Dear Wayne and Wanda,
Hi! I’m an avid reader! I’m stuck in a situation and want to know what you think.
I’m in my mid-20s. I’ve been dating an amazing guy — same age — for a year now. We’re crazy about each other, we share interests and beliefs, we practically grew up together and have the same crowd of friends from school to adulthood and our families get along. We got together about a year after I moved back from college and it was so easy. He’s funny but very serious about our relationship. But of course there’s one thing — his money habits stress me out and I’m worried about him and our future.
He’s an electrician with good pay for his age and he’ll have a great career, but he’s already living way beyond his means. Just before we got together, he bought a new truck and added bunch of things on it to keep up with our friends. I know he dreamed about it and worked hard to get it but his payments are insane and he’ll be stuck with them forever. I won’t mention the snowmachine. His credit card spending is so scary and the interest just keeps piling up. And he loves his condo and won’t think about downgrading or getting a roommate unless it’s me. I have a perfect living arrangement with a responsible friend, and honestly I don’t want to pay that much for splitting his place.
I’m not a penny pincher. I enjoy life. I also know there’s a balance between having fun now and not creating trouble later. I’ve always had a money plan. I’m proud that I already paid off all my college debt by always working, and getting a great job when I graduated. When I share my financial approach with him, he always says “everything works out” and how it always did for his parents. That’s not the attitude I want to marry into. I want a comfortable life and to not stress about money.
I keep hoping this is just a phase and he’ll have a wake-up call after realizing how deep this hole is. I also hope he finally understands that I literally have anxiety worrying about his spending messing up our future. How can I show him I’m worried about him and us without making him feel like I’m judging him? I really care about him and I want us to figure this out but this isn’t easy.
Finances are high on the list of major topics that can divide and conquer even the most committed couples. Some feel the weight of a power imbalance when their incomes are too disparate. Others hide secret spending habits or financial struggles. You’re facing a very common problem as one half of a couple whose attitudes and strategies about money management completely vary.
Your approach is measured, judicious and thoughtful. His is to spend all he has and then some. He’s hardly alone. Plenty of people take a more live-in-the-moment approach to spending. Why not splurge on all the toys and vacations and things? After all, life is finite with no guarantees on longevity: spend it if you’ve got it! And heck, thanks to credit cards, you can even spend it if you don’t got it!
This freewheeling approach is fine when one’s cruising through life — in a decked-out truck — solo. But once we enter into those adult relationships with possible forever futures, that changes. Funds are no longer a pipeline to fun, but a lifeline to future shared security. That your boyfriend doesn’t get this makes me wonder whether he’s pondering a long future together as seriously as you are. Your first step is to confirm you’re both on the same page and looking ahead to marriage. If so, time for a tough-love talk about better spending habits that support that dream.
It sounds to me like you’re the first person in your boyfriend’s life who is responsible with money — and it’s probably as weird to him as his spending sprees are worrying to you. So you should introduce him to some podcasting pros who focus on money management, budgeting, getting out of debt, money in relationships, and all other imaginable financial matters. Most hosts and their companion websites offer clear and commonsense ways to create good money habits and even get out of debt and into the black. And most of their shows are free, which I know you’ll love.
Your boyfriend isn’t the first person to swipe his way into trouble. And millions of free-spending folks just like him have gotten back on track with the right information and motivation. While the podcasters provide the information, you obviously provide the motivation. It’s time, as Wanda noted, to have a tough talk, and who the hell cares if he feels judged? He needs to hear the real deal from you. You want this relationship to work, right? You don’t want to file for bankruptcy while the ink is still drying on your marriage license, right? So get over hurting his feelings and talk to him about your future together and how you don’t want to be a part of it if you’re carrying the financial load or if you’re going broke.
Your intuition is, ahem, on the money: you two won’t last long if he doesn’t tighten up the purse strings and straighten up his act and assets. Will he have to make some serious sacrifices? Oh yeah, big time, and it’s going to hurt. Bye bye monster truck and mega-condo. But can he put a price on a happy future and solid long-term relationship with you? No way. If he loves you, he’ll listen — to you, the podcasters, and the faint but sweet sounds of financial freedom ringing in the distance.