Building Better Boundaries With Others Around Money (Part 2 of a Series)

By Rachel Puryear

Welcome to Part 2 of a series of 5 on Empaths and Finances! This post will cover how empaths can build better boundaries with others around money. The introductory post gave an overview of this series, and can be read – or reread – here. Part 1 of the series, about how empaths can shift their mindset around money to attract abundance and wealth energy, can be read here.

Many empaths struggle with setting and enforcing boundaries with others. We are often too nice, overly accommodating, and reluctant to say no. This difficulty with maintaining boundaries is not limited to, but certainly includes, money matters. For the sake of our financial health and well-being, it is important for empaths to learn to set healthy boundaries with others in general, and also including with money.

Rainbow-colored fence.

To demonstrate financial boundaries, let’s explore a viral debate which occurred online recently. This debate started when a poster declared that evenly splitting bills 50/50 for living expenses in intimate, cohabiting relationships is unfair; where one person makes significantly more money than the other. The logic behind this is that paying for half of the living expenses poses a heavier burden on the lower-earning partner, which should be remedied by instead apportioning shares of living expenses based upon each partner’s respective income, so that they share a more proportionate burden.

The same poster then extended the same argument to friends splitting bills and expenses when they go to restaurants and bars, and other entertainment together. The poster argued that where one friend makes significantly more money than the other (but they do not live together), that such shared entertainment expenses should also be apportioned according to each party’s respective income.

This poster’s arguments, and the responses, concurrences, and counterarguments to it; are a rich source varying ideas around setting financial boundaries. That is because this debate is not simple, or black-and-white. Rather, it is complex, nuanced, multi-angled, and contextual. There is no clear solution suitable for all purposes.

Let’s explore how looking at the many angles of this matter can help us become better acquainted with our own boundaries.

Although I share some anecdotes in this analysis, this is meant to give you ideas and become more aware of your own values around this subject – not to tell you what to do. The point is to help you decide what works best for you.

Cohabiting, Long-Term Relationships:

When it comes to long-term intimate relationships where the partners live together, their financial matters inevitably overlap, if not merge entirely. In these relationships, not only do the partners share living expenses and bills; but they may raise children together, and support one another’s education and career development. All of these mutually supportive activities include unpaid work which helps the other succeed, and achieve valuable life goals.

This reality of long-term, cohabiting relationships necessarily creates an interdependent financial and economic dynamic. It would therefore be inequitable and unjust to expect consistently equal payment of living expenses by each partner, without due consideration to the unpaid work partners do for one another to help the family unit as a whole. The unpaid work is essential, but difficult to quantify.

Accordingly, joint ownership of both partners’ earnings in such a relationship is not only acceptable, but also is often equitable (recognition of such equitability also shapes marital property laws in many states). So, I would agree that in such a relationship, finances should normally be shared.

A common exception: Where partners do not raise children together, they both established their own finances before coming together, and each can pay for an equal portion of the bills without hardship; complete financial separation between them can be fair and equitable.

Friendships are Different:

Friendships, on the other hand, are quite different from intimate relationships. Few friends share a household for life, join their economic efforts, and raise families together. Accordingly, applying different standards to shared financial matters to intimate relationships versus friendships is justifiable.

Finances are Far More Complicated than Income Alone:

One thing to keep in mind for the sake of fairness in any kind of activity where financial obligations are determined based upon relative affordability; is that although income is an important part of someone’s financial picture, so are many other factors. Other factors important to someone’s finances include:

  • How much debt someone has.
  • How many dependents someone supports.
  • Whether they have employer-paid health care and other benefits, or must instead pay for their own.
  • Health problems and disability-related needs. These may cost money, limit how much someone can work and earn, and affect their employment stability and advancement prospects.
  • How much savings one has, and how much they can realistically save. (Even when different people have comparable savings ability, though, some exercise more discipline in saving money than others do.)
  • The cost of living where someone resides.
  • Job-related (especially if self-employed), and educational expenses (student debt is a common debt, as differs from most others debts because it is usually non-dischargeable in the case of ongoing hardship).
  • Access to intergenerational wealth, and other sources of reliable financial assistance.
  • How much non-monetary support one has from others around them.
  • A history of financial trauma and abuse, or poverty.
  • Cultural and familial expectations around money. Some cultures and families expect successful people to regularly financially assist poorer family members, which might not leave them with much. Some religions expect practitioners to tithe to their houses of worship.

If friends are going to consider respective finances in dividing expenses for shared dining and entertainment, then perhaps a more complete financial picture could be considered, rather than just each party’s income. Better yet, have a discussion about expectations before going out. One can always ask for a separate check in order to control the amount they pay for.

Restaurant tab and receipt with cash and coins left on it.

Let’s look at an example: Mary and Jane go out to eat together. They are somewhat recent friends, without much friendship equity yet. Mary makes $100,000.00 a year, while Jane makes $50,000.00 a year. They know one another’s incomes, but not anything else about each other’s finances. When the bill comes, Jane declares that she feels that Mary should pay for two-thirds of the bill, and that Jane should only have to pay for one-third; since Mary makes twice as much as Jane does. (Let’s assume that they ordered very similar amounts, to limit the scope of this question rather than complicate it further.)

However, let’s say that Jane does not know any the following about Mary:

  • Mary is a single mother of two children, and their father has serious health problems and cannot contribute much support.
  • Meanwhile, Jane has no dependents.
  • Mary also owes a lot of student loan debt, and she had to incur this debt to get the kind of education she needed to make the salary that she does. Mary also still has credit card debt from times that she was previously unemployed.
  • Jane has no debt, and Jane’s work history has been pretty stable.
  • Mary is self-employed and must pay for her own health care and time off, while Jane has health care through her employer as well as paid leave.
  • Jane comes from a fairly well-off family, and her parents are willing able to help her from time to time. Jane has no pressure to help her parents financially. Jane will likely eventually receive a sizable inheritance.
  • Meanwhile, Mary came from a poorer family, and helps her parents financially now and then because they need it. Mary’s parents are rarely able to help her financially. Mary is unlikely to ever receive a significant inheritance, so she must save a large portion of her income now if she will ever have a decent retirement.

It’s starting to sound like perhaps Jane should take it upon herself to not only learn a little more deeply about Mary’s situation before demanding anything from her, but maybe Jane could be grateful for the ways in which she’s more fortunate than Mary.

Additionally; what if Mary makes more than Jane does because Mary works a second job, and Jane does not? Let’s assume that Mary and Jane are both able to work a second job, but Jane does not wish to. If this is in fact the reason for the disparity between Mary and Jane’s incomes, does this influence your view at all regarding how they should divide costs of their shared entertainment? Note: Jane choosing not to work a second job is a completely valid choice. However, Jane must also budget according to her choice.

Also, what about taxes? $100k a year is not truly two times as much as $50k a year, once you factor in the different income tax brackets. Self-employed people must also pay the self-employment tax, which can add quite a bit to their tax bill.

Furthermore, considering finances means that each party must be fully comfortable disclosing personal financial information. If they are not ready to mutually reveal enough to create a more complete financial picture, then perhaps they are not ready to start subsidizing each other financially.

Intimate partners and close friends know a lot about each other’s finances. However, what about newer friends? At what point do they have that conversation? If one person wants to remain private about their finances early in a friendship, shouldn’t they have that right?

If going deeper into finances to figure out what is fair in dividing expenses between friends seems like too much; then arguably, so is considering income in dividing expenses.

Where it Works for Friends to Help Each Other Financially:

At the same time, there are many good friendships where the friends are very familiar with one another’s finances, and will each pick up tabs for the other on outings when the other is having hard financial times. It goes both ways, and it evens out over time.

Sometimes one friend who is wealthier than the other will choose to pay more than the less-wealthy friend does, or to consistently treat them. The friend being treated might contribute in other ways to the friendship to balance things, such as helping their wealthier friend in non-monetary ways that the wealthier friend might need more than they need money. Time, effort, emotional and physical support are also all non-monetary currencies that are very important to human well-being and quality of life.

For example: Tim and Joe are good, close, longtime friends. Joe is rather wealthy, while Tim is not. Joe also has frequent medical problems, and lives alone without much family in the area. Tim has a family in the area, and his whole family is close to Joe. Tim regularly helps Joe around his house, and sometimes takes Joe to appointments when Joe cannot take himself. Tim is an important source of companionship and emotional support for Joe, as Joe has struggled with loneliness a lot before meeting Tim. When Tim and Joe get together they typically share a meal, and Tim does not expect or ask Joe to treat him. Joe, however, pays regularly and wants to do so, and assures Tim that it’s ok. Joe appreciates the many non-monetary benefits of his friendship with Tim, and feels that this is more important to him than the money he spends to treat Tim – and Joe also likes to help Tim, too.

The key difference between Joe and Tim, versus Mary and Jane; is that Joe is making a free choice out of love. Tim gives a lot back to Joe, so that there is a lot of friendship equity. By contrast, Jane never established any friendship equity before making demands of Mary, and is instead pressuring Mary to do something for Jane without Jane knowing much about Mary first.

The scenario between Tim and Joe is a friendship ideal, with the level of mutual trust and care and friendship equity that they have. At the same time, it takes time and effort to reach this point, and this kind of friendship equity can only be developed organically and naturally.

Casual Outings with Friends:

A common way that my husband and I handle entertainment expenses with our friends with whom we dine with regularly, but where neither party can or should pay for everything; is this: We take turns paying. When it’s our turn to treat, we decide where to go; and when it’s their turn to treat, they decide where we go. One or both parties may also invite the other over for a meal instead of going out. This way, each party chooses a place they can afford, and it’s never questioned or compared. If one party consistently chooses more or less expensive places to go, so be it, and we accept one another’s hospitality graciously and gratefully, regardless.

When we dine with people we aren’t as close to and don’t meet with regularly, we might split the bill (if everyone ordered roughly the same), or get separate checks (if anyone prefers that). No need to discuss and negotiate respective finances there.

My husband and I have also treated loved ones who were struggling financially at the time, to give them a good time that they did not have to worry about paying for – and for these people, we know they would do the same for us, and sometimes they have when able. We are also lucky to have friends who regularly treat us, and are happy to do so. We are very grateful, and do what we can to be good friends to them in return.

If I were to go out with someone who knew little about me or my finances, but demanded that I pay for most or all of the bill because of how much I make; that would certainly be the last time that I would ever go out with that person. Such a sense of entitlement from them would disincline me to see them again, let alone treat them. I only treat others where it comes from my own free choice and out of love for them – not out of guilt or pressure.

Our Own Relationship Finances:

My husband and I have a “yours, mine, and ours” style with our own finances. We pool our money, pay bills, save some money, and then each take small, equal amounts as our own separate funds. This way, we can each make some discretionary purchases for ourselves, without having to worry about discussing it first, or disagreements arising.

Of course, such an arrangement requires mutual trust and a certain degree of financial accountability between the partners. Ideally, this is there in intimate, financially joined relationships anyway – although, I realize that that is not everyone’s reality.

In determining household budgets; ideally, before living together, each partner would determine what they can afford. Then, the sum of those two amounts would determine their monthly budget.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to your setting healthy financial boundaries with those you love, and building healthier relationships accordingly. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you do not do so already.

4 responses to “Building Better Boundaries With Others Around Money (Part 2 of a Series)”

  1. […] The introductory post to this series gave an overview, and can be reread here. Part 1 of the series, about how empaths can shift their mindset around money to attract abundance and wealth energy, can be read here. Part 2 of the series, about how empaths can build better boundaries with others around money, can be read here. […]


  2. […] of the series, about how empaths can build better boundaries with others around money, can be read here. Part 3 of the series, about satisfying and supportive careers for empaths, can be read […]


  3. […] of the series, about how empaths can build better boundaries with others around money, can be read here. Part 3 of the series, about satisfying and supportive careers for empaths, can be read here. Part […]


  4. […] a recent post about Building Better Boundaries With Others Around Money, a reader asked me for more about a term I used in that post, which was “friendship […]


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