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Lauren: On the Money


You are not what you say you’re going to do. You are what you’ve done.

by Lauren Fitzpatrick, Writing Intern

Lauren: On the Money | A Practical Wedding

When, exactly, is the right time to tell someone you’re dating that you’re in debt? Like, a lot of debt. The third date seems too early; waiting until you’ve moved in together seems too late. So when Jared and I started dating, I was deliberately vague about my financial situation for months, fearing that our fledgling relationship was still too young to survive the truth. How do you tell the person you’re falling in love with that you’re $40,000 in debt, especially when that person has a degree in economics?

I was never what you’d call a shopaholic, but I was extremely good at justifying things I couldn’t afford, like pastries, magazines, beer, and shoes. I was young! Being in fill-in-the-blank country, at fill-in-the-blank moment, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I could always make more money. Besides, I was studying travel writing. Becoming rich was not in my immediate future; may as well get used to being broke. When my purse was stolen in a bar, I lived off of my credit card until I could get a new debit card shipped to me in London. Every time I swiped my card, I got an uneasy feeling and swore that I’d get my shit together, soon.

Once you’re in a little bit of debt, it’s surprisingly easy to get in a little more. Over a three-year period I swiped my credit cards so often I could have paid for the wedding we are currently planning. That, on top of a $25k student loan. It took seven months of dating for me to fully realize what a hole Past Lauren had dug for Future Lauren. My debt wasn’t just my problem anymore; it was about to become Jared’s too. No matter how we handled it, my finances were going to affect us both. I felt embarrassed, guilty, angry, ashamed, but I still couldn’t bring myself to tell him exactly how much I owed. So he asked, straight up, because “if we’re going to be together, we have to talk about this stuff.”

There were tears (mine); there was shock (his). Admitting the number made it real and I smashed into reality. Yes, I could always make more money, but I hadn’t, and the flaw in my plan became painfully clear: you are not what you say you’re going to do, you are what you’ve done. It was a very quiet, very tense evening while we both thought over the implications of my confession. The next day, Jared sent me an email at work. I have been thinking, he wrote, and I am sure we can work it out.

We flew to Australia for a year and moved in with his parents. I took the first job I was offered, working retail at a surf shop in the mall. My manager was ten years younger than I was, but I didn’t care; I felt like I deserved it, this crappy job for which I was so overqualified. In my spare time I wrote poorly paid articles for online content mills. Every week, I paid down my credit cards. At the end of the year, I paid them off completely.

Buckling down and paying off my debt was the easy part. The hard part was watching Jared build his savings, which would eventually become our savings. To this day, a part of me struggles knowing that a big chunk of our house deposit came from that money he put away back in 2009, when I wasn’t contributing to the pile. Can I truly call that money “ours”? What did I do to deserve it? By the end of two years teaching in Korea, we had all but combined our finances fully and I was almost debt-free. Jared wanted to use his salary to pay off the remaining $2,000 on my student loan, and I balked.

“It’s not your problem,” I said. “I feel like I’m dragging you down with me.”

“It doesn’t matter which one of us pays it,” he said. “It’s our money now.”

We cleared the last of my debt over two years ago, but to say that I am completely at peace with money would not be true. I still carry residual guilt from the past; if anyone’s a financial liability in this relationship, it’s me. I worry that I’ll slip into my old habits, even though there’s no evidence that I will. Our house loan frightened me at first, because I was nervous about getting into debt all over again, even though it was on completely different terms.

But.

What we have built as a result of that time is so much stronger than I would have predicted. Sharing our finances isn’t about who earns more or who spends more; it’s about managing the whole thing together. It’s knowing that if one of us loses our job, we share the burden. If one of us wins the lottery? We share that, too. (What’s that saying again? Oh, right—for richer or for poorer. Makes sense now.)

Do we still argue about money sometimes? Sure. Am I still tempted by boots and baked goods? Of course, but now I understand the opportunity cost of instant gratification and the value of a budget. Back when I was fretting about telling Jared the whole truth, I imagined the worst. What I got was the knowledge that if everything goes to shit, we don’t quit on each other. And these days, when I buy a pair of shoes, I do it with cash.

Lauren Fitzpatrick

Lauren graduated from Indiana University with no idea of what to do next, so she got a working holiday visa for Ireland. Over the next ten years she worked her way around the world, picking up a Master’s in travel writing and an Australian fiancé along the way. She is now based in Newcastle, Australia, and still doesn’t understand what “settling down” is supposed to mean.

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  • Sunny

    The fact that you used “opportunity cost” to think about your decisions definitely proves you married someone with a degree in economics. ;) I use opportunity cost to make decisions in my life too.

    Me and my fiance are in a similar situation, except he’s the one who worries his poor money management skills and money decisions (or lack thereof) he made when he was young will come back to haunt us. I’m no too worried because despite some student debt I’m confident in my money management skills, and I’m going into the marriage with the same mentality my dad always had – the money he worked for and made wasn’t all his, he made it for his wife and kids (thanks dad!). While my fiance inherited some different ideas about money from his dad, when we talk it sounds like he trusts me to guide our debt repayment schedules.

  • Emily Ardoin

    Wow. This article couldn’t have come at a better time. My fiance and I had our first real argument of our engagement about money this weekend. We had talked about money (he’s an accountant and I’m working on my MBA, so finances are something we both have a pretty good knowledge of), but this was the first time we had both really considered the implications of my student loan debt and our purchasing habits when looking at the future.

    We want to buy a house before we get married, we both have zero savings thanks to a recent move, and I’m still in school, which means zero income on my part. I’m dealing with a lot of guilt, knowing if he were on his own and not supporting me financially, he would own that house he’s been dreaming of.. It’s a tough burden to bear.

    I will be graduating soon, and hopefully can take on a full time job within the next couple of months. The stress of planning a wedding (thanks, WIC and all of the fun things I want to buy for the wedding!) and wanting to purchase a house in the next two years came to head this weekend. Thankfully, over the course of three long days filled with tears, we came to terms with what we are dealing with and made a solid plan for the future.

    It’s amazing how engagement brings things to light and forces you to face things you might have otherwise swept under the rug for another day. I’m pretty proud of how well my fiance and I have been communicating this weekend, and, even though I’m still going to have to deal with my guilt, I know he has my back.

  • Fiona

    “Sharing our finances isn’t about who earns more or who spends more; it’s about managing the whole thing together.” This is a good way to think about managing money…
    My fiance has grown up in a third world country with very limited resources, and recently, racism is preventing him from legally being allowed to work. We don’t have debt, but there has always been financial imbalance, compounded by the fact that I (as a woman in a hetero relationship) am the one with the financial power.

  • SK

    This was excellent to read! I am someone with a poor money past…a very, very recent past. And it scared the crap out of me to tell my (very soon to be legal!) partner about that. I was convinced she would break up with me as soon as she found out what my credit score was and how much student debt i owed. But guess what? She didn’t! I still feel loads of guilt about what she is inheriting from me in this relationship, but I just have to keep repeating this mantra: you are not your credit score. luckily I have a partner who helps me remember that every day.

    thanks for this piece!

  • Lauren from NH

    While I have always been of the philosophy that in a committed relationship it is OUR money and OUR future, that can be very problematic before being legally married. If the financially stronger partner carries some of the debt or expenses of the financially weak partner, they are taking on a significant risk, because essentially it is a bet being placed on the relationship’s longevity. Stay together forever and carrying your partner financially in the beginning results in huge rewards (affoarding a nice house together sooner by clearing one person debt, for example), but if the relationship only lasts another year or two, then whoa! you assisted them worth hundreds or thousands of dollars that you will never see again. That said, I have placed that bet. It can just be a pretty vulnerable and frightening place to be to have that much skin in the game.

    • KC

      1. I think it’s scary on both sides of that line. I’ve been the one putting in the money – and now I’m the one who isn’t “paying her keep” (not according to my partner, but according to me). Of the two, to be honest, *this* is by far (by far!) the more unpleasant, and I don’t even have anyone telling me I ought to be financially independent, or even, as far as I know, thinking it. I suspect how each side of an economic imbalance feels (and how “strongly” it feels) would vary significantly for different people, though.

      2. I’d argue that time spent with a partner (compounded enormously for women who especially want to have children with a partner and hence are working against a “clock” to find someone, get established, etc.) is also skin in the game, as are many other things (moving to be with a partner, etc.).

      3. I guess, mostly, yes. It is potentially scary to throw money at someone’s debt and not know whether it’s an investment in your own future or only someone else’s. But… there are lots of things about relationships that are scary (previous relationship baggage; someone who is so hot they could easily cheat on you; illness; in-laws; money; cross-cultural issues; fill in the blank). Each person gets to choose which of these are “too scary” or “too much” before taking further leaps into the relationship. So I’d argue that anyone who is worried their partner will resent paying off some of their debt should really trust their partner on whether this is a Big Scary to them or not so much.

      • KC

        (should also add: I’d personally probably also wait until things are legal before totally merging money/taking on big debt! Just, if someone reading this is the partner-with-debt, do trust your partner-with-money on whether it’s a big thing to them or not.)

      • Lauren from NH

        You do make a good point. The financially weak partner would also stand a lot to lose in the event of a break up. Without their partner’s support they may need to move back in with family or make other major adjustments to continue to make ends meet. I guess in my personal situation our dynamic is pushed a bit further out of wack because I am the one with the money and financial know how and he is the one with a pile of debt and shaky financial savy. That said he is learning/re-learning saving and spending and often it feels pretty awesome to be “murdering” his loans together. I don’t regret or resent assisting him or sharing our assets and debts, but at times I do feel the risk and responsibilty very acutely.

        • KC

          Disqus appears to have eaten my comment. But, speaking as someone who has sort of been on both sides of this one, I’d actually say that the psychological toll/guilt of being on the “receiving” end is enormous, and while letting go of “my cash” was also hard, it was peanuts compared to accepting help. But everyone is different.

        • KC

          (also, the shaky financial savvy combined with the debt would totally feel more risky to me than the pile of debt by itself. I’m so glad he’s learning/re-learning this stuff [it doesn’t magically appear in peoples’ brains] and so glad you’re mutually enjoying the destruction [bwahahaha! they shall not survive!] of his loans.)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I gave/loaned my then-fiance a few thousand dollars. He said his college needed to see a certain amount of money in his bank account in order to enroll him and renew his student visa, but that he didn’t actually need that much money to live. I expected the money to be back in my account within a couple months, but didn’t really care one way or another. We were getting married, and it’d all be “ours.” He broke up with me during those couple months and never returned the money.

        At the time, I felt maybe used. The timeline was suspicious, but the whole relationship was very foolish for both of us, and I mostly thought then, and think now, that after breaking up with me, he just didn’t know, emotionally, how to contact me about giving the money back.

        It’s been 8 years, and looking back I’m just amazed that I’d transfer so much money with so little thought. Now even regular expenses of that size are done with thought and angst. But at the time I didn’t think about emergency funds or retirement plans. I was in graduate school and under-budget. Loaning money was easier than loaning books (which I did get back from the guy, after sending someone to his house).

        • KC

          Oh, wow. Just… wow. That is… something. I do not think I have a useful emotional response to that.

          (Although: I’m glad you didn’t hugely care. I wish you had those few thousands back for something else now, though! But we’re all “eh, whatever” about different things at different times of life; growth/change/priorities are really interesting things. So. Yeah. Not very useful response. But wow.)

    • kcaudad

      I agree. Personally, I did not take on or pay off my fiance’s debt until we were officially married. We lived together for about 1.5 years before getting married, but did our best to keep the money seperate. I have seen this situation go south and one person end up with tons of credit card and buisness debt after a break up, so I did not want to have that happen to us.

      • Eh

        I am not paying my husband’s debt, well at least not directly. He pays it but it is part of our household budget so it is taken into consideration with how much money we pay out every month (e.g., he’s not paying it out of his “allowance”). When it is paid off, the money that he’s currently paying for it will go to pay for something else in the household budget.

    • Jen

      Lauren! I have meant to email you, forgive me :)
      In regards to what you said- I merged finances, including a pretty decent sized savings acct, with my partner before we were married- but after we were engaged. I trusted him for many reasons and it worked out but man, if it hadn’t- it could have been a huge problem. Its a super leap of faith to have money intertwined before you say the I-do’s.

      • Lauren from NH

        Hey! life = no problem :)

        To reconnect to what KC linked, http://www.npr.org/2012/07/16/156736915/call-me-maybe-when-your-school-loan-is-paid-in-full

        The tricky thing can be when that debt of one or both partners is financially and/or emotionally impeading the couple from going forward with getting married. As many wise APW ladies have said or lived, engagements and weddings can be done on the cheap and putting these life steps off because of financial hardship isn’t necessary, BUT for many people it wouldn’t personally feel quite real if performed beyond a certain level of austerity. So it would seem the security of marriage and paying down debts is somewhat at odds.

        • Jen

          That’s a really interesting article! My partner and I came into our relationship on very different levels financially- but I think we had a lot of frank conversations about financial stuff and we are now both very much on the same page. I think we both trust each other to move forward towards our goals together- but it did take some communication to get there. I did feel that way, however, before we got married- which made me trust in joining our finances together so early on. I am inclined to be a very trusting person, however :)

          • Jen

            Also, in regards to the article- isn’t this a little bit about what your priorities in life are? I had some requirements for a husband, but student loans (or a lack thereof) was not one of them. I am sure some other people would prefer a very stable financial background in order to start a secure financial life together- but maybe they wouldn’t require some of the things I really wanted/want for a husband and a future.

    • Meg Keene

      I mean, all that said, divorce doesn’t really protect you from money spent right? I actually don’t disagree (I refused to combine finances till we were married) just, in some way, it’s ALWAYS a risk, right? That’s just the risk of marriage. (Because obviously once you are hitched, “not helping your partner with their debt” is a fiction, because you have a shared financial future.

      • Amy March

        It can, actually. In non-community property states, property is split “equitably” on divorce. If Partner A has paid off 200k of Partner B’s pre-marital debt, a judge could consider that and award Partner A a greater than 50% share of the assets at divorce. There’s absolutely still a risk, but there are some legal options available whereas pre-marriage that money ( unless you draw up a loan contract) is just a gift.

        • Meg Keene

          Ah. See. Community property state here. Everything just gets lumped together and split, no equitable distribution.

  • Sarah E

    Great points. Money past trips me up, too, though I don’t think my partner frets about it the way I do. This spring, we finally opened a joint checking account and really settled a household budget, which made a huge difference for me. I feel so much better having things to track and not wringing my hands over every purchase out of my dwindling personal account.

    The past catches up with me for other reasons. Before (and while) completing his bachelor’s degree, my partner worked for about ten years in a great blue-collar career-track job. Because of that, and because tax returns continually replenish what his grad school fees take away, his personal checking account is quite a bit fatter than our joint account. It doesn’t come up day to day (at least, not that he’s gotten in the habit of paying with the joint account for things), but I still wonder what to do with that money. Is it his? Ours? Ours with qualifications?

    Add to that the stress that even though he’s the grad student, for two out of the three years of grad school, he’s certainly made more money than me through his stipend. And now, heading into the fourth year, when I’m making more money again, I’m self-employed, so I know a ton of what I make is going to be paying my tax bill at the end of the year. I’m supposed to be the one supporting him through school, and it always feels the other way around. I really sit with my money feelings a lot, because it’s just a thing. A made-up concept. So why the guilt and the stress? Uncomfortable reckoning with myself, for sure.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      If he’s getting a big refund every year, he should adjust his withholdings. Especially if the agreement is that his stipend/paycheck (and yours) go into a joint account, while the refund goes into a separate account.

      Of course, if you’re fine with how things are, don’t change it, but there are ways to get your refund as part of your regular income, rather than a big check in the spring.

  • KC

    I totally agree that you are not what you say you’re going to do… but I’d also step on a soapbox and say you’re not solely what you’ve done, either (although I totally get that there isn’t an easy, punchy way of saying what a human being is. Poets have spent time on this.).

    Habits and history affect who we are, but (as, even just on this level, demonstrated by your resistance to purchasing shoes on credit now) we are more than a swirl of habit/history even in those areas. And we are immeasurably more than that when you take us as whole human beings. So, yes, take debt (and other things that cost Future You more than you want to pay) super seriously (says someone who totally freaks out at the idea of any debt at all! yes, y’all! take money/freedom seriously, because of Future You and opportunities!), but also remember that your “economic worth” not where your full, real worth is.

    *gets off soapbox*

    • Emily

      I needed to hear this. Thank you.

      Today I’m being realistic about where my past choices have landed me in this moment and I don’t like what I’m seeing. I acknowledge and own my past choices… but I am not only my economic worth.

      • KC

        Hooray for being realistic! It can take serious guts to face things down, own them, and build from where you are, especially when that’s not where you feel like you “should” be.

        But yes. Your economic worth is not *you*. Truly, it isn’t. (as evidenced by being brave and facing things down – if you could put a dollar value on “being able to face down things you’d rather avoid for a little longer”, I’m pretty sure it’d be high!)

  • MC

    Thank you for this post! I was the one that entered into our relationship in debt from student loans, and Fiance was always so supportive of helping me pay them off. Initially I refused and wanted to pay them off all myself, because I felt like they were my burden, and I wanted to prove that I was responsible enough to manage them on my own. But then we combined all our finances and I don’t even think any more about whose money it is. It’s pretty nice to have some of that guilt alleviated, and to see the number get smaller and smaller every month.

    Talking frankly about money has been one of the hardest and most important parts of our relationship, and we’ve learned so much from it. Even though I was the one in debt, Fiance doesn’t have… great money management skills because his parents basically funded his life through college. That freaked me out at first, but I’m realizing that we balance each other out. I’m the one that compulsively transfers money into our savings account after each pay period, and he’s the one that encourages me to just buy the damn things that I need to buy. (I recently put off buying a yoga mat for… a year because I thought it was an unnecessary purchase. Eventually he just reminded me that we can afford to spend $15 on something I’ll use and he bought one for me.)

  • Eh

    My husband was not very good with money before we met. When we met he was in college and had student loan debt from a university program he’d never completed. His debt and money management issues came up early on in our relationship. Less than four months after we started dating he had to ask his parents for money to pay tuition. This resulted in discussions about why he had to ask his parents for money (1. He hadn’t earned enough during the summer to pay for his tuition and living expenses, 2. He was unable to apply for government student loans). The next semester he ran out of savings to pay his rent. He didn’t really have a plan to deal with it (i.e., he knew going into the semester that he didn’t have enough money for rent but had no plan to get a part-time job) and then his parents took him to the slots and his dad gave him $40 and he turned it into $1000. The next week he got a part-time job for a few weeks which helped him pay his rent until the end of the semester. He lived off that money as long as he could while looking for a summer job in his field. When one didn’t materialize he had to go back to his restaurant job he had the summer before. His parents have admitted that they never taught their sons how to budget or how to manage finances.

    After we got married we started looking at houses. His father kept telling us to hold off and save more. The thing is that he had no clue what my financial situation looked like. I have made it clear to my husband and my in-laws that it’s none of my in-laws business how much I make or how much I have saved or how much debt I have. So what my in-laws didn’t know is that I had no debt (paid off my student loan within two months of finishing my Masters degree) and that I had more than enough for a 20% down payment and closing costs (plus a little extra for some furniture and renovations) squirreled away.

    My husband and I are working on getting on the same page with spending (e.g., “managing the whole thing together”). He’s pretty impulsive so he’s made a couple of purchases that I wish we had discussed beforehand. I agree that we needed the items that he bought but I think we should have discussed the amount before he bought them. He’s a “we need it, we have the money, so just buy it” kind of guy.

    • Lian

      I’m kind of in the position of your husband – my fiance has a lot of savings (partially through his own work and saving, partially through inheritance), whereas I don’t. I’m more impulsive with spending money than he is, and he is a bit worried about that. But I don’t have debt, have never had debt, and so I feel like I am relatively responsible with money – just not compared to him!

      Good on you for having saved so much and keeping your business your own.

    • KC

      I don’t know if it would work with your relationship, but we (and a lot of other couples we know) have, at various times, had loose “if something costs more than X, we discuss it first” rules for not-in-the-budget items. (obviously, the power bill: in the budget: do not need to discuss before paying it; but stuff/experiences/etc., definitely discuss) The amount flexes with the financial situation and how comfortable each person is with that financial situation, but it’s a “both of us check in” rule that sometimes helps people?

      • Eh

        I am trying to get him to do that. He thinks it’s ok to buy things we need even if they cost more than X amount if we have the money. For example, in the spring we needed a lawn mower so on his day off he went to buy one while I was at work. The one he bought cost a lot more than the budget we had discussed. He felt though since we had the money for it and we needed it and he liked it better than lawn mowers in our budget that he could go over the budget. Just last week he did the same thing when we had a contractor do a quote for some work we want done on the house (it was higher than I wanted to pay but my husband thought it was reasonable so agreed to pay for it without getting a second quote).

        • KC

          NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Erm. Yeah, on a visceral level, I would apparently not be okay with that at all. Maritally, if you’ve discussed something and agreed on something, then you at least vaguely stick with that decision until further discussion or a check-in occurs, period, unless there are some Serious mitigating circumstances.

          I mean, if you have enough for retirement and for whatever else you want, and you still have tons of money, then fine; then you don’t need to agree on a budget for items (and then re-discuss them if the budgeted amount appears to be too small for the preferred option), and you don’t need to get second quotes, etc. We, however, Do Not have that kind of cash.

          So: there are different levels of having/not having money (in growing debt; in debt but starting to pay it down; not in debt but don’t have enough to meet other financial goals [retirement, future house, big travel plans] yet; not in debt and have met financial goals [does anyone ever actually totally get there? probably not]). Some people feel like if they’re not in debt, they can spend as much of the money that exists as they want to without any future repercussions, but that’s not exactly true if you want to use the money that exists for something else someday.

          It sounds like maybe you’re not on the same page as to what level you’re on and hence how you need to approach money? (and that would freak me out, personally, and be a We Need To Talk About This Until We Are On The Same Page thing, I suspect, but everyone’s different)

          • Eh

            I wasn’t ok with it and we are working on it. He has never had money (I make a lot more than him and have been out of school longer than him) or been in a relationship where his decisions impacted someone else before, so this is all new to him. I work Monday to Friday and he has two days off during the week so it makes sense for him to be home when contractors come by (instead of me taking a day off work). And I need to be able to trust him with money. This week we are having another contractor come by to give us a quote on other work we want done and then next week we’re getting a second quote. And then we are going to sit down and make the decision together.
            All of this reminds me that we also need to sit down with a financial advisor again. I currently have retirement savings (plus a pension through work) and a savings account that I contribute to every month. My husband does not so instead of saving it for retirement, a rainy day or for something we want, he just spends it. On the other hand, I see that money that he over spent on the lawn mower or the work on the house as money that could have gone towards something else (like the fence that needs to be fixed).

          • Jen

            Wow. This is a tough situation. When things arise with my husband and I not being on the same page (as they always will sometimes :)), I try to explain the bigger picture problems when I talk to my partner- so he understands that I am not just mad that he did xyz because I didn’t want him to- but also because it expands to this larger issue (in this case being disrespecting your mutual decision and breaking the trust you had put in him to spend x amount of money). I bet your husband, though, will get better with time once you keep going through these things with him and having open conversations. Hang in there!

          • Eh

            He internalizes so it’s important for me to make sure that he understand that it’s about the bigger issue and not the specific situation. He will focus on the specific issue instead of realizing that it’s a bigger relationship issue and repeatedly do the same behaviour because he doesn’t see the connection.

            One thing I love about APW is that people are so supportive and so real (yes, married couples aren’t always on the same page).

          • KC

            Yay for working on it, and yay for a financial adviser who can (hopefully) be the “bad guy” instead of it just being you saying “quit spending so much money on skittles!”.

            I think the biggest itch-point about the lawnmower or contractor situation for me would be the “I agreed that I would be fine with X and you did Y, which is NOT X and that freaks me out” part. The financial management part would also give me hives to some degree, but the not-apparently-understanding-agreement-in-the-same-way part would be a bigger issue for me, I think. Hard to separate what part is what, though, when it’s the same event (even just me reacting viscerally to the theoretical concept, and I’m having a hard time detangling “aaack! surprise money, down the toilet!” from “aaack! can’t trust that communication has happened and/or that decisions will be honored!” [because maybe you two have a different idea of how flexible budget ranges are? or he didn’t hear/understand all of something? or something else is going on?]).

          • Eh

            Our financial adviser is very balanced and blunt when needed (she told me I needed to spend money and go on a vacation a couple of years ago). She has already told him he needs to start saving money (he just couldn’t commit to it the last time we were there because it was just before we closed on our house).

            The trust and communication issue bother me more. (I’m not saying that we have money that can go down the toilet but we aren’t hurting… this just means that other things get delayed.) To build up my trust of him, when we moved into our house he was given the responsibility of paying certain bills and dealing with those companies (at the apartment I did everything). He is good at paying them on time. He’s not so good when it comes to contacting them. (He was supposed to call our insurance company months ago. It came up again on the weekend, so I reminded him this morning and he still didn’t do it today. It’s nothing urgent, it just needs to get done.) The thing about the contractor situation that bothered me the most is that he just made all of the decisions about how much was ok to spend and what things were going to look like without me. If he had slowed down to asked me about the colour or design then we would have had time to discuss the cost. Partially I think that it’s he didn’t understand what I expected him to do. (I asked him to get two quotes for the work and do the research – he decided based on the research that the first quote was reasonable but didn’t think to check things with me since I asked him to do it. In his mind he was doing the responsible thing because he was getting things done instead of procrastinating.) I am trying to be super patient about these things since he’s new to these things.

          • KC

            Yay for a financial adviser who will tell you to *spend some money already* if that’s the direction you’re going askew in! That’s pretty fantastic! :-) Also yay for not hurting for money! :-)

            I can definitely see miscommunication being at issue with the contractor thing… but still, if you say “please get two quotes” and he hears an implicit “and then decide it”, then he should still get two quotes, from my personal trust-handoff point of view. The part you don’t specify isn’t his problem to infer/mind-read, but the parts you’ve agreed on he needs to either re-negotiate with you or *just do the way you agreed*. (of course, not being consulted on color or design would have me very upset indeed, but that’s not necessarily the spouse’s problem if they don’t understand this – I remember early in our marriage my husband not realizing that how things look matters to me [I’m not good at home decor, but I do still have opinions about furniture combinations being *really* ugly] and hence just doing things without consultation, assuming that having it done was the priority, and not realizing that *how* it’s done might matter… husband is So Proud because he got done what wife had mentioned she wanted to do before she had to do it! While she was at work, even! Wife bursts into angry, disappointed tears at the sight. Not ideal. :-) We have both improved at this since then, thankfully…)

            A big plus is that communication appears to be something that gets better with work (both of you working on it) and time. But augh for all the speed bumps in the interim…

          • Eh

            I totally agree that he shouldn’t have to mind-read that I want to be consulted on colour/design. I could live with the decision he made regarding colour and design so I was able to focus on the trust/communication issue (both sides). What I learned from that situation was that I need to be more specific in my instructions, for example, what parts of the process I want to be involved in (e.g., I thought that get two quotes would mean get two quotes and then we can talk about it; not get one quote and make a decision while I am at work or even get two quotes and make a decision with out me). He is getting quotes on another set of renovations. This time he already has two contractors lined up to get quotes and he has agreed that we will make the decision together.

            Another reason it was good I was ok with the design was because he was very proud that he did something without me having to remind him again. I am trying to get him to do things with less reminding so at least part of his behaviour was moving in the correct direction. (His father does things wrong on purpose to get out of doing it or being asked to do it in the future – he advises that his sons do the same, in from of their wives. Growing up when my MIL asked my husband to do something she would watch over him and if he did it wrong she would take over. He is learning that’s not how we want to do things.)

            I’m glad to hear this communication thing gets better with work (and we laugh about these things a lot).

          • KC

            Oh, dear, family baggage *plus* learned-helplessness *plus* the regular ol’ learning-how-each-other-ticks thing. Hooray for making positive progress in spite of the whole load!

            And yes, when you’re both aware of problems and communication gaps and whatnot and working on them, things get waaay smoother; yes, it still takes some time to learn how to work together well, but not actually as much as you might expect. I’ve also found it useful to remember the HALT thing someone told me about; try to avoid working on emotional stuff when you’re hungry, (already) angry, lonely, or tired, ideally. (I mean, yeah, don’t postpone things forever if you never hit a spot where you’re not tired, but you know… generally.)

            (and also: hooray for a design you’re fine with, even though the price is higher than you wanted. That is fantastic, given everything else in the situation!)

  • Daisy6564

    I’m a bit on the opposite side of your story. I have no debt thanks to my parents paying for college. My husband had a car loan and about $16k in student loans when we started dating. He paid off the car and got the student loans down to about $9,000 himself before we got married. He still feels ashamed and horrible about his debt even though it is student loans and no other debt, nothing to be ashamed of. He feels that he is dragging us down. He has excellent money habits besides that (except for not asking for more at work).

    Since we have been dating I have been making more than him and been able to put away about $30,000 in savings. All of his extra goes to his loans so he has little savings to speak of. I am having a hard time really thinking of that as “our money” since I saved most of it before we were actually married. Part of me wants to just wipe out his debt so we can be debt free and part of me is like Scrooge McDuck, eyeing my hard-earned pile of cash and not wanting to part with it. We opened a joint account for living expenses when we moved in together but have not really combined finances besides that.

    Add to the mix that I am recently unemployed so we may actually be relying only on his income in a few months when my severance runs out. For now we are putting off paying down the loans until I get a job incase we need that savings for living expenses.

    • KC

      Yesss. We combined finances after marriage (one account got income dropped into it and expenses taken out of it for both of us), but there was still that other savings account out there which we both knew where it came from, if that makes sense, even though both our names were now on it. Letting go of the “I am continually adding to this account and it will turn into a house someday” thing was hard (after marriage, we spent some of it on not-a-house. An enough-zeros-to-make-me-gulp chunk; which, okay, it doesn’t take many zeros to make me gulp. What we spent it on was totally worth it, but it still totally made me gulp even as I said “yes, this is a good thing to do!”.).

      That said, not bringing in a greater income (later on in marriage) was/is actually a lot harder for me, in a lot of ways; it was easier to let go of part of the cash than to let go of part of what was apparently tied pretty snugly (wrongly! but snugly) in to some aspect of my self-esteem. (I hope it isn’t for you! and I hope you find a stellar job soon!)

      And, aside, I think it makes an enormous amount of sense to wait to pay off student loans a bit until you’re a smidge more secure income-wise. Student loans are a whole different ballgame (in terms of interest and whatnot) vs. credit card debt.

      • Daisy6564

        Yes to the house vision. I see my (our) nest egg as a down payment for a house. He wants that too and is not pushing me to payoff his loans but I also don’t want to take on any additional debt while we still have loan debt. We live in a very expensive housing market and it will be a while before we can save enough for a down payment even with what I already have put away so I am hesitant to dip in to it at all. I really just want to start seeing it more as “our” money and less as mine and do what is best for us as a couple.

        Also, while he has very responsible spending habits, his family falls in to the “we have no money/talking about money scares us/let’s just ignore it” camp. They have no investments or plan for the future (or will!) besides working very hard and always feeling the pinch. He knew nothing about investing or maximizing savings when we met and talking about money makes his stomach hurt.

        My parents are a banker and an accountant so I had stocks as a baby and have had dinner time money conversations as long as I can remember. My parent’s investments largely paid for me to go to college so I want to start now doing the same for our future children. He thinks I’m a little crazy for thinking so far ahead.

        • Daisy6565

          He is also a musician and really needs a new, large, expensive instrument since the one he has been using is borrowed and from the 1950s. Although we have the money to buy him a new instrument I have found myself talking about ways he can earn extra money to buy himself one. I don’t know if I am being unfair since I just bought myself a new camera and am planning to buy a bike out of the money I have saved. To be fair his instrument would cost 4-5x what my camera cost or roughly equal to the down payment on a car (which I also need).

          • KC

            Can you sit down a couple of nights and make A Plan for what you both want to save for future eventualities and how you want to use what you have now? Sometimes it makes sense to earn extra money on the side – sometimes it doesn’t – sometimes our sticker shock about what other people want to buy is telling us something useful – sometimes it isn’t. :-)

            (says someone who has also experienced the “aack! why do you want to spend money??? you shouldn’t spend money! we shouldn’t spend money! oh, I guess I just spent some money last week, didn’t I? AAACK! but we have money. but is it enough?” sort of flailing)

        • Apples

          This is my/our situation almost exactly! I grew up with money conversations at the dinner table and discussions on how money decisions other people had made could be done differently. My fiance…now husband!!!…basically saved for a cheap car, and never saved again. And his parents couldn’t even cover a $350 surprise bill this past spring. He mostly just nods along with whatever plan I come up with for our money, but I’m slowly working on getting him more involved. He recently asked how exactly an index mutual fund works (which is what I have him put his monthly Roth IRA contribution into…and I make him do it himself so eventually he asks these sorts of things)! I have struggled a bit with bringing in plenty of savings to his fairly large 5 figure debt and now being the higher earner. I’m at peace with it most of the time, but there are moments…

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Like Meg, I struggled with the “my money”/”our money” thing. Besides just the passage of time, something that’s helped is a concrete, married life goal helped with my pre-marriage savings. We want to move to a bigger apartment, which would mean higher rent, which would mean a bigger emergency fund. We can wait until we build up a bigger emergency fund just from post-wedding earnings, or we can include my pre-marriage emergency fund as part of our married emergency fund. With the latter option, we can move several months, maybe a whole year, sooner.

    • http://kara-tanoue.blogspot.com/ Kara T

      This is us too. I came into marriage with no debt and a rather sizable nest egg due to some very large scholarships I received in school and other savings. My partner had very reasonable student loan debt. My savings meant we could afford the down payment on a house.

      Now, we live solely off my income while my partner is finishing medical school (thankfully it’s enough to avoid piling on much more student loan debt). And while I know that medical school is well-worth it, it is sometimes a bit strange to be the one who has really carried the finances for most of our relationship. To be fair, my partner is very good with money and has an awesome credit score that allowed us to score a stellar mortgage rate. But it definitely has led to some interesting dynamics around money, especially since I’m the primary breadwinner as the female partner in a hetero relationship. Spending is something we’ve had to have a lot of discussions about, since there definitely is a part of me that looks at our joint accounts and still sees it as “my money” since it’s come from my paycheck and savings.

  • Lauren

    Your post brings up a topic I haven’t really thought of before, mostly because I assumed that everyone had some kind of debt, especially college debt. What would have really surprised me about my guy is if he told me he didn’t have any! Has anyone’s relationship ended because you’re significant other freaked about your debt? I am really curious!

    • MC
      • Meg Keene

        OMG NPR. Best article title ever.

        • MC

          RIGHT?!

    • http://instagram.com/mint.car Kamala

      Same here! My fiance and I started dating in college, a small private (read: expensive) college. We never felt the need to bring it up because it was just the assumption!

    • Meg Keene

      It’s not always true! I was (am) debt free getting hitched. (Now we have student loans, but not mine!) I had college debt, but I’d busted ass and managed to pay them off a little early by 29, when we got married. But there are plenty of people who went to less expensive schools that don’t even have student loans! (I mean, no debt and ASSETS are obviously totally different, but hey ;)

      But yeah. I think I would have had concerns marrying someone who had a lot of consumer debt, since I’ve never had any. (I’m…. militant about consumer debt. I lived on minimum wage in NYC and still refused to charge things. Because I had NO MONEY. So… in my logic, how on earth would I pay it off later with interest?) None of this is in judgement, because lots of normal people have consumer debt! But as someone who’s always been nuts about not having it, I think there would have been CONVERSATIONS. I doubt I would have called anything off, but there would have been hard talks.

      All that said, I think consumer debt and student loan debt are different for people emotionally.

      • KC

        I totally agree on the “if I don’t have money to pay for it, how am I going to pay for it *with interest*”, but I also remember living in the dorms first year in college and a surprising percentage of people on the floor I lived on had the life plan of “getting a well-paying job” (field unspecified; work load “light” and “fun”; this was just somehow magically supposed to happen once you got out of college after putting in the minimum effort required to pass your classes), which seemed NUTS to me (with the occasional alternative plan of “marrying someone rich”, which also seemed nuts to me as a sole plan). So, if you expect a well-paying job to appear just around the corner (either for good reasons or completely unfoundedly), then random consumer debt might look less weird from that perspective – you’re having fun now, while you have free time, and then you’ll pay for the good times later, easily, when your job is piling money on top of you.

        I do also know people who have been backed into apparent “consumer” debt by tough financial situations (aka: yes, they have credit card debt, but it is due to emergency dental bills during an extended period of hard-fought unemployment, not restaurants/shopping/travel), which would be very different to me, as would medical debt in general. If you don’t have much money, you can choose between eating pasta at home and spending less money or going out for a night on the town and spending a lot more – you can’t choose whether you get appendicitis or not – but they’d both show up as not-school-debt. So, yes. Conversations. :-)

        • Meg Keene

          Oh, I agree with all of these conversations. Stuff’s complicated.

          I also wonder how much worldview has to do with how we use consumer debt. (I think the obvious answer is a lot, in a lot of ways.) I also went to college with mostly kids that assumed life was full of success and money, because their lives up till then had been full of success and money. Because I’d never been in an environment where there was a comfortable amount of money, I could HOPE, but I couldn’t imagine it as a reality. (I think that’s set me up to do better in the long run, or at least be happier with whatever I ended up with.)

          That said, I didn’t end up with an emergency that only a credit card could save me from (thank the god lord). And that’s yet another situation.

          • KC

            The weird part is that I went to a state school (yes, a top-notch state school, but not Fancy)(and also not bad as far as in-state tuition went), and the whole Graduating In Anything Equals Lots Of Money, At Least For Me thing was *incredibly* common for the incoming class on my dorm floor, even though I can’t think of anyone who was silver-spooning it. I gotta wonder if high school guidance counselors had been using that line to get kids to go to college or what exactly.

            I do think having hope, not assumptions, of things that are possibilities/probabilities does set you up better! I mean, knowing you can maybe get there but you will have to put effort in and it may not immediately show has gotta be better, work and outcome-wise, than “of course it will just automatically happen, no effort required”, right?

            And yeah, situations. There are a lot of not-really-your-choice things where, say, having a safety net (such as The Bank of Parent or physical community help or whatever) vs. not makes the difference; or just not having the situation (appendicitis or accidentally graduating into a recession or whatever) makes the difference.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            For a couple generations, graduating from college in almost anything DID mean an upper-middle-class lifestyle with only bunny slope bumps along the way. I don’t think my parents, who are huge on work ethic and really good about saving, etc., could have prepared me for today’s job insecurity and declining middle class. It’s just not a world they or their parents knew.

          • KC

            That’s true, but those generations also had a different ideal of a job as not necessarily something you’ll totally enjoy or that brings you “fulfillment” or that makes you a special snowflake (at least, most of the adults in my life had their jobs but their jobs weren’t, like, their favorite thing to do ever. They might be proud of doing a good job at what they do, or not; in very few cases did they consider their regular jobs “cool”, though, or they’d-consider-doing-the-same-thing-after-retirement-if-they-volunteered. [some had part-time gigs on the side which would definitely qualify there, but those were part-time for this-is-not-a-viable-full-time-job reasons]). I mean, yeah, ideally you don’t hate your job, and hopefully you’ll enjoy some aspects of it, and hopefully you’ll be good at it, but my peers were expecting something Special For Them as well as having their chosen lifestyle funded. So maybe a bad mix of those generational college-degree-equals-success expectations plus a heavy dose of “you can be whatever you want to be!” stuff growing-up?

            But yes; the whole job-security-smashup and recession and various college-educated fields getting crushed or outsourced is kinda newer. This is true. I’d just already had a few semi-real jobs by the time I hit 18, so the fact that most of the working world is unglamorous was ingrained, and I’d had a relative who had been educated for a creative field and hadn’t been able to get work in it, so the “an education guarantees you your chosen job!” thing was also obviously not true for some fields (esp. things like theatre or creative writing). So maybe I was the weird one. And I did end up with a career where I enjoy a lot of it (you basically reframe it into solving puzzles!), so that was nice. But that did take a decent amount of thought (what am I good at? what will people pay people to do? what fields have low unemployment rates?) and effort and also some “coincidences”… so, not a guarantee either.

      • Lauren from NH

        I think I would have a hugely difficult time with luxury spending credit card debt. My dad was a spender and it drove my mom crazy. And my sister is becoming like that, very keeping up with the Jones when she is in school with very limited income from summer work. For my sister it is definitely connected to emotional issues. So to me that kind of out of control spending would be indicative of a sickness in a sense and more than I could handle. We can be friends while you are working on getting it together, but I couldn’t have a closer relationship than that, when I fundamentally dislike and fear the way someone approaches money.

      • Alyssa M

        I would say somebody who is militant about consumer debt considering marrying someone with lots of consumer debt had really better have those CONVERSATIONS, because to me it speaks to a fundamental difference in lifestyle and priorities that could be HARD on a marriage.

        Emergency debt and student loans are one thing, but if my partner (one of those magical unicorns who actually graduated debt free) were to attempt building a life with someone who was accepting of consumer debt, it wouldn’t matter how much he loved them… it would end badly.

  • Jen

    I was really lucky to not have any debt when I met my now-husband. He had student loan debt- that we actually got on the topic of on our first date! I knew his situation going into our relationship and we worked through the challenges it did present (and still does). Thanks for this article- it just reminded me of how important working to getting out of debt is!

  • kcaudad

    My husband had a hard time with this topic, as he was on the same side of the situation as Lauren. I had no debt, a modest savings, and really low paying jobs for a few years before we met. He was in college living off of loans and working a ton, but still not making enough $. When he graduated, we were planning our wedding. He had told me that he had student loan debt, but didn’t know how much. Once those loans started coming due after graduation, he was in for quite a shock at the total amount! He came to me about it and freaked out thinking that I would break up with him or not want to marry him! I told him that I wanted to marry HIM, dispite the $ situation. We decided to work on it together after the wedding. Almost 2 years later, we are still working on it, and had a heated discussion over the weekend about $, debt & future plans. We re-prioratized and decided on our future goals for our $, and finally admitted to eacother that debt sucks and it sucks not being able to afford other things because you want to pay off the debt… but that is the situation that we are in together. Finally admitting that and changing our goals seemed to help us both feel better!

  • Hannah

    I really appreciated this piece. Even though neither my FH nor I have significant debt, money is still one of those things that makes me squirm! We’ve been dating for 6.5 years, living together for 5, and since we’ve lived together, we’ve had completely separate finances and we’ve just always split any joint expenses (rent, bills, food) right down the middle. Now that we’re engaged, we’re looking at combining our finances, and the shift from “my money” to “our money” is weird- not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s just a different way of thinking. It’s like, will I still feel ok spending a large chunk of change on getting my hair done when it’s our money vs. just mine? And since we now make about the same amount of money, will we both contribute to our savings in the same way when all this time, we’ve kept how we spend our money on ourselves pretty much private.

    Anyway, this post gave me a lot to think about, so thanks!

    • Laura

      Something that I’ve found helpful….my husband and I completely joined finances when we got married. Everything that we buy comes out of the same joint bank account. However, we designated a certain amount of money each month that we call our “fun money.” We can spend it however we want, and we can’t comment on or judge how the other person spend’s theirs (the only exception being that we can’t purchase something that the other person is opposed to on a moral level).

      The money rolls over from month to month, and we just individually keep track of how much we have. It alleviates a lot of the anxiety about spending money on things that seem frivolous or unnecessary to the other partner. He goes out and buys God knows what camping knives and fly fishing gear and expensive whiskey, while I’ve saved mine to buy a DSLR camera, lots of happy hours with friends, and a plane ticket to visit my best friend for a long weekend.

      Just one way of doing it, but it’s nice to have “our money” for 99% of our purchases and then a sneaky “my money” option for when I’m feeling frivolous or don’t want to justify a purchase to my partner.

      • Kirstin

        We are trying this same technique too!

      • http://www.aprilbooth.com/ April

        This sounds like a great option!

    • Emily

      We have a joint account that we put a predetermined amount into every other week (we alternate weeks). We’ve identified what that account pays for: mortgage, groceries, utilities, cell phones, etc. Our other things–(gas, clothing, fun stuff) we buy out of our own accounts.

  • Kirstin

    Thank you so much for this post. It is very timely, as we just finally sat down and spelled out every single piece of debt that we have brought into our marriage this last week. A month after getting married. We’ve both known that the other had debt, and vaguely what it was from and about how much it was. I think that my husband considered mine the “good” kind of debt, because mine was more from student loans, where his was more from credit cards. There was definitely some guilt/embarrassment from both of us, so we just each kept doing our own thing. It was our marriage counselor that finally pushed us to write it all down and get it together into a solid plan. We had always planned that we would move towards a joint finances model once we were married, but we kept putting it off and saying we’d do it “after the wedding” and then “after the honeymoon.” I’m glad we finally did it. It felt really good to have a chat about our different approaches to chipping away at our debt, and how we want to move forward, doing it together. We now need to spell out our long term financial goals, and what we want to work on, step-by-step.

  • Megera

    When I started dating my fiance, he was unpleasantly surprised by my credit card debt: he finished a 3-year degree ten years ago, while I was only a couple of years out of a decade of undergrad and grad school. Part of my debt was because my salary was catching up with my education, but more of it was because (although it shames me to admit it) I felt like being single was temporary and that until I had a partner there was no point in saving for a future I couldn’t imagine.

    I’ve historically been pretty careful with money (and it hasn’t been difficult for me to scale back my spending so I can save money for our future), so for me, becoming part of a couple made a significant difference in my spending habits for emotional reasons. I have so many great things to plan and save for that it doesn’t seem like such a chore; before, planning for the future was rough because I wasn’t confident that I would like what the future held.

    • BeeAssassin

      Super helpful to hear this side of the story. I have friends who, despite making good money and being really smart, independent women in many ways, don’t seem to have it together enough to plan and save for the future, whether that’s retirement or a house or emergency fund. And they tell me that it’ll all work out “when they meet someone.” It drives me batty because all I hear is the anti-feminist undertones of that financial plan. It didn’t cross my mind that it might also stem from not being confident about liking their future.

      • KC

        Ditto! This “you are a smart lady in basically all ways except financial!” thing has baffled me with friends, too!

        But if it doesn’t look like you’ll ever be able to get what you want, then saving for something nebulous and unpleasant-sounding would feel self-defeating – better a little enjoyment (shoes, etc.) now than no enjoyment ever, I guess. And that makes sense to me now that I’ve read Megera’s comment (previously: I wanted a house from forever, so saving for a house made sense, especially when I expected to be permanently single! so why are these ladies who are making more than me not socking away any money???). I’m also realizing that saving for nursing home care feels kind of that way to me – yes, if I needed nursing home care, I’d also need the money to pay for it, but I *really* don’t want to be in a nursing home, y’know? So saving for that sort of thing is highly unappealing in concept and has to be more automated and not-really-a-choice-based than motivation-to-skip-the-latte-based.

      • Megera

        Yes! I’m pretty loud about my feminism, and I hated that I couldn’t reconcile my savings habits with my beliefs. But I live in an area where a 1-bedroom apartment is about $40K, so I would never be able to afford the kind of place I wanted (garden) for what I could save living alone, even if I pinched every possible penny. If that’s the reality, why scrimp and save to own a small apartment that wouldn’t have room for a prospective partner?

        • KC

          When I was single, I just didn’t have a clue what housing prices were or would be, but knew I was a long way away, and hence was just saving until I “got there”, expecting that to be at least a decade of apartment-sharing with roommates, etc. before getting close. But if one has actually done the number-crunching (I also want a garden!) and realized it’s not going to be feasible in your area in your lifetime given your career (or even just “it’s going to take me 20 years to afford a down payment large enough to be able to handle the mortgage… augh.”), then that would be dispiriting to say the least! (I’m… rather glad I didn’t crunch numbers then. That would have made me sad.)

      • Laura

        Yes to this! I have become a take-control-of-your-finances evangelist for the women in my life, whether single, partnered, married, whatever. Women avoiding tackling personal finance head-on is just one of those issues that gets me worked up. I’ve heard so much “investing just seems confusing so I don’t bother” or “I never figured out how XYZ tax issue works anyway” or “Oh, I just let [male partner or my dad, usually] handle that.” Informing people that I handle all of the finances in my relationship (day-to-day budgeting, investments, taxes, etc.) still gets looks of surprise, presumably because I have a man to do it for me.

        So I feel free to dole out advice and encourage women to save, invest, and understand their finances as much as possible

        • Violet

          And you know, the irony is that once they open an account up, (on average) women actually do BETTER in their investments than men, because (again, generalities) women don’t over-estimate what they know, and therefore hold onto their positions longer and ask questions rather than make assumptions. (https://www.tiaa-cref.org/public/advice-guidance/woman-to-woman/invest-like-a-woman?p=1331944007105)

          • Bets

            My mom and aunts have always emphasized how important it is for women to manage their own money. The advice qualifies as both feminist and non-feminist, but makes me feel such female solidarity when I hear it.

            Some of my aunts were badly screwed over financially from divorce and long-term relationships. My mom is happily married after 35 years and was mostly a stay-at-home mom. The advice goes like this:

            Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. (Really – even with joint accounts, have more than one account a different bank.) Always set a little aside for a handful of investments in your own name. You just never know (infidelity, incapacitation, getting sued, changes in property rights in your country, etc.) And if at the end of the day you’re still happily married after several decades together, your investments would’ve grown and you’ll have a retirement bonus.

            My stay-at-home mom did this by pinching pennies from the household budget and investing it. I still remember how she glowed with pride when she surprised my dad with how much her investments had grown, years later. It just meant so much to her to be able to contribute when my dad was otherwise the sole wage-earner.

            The thing is, as a double-income family one can still do something similar and with more equality: put whatever is left from your monthly/yearly household budget into separate savings accounts/investments for each partner. You can totally be transparent about the savings. What’s worthwhile (to me personally, of course heavily biased by my relatives’ experiences) is to have assets to call your own that you can cultivate over time.

  • Alice

    Wow, what a good topic. I am on the debt side of things in a major way. Although I have no loans from my undergrad degree because of my parents and some inheritance, I just finished my first year of vet school, and will be looking at a total debt in six digits by the time I graduate. And this is despite a hundred-thousand dollar contribution on my part. Obviously this shows some fundamental issues with the US education system, but it has been a tremendous burden for me to bring my new husband into. Fortunately he was there when I agreed to take out the first set of loans (and damn near gave up on vet school), so there was no surprise for him. But how can we justify this? On the other hand, how can I just give up on the start of a career that I’ve dreamed of, and worked so, so hard for? We are still figuring this out, and no doubt we will be for some years. But, much as I hate to involve him, it’s good to have an ally.

  • Caitlin_DD

    “Buckling down and paying off my debt was the easy part. The hard part was watching Jared build his savings, which would eventually become our savings. To this day, a part of me struggles knowing that a big chunk of our house deposit came from that money he put away back in 2009, when I wasn’t contributing to the pile. Can I truly call that money “ours”?”

    This. Even if it’s in the same account, I’m still doing the mental math. I put in… He put in… I can only spend…

    • Meg Keene

      If it makes anyone feel better, at some point you do actually loose track. (And I’m a counter). I brought the savings into our marriage (David had burned through his with law school), and I supported us for a good while after. But at this point, five years in, there just is no way to count. Who made what, who’s sacrifices and support made what possible? Who knows. Numerically or emotionally, who even knows.

      • Caitlin_DD

        That is reassuring, actually.

      • http://www.aprilbooth.com/ April

        I find this really comforting. I’ve been having a heck of a time trying to resolve how I feel about “our money”, being the lower earner. I’ve been trying to remember that there is more than one way to contribute to a partnership.

        • Sarah E

          That’s one of the hardest things for me to remember. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of “well, if I’m not bringing in more $$, I should really make sure I get those dishes done.” I often feel like the more burdensome partner. Some of that, I think, stems from always wanting to improve, to try, to go, to progress, to always push for a better and better life, whereas my partner is laid back and can always find contentment in the moment, so from my perspective it looks like I’m never satisfied and always pushing when he’d be perfectly fine no matter what.

      • MDBethann

        Same here. I had the down payment for our house because he was stuck with some debt from his first marriage (he paid it off before we got married – that was our joint goal). And at the time, I was making more than he did. But my pay has plateaued and his continued to go up, so he makes more than I do now. Two years into marriage (and 4 into homeownership), we’re doing some renovations on our home, which is coming out of his account and the joint account. My savings will be our rainy day fund, since baby is due this fall. It’s a lot, and I know we both feel a bit overwhelmed by it, but we’re fortunately in pretty secure fields, that, barring a federal government shut down or default (which is why we have our rainy day fund), we should be able to recoup our renovation costs. Still doesn’t make it any less scary to deplete the nest egg though.

  • Violet

    My partner and I realized that while it can unpleasant to discuss/witness each other’s tough things (like debt, for example) there’s a certain amount of “seeing how the sausage gets made” in a relationship. That is, you’re building something together. It’s not always gonna be neat and pretty, and you can’t only show your partner your “good side.” But just as you have things you’re working on, so does your partner. Thank goodness no one’s perfect, amirite?

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

      Okay, so I am a “mostly vegetarian,” but I must say that I really liked your seeing how the sausage gets made analogy!

  • http://simply--a.blogspot.com/ Alison Toback

    Ohhhh my gosh, this post is so what I have experienced. I have a lot (like, 6 figures a lot) of educational debt and I’m going to medical school, so we’re not done yet. My husband has very little debt, educational or otherwise. I told him VERY early on in our relationship that I had substantial debt, and despite the fact that he has a degree in finance and is one of the most fiscally responsible people I know, he responded similarly to Jared: “We will work it out. Together.”

    I have a ton of guilt around having so much debt, but I have worked hard to pay off small chunks of the non-educational debt I had across a few credit cards. And Lauren, I am so impressed at your ability to pay down your credit cards so diligently. Go you!

    I feel weird about “our money” being a “thing” especially as I am leaving my full-time job to go back to school. The money we’re using to buy a house in July is basically all “Ken’s” and even though he keeps reminding me that its “ours” I still feel like a mooch or like I’m taking advantage of him. I keep trying to tell myself that for now, Ken is the financially stronger half of our partnership, so he can carry the larger burden, but eventually, I will be the stronger earner and then it can be “my turn”.

    • Dacia E.

      I’m also off to med school this year, and navigating debt and money issues with my fiance has been thorny and guilt-inducing since day one. I have been extremely fortunate in that I will not be going into more debt for med school, and this is partly because he will be paying for my living expenses. I feel incredibly guilty about this, because it will be hard for him to save any money while he is supporting me there – even though I know it’s supposed to be *our* money and he is doing this for *our* financial future. And we of course plan to be together forever, but you can never know how things are going to work out, so he’s really trusting hard that his “investment” will pan out – that I will be able to graduate and land a residency, that I will be able to keep working after school is out, that I won’t leave him as soon as I become an attending…

      The only reason I feel remotely ok about this is because the plan is for me to support the two of us afterwards, including paying off his student debt and enabling him to leave his job (which he does not like) and be a stay-at-home parent.

      • http://simply--a.blogspot.com/ Alison Toback

        Your plan sounds a lot like ours! My husband wants to be a stay-at-home parent as well, and I would be more than thrilled to have him do that once I am working again. I’m glad that you won’t have to take out more loans for med school. I’ve applied for some scholarships, but even if I got my tuition taken care of, I’d still need to help cover our living expenses.

        It’s definitely a scary and anxiety-producing endeavor we’re heading into… let me know if you ever want to chat about it. (alison.toback@gmail.com) Good luck to you!

  • D

    I just love these posts about the real messy parts of long term couple-dom. So often I scour the comment sections for people dealing with exactly my situation (and more often than not I find it!)

    APW – any thoughts on doing a Messy-Money/This-is-how-we-do-it article? Maybe just a short blurb each for 5-6 (or 10!) different ways that couples merge and manage money? Mostly I’m just looking for ideas and advice from people who feel they are successful in managing (what is in my opinion) the most stressful part of a marriage.

  • B

    I’m the wealthy one in my relationship – no debt and significant savings. And I am really, really struggling with the idea of supporting my fiance. I worked my a$$ off and part of me resents him for not doing the same. (He had a couple of years of unemployment – by choice(!) – where all he did was watch tv and play video games. The idea that he was OKAY with sitting around living off his past savings horrifies me.)

    This scares me into wanting a pre-nup and then I feel terribly guilty over wanting a pre-nup. I mean, I can’t see him ever leaving me, but ugh, I find it so hard to let go of the idea that my money is MINE because I worked hard for it. And then I feel like a terrible person for thinking that.

    • YOQ

      PLEASE don’t feel bad (okay, I know you can’t really control your feelings–but at least know that you don’t *need* to feel bad) about wanting a pre-nup. My partner and I got one, and the process of talking through it was really helpful for us. It jumpstarted some good conversations about money and emotions for us. And it’s a precautionary step–like anything that we do in hopes that we never have to use it (e.g. buying insurance, etc.) Getting a pre-nup does NOT mean that you don’t expect your marriage to last.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I feel that everyone should have all the discussions you need to have before a prenup. Maybe they sign something, maybe they don’t. But they’ve been through a thorough disclosure of their financial pictures and have something of a plan for their financial future, just by going through the process before there’s anything to sign.

    • KC

      So, two questions:
      1. does he still think that was a smart idea to have done?
      2. what does he want to do with money (“mine” “yours” or “ours”) and how does he want to handle that in the future?

      Because… um… that is a big something to sort out pre-marriage.

      • KC

        (if yes on q#1, WHY??? There’s gotta be a reason there if he still thinks it was a decent idea, right? And I would love to know what the rationale is there. Burned out? Needed space to reconsider future? Thought doing that from the sofa was cheaper than going on a year-long trek through Europe? Was trying to become Online Poker Champion and pursue that as a career option? What’s the story here?)

        • B

          He was burned out and just really, really loves video games. So I can totally see him doing it again. :(

          His father did the same thing – quit his job since he hated it and hasn’t done much since. Which I get, I really do, because you can’t live your life being miserable, but I also believe that you have a responsibility to work and support yourself if you are able!

          • KC

            If you are massively not okay with that (which, it would be okay to be okay with that; some people do sprints and some do marathons, and self-care is good, and money is not everything, but “I quit; now, video games and no job for years!” without an illness/mental illness/lottery win reason would probably drive me kind of nuts, but it wouldn’t drive everyone nuts), and he may do it again… then that is definitely something to get on the same page about.

            I have experienced bad burnout before, though, and it’s nothing to sneeze at. But… you can get a job doing something *different*, potentially, not just… not try to get a job at all? I don’t know. But that’d be something I’d *really* want to get on the same page about; expectations, limitations, requirements, etc.

          • YOQ

            Just chiming in to agree with KC here.

          • B

            Thanks so much for the discussion and insights. I really appreciate it and it made me realize how much this is stressing me out. I thought I was okay with it when we were dating, but being engaged suddenly makes it seem much more of a deal. So yeah, I need to have a frank conversation with him.

          • KC

            Each level of commitment steps up the necessary levels of trust (and, therefore, agreement about what’s acceptable/not). Totally not surprising for this to be a “huh, that’s an odd choice” while dating and an “aaack!” when engaged. But please do get this hashed out thoroughly before stepping up to another level of commitment, because it does sound like there are several serious philosophical and practical “itch points” here (for starters: is it ever okay for either able-to-work partner to not work if you “have the money” [if “yes”, how do you each define “having the money” and would it be okay with who for one partner to be working and the other not]? what does money management look like? what goals do you each have and how committed are you to helping each other reach those goals? what is your mutual life-long financial plan?).

            As ElisabethJoanne points out, the options for repercussions after marriage are somewhat limited and hampered. Generally speaking, you can’t *make* anyone do anything, even if they agreed to it beforehand, without some degree of marital damage (and really, you still can’t *make* anyone do anything, basically). So that’s worth keeping in mind as well. Another perspective to look at it from is whether behaviors that are reasonably likely would damage respect/love/partnership.

            I hope all goes well!

          • Alyssa M

            I am absolutely projecting on you here, but having watched a marriage fall apart after kids were inserted into a she-works-her-ass-off-while-he-plays-a-lot-of-videogames situation that left my friend a single mom with no savings… just… please protect yourself in any way you feel necessary.

            She was fine with it… when they were dating… but once she was working full time and raising two kids while he was playing games and quitting his job “because it made him hate life” the resentment grew into a toxic situation…

            You’re obviously not these two people… but still… please protect yourself…

          • Be Smart

            Get rid of this guy. You can’t change him. You don’t even need to have a conversation about this. A statement of “I’m leaving” is enough.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

      I will probably get a pre-nup if I ever get married again. And I was not even burned financially in my divorce at all. I will, however, still be a fan of putting money in one pot during a marriage. I really enjoyed that.

      I think what I would do is just say (legally, in a contract) that whatever money each person had before the marriage would stay with that person, should the marriage end, and then the money earned in the marriage would be split according to the law or whatever. I guess this is a possible thing to do? I don’t even have much money (I work in the arts!), but having experienced what I thought would never happen….well, I am going to try to protect myself a little finiancially, if I marry again. And I will keep a personal bank account open in only my name, even if there isn’t much in it. I don’t want to go through the same thing I went though again…and that includes divorce, more than anything anything else. But being left AND having a lack of access to money in the worst days of my life and financial fear for the future? Nope, not doing that again.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        It’s certainly possible to do that with a prenup, but I’d sit down for a consultation with a lawyer first to find out if it’s even necessary. The money each person has before marriage usually stays with that person when the marriage ends even without a prenup.

        In my area, the local Bar Associations have free and low-cost 30-60 minute referrals with specialists, which is how I’d get such a consultation. These are different from the free consultations advertised on the radio – where they just take your information and don’t give any advice. The lawyers in the program I know give as much help as they can in that short session.

        • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

          Thanks for the info, ElisabethJoanne. Where I live (Québec) we divided all the money in our joint account…and all my money was in the joint account. I guess had I had my own private account, that would have stayed with me? Definitely would need to look more specifically into the law here. And this post in general is reminding me that I have on my to do list “Meet with a financial advisor.” I want to plan for my financial future and education myself on stuff like retirement savings. :)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I wonder how you feel about retirement. Is it what you do when you can’t work any more? Is it a well-deserved period of rest? To my mind, all he did was take 2 years early retirement, then returned to work. He worked for those 2 years of rest (assuming his savings were from his employment). But some people have a problem with people who can work but are not working – even if they worked before. Work is dignified. Rest is laziness. Puritan Work Ethic.

      I was raised by real Puritans, and sometimes I feel a flare of rage that my husband, unemployed for 3 years now, won’t take just any job. I know I couldn’t do what he’s done (equal split of looking for work, volunteering, hobbies, and caring for the home) for as long as he’s done it. I’d be spending 40 hours/week looking for work and 40 hours/week caring for the home. But I’m ok with him doing it.

      There’s no shame or guilt in wanting a pre-nup. But I think every state protects assets/savings acquired before marriage – you just have to let it sit there, no “commingling” with marital assets. Nor will a pre-nup solve differences in work ethic. My husband and I have been through this a few times. “Get a job by x date, or…” “Find a new occupational therapist, or…” Or what? I’m not going to kick him out or stop buying him food.

      Even in marriage, I can only control my own behavior. For example, one of us needed to go to a particular laundromat to wash our blankets. Since he has the more flexible schedule, he was going to go. But he procrastinated. I finally told him I wouldn’t visit his parents until the blankets were washed; I’d spend that time at the laundromat. But we also agreed he’d stop volunteering for one organization because it was costing lots in gas money and angst. Well, he had another meeting there today. I can’t stop him from going.

    • Amy March

      Can I be the one to say don’t? Don’t marry this guy. Spending 2 years sitting on your ass playing video games isn’t retirement or recovery (was his old job special ops? Then he doesn’t need r and r). It’s lazy. And entitled. And irresponsible. And you KNOW this. And he thinks it was fine? Are you looking forward to having to be the breadwinner your whole life because he won’t? To knowing that if you got hit by a bus he’d spend a year looking for the right “fit” before getting a job to support you?

      Don’t do it. Marry a grown up.

  • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

    This so reflects our situation.
    I had $10k on my credit card when Mark and I moved in together. We worked together to pay it off, with the understanding I would then work on paying him off. We got married when I was about halfway through paying him off. And we bought a house, with the savings he had been putting aside.
    I have felt guilty about it being “his” money. I have watched with pride as he paid off the last of his student loan. We dont talk about mine. I owe $35k, and its about to get bigger as I return to study to finally do something useful. At least here it is currently interest free, so the fact I am not working due to maternity leave isn’t making it bigger and bigger. But it stops us from moving overseas. Even if I get my dream job after graduating, I will still need about 10 years work to pay it off at that salary – at its current size.

  • fairytalesandmonsters

    I’m really glad I decided to stop by for this one!
    Interesting to see so many people on both sides of the issue – I’ve also been on both. I came into our relationship with student debt, but have rapidly paid it off while my partner only had a little debt but is basically in the same place or slightly worse than he started. It’s frustrating to feel like he isn’t treating his debt as an emergency and continues to spend without worrying about it, and it makes me anxious to think of what I might be responsible for once we mingle money… he makes more than me, but I’m always going to save more.
    It also makes me guilty when I want to enjoy my newfound freedom from debt by going out for a nice dinner, or something, but knowing that he’s in debt and every spendy thing we do together just reinforces his bad habits and puts him further behind or, at least, doesn’t get him any further ahead.
    Sometimes I wish I could just go in and pay everything off, just so I won’t have to be anxious, but he wouldn’t accept that kind of help, not right now anyways… perhaps when we mingle money more completely. Maybe that’s something for the in-debt people to think about… accepting help, although difficult, might be the best thing for your relationship if the person on the other side of the equation is skittish about debt/wants it gone right away. I’d be happy to pay my partner’s debts if it meant I didn’t have to worry about them anymore.

  • KM

    “Sharing our finances isn’t about who earns more or who spends more; it’s about managing the whole thing together.”

    YES.

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