Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when Mike came to me with exactly the same issue I had then. He didn’t come to me to try and say I owed him it; it came up by discussion when I was joking with him about when he’d put a ring on his girlfriend’s finger, because she’s an awesome woman whom my wife and I both love. The amount he’d need is only about $4,000, and he swears he’d be able to pay me back in about a year, which is fine with me because he’s just finishing his last semester in his master’s program and has a job lined up already that will pay him well; frankly, I’d let him take longer if he needed to. At this point I’m making much more than I made then, and my wife and I make more than enough each month to pay our mortgage, utilities, food, retirement accounts, etc. and still have money left to kick into our savings, which is almost six figures. (I’m not trying to brag; my point is that lending him $4,000 out of savings wouldn’t hurt our bottom line in any way.) I brought this to my wife and said I’d like to help him, especially in light of what he did for me back in the day, and my wife flat-out refused. She doesn’t think his MA and government job will get him enough to pay us back in a year, and she believes our savings are for emergencies and nothing else. When during our subsequent argument I reminded her that she loves her ring and wouldn’t have had it without his help, she said she’d consider it but only if we charged him 2-3% interest, because then “we’re getting back a return greater than what the bank is giving us but less than if we put it in a CD.”
I’m really torn here. It’s OUR money, not MY money; I don’t want to make unilateral financial decisions that would affect her as this would. And I do agree with her “Don’t spend your savings” point in general. But I feel like this is a unique situation that warrants bending the rule for a person I’ve known for almost twenty years and who my wife’s known for almost eight, a guy who stood next to us at our wedding and a guy who refused to charge me interest even when I offered to pay it. We’ve still got plenty of money to support ourselves if an emergency occurred, and I also know (but haven’t said this) that, if I needed to call in the loan early, he’d find a way to get it to me because that’s just who Mike is. So how do I balance being a good husband with being a good friend? What do you do here? — An Interesting Dilemma
Wow… can you divorce your wife? Ok, in all seriousness, your wife is being totally short-sighted here. Yes, a $4,000 loan to a friend to buy a piece of jewelry is a lot of money. But, it’s not just any friend, it’s not just any piece of jewelry, and, by your own admission, you wouldn’t miss the $4,000 for a year or more anyway. However, you’re right that the money is not just yours; it’s your wife’s, too, and, though she may have found the gesture sweet when your friend loaned you money to buy her engagement ring years ago, she had no say in it. It isn’t exactly fair that she’s expected to pay back a favor she had no role in asking for in the first place. But relationships — especially with best friends and close family members — are more important than money. And when your wife agrees to giving Mike a loan only if he’s charged 2-3% interest on the loan, she’s talking about $120. Literally, $120. That’s what this argument is about. A measly $120. Because she thinks that’s more important than the relationship you have with your best friend?
Your wife is wrong. A measly $120 — or even $4000, if you ask me — is not more important than your friendship with Mike, and you have to figure out a way to make up that difference. First, I’d try talking some sense into your wife. She must be a little reasonable, right? Have a heart? Be a good and loving person? You married her, she seemed to have gotten your best friend’s approval, she wants Mike to marry a woman you both love. There must be some redeeming qualities in your wife, so appeal to those qualities and state your argument that $120 is not worth offending Mike when he was so good to you at a time when you needed him (to your wife’s direct benefit!). If she still doesn’t back down, pay back the $120 yourself. Do you have your own account that’s separate from your wife’s? If not, get one. And start putting enough money into it each month so that you can spend a hundred or two hundred dollars at your own discretion without needing your wife’s permission. She should do the same. Sharing finances should not mean getting every single purchase and transfer of money okayed by your partner. (A $4,000 loan, though, obviously, needs to be agreed upon).
Finally, I’d look at the larger picture here and take this as an opportunity to discuss your finances and financial goals in greater detail with your wife. You have almost 100K in savings for “emergencies.” That’s quite a lot to have in an emergency fund. Is there anything besides an emergency and retirement that you’re saving for? Some of that money might work better for you if it were invested. And maybe there are experiences or purchases you can make together that would bring joy and fulfillment to you both, highlighting the importance of building memories as well as building savings.
I’d also suggest discussing whether there’s a certain percentage of your savings that you both would feel comfortable earmarking for emergencies of loved ones. What if the next person who might need a loan is someone from your wife’s side? What if it’s her best friend or sister or parent, and the money is going toward something more important than a ring (which, let’s face it, is probably most things…)? Are you both prepared to make a loan? Is there a limit on the amount you’re comfortable loaning out? Is she willing to charge her loved ones interest? (And for the record, I see nothing wrong with charging interest on a loan — that money would be making interest sitting in an account, after all — but it would be easier to charge interest if it were a rule of yours and not some arbitrary thing.)
While you can’t anticipate every financial question and obligation with which you’ll be faced in your life together, having some general rules in place will help with future scenarios where you might otherwise not be in agreement. And seeing that you have some opposing values around money and relationships, setting up a general outline and plan that addresses potential questions would be a wise idea. For the immediate dilemma you now face, though, I would focus on the $120 and how best you can either get your wife to get the fuck over it or make it up yourself without asking Mike to pony up when he refused to accept interest on your loan years ago. Good luck!
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.