The Moneyist

‘I’m conflicted’: Should I pay off my fiancé’s credit-card debt and subsidize our vacations? He spends a lot of money on ‘stuff.’ 

‘I make about $150,000 a year, and I have no debt. He makes $90,000 a year.’

“I have helped him pay off some of his debt, but his debts don’t seem to go away.”

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Dear Quentin,

I’m getting married later this year. I make about $150,000 a year, and I have no debt. He makes $90,000 a year. So I obviously have more disposable income. I want to travel and buy nice things for the house (we live in his house and have mine rented). He wants to travel, too, but often he doesn’t have enough savings for that. 

I have no children, and I don’t want kids. My fiancé has a 16-year old boy and pays child support. He has $15,000 in debt and, in my opinion, he doesn’t manage his money very well. He buys little things all the time, like clothing, and goes to concerts. He doesn’t mind adding to his credit card bill, as he doesn’t want to miss out on anything. All of those things add up.

‘He has never asked me to pay for anything, but if I offer, he accepts.’

Given that I have the money, maybe I should pay for some of his expenses? I’m conflicted. Do I pay for some of his expenses so he doesn’t keep getting into debt? Do I just let him use his credit card, since he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it? He has never asked me to pay for anything, but if I offer, he accepts. We have separate bank accounts.

I have helped him pay off some of his debt, but his debts don’t seem to go away. I want to be a good partner since I have the money, but he also needs to become a better money manager, or things will never change. I thought about paying him more in rent so he can have more money, but I decided he would just spend it on more stuff instead of paying his debt. 

Maybe it’s OK for two people in a couple to be in different financial situations. How do I help? Has anyone else been in this situation?

Worried About His Money

Dear Worried,

Imagine that you both want to get fit for your wedding, but instead of going to a gym, you are doing a financial exercise routine. Even if you believe that he is the one who needs a wake-up call, this is something you should do together. No shame, no blame. Just cold, hard facts.

It could also be eye-opening for you to see where you spend your money. If your income far exceeds your expenditures, your budget could provide him with a useful contrast effect. If he sees where you are succeeding, it may help him reorganize his priorities.

The answers to your two questions are no and no. First: No, don’t pay off his credit-card debt. That makes you an enabler rather than someone who can help him help himself. If the money is magically paid off, Pavlov’s dog will tell you he will go back to the credit-card fountain again and again.

It’s not your job to allow him to either use his credit card or not.

Second: No, it’s not your job to allow him to either use his credit card or not. He needs to learn to manage his own impulses and figure out why he likes to buy stuff. He needs a partner in life, not a mother. You would be taking on the role of the latter if you start giving him spending rules.

One solution: Hire a financial planner to go through your living arrangements and budget and make a five-year plan. Do you have joint accounts? Do you share the rent you receive on your own home? Do you live in his house rent-free? How often do you eat out? Do you save for vacations?

A financial therapist, meanwhile, can fulfill a slightly different role by looking at the emotions and psychology behind your spending. One person might grow up poor and save every penny but perhaps not enjoy life enough, while another might be a binge shopper as a way to alleviate insecurities or fears.

Take some practical steps

The clearest way to avoid putting more on a credit card every month than you can pay off is to write down your income in one column and expenditures in another. How many people are swiping away their retirement savings with a credit card or Apple Wallet?

A cashless society is good for retailers and bad for consumers. The average American spends about $92 a month, or $1,100 a year, on coffee, according to this study by the investment app Acorns. If you invested that $92 every month starting at the age of 25, you’d have $286,000 by retirement. 

Good saving habits employ the two C’s: compounding and consistency. The former refers to the interest you make on interest, in addition to the $92 monthly deposit. The latter refers to automatic payments — using digital tools to actually save you money rather than drain your account. 

Good saving employs the two C’s: compounding and consistency.

In the meantime, distinguish between “needs” and “wants,” maximize your 401(k) matches if you have a work-based retirement program, make sure you have an emergency fund to cover at least six months’ worth of expenses, make a will, keep on top of your automatic payments and automate your savings.  

The problem with seeking advice from friends is that we all bring our own baggage to the table. A girlfriend who was married to a louse might be more inclined to say, “Run!” Another person who has a happy, healthy marriage or relationship with themselves might say: “Talk to each other.”

The takeaway: Having a mature, responsible conversation about money management today will help you have more of these conversations over the course of your life together. It will provide a blueprint not only for your finances, but also for your ability to sustain a strong, healthy marriage.

Whatever you decide to do, do it together.

“A cashless society is good for retailers and bad for consumers.”

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