Notes: I’m so sorry. This post is a bummer. I tried to find the funny but I’m not feeling it today. If you would rather smile than read about my financial issues, please visit Buzzfeed’s LOL page. It is sure to make you happier than this post. If you just had some nitrous at the dentist and need to come down, read on.
Also, I know that financial disclosure is kind of tacky but I think the post benefits from some numbers so I’m leaving them in.
I know so many couples who have completely blended finances. People who have chosen to share incomes, expenses, debts, and assets with their romantic partners. Sure, some of these people have their own retirement funds or mad money accounts but most of the married couples that I know appear to share everything.
I get why people do it. What I don’t understand is how they get there.
I suppose it’s easy if you marry young and both have nothing. Or, if the couples’ finances are similar, in general. But, I imagine that most people do not enter relationships perfectly equally.
Since these issues tend to stay between partners and money is a sensitive topic, I’m not sure who to approach about the situation that my partner, Caroline, and I face: our finances are completely opposite and I do not see a clear path to integrate the two.
Our goal is to be together forever. So, of course we would prefer to start blending income and expenses once we marry in order to have cohesive family finances. We will have a pre-nup because we both come into the marriage with some hefty assets (her bank accounts, my house) but would like to share as much as is reasonable and protect our individual interests without over-structuring financial separation. Surely, there is a happy medium somewhere.
However, because of my financial obligations, I’m struggling with what that means. My desire to make good financial decisions is at war with my sense of pride and equity.
Caroline has very healthy finances. Her family is comfortable: they took care of her school expenses and made certain to put plenty of money away for her so that she was able to help herself in times of need. Now, at 30, my partner has no debt and a stock portfolio of which I’m envious. Her professional track is solid and she is poised to be able to afford the material possessions that she wants, be able to travel, and be financially secure in her old age.
My finances are a different story. I’ve done my best to be a success. I really have. I did all the things that I was told to do: go to school, work hard, live reasonably, pay bills on time, save till it hurts, and take calculated risks to move ahead. More over, I did it mostly by myself.
I make slightly more than Caroline for now and have about what you’d expect in retirement funds for a careful person of my age. But, I started paying bills with earned money a full ten years before she had to, and it shows. I have a lot of debt from school, my home purchase, and some other life events.
The house is my latest attempt to pull myself into a healthier financial situation. I put a lot in and stand to get a lot more out. It was a smart gamble because of the neighborhood I chose and the current economy, but a gamble none the less. Within five years, I will either use the house to dig myself out of this hole or be worse off than before I purchased it. For now, it feels like I bit off more than I could chew.
Thus, I come into our marriage with a fixer-upper which needs work that I can’t afford or do on my own and I am in the red because of my loans and credit cards. Despite my decent, steady salary I owe around $75,000 (not counting the mortgage). I pay $750 per month towards fixed loan payments before my share of the mortgage, other bills, and whatever I can pay toward credit card debt. The math doesn’t work and I am hemorrhaging money.
I will make this okay someday. I am a resourceful, self-sufficient person. I have always refused to accept help from anyone but my parents, taken great pride in my survival skills, and been fairly stoic about my dismal finances. But, it’s going to take me some time. Certainly longer than the eight months till our wedding date. And, therein lies my problem.
I believe in the ‘for richer or poorer’ idea. But, I never thought she’d be poorer because of me. It makes me feel ill.
I feel like my debt should be my own even after the wedding and cringe at the thought of causing my marriage to start at a deficit. But, I also realize that I could be paying off this money for the next ten years. No matter what I do, this is not fair to Caroline and I can’t just make it go away.
My experience tells me that, when two people with unequal finances enter a relationship, usually the person with more money is the one complaining. Not true for us. Caroline has been so supportive of me. She would be incredibly generous, too, if I’d let her. But, I’ve been fighting her assistance tooth and nail.
Unfortunately, we both know that my resistance won’t be able to go on forever: it’s just a matter of how long it takes to wear me down, how many expenses we continue to amass, and how much she’ll want to help. I’m not likely to ever (individually) have the kind of money that she does. If we plan to do everything together, something has to give. Either I will live better, she will live worse, or we will meet in the middle.
We managed to split everything equally for over a year. Until June. That’s when we went to visit the site of our future wedding, fell in love with it, and realized that we needed to immediately put a deposit down in order to get the date we wanted. Out came Caroline’s check book and suddenly I owed her $2,000 for my half of the site fee. I’ve been slowly paying her back but we both know that that’s just one more bill that’s keeping me down and that every time I pay her, I’m incurring more charges from credit card fees. Don’t get me wrong: it’s her money and I owe it back to her. It’s just that we’re not sure that it’s in our best interest as a couple for me to worry about it right now. But, if not now, then when? And, what about the next time?
It’s clear that this is going to come up repeatedly. We have some impending expenses in the next five years that are more serious than luxuries like the wedding and honeymoon. For instance, we need her money to afford the hoops we’ll have to jump through to have kids, since we’re both missing that pesky Y chromosome.
If nothing else, I will let her pay for us to have kids. I want that badly enough to swallow the huge ball of pride that is currently stuck in my throat.
But what about the rest of it? Should she subsidize part of my portion of our expenses to allow me to pay off some debt or just pay it outright herself? Settle for the life I’m able to afford even though she can afford much more? Or, just cross her fingers and stand to the side as I try to get a handle on it (and hope that she doesn’t get screwed in the process)?
None of these options seem like good ones. As much as I want to be free of my burden, it makes me feel nauseous to even think of asking or allowing someone to help me pay a bill. Wife or not. And, as my debt incrementally grows and our wedding/honeymoon expenses loom ahead, I can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop talking about it. It’s beginning to wear her down, too. She is as helpless to help me as I am to fix my finances.
In the end, Caroline and I will have to find a way on our own to decide what we think is best for us and mutually agree on some solutions to the problem. We still have some time before the wedding to suss things out. But, I’m curious as to how others have handled similar situations.
Have you been here? Were you in her shoes or mine? Did you decide to give or ask for assistance? What was the outcome?