Mike and I knew each other in college but lost touch. Ten years later we ended up in the same city, and started dating after rekindling our friendship. I knew Mike was financially irresponsible, but three months into our new status, it’s now driving me nuts. He is in credit card debt up to his eyeballs, and has no interest in taking control. The debt isn’t education loans or a mortgage or even small credit card debt; it’s simply 10 years of living above his means and making silly purchases that have added up over the years.
This is something we have talked about a lot, both when we were just friends and now. He knows it’s a problem, but his attitude is that he is too far in the hole to do anything about it, so he may as well have fun. The thing is, he has a decent job and makes a good living, so there’s really no excuse for not living within his means. And to be clear, I’ve tried to help him. I offered to help make him a budget and suggested we could practice saving together — dinners in, doing free activities in the city, and making a game out of it by setting goals for ourselves with small rewards, etc. But he is not interested.
I think what is sending me over the edge now is Mike just got paid his annual bonus at work, and he blew it on a fancy computer that he has always wanted (but certainly does not need). Yet, last summer he borrowed $1,000 from a friend to go to a bachelor party in Vegas and has yet to pay back that friend! (And for whatever reason, this bothers me more than it appears to bother either of them.) My question is: why is this such a big deal to me? Am I out of line for telling him he needs to be smarter with his money and cut back on his purchases? Should I let that come between what we have — an otherwise great friendship, great love, open and honest communication, and commitment? Should I MOA? Or try not to let something as superficial as money break us apart? — Money or Love
I wouldn’t say money is a superficial reason for a couple to break up — particularly if the couple is considering a long-term commitment to each other. Money is a HUGE reason that relationships bust, and you’re smart to worry about Mike’s irresponsibility with it before getting more serious with him. If you were to marry Mike or have a child with him — planned or accidentally — his finances would play an enormous role in your future well-being. If he can’t live within his means now, how on earth can you expect him to support a child? What does it say about Mike’s sense of responsibility and respect for others if he’d rather buy a fancy toy than pay back a good friend the $1000 he owes him? What does is say about him that he’d even borrow than kind of money in the first place to go to a bachelor party in Vegas?
If you’re in your early 30s and thinking about starting a life with someone, you are absolutely right to worry that that the man you’re currently involved with has such a cavalier attitude toward his finances. But, does Mike know that you’re thinking long-term? Does he know you’re now thinking of him as husband potential? If not, having those kind of discussions with him may go a long way in getting him on track, financially. If nothing else, it will provide an opportunity to see whether you’re on the same page — or even in the same book — when it comes to your relationship. Maybe Mike’s resistance to your “help,” is a passive way of letting you know he doesn’t care about planning for his future because he doesn’t see a future with you. Maybe it’s his way of saying that you have different ideas of what your future together looks like. Or, maybe he simply isn’t even thinking future plans now. But if he knows you are, and he’s interested in keeping you in his life, he may start thinking about his future. You’ll only know if you begin talking to him about these things.
Finally, if you both decide you like where your relationship is and where it’s going, and you’re both interested in exploring a potential long-term future together, you need to make it explicitly clear that he needs to make serious steps toward managing his money better. That probably means seeing a financial adviser. It definitely means changing his lifestyle. And it could mean going to therapy to explore the root of his dysfunctional relationship with money and get support in changing his patterns. He’s also going to need support from you, and understanding that change won’t happen overnight. If you’re committed to making the relationship work, you’ll need to be patient. But don’t be so patient that you let years of your life pass you by without knowing that you and your boyfriend share the same goal and are both making significant steps toward it. If he’s not willing to make the journey, there’s no point in hanging around the start gate waiting for him.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.