • quiet000001

            Right? We have this idea that if people are just nice people they’ll automatically work out as a couple, and nope. You can both be nice people but just not a good pair. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on the problem.

        • Jess

          Sharing in Jessica’s angry, disgusted face at this guy. I hope he feels the wrath of the APW commentariat from wherever he is now.

          Congratulations on asking for that card, though! That took some serious guts.

          • Another Meg

            First thing I did was change every password and open my very own bank account. It fell REALLY good.

    • GotMarried!

      My husband is way more generous than me, although we’re both pretty cheap in different areas of our budget. I’ll expand on that above. On your point though …

      I’m the one who watches our money like a hawk (and yep with real time tracking, but only ask questions if something is far outside normal or I don’t know where to put something in YNAB, and then the question is typically “I don’t care what you bought, just tell me the proper category”) This has been valuable to us, one time I ask “Did you just spend $1,500 at Apple.com?” knowing good and well he would NEVER do so without us discussing it. We caught credit card fraud real quick and got our cards shut down.

      … if it were reversed though, and he saw DID’T pay for my mom’s meal … he’d react by asking “awe, you should have treated your mom to dinner”. I mean, he’s literally done that when a girlfriend (who we both know is still in college as has way fewer resources than he and I do) and I came back from getting mani-pedis!

      I say all that to say … who gets irked that you treat your mom to lunch!? (assuming your mother isn’t financially irresponsible and causing an ongoing drain on your new families financial security etc etc … I recognize there is always an exception and fraught family relationships)

      • Another Meg

        Pretty much. He didn’t like my parents at all, so it may have been that. When we visited my hometown he would only stay with my sister and her family so I didn’t get to see my parents as much. He wasn’t even in the same city as us, just watching the debit card to see where I went.

        My husband and I definitely review finances carefully, but we do it together, and unlike the ex, my husband trusts my financial decisions. If I want to take my mom out to lunch, I get to do that. Because I’m an adult.

        • Loran

          Because I’m an adult. Yes. So much this.
          That’s also my reaction when people (well-meaning but patriarchal sunk people) joke about my fella moving into my place (Oh, have you told him all the rules? Get ready for fights about chores and messes! Make sure you show him how to load the dishwasher/wash dishes/work the laundry/clean the toilet/etc.) Like, sure living with a people can invite some conflict in cleanliness priorities or methods, but FFS he’s a grown ass man who has been able to survive and keep house for himself for 30 odd years. I trust him to cook for my family, because he’s an adult. I trust him to make smart purchases for us/himself, because he’s an adult. He trusts me to make smart decisions for our house and our dog, because I’m an adult. He trusts me to do what’s best for me and us, because I’m an adult. We’re all adults here. We can ask for help if we need it, and we can do it on our own or treat one-another if we’re able. If that trust is missing, if I can’t say to my person, “I did X because I’m a grown up and I could” and have that be the end of that, I’m gone (obviously, not including destructive behaviour or spending in the grown up decisions here).

    • Amy March

      The real time tracking is so disturbing. It’s never necessary for you to know I went to Sephora at lunch. That’s control.

  • Mrrpaderp

    Can we please stop telling ourselves that having our needs met is “petty”? LW is not even getting enough food to eat. Leaving the table hungry because your BF gives you a hard time about how much you’re spending is not “petty” it’s BS and it needs to stop. Not that she needs it, but LW has my blessing to say all the snarky, sarcastic things she can come up with in response to this nonsense.

    If it were me, I’d bring a cash box to our next date. Maybe with one of those old calculators with the adding tape? Bonus points if you can find a green visor. Every time he complained about how much I was spending, I would calculate the cost with tax and count out exact change for the item I wished to purchase. Then I’d write a receipt to keep just in case he tried to tell me the next day that he’d treated me to that awesome meal.

  • Alli

    I’m creeped out by his obsession with being the one who “took you” to dinner. I don’t know if it’s just me but I’d think at that point in your relationship, it doesn’t matter who paid, you both just went to dinner, nobody “took” the other? (I guess an exception would be for a birthday or like, surprise date night? Idk.)

    It’s just that combined with his food withholding makes me feel like he’s grooming you to view him as SO generous when he does let you have food, when that’s just something you should have because you’re a human who needs to eat.

    • Sarah

      It’s a point in our relationships that I always pay at restaurants, because 1) it’s the same account and 2) I fucking hate it when the waiter puts the check directly in his hands instead of sitting it in neutral territory on the table. My husband is great about it and when they pull that he goes “oh no, she’s paying.” and hands the check to me, shaming the waiter and feeding my sense of equality at the same time.

      Sometimes I “let” him pay, and he does the joke about being allowed to “treat” me, then we laugh because IT’S THE SAME ACCOUNT IT’S BOTH OF OUR MONEY AND IT DOESN’T MATTER. I can’t imagine being with someone who got off on being the moneybags in the relationship.

  • Lexipedia

    So S and I were doing home improvement things last weekend and he offered to make the trip to the hardware store to grab a couple of things we needed. He hates the going to the hardware store with me because they always talk to him instead of me and he feels like he should be more “handy” (whatever male ego, screw those comcercials about “buying dad powertools for Christmas”).

    But, how this is relevant, he asked a customer service guy for help and it devolved into the guy complaining about how much money he was spending on his girlfriend of three months, how many things he had bought her, and that she had had the nerve to ask him whether they were exchanging gifts for Christmas. It was probably a ten minute conversation about the guy complaining about how women just want to be spoiled, and to spend his money, and not give him anything in return. S had to wait for some things to be brought from the stockroom, so he couldn’t exactly leave, but came home really upset about the conversation.

    Seriously, OP, this isn’t just about “cheapness” or frugality. Imagine being married to him – you say he makes a lot more money than you and, unless you are in law school or something, given statistics it’s unlikely that your salary will leapfrog his. So assume you are married, have children, and are the lower earner in the household. Is he going to suddenly change his behavior if you join finances? Is he going to be cheap and manipulative with your kids and make them feel guilty about money spent for their upkeep? Or is he going to hold this over your head, even when households and lives are merged?

    • penguin

      YES to the point about what he would be like with kids (not that the LW should wait to find that out). I have first-hand experience with what a person like this is like to kids, and it SUCKS. Nothing like having someone constantly point out how much it costs to feed you, or how much it costs to buy you clothes (even though they were getting child support for that purpose). It’s wearing and gets old real fast.

      • Jess

        Co-signed. It is hard to survive when you are constantly informed how much of a burden you are.

    • PAJane

      Jeezus, could you imagine how nasty he’d get if she managed to bring home more money than him?

  • Katharine Parker

    “It’s not the frugality, no. That’s a good thing, no matter how much he has.”

    I don’t think this guy is frugal. He is controlling and manipulative, under the guise of frugality.

  • Sarah E

    First the first year and nine months of our relationship, my now husband made way more than I did (actual salary vs. part-time retail) and he paid for stuff all the time bc he knew he could do so comfortably, and was game for me to pay when I could. We moved in together, he still made way more for the first few months, we we’re actually feeling financial strain and he STILL never said a word about how uneven things were because we made choices together.

    Seven years in, I still joke on occasion about how much I miss the days when he bought me all the expensive craft beer I wanted, as I now work in the industry and we are careful with our budget. He laughs and also remembers those times and continues to remember how pleased he was to spend time with me, and how it was nice when we had fewer responsibilities and bankrolling fancy beer was a non-issue.

    Your bf is a total dick. He isn’t recognizing give and take in the relationship, financially or otherwise (he should bend over backwards thanking you for cooking AND cleaning up) BOY, BYE

  • PAJane

    This guy sounds like a romcom trope. You know how the protagonist is meant to be with the woman he’s madly in love with, but she’s dating the insufferable guy with the slicked-back hair, and he’s kind of a pompous douche who’s weird about all the money he has, but eventually she realizes the can do better? He’s totally that guy.

    • Violet

      Let me ask: is your hand a little numb after hitting the nail on the head so hard?

      • PAJane

        Ha!

  • Violet

    So many thoughts, no particular order:
    1. You don’t need to tell your partner everything. Privacy is fine, not sharing every little detail is fine. Secrets are usually not-so-fine. And a secret where you actually want him to know something important about you so he can be a better partner to you, but withholding that info, is not a great idea, in general. In this case, save your breath because Mr. I Won’t Buy Nuts isn’t about to buy you jewelry anytime soon, but you know, for future reference after you leave this guy and find someone who cares about you.
    2. Sometimes one of us “treats” the other to a meal, but it’s never a big production. Just one of us noticing the other is putting his/her personal credit card down instead of the joint one. There’s a thank you, but no lording it over the other person. As the higher earner but also bigger eater, sometimes my partner pays just because he gets squeamish about having me subsidize his larger appetite. Obviously this is nonsense, but we talk about these funny money hang ups we each have. Everyone has weird money stuff, but if you can’t talk about it, why are you in a relationship with that person?
    3. I know a lot of couples here are 100% joint, but from a part-joint, part-individual perspective: As long as the person is meeting their joint responsibilities to the partnership (eg, their portion of rent is always paid on time) the other has NO right to question their individual spending choices. None. Did my husband admire the new bracelet I bought myself a few months ago? You betcha. Did he ask how much it cost? HELL no.
    4. Your fella’s a jerk.

  • Collective Not Tribal

    Please make your exit. Having been in a relationship where we both earned around the same yet I didn’t have access to my own bank card, it started like this. It started with control over what I ate, when I ate, him “buying” stuff for me (read for him or us) which had been bought with joint money. Him getting treats and me not. My social circles being curtailed. It starts with a little thing, then more gets added and more until you are caught in a web of control, self doubt and plummeting self esteem.

    Then there’s the manipulation where you are manipulated into feeling like you are the unreasonable or volatile one because you’re buttoned up emotionally to such a degree that the smallest of things can result in tears or an emotional “scene”.

    Dear LW, he’s controlling what you eat. He’s using the financial disparity to create a power disparity and then using that power to make you feel small. He’s using that smallness you feel to make it harder for you to confront him about it in an adult way, infantalising you, treating you like a child so that he can justify the control and the power disparity. He wants a grateful adoring pet not an equal partner.

    Dear LW, get out then get some councelling to help rebuild your sense of worth so that you can find somebody worthy of your love and good nature.

  • Camala

    Run away, do not walk! As others have commented, he’s trying to control you with money.

    It reminds me a lot of an emotionally abusive relationship that I was in where the guy tried to control me, somewhat through money (I made more than him), but had major issues about what I ate, especially when dining out. He constantly watched what I ate like a hawk, which was a real problem for me as I already had some eating issues to begin with. (“Are you really going to have those chips?” “I thought you said you weren’t hungry.”) Makes me angry just thinking about it now. I wonder if this guy isn’t also trying to do a bit of the same, using money as a cover?

  • anony-nony

    Agree with everyone here. My husband makes good money, can be very cheap about things (including food!) while also lacking self-awareness about how much he blows on his toys/vehicles. We’ve had several good convos about this (because he’s a grownup who can take kind criticism and he knows he’s imperfect and he doesn’t make me afraid to bring up concerns). But he has never used money to control me, to make me feel low while propping himself up. If he treats me to a nice dinner, he encourages me to pick the plate I want and to eat/drink till I’m full. He would buy me jewelry except that I don’t care for it. Not trying rub your face in my wonderful relationship or anything, but it is possible to have a cheap spouse who doesn’t drag your feelings and needs through the mud to make himself feel big.

  • Marion Cobretti

    For real tho, drop this dude STAT. Anybody – man or a woman – who observes money as means of exerting influence is a worthless human being.

  • peasbwithyou

    This is what I grew up knowing between my parents, but with a mom who was a stay-at-home mom. My dad would look at the grocery receipt every week (that I remember) and ask my mom why she bought something that wasn’t on the list or a couple dollars more than expected. It was extremely stressful as a kid (who was already anxious!) who constantly worried that we were going to end up living with my grandparents because my mom “spent too much” on a regular grocery trip. I cannot tell you the panic/upset that ensued if one of us kids ate the ‘last’ of something in the house. Even now, my fiance needs to remind me that we CAN get more of something if I eat the last of it… it’s insane.

    Many years later, both of my parents are working, my mom doing well for herself, and they’re still together and now very happy, but it wasn’t a childhood (in that regard, at least) I would wish on anyone. I’m well aware my fiance makes almost three times what I make, but he feels that it’s our money together that matters when we get married, not how much we each individually are contributing. I’ll occasionally freak out when I feel like he’s paying for “too much” and I’ll try to compensate, but he knows it can’t be *equal*, just fair, and he isn’t going to hold me to anything for the sake of being “equal”.

  • Jennifer

    Just throwing this out there:

    My now-husband used to brag to me about how little he spent on gifts he bought me. He was proud of his frugality, and didn’t take me seriously for YEARS when I told him it was rude. I finally had to make a hard rule that he wasn’t allowed to tell me what he spent. Unexpectedly, once he couldn’t get “praise” for spending so little, he actually bought nicer stuff. He couldn’t get the positive response he thought he would for being frugal, so he had to actually buy me things I’d like without that factored it.

    I’m not saying this ISN’T a red flag, but it could be familial or even cultural. My husband is the easiest partner in the world in most respects, but he does keep a tight rein on finances. He balances the budget weekly, and I account for every dollar I spend. But so does he. He isn’t trying to control ME–he’s trying to control OUR MONEY, and it can be pretty damned difficult to tell the difference. I have to reality-check him pretty hard on a regular basis. (BIG) However, it would very disrespectful, even cruel, for me to treat his feelings about money like they’re silly or selfish. We didn’t come into our partnership in agreement about how our money should be tracked or spent, but that doesn’t mean either of us was wrong. I think it’s fairly common for people to be controlling about money, and it’s not a deal breaker if you can talk to each other and come to some solutions.

    This man reads like someone profoundly insecure about his finances. Perhaps he has a reason? Debts the LW isn’t aware of? Maybe he supports other family members? Or he could be from an impoverished background. That would explain both the frugality and the desire to be constantly praised for providing meals.

    Honestly? I’d be more worried about him trying to control what you eat. That seems like the larger issue here.

    Anyway: If your serious about him, LW, then get ye to therapy. A couples life-coach, at least. Let him pay for it, so he’s motivated to go. If he won’t do that, then it probably is time to walk away.

  • ManderGimlet

    That he seems to find a way to make you feel insecure even when you pay for shit is a huge red flag to me. This is beyond concerns for shared finances as some people have suggested, particularly since he is spending such extravagant amounts on hobbies/interests that benefit only him. Also, this: ” If we go out for lunch during the week, he always wants to split something, even salad, but then he will get a side for himself, and I’m still slightly hungry.” This is such an incredibly dick move to do with anyone. What if a coworker or platonic friend did this to you? I would never have lunch with that person again let alone marry them! You are not being petty, this guy is the petty one to be nickle and dimeing you over crushed pecans or whatever.

  • Natalie

    Hi. I was married to someone who was very controlling with money in a different way. He would buy me nice things, but when I brought things up in the marriage that needed discussing (family planning, budgeting, and how he was spending a lot of money on himself and not on our mutual, marital goals, etc.) he said things like, “aren’t you happy enough with all the nice things I give you?” He used money as a weapon. It was miserable.

    We’re now divorced, and I have never been happier. YES breakups are hard, but what’s harder is trying to make a life and a family with someone who uses finances and money – which are totally necessary tools for living, raising children and having nice things *in moderation* – AS A WEAPON. I’m no soothsayer, but my prediction in your situation would be that you’d eventually stop asking for what you want (even if it is that second glass of wine, because TREAT YO SELF) and it’s not healthy to be in a relationship where you feel like you have to silence your needs or wants or desires to avoid making your partner uncomfortable.

    No amount of money (ahem, “security”) is worth your mental health and happiness. You can still have nice things without this guy. You deserve more. YOU are worthy.

    • quiet000001

      The unable to communicate is a big sign, IMO. If the second glass of wine is an issue (like so much is budgeted for the meal only, and going over the budgeted amount causes a lot of anxiety because people are weird about money) then you should be able to say without fear “hey, sometimes I do really just want a second glass of wine, what’s up?” And then you discuss adjusting the budget or maybe one of you gets the alcohol bill and the other the food, or maybe you agree to go out less often but agree you can really splash out when you want to when you do go out… Point being you can discuss the problem (even if it is a problem like when there’s money available but there’s anxiety about using it, not when there’s actually no money to spend) and discuss options and come to a mutually reasonable solution.

  • Lea

    It’s sad to me that LW even felt like she had to explain to us why she wanted to buy nuts at the grocery store. Like, girl, I was already on your side