I’m poor. I’m the kind of girl who began working at a young age. Everything I have I’ve worked for, including my car and college. I like who this has made me. However, it has also made me a girl with student loans, medical bills, and a hefty monthly car payment, and since I chose to be a writer, my paycheck barely covers the bills. Then you have my boyfriend who comes from a pretty well-to-do family. Everything he owns was bought by his parents, and he just recently started paying his own rent. So how do I tell someone who has it all and has never had to experience any debt that I have debt? I’m also wondering when is the appropriate time to tell him and if it is even his business? I just feel like I’m lying, because it occasionally gets brought up. For example, one day I had a note on my computer that said “Pay DSL loan today” and he said, “What’s that?” and I grabbed the note, threw it away and said “Nothing.”
He recently started bringing up the marriage talk, which I also avoid. Of course, I want to get married and have a wedding with flowers and a kick-ass white dress, but that costs money. And I don’t have it. So I’ll say, “let’s just get married at the courthouse,” but that doesn’t really work because he wants a nice wedding.
How do you tell someone you’re poor? And should you even? — Confused-Ramen-Eating-Hopeful
First of all, YES, of course you should tell your boyfriend of three years, whom you are thinking about marrying and who is beginning the discussions of such a commitment, that you have significant debt. And in case you missed my column last Friday, your money situation isn’t the only topic you should be talking about with your boyfriend if you’re serious about each other. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised you even have to ask whether your debt is something you should mention to your boyfriend, and I’m even more surprised that you seem to think the cost of your wedding is the only reason — or at least, the only reason you mention in your letter — to broach the topic of your financial limitations with him.
A wedding is one day in the rest of your lives together. In the great scheme of things, it’s kind of not that big of a deal. It’s a party. After you pay for that party, you still have the rest of your lives to pay for. Don’t you think your boyfriend might want to know what kind of financial contribution you’ll be making to your marriage and family life? That’s sort of important. And if you’ve been together for three years, I’m willing to bet he has more than a hunch what your finances look like — especially if you’ve been weirdly secretive about it (like quickly hiding any information that might give you away).
Look, your debt doesn’t define you. You are not the number in your bank account. I understand more than you realize how scary it is to be the partner in a union who has a deficit — who is a financial liability, so to speak. It sucks. I’ve been there and it made me feel like crap. Sometimes it still does. But I also know that even if I am not making a big financial contribution to my marriage, I contribute so much in other ways, and on good days — which definitely outnumber the bad days — I choose to focus on those things. I’m a good cook, for example, and a good mom and I’m fun to be around and good at organizing both our social calendar as well as our kitchen pantry, and I make a kick-ass Bailey’s martini. I have enriched my husband’s life in many ways, even if I am not rich. And I bet you do the same for your boyfriend.
Still, just because you may be wonderful in lots of ways doesn’t mean you can avoid the topic of your debt. There isn’t an easy way to go about it, but you HAVE to have a serious discussion with your boyfriend about where you see your relationship going and what he needs to know about you before going further. Explain that you never meant to keep things from him but that you’ve been ashamed and scared to open up before now. Let him know you love him and it’s that love and faith in your relationship that’s prompting you to open up now. Tell him exactly how much debt you have and what your monthly minimum payments are. From there, you will decide together how you’ll manage that debt together should you decide to marry and merge your financial lives.
You and your boyfriend, should you guys get engaged, may have to sacrifice some of your ideas of what a “nice wedding” looks like. You may have to compromise on your ideas of a nice life, too. But when it comes down to it, it’s not the “stuff” that fulfills us and makes us happy — it’s the relationships we make and commit to. It’s the way we choose to fill our time. And it’s the contribution — financial and mostly otherwise — that we make to society in general and people we care about, specifically.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at email@example.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.
Anna January 31, 2012, 7:13 am
3 years and you’ve never had the money talk? That’s not good. If you are serious about this guy, you have to be honest with him about your finances. I don’t think he will have a negative reaction to it as long as you are being responsible and paying your bills on time. I live completely paycheck-to-paycheck due to my staggering student loan debt and my boyfriend is aware of this…but he also knows that I pay every bill on time or early and use my tiny paychecks to take care of the things I am responsible for. So the fact that I am often left with $20 in my checking account the day before payday doesn’t look so bad we both know that all the bills are paid and I have enough food in the pantry.
From one broke person to another, do you use coupons when you grocery shop? I just started couponing about 4 months ago and it has really improved my financial situation. I typically save at least 25% per shopping trip on my grocery bill…sometimes up to 40%. A bonus to this is that my boyfriend compliments me all the time now about how responsible I am with my money since I put in the effort to not spend more than I have to on essentials. If you need any tips on couponing, just let me know!
SweetPea January 31, 2012, 9:23 am
I hear this coupon thing all the time… I really should start doing that! What are your basic tips to get started?
I’m kind of in the same boat with my boyfriend. We had the big adult conversation this weekend because things are really moving forward. He knows that I don’t make a lot of money at all and very much live paycheck to paycheck. But, he also knows I never pay a bill late. Which I think goes a long way! He’s very much what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine. And he always tells me it is not about how much money I have… we just have to always work together to make things work.
Anna January 31, 2012, 8:54 pm
Buy a copy of your local Sunday newspaper. That is where the coupon inserts are found. There are 3 distributors that put inserts in the papers: Smartsource, Redplum, and P&G. All 3 of them don’t release coupons every Sunday but you can find out ahead of time which ones will be released and what coupons will be in them if you go to http://www.sundaycouponpreview.com. Next, find out which of your local grocery stores offers double or triple coupons. Then, match your coupon items to the items that are on weekly special (usually they coincide because of manufacturer promotions). Say you have an item that normally costs $4 but it is on sale for $2.50…then you have a $.75 off coupon which doubles to $1.50 off. Now the item costs you $1.
Here are just a few sites that offer valuable couponing tips and links:
Also you can print lots of good coupons online at http://www.coupons.com.
Good luck! Sorry I didn’t respond sooner…daytime is my night time so I was sleeping!
jlyfsh January 31, 2012, 9:34 am
Yes, I do coupon! My favorite place to go is actually CVS. My husband and I have enough health and beauty supplies for 6 months and I got out of there paying $16! I was so excited.
And to Sweet Pea I don’t know how Anna does it but I clip my coupons, write down each one on a piece of paper (what it’s for and how much), then I look through the sales ads comparing my coupons to what’s on sale. When I find a match I write the store it’s being sold at and the price. And it’s also good to remember not to fall for the this coupon is great I should buy it if it’s not something you typically use. It only takes me an hour or two on Sundays and I really do save a lot at the store.
Brad January 31, 2012, 9:46 am
Sounds like a good idea but I know in my heart that I’m too lazy to do it.
honeybeenicki January 31, 2012, 9:59 am
I always try, but never manage to quite live up to the TV show people. I will go through the paper on Sundays and grab the coupons I know I will use and then usually forget that I have them when I go shopping. And I don’t usually check all the ads since I shop in only 2 stores (groceries at least).
Brad January 31, 2012, 10:19 am
Yeah I’m the same way. There’s a grocery store within walking distance of my apartment so I very rarely go anywhere else. My mom keeps trying to talk me into going to Walmart but … eh … walmart. I do sometimes print out coupons but just like you said I often forget to use them. Doesn’t help that I usually go to the grocery store because I’m missing an ingredient for what I’ve decided to cook last minute. I’m very organized about a lot of things, dinner making is not one of them… :-/
JK January 31, 2012, 10:41 am
I hear you on that… one of my NY resolutions was trying to be more organized about dinner to not have to go to the corner shop every evening to pick up something. I´ve failed miserably already.
Now the corner shop has closed for 2 days, luckily a big supermarket delivers (after ordering everything online), thay just left a little while ago, and I got a 15% discount off the entire order. 🙂
Anna January 31, 2012, 8:57 pm
I always thought that too but once I started I got hooked on the savings! I used to always have to ask my boyfriend for money to finish out the pay period…now I don’t have to anymore. It makes me feel more secure because if we break up soon due to his incessant foot-dragging and lack of commitment, I won’t have the option of his assistance.
Brad February 1, 2012, 12:56 pm
Did I read that you two have been together for like 8 years? Hope it works out for you.
GatorGirl January 31, 2012, 10:45 am
There is a great website- couponmom.com- that does the coupon matching for you. It’s totally free and tells you which circular each coupon is from and you can pick the grocery store you want to go to. That how I do most of my couponing. It also has links to online places to print out coupons.
I wish they made booze coupons more often!
Friend of Beagles January 31, 2012, 1:02 pm
If I may suggest signing up (it’s free!) for CouponMom.com; they send you weekly e-mails telling you which coupons match up with which specials at which major retailers. Very helpful.
Friend of Beagles January 31, 2012, 1:03 pm
Whoops. Helps if I read the ENTIRE thread before replying–my apologies for the repeat!
MissDre January 31, 2012, 10:38 am
Thing must be different in the USA, cuz here, most coupons will say “Cannot be combined with any other offer” or “Limit one per purchase”. So there’s no way you could get away with using a stack of coupons on your groceries.
lemongrass January 31, 2012, 10:57 am
Are you from Canada? I am, and also as a cashier, I know what the coupon rules are. “Cannot be combined with any other offer” means you can’t use more than one coupon for the product. You can use it even if the item is on sale. If your coupon is for $2 off and the item is on sale for $1.50 the cashier takes $1.50 off your bill, not the full $2. “Limit one per purchase” means the purchase of that item, not your total transaction. So again, only one coupon per product. You can use one coupon per item that you buy, unlike in the states where you can use multiple coupons per product and end up paying $2 for $200 in groceries. I have heard that London Drugs lets you use an in-store coupon as well as a manufacturer’s coupon on the same product but I don’t know for sure. I hope that clears it up!
MissDre January 31, 2012, 11:37 am
Yep, I’m Canadian. And yeah, I’ve seen “coupon shoppers” in the States share their secrets and I’m like WTH?? How can you use 5 coupons on one product? Yeah here, even if you have 5 or 10 coupons for your whole grocery bill, you might be lucky and get $10 off, or maybe some 2-for-1 deals. Most of the coupons I see also require a minimum purchase. “Buy 2 cans of that and get a third free!” or something. It’s very very rare that I actually see coupons for money off.
Muffy January 31, 2012, 12:25 pm
AND – everything is so much more expensive here in Canada than in the States. Seriously you guys in the States have it good when it comes to shopping and sales. I manage to save like a dollar on milk.
Lindsey January 31, 2012, 3:02 pm
I’m in Canada too and our coupons suck, I agree! My tip is the Dollar Store! I go to Dollarama and get my cleaning supplies, paper towel, etc and it’s so much cheaper. In fact, they will have name brand stuff that will be only $1.
lemongrass January 31, 2012, 4:25 pm
I clean with baking soda and vinegar, its way cheaper than perfumed cleaning supplies and there isn’t hella chemicals on everything in my house!
scattol January 31, 2012, 7:21 am
When house or apartment shopping will come around, money will inevitably come up. Your contribution will limit the budget and that will be unavoidable. I would try to hit the money discussion before that happens, just so that you don’t come out as a buzz kill.
Depending on what his career is, your earning potential might not be a real problem. After all the american dream was a white picket fence with a stay at home mom with kids and it’s still very doable on one upper middle class salary. So a comfortable life where you don’t contribute significantly is very well possible. It’s something he may very well be happy with.
Feminism demands that you be an equal contributor but in reality a man will be more than happy if you work hard at what you love and bring in what that’s worth how ever little that happens to be. It’s the gold diggers that are frowned upon. So I wouldn’t be worried about the money if you put in a honest day in.
Anna January 31, 2012, 7:33 am
I wouldn’t say the feminism demands that women contribute equally…it just allows for that possiblity. It even allows for the possiblity that the woman can be the breadwinner and the man can be a stay at home dad! We’ve considered that since I am more educated than my boyfriend…
I think people have the wrong idea about feminism. Would you go back to having “Men’s help wanted” sections and “Women’s help wanted” sections in the paper? It used to be that our only career options were school teacher, nurse, secretary, or prostitute. That wasn’t fair.
I was raised in a traditional single income household with a stay at home mom, and I see nothing wrong with that. I just don’t think it should be my only option simply because I lack a penis.
scattol January 31, 2012, 7:42 am
It certainly seems to me that feminism pretty much expects that women can do as much as man does. And I could understand LW if she feels like she failed personally or womankind if she can’t reach that goal. After all feminism pretty much puts the bar out there for all to see.
But that expectation probably isn’t that obvious in LW’s bf. At least I would be surprised if he expects her to match his salary “or else”.
In the end if LW ends up being SuperMom or stay at home mom, both choices will have their compromises. They just have to be happy to live with them.
Brad January 31, 2012, 7:42 am
What the heck are you doing on the internet?! Get your butt back in the kitchen and make me my sandwich.
scattol January 31, 2012, 7:43 am
There’s even a t-shirt for that: http://xkcd.com/149/
Anna January 31, 2012, 7:52 am
Make it yourself! I’m at work earning my rightful duckets! :p
Brad January 31, 2012, 7:54 am
But I can’t make it myself, I’ve already reclined back in my chair and have the TV on. You can’t seriously expect me to actually get up from my comfy chair and make my own sandwich?!
Anna January 31, 2012, 8:17 am
Lol. I must say, Brad…you are cute.
Brad January 31, 2012, 8:18 am
All the more reason why I shouldn’t be making my own sandwich 😉
bethany January 31, 2012, 9:28 am
What is it with Men and sandwiches?? I’m required to make my husband at least 2 a month!! (we agreed to this before we got married- He’s supposed to buy me flowers at least once a month. So far we are both failing miserably)
JK January 31, 2012, 9:36 am
I personally love making my husband sanwiches (and salads) he eats everything, and I´m a really fussy eater so I can try crazy combinations out on him. 🙂
jlyfsh January 31, 2012, 9:46 am
you want to talk about crazy combinations? not my choice but my husband asks for peanut butter and bologna on occassion. so gross!
Brad January 31, 2012, 9:45 am
Haha I’m not sure. Probably because they’re easy and generally solve the hunger craving for at least a few hours, and they pair nicely with typical junk food. I only used it because it’s one of the most common misogynistic stereotypes and it’s the one you always hear (the football loving guy being lazy on sunday expecting his wife to fetch him a beer and sandwich while he’s perched in a recliner).
All joking aside, since I eat a lot of them at work during the week I actually have 0 interest in a wife or gf making me one on the weekend. I’d rather have something else. And while I’m being serious, I don’t really like watching televised sports either.
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 10:00 am
So its not that you don’t want your wife to fetch food for you, just not a boring sandwich! Ha!
Ani Nani January 31, 2012, 10:17 am
Feminism just wants you to believe that you don’t like televised sports.
Brad January 31, 2012, 10:34 am
Haha, Hey I never said I was against the idea of someone bringing me food; I just don’t demand it. Besides, I’ve spent more time being single compared to being in a relationship that I would probably already be eating my food before the thought to ask a GF to do it would pop up. Though I’d have to actually have a GF in the first place before it would even be an issue but I digress. In theory I’m far more likely to say it just to be a smartass and get one of those “looks” rather than actually trying to score food – lol. 🙂
And I’m pretty sure feminism hasn’t tricked me into thinking I don’t like sports. I’m pretty darn sure I just don’t. I’ve tried for years to get into them as it would make it easier to make guy friends, but it just isn’t for me. I think they’re boring to watch and the commercial interuptions every 3 minutes kill any chance at me getting into it (I mean seriously, is it really necessary for a beer or truck ad after every damn play)? Always an awkward moment as a guy when I meet new guys because the question of “so who’s your favorite team?” always comes up. Wish I had a buck for everytime I’ve heard “what do you mean you don’t like football?! How can you NOT like foodball?” cause then I’d be rich lol.
ChemE January 31, 2012, 8:50 am
I’m not sure feminism says that.
However, I was thinking that on the flip side, if my husband doesn’t make more than me, is he less of a ‘man’ to some since he’s not the breadwinner? I mean I make twice what he does, but I’ve always considered us equal. There was a time when I made zero money. Like absolutely nothing, and he supported us. I hope he never feels inferior because he makes less than me. I know some guys can’t handle that their wives/gf make more than they do.
Just a random thought.
Budj January 31, 2012, 10:59 am
I think there is still social pressure for the man in the relationship to make more money…people that get complexes about it are few and far between.
Personally I strive to make as much as I can…and if my hypothetical future wife happens to be a CEO I would gladly pursue my hobbies while wrangling the children. That is if I end up wanting them…currently not appealing at all.
Leroy January 31, 2012, 11:36 am
Oh Definitely. A lot of women are pretty explicit about their income / asset requirements.
ErikZ February 2, 2012, 9:44 am
It’s not that he’s less of a man. Your income makes him unnecessary.
And someday when you get tired of him, the divorce is inevitable.
College educated women divorce slightly less than those who never went to college. But 90% of those divorces are started by the woman.
JCC February 2, 2012, 1:13 pm
“College educated women divorce slightly less than those who never went to college. But 90% of those divorces are started by the woman.”
Interesting… I’ve suspected that, but not seen a stat on it before. Do you have a source?
Brad January 31, 2012, 7:23 am
Yes you need to tell him. If you two do end up getting married he will find out about it then, and how upset do you think he’s going to be when he finds out you kept this from him? You don’t want your marrige to start off like that.
And one thing that I’d like to add to what Wendy said is that your debt isn’t the bad kind of debt. I don’t get the impression that you have 20,000 dollars of credit card debt beacuse you couldn’t control your shoe shopping habbit, or went on lavish vacations you couldn’t afford. Student loans, car payments (within reason), and medical bills are examples of good kinds of debt. I can’t imagine he would want to break up with you for having the kinds of debt that comes with living and trying to make your future better.
And I wouldn’t feel too guilty about “hiding” it from him. Frankly your personal finances for the most part wern’t any of his business. Now that you guys are starting to think about marriage is the appropriate time to bring up finances. I would suggest rolling it into a conversation about how you guys would treat finances as a whole in your possible marriage.
And I think not spending a lot of money on a wedding is a smart decision, but every bride should have her day to wear that beautiful dress and every groom should be able to see his wife-to-be in that dress. Just my 2 cents.
bethany January 31, 2012, 9:30 am
I 100% agree with everything you said- Was basically going to say the same thing, but you said it better.
cporoski January 31, 2012, 9:39 am
I totally agree with you. I have never known a couple to break up when one has debt. It is when someone lies about debt that a couple breaks up.
A. C. February 2, 2012, 10:33 pm
Actually, no debt is “good” debt. However, Brad is basically correct in that this does not appear to be debt brought on by incredibly stupid impulses, so it’s “less bad” debt. The other thing that makes it “less bad” is that it appears you have it under control and are paying it down, albeit very slowly. I strongly urge Confused-Ramen-Eating-Hopeful to tell her boyfriend.
Also, a warning about weddings: it is NOT the wedding, it’s the marriage. Really. It’s all that happens after the wedding that you will want to remember and to be remembered for, or not if you don’t pay attention to the day in-day out, year in-year out things of living together and keeping a close relationship.
ca_dubs February 7, 2012, 8:24 pm
Not always true about no such thing as good debt. Some debt actually makes your credit score go up.
JK January 31, 2012, 7:31 am
Holy crap, 3 years and your BF still doesn´t know you´re poor??? SSA!!
My husband´s family was pretty rich back in the day, then (due to terrible decisions) they ended up losing everything. When we started dating my husband was just getting his head above water (his mother and sister had taken out loans in his name, and forfeited, and he wasn´t making much money). My family was middle middle class, maybe even lower middle, and I was earning next to nothing (and getting paid months later than I should´ve been). Since the very beginning of our relationship we knew that about each other (with all the communicational deficits we had!) When we moved in together I was trying as hard as I could to pay 50% of everything, but with the asshole boss I had I could never count on how much money I would have each month, so my husband ended up taking over more and more of the expenses (while I did most of the chores, all the shopping, etc), now with 2 kids I´m a SAHM, so he´s the “breadwinner”, although I also help out with paperwork from his business, etc.
I´m sure your BF knows that you aren´t in the same boat he is, financially, he probably doesn´t gt why you donpt talk to him about it.
Anna January 31, 2012, 7:36 am
JK January 31, 2012, 7:41 am
Yes, so much easier to use than having to spell it out!!
MissDre January 31, 2012, 8:03 am
I was racking my brain trying to remember what it stands for even though I’ve seen it explained numerous times LoL… Say Something Already! Right?
Wendys Dad January 31, 2012, 10:26 am
Talk about a generation gap! I thought it stood for Social Security Administration.
Emma January 31, 2012, 7:36 am
From your letter, it seems that you have the idea in your head that because he comes from a well-off family, he won’t understand debt. As someone who is lucky to have a mother who is able to pay for my college degree, and helps me out a whole lot on other fronts, I’m here to tell you that he will understand, and he’s not going to hold it against you. It might seem embarrassing, but I hold a high level of respect for people who are able to deal with that sort of stress, and have worked their way through life. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and if he’s a good person, he’s not going to make you think otherwise.
Just sit him down, explain how the debt came about (and your reasons for taking out your loans, which seem legitimate), and let him know how you are planning to deal with it in the future, and what that means for your future together. It really doesn’t have to be awkward.
theattack January 31, 2012, 7:42 am
Girl, your bf probably has debt too, and he’s certainly heard of other people having it. There are tons of college students whose parents help them out but still come out with debt. Wealthy parents don’t necessarily fix all of it. There are so many people who have debt for those reasons that he’s going to understand. Don’t sweat it!
honeybeenicki January 31, 2012, 8:08 am
YES. Yes, you should tell your boyfriend of 3 years that you have debt. As to when, well I happen to think it is long overdue. Just because he comes from a well-to-do family doesn’t mean he will think any less of you. Honestly, if he does think less of you because you put yourself through college and therefore have student loans and needed a car so you have a car payment, then you should run the other way really, really fast. Like someone else said, it doesn’t sound like you have huge credit card debts from irresponsible spending. It sounds like you have normal debts, just like I do.
My husband and I had the money talk when were were merging our finances. He lived on my couch for awhile before we dated, but when he “moved in” as my boyfriend at the time, we had a discussion about debt. He had a lot of debt from medical bills for himself and his 2 kids from when he and his ex-wife had no insurance. There were a few other things on top of that and it was a lot. On the same level, I have a Masters so I have a giant mountain of student loans (at the time I didn’t have my Masters yet, but still had a nice little mountain of student loans) plus I have a car payment to make and all of my other monthly bills. We were able to sit down and figure out what worked best for us as far as paying bills, what we could afford for extra niceties, and ultimately plan our wedding on a budget. I had a gorgeous wedding. It was awesome and it didn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Mind you, we had a little help paying for it (we ended up paying about half) but no one could have guessed how little was really spent on it based on what it looked like.
Please have this talk with your boyfriend. If you ultimately do decided to get engaged and then married, there are so many things that will make it so you can have a nice wedding for his sake without completely breaking the bank. I became a pro at that, so if you need tips feel free to let me know.
evanscr05 January 31, 2012, 8:35 am
Oh, man. I can relate. I am someone who didn’t get a good personal finance education growing up, and my parent’s weren’t always so hot with the money either, so when I finally got out on my own after college, I went a little nuts. Never so bad I couldn’t make the payments or avoid other parts of my life, but I made a lot of mistakes that I’m still paying for, and will be paying for for quite some time (student loans, and a hefty credit card debt). I was hoenst and upfront with my husband about it, though, while we were dating. He was well aware of my debt, and I was well aware of his. I have found, though, that as a team, we’ve been able to tackle the situation so much better than as individuals. He helps me not only pay stuff down (which is beneficial to both of us), but takes away the stress I feel when it starts to overwhelm me. He helps me look at the big picture and never EVER blames me for the fact that is has a real impact on other parts of our lives. He married me inspite of it. Your boyfriend loves YOU. If he’s a good man, he’ll find a way to get past the imposition you guys would be in financially because he loves YOU. If he’s a good man, instead of making you feel like crap about it, he’ll find ways to help you take care of the situation and reassure you that you guys are going to be okay. It does not define you. I know that there will be bad days where it can get to you and make you feel like a let down, but, I reiterate, if he’s a good man, he’ll do what he can to make you feel better because he loves YOU. Look, the debt happened. You can’t go back in time and change things. All you can do it find a way to move forward.
ReginaRey January 31, 2012, 8:46 am
You know, I’ve been noticing a pattern with DW letters of late (and OK, I think this has been happening since the beginning…but I digress). It seems like, and I’m sure Wendy can confirm, there are many, many people who write in to Wendy asking her what they should do about an issue that they’ve NEVER discussed with their significant other. And while I’m sure they glean a lot of useful information from Wendy and from the commenters, I think there’s a bigger question underlying all of this: WHY are we so afraid to communicate with our significant others??
You can’t have a healthy relationship that lasts without communicating with your partner. In particular, you’re going to run in to issues that are difficult to discuss – money, children, religion, and the rest of the things that Wendy discussed last week – and it’s even MORE important not to avoid those topics simply because you’re afraid you might rock the boat or start a fight. If you’re going to be with someone forever, you can’t avoid tough topics!
And what exactly is that we’re so afraid might happen when we’re direct, honest, and open? Are we afraid that our significant other will leave us? That we’ll start a fight and end up ruining the relationship? Listen, if you end up losing a significant other because you calmly, rationally, and honestly discussed a more difficult topic…then they weren’t the right person for you in the first place. With the right person, you should be able to reach an agreement, or a compromise, about most of the “BIG” topics in life. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t be spending your life with them…because constantly disagreeing about money, children religion, location, careers, goals, values, etc, is no way to spend your life.
Ok, sorry for getting on my soapbox ya’ll. I’d just really like to see people be a bit more direct, open and unafraid to speak up about critical topics in a relationship.
JK January 31, 2012, 8:53 am
Totally agree, I think especially the most recent letters have been obvious “talk to your SO” problems.
We want more trainwrecks!!!! 😀
Addie Pray January 31, 2012, 9:58 am
We are due some trainwrecks, aren’t we, JK – it’s been too long!
Addie Pray January 31, 2012, 10:01 am
Actually, I take that back. Trainwreck letters don’t create a lot of good discussion. I like hot debates among commenters.
JK January 31, 2012, 10:13 am
That´s what the forums are for! 🙂
Brad January 31, 2012, 8:59 am
“because constantly disagreeing about money, children religion, location, careers, goals, values, etc, is no way to spend your life.”
No but it might just get you your own reality TV show on MTV…
MissDre January 31, 2012, 9:24 am
I just want to say that I think what a lot of people are really asking for is advice on HOW to talk about their issues productively. I remember when I wrote in to Dear Wendy specifically asking “how” to bring up an issue, and people were jumping down my throat telling me I had communication issues.
It’s frustrating to hear as an LW, specifically in my case because I did not ask whether I should talk to my boyfriend, I asked for help organizing my thoughts and I asked about the best way to approach it (from a dude’s perspective). I was not afraid to talk about it, nor was I trying to think of a way NOT to talk about it… it was just a touchy subject and I wanted advice regarding the best way to bring it up.
ReginaRey January 31, 2012, 9:27 am
I agree with you. I think there are definitely some LW’s who never planned NOT to talk about their issues…they just aren’t sure how to bring it up. But in this case at least, she specifically asked whether she even SHOULD bring it up, and she’s certainly not the first person to ask if she should even bother talking to a significant other about an important issue.
Wendy January 31, 2012, 9:30 am
Well, I dunno, MissDre. I think she makes it pretty clear that she’s asking whether she should bring up this issue when she says, “Should you even?”
Wendy January 31, 2012, 9:35 am
Also, just because someone is asking “How” doesn’t mean that they literally need to know words to say. They may have trouble talking about something because of insecurities on their part. In this case, the LW is insecure about being poor/ having debt. She’s scared this is going to be a liability that may hurt her chances of getting married. My job isn’t to tell her words to say, but to build her up and assure her she isn’t alone in feeling this way, that others — like me! — have been there and survived (and gotten married), and that her bank account doesn’t define her as a person. It’s my job to encourage her to see her value outside what financial contributions she can make to a relationship so that she is more confident in discussing finances with her boyfriend.
MissDre January 31, 2012, 9:49 am
BTW, Wendy… I certainly wasn’t disagreeing with you. I always think you give awesome advice in a “teach them how to fish” kind of way 🙂
Addie Pray January 31, 2012, 9:57 am
I dunno. I really disagreed with Wendy on that Your Turn post a couple of days ago. (Am I the only one who thinks I’m ridiculously funny?)
But re: what RR said, I definitely fall in the camp of being afraid to address hot topics with men I “love”… I don’t understand why; I’m not afraid to address these things with friends and family or at work. I think that’s it, RR, I’m afraid I’ll rock the boat or start a fight… or they’ll run away from me and not like me anymore. I need some lady balls.
Brad January 31, 2012, 10:15 am
Just so long and their metaphorical…physical ones would be scary.
Something More January 31, 2012, 9:54 am
I agree with MissDre that sometimes it IS about asking for the right words (obviously not in this case, but in others). We actually just talked about this in the forum. My ex-husband did a number on my self-confidence so I get literally terrified to talk about important things. Not that I don’t want to talk about them, but I never know what to say to bring it up. Like I get super nervous and I tear up, even when I’m not upset. So, I guess… sometimes people DO just need the right actual words to start off the conversation.
theattack February 1, 2012, 1:15 am
Yes, absolutely! It doesn’t even mean we’re going to use the same words, but to hear an example of how that conversation might go can really do wonders!
MissDre January 31, 2012, 9:46 am
Sorry, I didn’t mean regarding this letter in particular. ReginaRey’s comment about all the letters coming in about people not being able to communicate with their SO just reminded me of the frustration I felt at some of the comments on my own letter months back. Particularly after yesterday’s letter… the poor LW wrote in asking for advice on how to deal with being pregnant while her boyfriend is deployed, and half the thread was about her inappropriate wardrobe choice.
ReginaRey January 31, 2012, 9:48 am
Well, just to clarify, I never said ALL of the letters coming in. I said “many” of them.
MissDre January 31, 2012, 9:50 am
I wasn’t trying to disagree with you. Just venting 🙂 LoL.
bethany January 31, 2012, 9:32 am
“Listen, if you end up losing a significant other because you calmly, rationally, and honestly discussed a more difficult topic…then they weren’t the right person for you in the first place.” <— True that.
kittyk January 31, 2012, 10:16 am
You hit the nail on the head with this one…
GatorGirl January 31, 2012, 10:47 am
I’m with you RR!
Matthew January 31, 2012, 8:48 am
CREH, Your boyfriend probably already has a good idea about your financial situation. It’s pretty hard to not pick up on things like this when you spend three years with someone. Your boyfriend probably doesn’t know your ‘number,’ but I bet he has a good idea that you aren’t living the high-life. Beyond this, I bet he can also tell that you are responsible with your money. If you work hard, pay your bills, and don’t buy lots of frivolous crap, you are already doing everything right and have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you should be proud.
It’s not clear from your letter, but I imagine your boyfriend is similarly uncomfortable talking about finances. Even on the other side of this coin, it’s not an easy topic to bring up. However, if you have been in a relationship for three years are considering becoming more serious, you absolutely have to have this conversation. Money can be an extreme source of tension in any relationship. They key is not that you and he have to be making the same amount or contributing the same amount; rather, you both simply have to be on the same page about how those finances will work.
Next time one of these situations comes up where you are talking about the future or paying for big things, etc, etc, you should start this conversation. Just say: “Hey, I’ve been scared to bring this up, but if we are going to think about marriage, we probably should talk about finances…” Lay it all out for him; show him that you may not be rich, but you are responsible and know how to manage what you have.
Leroy January 31, 2012, 9:07 am
You’re probably right – that he already has a sense of her financial situation. The funny thing is that he might assume that it’s worse than it is because she’s been hiding it.
Colleen January 31, 2012, 10:41 am
What a great response. I was thinking the same thing while reading her letter: he must already have some idea of her situation. After three years I’m sure he’s noticed her low spending on clothes, outings, and other luxuries. I’m sure she drives a modest car and lives in a modest place. He’s heard stories about her upbringing and probably met her parents and even visited their house. All of those factors tell a story.
My husband and I had differing levels of financial support from our parents. Neither of us grew up wealthy by any means, but family had more privilege than his did. That’s reflected in our student loans. Though I sometimes am frustrated that his loans are three times the size of mine I never judge him for it. Life just threw some tough twists his way before and during college that affected his ability to pay for it outright. He worked more than I ever did during college and is still an incredibly hard worker. He’s always been pretty responsible with his money and does most of the management for our household because he’s so knowledgeable. And of course he has so many other talents and wonderful qualities… those are how I judge his ability to be my partner, not by the size of that monthly payment.
As long as you can show that you are responsible and have your financial situation under control, I don’t think your boyfriend will be shocked or worried. Have the conversation so you can stop letting this stress hang over your head.
Kristen January 31, 2012, 8:56 am
You need to sit down and have a conversation with your boyfriend, LW. It doesn’t have to be this big revelation or secret; just let him know that as your relationship gets more serious, you think it would be good for both of you to learn about the other’s financial situation in detail. Ask him to bring his credit reports and bank balances, too. This informal meeting can be about the TWO of you sharing, not just you revealing a deep, dark secret.
And I hope you know that your debt is not a shameful secret. You have student loans! And medical bills! Almost everyone has student loans; it’s becoming necessary in order to get an education and pursue your dreams. And in the long run, your education will be a benefit to your boyfriend and your relationship. As it stands now, since you haven’t had the conversation, you’re hiding post-it note reminders about paying your direct student loans like it’s an in illicit text from a lover. Don’t keep doing that! Your boyfriend will understand, and you will feel so much better. Then, the two of you can come up with a plan to reduce your debt and move forward in your lives.
Now for some practical advice:
1. Take a Saturday morning and completely flesh out your financial situation for yourself. Make sure you know how much you still owe on each loan, what the interest rate is, what your monthly income is, and what your basic expenses are.
2. Organize your loans in a list, starting with the one with the highest interest rate. Work on paying that down the fastest. Continue making on-time payments for all loans, but if you have ANYTHING extra you can put toward your debt (even $20), put it toward the one with the highest interest rate. Once you pay off that first loan completely, roll that monthly payment onto the loan with the second highest interest rate, and continue paying extra until you’ve paid them all off over time.
3. For your medical bills: Call the companies and ask for a break. Really. A lot of times, if you can pay in cash, or give them a lump sum for half, they’ll take a much lower amount and forgive the rest. Also, ask about all the payment plan options to make sure you’re using the one that works best for you.
4. If you’re drowning in car payments, sell your car and buy a reliable used one. It won’t be fancy, but it will get you from place to place, and that’s the whole point, right? Never buy a new car (it loses a huge portion of its value the second you drive off the lot), and never let a salesman talk you into taking on a huge loan just because it seems like you can afford the monthly payments.
5. Do you have any hobbies or talents that you could make money from on the side? Do you bake? Knit? Are you great at babysitting or with dogs?
6. Take an inventory of all the stuff you’ve accumulated and see if there’s anything you can sell online. I’ve made some great pocket change by selling DVD box sets, etc, on eBay.
7. Go the library and learn about how you can take control of your own finances. Some great books: “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi, “Rich by 30” by Lesley Scorgie, “Debt Free for Life” and “Smart Couples Finish Rich” by David Bach.
Kristen January 31, 2012, 9:01 am
I also wanted to add that in regard to your future wedding, it’s possible your families (particularly his) might want to help you pay for it. You won’t know until you (once again!) sit down and talk with them. My point is that you shouldn’t be stressed until you have the entire picture and see what you’re working with. So step up, and have those tough conversations. You’ll be glad you did! I promise.
Something More January 31, 2012, 9:42 am
I love this. All of this. I am somewhat in the same boat as the LW with my finances altho mine are mostly credit card debt and a couple of personal loans. Sometimes it’s SO overwhelming that it’s easier to just ignore it, but you’ve provided so great tips that I will get right on! Thank you!
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 9:48 am
completely flesh out your financial situation for yourself
THIS. You will feel sooooo less overwhelmed when you at least have a complete understanding of your debt. Make a spreadsheet for a budget, a couple calls to see if you can rework your debt/lessen APRs, etc. I do this with my sisters every couple of months (because they never listen but have no problem calling looking for help on bills). Budget, budget, budget.
SweetPea January 31, 2012, 9:58 am
I like your point on the medical bills.
I work in the billing dept for a mental health agency. If someone has a large balance and is willing to pay a chunk up front, we have been known to wipe out the rest, just to get it off of our books. Also, be VERY nice when you call up for this sort of thing. When I take calls about people unable to pay their bills, I go a lot further for the people that are nice. People that work in billing departments get a lot of mean calls. I don’t do favors for mean people!
honeybeenicki January 31, 2012, 10:08 am
Another thing to consider is that interest paid on student loans can usually be claimed on your taxes, so I usually work on paying off other things before student loans. I put a little extra toward each student loan monthly (when I can) but often put more toward other things like my car loan since that can’t be claimed on my taxes.
And yes, yes, 100 times yes to calling the companies about your medical bills. Even if you can’t pay a whole huge lump sum up front, if you call them and try to set up a payment plan they are often willing to work with you. The fewer payments, the more they are going to forgive. For example, my husband had a bill for about $4000. He called them and asked about doing a payment plan and they let it go with 10 payments of $200, so he only paid half.
GatorGirl January 31, 2012, 10:50 am
Last year I got a HUGE return due to my student loan interest payments. It is definitely worth looking into any and all tax right off the LW (and all of us) might be able to get.
plasticepoxy January 31, 2012, 11:04 am
Does forgiveness on medical bills work the same way as forgiveness on other debt? Before I joined a debt-management plan, I looked into debt consolidation and bankruptcy. I spoke with a financial counselor and was told that the majority of consolidation plans had them working with your creditors to reduce the amount owed, the same with bankruptcy. My point is that I was told (at least in MN) if you have any amount of debt reduced by the creditor, you owe tax on that as if it were income, and it hits your credit as a “settled” account, which shows that you didn’t pay the full amount owed, which was, per the counselor, worse than having a high income-to-debt-ratio. (Sorry for the run-on sentence.) I was strongly advised against any sort of settlement, but I didn’t have any medical debt, just personal type stuff (loans, credit cards).
honeybeenicki January 31, 2012, 11:33 am
It depends on if it is technically forgiveness or just a payment plan. In the situation I described, it didn’t count as debt forgiveness. It was just a negotiated payment plan. I know for most things if it is actually a forgiveness, it sometimes needs to be counted as “income.”
kittyk January 31, 2012, 10:17 am
Great practical advice!
Fabelle January 31, 2012, 8:57 am
Yeah, I agree with everyone so far– after 3 years together, you should’ve been having an ongoing conversation about finances & it’s sort of amazing to me that you’ve managed to hide it for so long! There’s nooo reason you need to crumple up your reminder notes to pay a loan bill– I mean, the fact that you do this means you’re being responsible! That’s something to be proud of, not something to secret away from your serious boyfriend. And like someone else said, it’s not as if you’re in credit card debt for a shoe addiction. The debt you describe is because of life– college, health care, car bills. No one is going to fault you for that. And if your bf comes from a well-off family that helped him out with college and car payments, then I’m betting he’s actually going to admire how you’ve had your work for your own stuff.
ChemE January 31, 2012, 9:00 am
I’m not sure how this discussion has never come up. I think the fact that when he asked you specifically about it and you lied to his face is pretty ridiculous.
How could you lie to him like that? I’m not trying to be a jerk but really? Instead of using it as a way to COMMUNICATE with him you shut him out. I’d be more upset over the fact that you lied to me about it than the actual debt. To me, the debt doesn’t seem that bad.
That being said, I think I can say with confidence, that most people leave college with debt. The amount depends of course, but typically we all have it. Whether it’s credit cards or student loans, it’s there. so I don’t think he would be surprised about that. The car, well again, most people own cars, and most people are still paying for them. So again, probably won’t surprise him.
What will surprise him is that you felt the need to keep it from him. Just because his family is well off doesn’t mean they aren’t swimming in debt as well. He might not be, but that doesn’t mean he is completely ignorant.
When I mentioned to my husband I had student loan debt, he didn’t even flinch. He already had figured it existed without me saying anything, but I never kept it a secret. An when we formally discussed it, it wasn’t a big deal.
Please, give him the benefit of the doubt and tell him about your financial situation. Talk this over with him.
fast eddie January 31, 2012, 9:04 am
This kind of debt is admirable, education and self sufficiency add to your character and attractiveness. If he doesn’t respect you for that it’s time to let him go. I can’t believe that after 3 years he doesn’t have some sense of your financial profile. The big question is where do you go from here? Before living together you both need to put your cards on the table negotiate what you expect from each other financially.
Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com January 31, 2012, 9:06 am
I’m glad this topic came up as I think a lot of us can relate. I especially appreciate some of the issues that the male commenters have teased out. Essentially, women (and men) DO get very mixed messages when it comes to financial contributions in a relationship. I can relate quite a lot to LW –having student loans, etc, and not earning that much in my field. That being the case, I have often felt really sheepish whenever I could NOT put in an equal half toward expenses, dinners out, etc.
On the other hand, there is still some lingering sentiment about men being the providers and their income being a primary source of their status in the world. In my relationship, it’s expected that we both contribute 50/50 (we live together, share bank accounts, etc) but, at the same time, my BF sometimes laments that he wishes he had more money so he could take me on “lavish vacations” and stuff. He acts as if that was somehow his responsibility and he’s fallen short. Me, I’m like, “This is not the NBA. This is real life and we have real salaries.” Although, I mean, I wouldn’t MIND if he were in a position to give me a yacht for Christmas… just saying.
I agree with Wendy and others that your BF surely knows more than you think. And probably is very clear about your sensitivity to the subject. And I suspect he will be understanding and probably relieved to have it out in the open. As for how to introduce it, why not tell him what you’ve told us? I think it’s a very heartfelt and genuine way to tell the story.
Last point, one of the things I am on the brink of doing in my own relationship, is to sit down and actually present all the financial numbers in a spreadsheet (my salary, retirement holdings, debts, loans, etc). This might sound terrifying but, in some ways, it may be easier to let the numbers do the talking rather than trying to explain it all in a story. Or at least, it would be a good visual aid!
I think you will find that incredible relief will follow this discussion. I know that revealing your finances to another person (especially one who doesn’t have the same burdens) can feel INCREDIBLY vulnerable. Strangely, financial intimacy is harder to come by than physical intimacy in this day and age. But once you reveal it and he accepts you FOR it, you will reach a new milestone in your relationship. One that is better prepared for marriage –both practically and emotionally.
Good luck and don’t forget to give us an update after the talk!
Leroy January 31, 2012, 10:49 am
FWIW I think that’s an obligation that women often impose on themselves. Because it’s not something that I expect, and most of the guys that I know don’t put so much emphasis on how much money women make. The 50:50 concept seems to be one of those PC notions that everyone is supposed to endorse, but no one actually lives that way.
Brad January 31, 2012, 11:12 am
I don’t think it has to be 50/50. I think it should be a difference between your personal income compared with your income as a couple and each pay their respective percentage accordingly. So if I make 4,000 a month and you make 2,000 a month, then I should be paying 2/3rds of the bills and maybe fewer chores.
LeahW. January 31, 2012, 9:06 am
You say that you like the person that working hard has made you, but I wonder. Your debt doesn’t define you but how you’ve chosen to deal with it, by working your ass off and taking loans, definitely does. It’s pretty significant that when you list all your current loans and bills you don’t mention credit card debt. That’s pretty awesome! You’ve chosen to invest in things that will bring you a real return on your investment (education and transportation) and have bills for unexpected things (medical bills). And through all this, you haven’t been discouraged from a career doing something that you really love, writing, even though it makes your financial situation a lot harder.
All these things say a lot about who you are as a person, and by keeping it from your boyfriend you’ve stolen his ability to really know you. Shouldn’t he have that chance? He might not understand your financial situation at first, but you’ve never even asked him to try. He’s probably assumed that you’ve had an upbringing and financial life like he has, and why wouldn’t he? You’ve never told him any different!
Yes, you should definitely tell him, not because it’s some deep, dark secret you’re obligated to reveal but because these are important aspects of your life, a life that you’ve already been sharing with him for three years! Before you do, though, I would spend some time thinking about why it was preferable for you to lead a double-life rather than tell him where you came from. My guess is you have a lot of embarrassment and even shame over your background. It’s fine. You wouldn’t be the first! But at this point, you owe your boyfriend an explanation, not of your finances, but why you didn’t trust him enough to really get to know you.
Budj January 31, 2012, 9:08 am
LW, do you honestly think the parents of 90% of America’s youngest and brightest (debatable) all made enough money to put them through school and buy them cars? There are A LOT of people in your exact situation….me for example…and probably at least 50% of the people that comment on this site.
There is such a thing as “good debt” in the sense of you went into debt for the right reasons. A car and school loans fall into that category…assuming you aren’t living in NYC or comparable areas where public transportation makes more sense.
You definitely need to bring this up to him. Your debt will be tied to him if you tie the knot – he has a right to know. Do not worry about it so much and follow Wendy’s advice…I will be surprised if this blows up in your face…minus the hiding it for so long…but you can “weasle” out of that by saying you didn’t want to bring it up until you guys were talking life-time commitment.
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 9:49 am
So you’re saying I should go out and finance that Jaguar. Well, Bugj, that’s all I needed to hear.
Budj January 31, 2012, 9:55 am
If it is affordable for you then sure! I would have advised against Jag’s until I saw their most recent commercial…they look pretty slick now…plus my guitar is a Jaguar so I have a new found affinity for all things Jag.
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 10:05 am
Was trying to come up with other Jag things…
(also, no, its not affordable. a girl can dream)
Budj January 31, 2012, 10:09 am
Black licorice…ew. I guess that is the exception.
Something More January 31, 2012, 10:20 am
A baby Jaguar…? Every time we watch a Planet Earth show or something like that I always want the babies! Baby elephants, baby tigers, baby monkies… BABY JAGUARS!!
JK January 31, 2012, 10:24 am
My brother used to work at a zoo, and once a jaguar was born that had only 3 legs.. it was amazing how he handled himself with his siblings!
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 11:11 am
I want a baby everything too!
iseeshiny January 31, 2012, 10:20 am
I was wondering what you would have to say about this, Mr. My-SIL-Didn’t-Tell-My-Brother-About-Her-Finances-Until-After-The-Wedding! No anecdote? I need an anecdote.
Budj January 31, 2012, 10:24 am
haha – not quite the same situation althought I’m assuming the anxiety on the part of the LW is a similar motivation to my SIL…at the very least I would say…keeping these things to yourself is a very rocky way to start a marriage.
jlyfsh January 31, 2012, 9:09 am
Yes, definitely time to sit down and talk to him about this. If you’re even considering marriage you should be talking about this. My husband and I both have school loans, medical bills, car payments, etc and we make it work. You just have to communicate. Have you ever seen the how i met your mother episode when Marshall finds out that Lily has a ton of debt and it affects whether or not they can get a house? I mean I realize that it’s 1. tv and 2. an extreme example but i think it shows that not talking about your debt will come back to bite you in the butt if you try and hide it. And it will be far worse than if you had just sat down and talked to him before the fact.
Something More January 31, 2012, 9:45 am
I LOVE that episode. It was the first thing I thought of when I read this letter. I heart HIMYM so much! And it definitely shows how not talking about this sort of thing before you get married can come back to haunt you later.
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 9:24 am
Gut reaction-You’re making way too big a deal of this. He probably has a bit of a clue already, if he’s been with you this long, knows you earned everything you have and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he admired you for it and maybe even looked down on himself a little that he has an independent girlfriend while he spent much of his life living off his parents’ money (not that there’s anything wrong with that, up to a certain age).
I bet this is one of those times that after you spill the beans, not only will you feel relieved, but he will not think its such a big deal and you’ll be fine.
Renee January 31, 2012, 9:47 am
I agree, along with everything Wendy has said.
Everyone has debt, the idea is that your responsible and realistic you are with they money you do have. Even though you make less and have less family financial contribution, would he trust you with his credit/bedit card? Considering how financially supportive his family has been, it might be you’re the one better at handling the finances since you’ve done it independently.
MiMi January 31, 2012, 9:58 am
I don’t understand the shame? If you’ve worked for everything you have and you like what that’s made you, you certainly don’t have anything to apologize for. You might even take a moment’s pause over a guy who is just now dipping his toe in the financial whirlpool (wow, he just started paying his own rent – how incredible is he?!). If he hasn’t had a chance to make any mistakes yet, how do you know that he’d be a good financial risk as a husband? You have a lot to talk about, as equals, because in a sense you are both bringing liabilities to the financial table.
However, before you have any such talks, be honest with yourself. Have you been maintaining an unrealistic facade around money so you could “keep up” with him? Have you been mismanaging what money you do have? Why do you have such a hefty car loan? Can you sell that flash car and get something more reasonably priced? We all want to feel like we’re living the good life, but I tell you that living within your means and not having things hanging over your head all the time feels pretty darned good too.
Take a good look at your finances to see if there is room for improvement by consulting a non-profit credit counselor or try hummingbird.org where they have a budget analysis tool so you can see where your money really goes and lots of good free info in the “Learning Center”. Once you know where you stand and what/if changes need to be made (and make them), you’ll be in a better position to start the kind of objective conversations on finances and all those topics that Wendy wrote about in her column. Good luck!
Fabelle January 31, 2012, 10:37 am
“You might even take a moment’s pause over a guy who is just now dipping his toe in the financial whirlpool” — yes! It seems like she has more experience than he does independently managing finances, so it’s not unreasonable for her to be a little concerned about him. (Not saying she SHOULD worry, but it could help the LW to realize that having debt doesn’t make her the weak link in their partnership or anything)
leilani January 31, 2012, 10:00 am
I have about $10,000 in student loan debt. My boyfriend, however, has about $80,000. The number is staggering, and a big percentage of his paycheck every month goes to student loan payments. I knew about his debt from the get-go, and I’ll admit, I really wasn’t thrilled to hear about it, as I can potentially see a future with him. But honestly, to have a successful relationship, it was really crucial that I know. We are talking about moving in together when I move to a different city at the end of this summer, and this is a practical concern that affects what we could potentially afford. If we were talking about getting married, this is definitely something we would discuss in depth before we did so we had a clear plan of action and I didn’t end up feeling resentful later when it was cutting into our home or vacation fund. Even if things never get more serious than they are now, it is helpful to know when he has big bills due so I understand why he might not want to go to a fancy dinner this weekend, and I know that if I want to do that, I should offer to cover the check. His debt is just a reality that can’t be denied, and I never considered jumping ship because of it.
If he waited to tell me until we were engaged or something, that would be a whole different story. Going into this knowing the whole situation, it just feels like an unfortunate reality we have to work with together. If he waited a long time and then just sprung it on me, I would feel cheated and lied to, and like I had signed up for something without knowing what I was signing up for. I would definitely tell him as soon as possible. You could either sit him down and tell him what’s up, or you could just start by not trying to hide it from him (i.e. “I have to stop by the post office today to drop off my student loan check”), and then talk about it more in depth when you are discussing your future together.
theattack February 1, 2012, 1:32 am
If it makes you feel any better, $80,000 is not nearly as high as what some people I know have. There are many, many students who go to undergrad and then grad school and come out with $150,000+. I know someone with almost $200,000 in student loans.
kittyk January 31, 2012, 10:06 am
Only read the title but my response is YES!
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 10:17 am
No one has applauded Wendy’s naming of this LW—Confused-Ramen-Eating-Hopeful
Wendy January 31, 2012, 10:20 am
The LW named herself on this one.
ForeverYoung January 31, 2012, 10:26 am
Ha! Even better.
Addie Pray January 31, 2012, 10:55 am
Picture! This is too much change, too fast. But I like it.
iwannatalktosampson January 31, 2012, 11:00 am
And I have a new name! So now I have two usernames, two e-mail addresses, and I can’t get either of them to let me register. (Now you can see why i’m afraid of change, haha). So my random rambling will have to still be in some poor LW’s letter until I can get this figured out.
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 11:12 am
Are you going to start agruing with ForeverYoung?
:Loving all these pictures!
Addie Pray January 31, 2012, 11:15 am
Ha! IWTTS should definitely pick a fight with FY. You could fight over who is prettier.
Iwannatalktosampson January 31, 2012, 11:18 am
Ha! I’ve thought about it. FY has a short fuse, and IWTTS is kind of an instigator. Plus IWTTS is in a feisty mood and would love nothing more to spread out some of the tense energy among others.
IwannatalktoSampson January 31, 2012, 11:21 am
They aren’t even on speaking terms right now to be able to hash out their issues. FY woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, and frankly is a cranky biotch today. Iwannatalktosampson on the other hand is not letting it get to her, and is in quite the social mood. So she’ll be out to play allllll day.
IwannatalktoSampson January 31, 2012, 11:20 am
LBH! I can’t read what your picture says! These avatars are too small for my taste.
lets_be_honest January 31, 2012, 11:35 am
Its a picture of a porcupine and a balloon and it says “caught in a bad romance”
GatorGirl January 31, 2012, 10:40 am
To be honest I skipped everyone else’s comments to add my own…
LW are you crazy?? 3 years and you’ve never talked about money? Debt? Salaries? How is that even possible? You’ve hid the fact that you have student loans and car payments for years?? I just don’t get it. I understand feeling nervous or even shamefull about your debt- but at this point in your relationship this should have been long addressed. IMO this could actually cause a rift in your relationship if he feels like you’ve been hiding it or mis-representing yourself to him.
bittergaymark January 31, 2012, 10:42 am
Yes. Tell him. He’s probably figured it out anyway… Surely he knows that you paid for your school. And that as a writer you have yet to crack the best seller list, so you aren’t rolling in dough just yet.
kerrycontrary January 31, 2012, 12:26 pm
I have massive student loans from grad school (thankfully not from undergrad as well). My boyfriend makes a fair amount more than me and he has paid off any loans he had from undergrad. He knows about my student loan debt, but honestly, its not that big of a deal. We’ve talked about it and he just wants ME to be the one paying them off. His job moves him around a lot so he knows that in the future it may be hard to develop my career with all of that moving. He just asks that I work part time to pay the student loans, aka as long as I’m not bringing a negative balance to our relationship he has no problem paying for rent/food/entertainment. You have no idea how your bf will react. He may not be freaked out at all. In fact, usually when you come from a family where you didn’t have to worry about money you realize that its JUST money. If you are working and handeling your money responsibly your boyfriend will realize that your debt will get paid off eventually. He may even be willing to pay some of it off for you when you get married, but you’ll never know until you ask. And like Wendy said, please please please consider finances before you marry someone.
anon January 31, 2012, 1:33 pm
I’m right there with you kerrycontrary. My bf knows I have debt from law school, but he also knows that I take pride in having the kind of job where I can handle paying that balance down little by little. He reallly doesn’t care because he knows that I’m responsible about it.
However, I have an interesting issue. Right now I make more than him (he didn’t go to law school so our jobs are very different), but because of the amount of my loan payments, whenever we move in together, it would be tough for me to pay a higher percentage of the rent simply because my salary is higher. My salary may be higher, but my monthly expenses look quite different from his. Any ideas on how to address that topic? Also, fast forward a few years when we’re married and starting a family, I will still owe loan payments but I most likely will not be working for about a year, so how do people handle that? I don’t like the idea of having someone else pay for debt that I personally took on, but I don’t really know how to plan for that point either.
Budj January 31, 2012, 1:38 pm
If it were me…and I may find myself in your exact situation…I would tally out fixed personal expenses like cars, insurance, loans, etc and find out what each of your left over money is after that. Pool that together and figure out living expenses like rent/mortgage, groceries, etc since those are your combined costs and divvy the percentage based on the percentage of each of your contributions to the total of that value.
Budj January 31, 2012, 1:39 pm
That value being the sum total of your monthly money after paying for your fixed personal assets.
GatorGirl January 31, 2012, 1:49 pm
My BF and I talked about this recently and this is what we’ve decided for now (we do live together already). We will EACH take our monthly wages and subtract our individual expenses (student loans, car, personal credit card and car insurance) and then take that balance and figure out what we can each contribute to the house. So for me
Loans, car and insurance, credit card- $900
Left Over- $1,100
My BF after his bills has $735 left. So we’ll split things 60-40. Which happens to be the same proportion as our income but that will change once he starts to pay his student loans back. We just figure this out this month, so I’m not sure if it will work, but I’ll let you know! We get to spend the extra that doesnt have to go for bills as our “fun money”.
Budj January 31, 2012, 1:51 pm
I like the way you think.
evanscr05 January 31, 2012, 2:09 pm
Personally, I’ve never thought that the person that makes the most HAS to pay the most. I make substantially more than my husband, though my debt situation is worse, so I do have a lot more expenses. But we’ve always split stuff up 50/50. Before we got married, we looked at our living arrangement in the same way that I looked at it with my roommates beforehand. We were not legally tied to one another and thus did not find it fair that one person bear more of the financial burden. We each had a threshold of what we could afford to spend on rent, and so, as a unit, we did not go over the lowest threshold. By doing that, we did not worry that one person would be more responsible than the other. We also split up our utilities 50/50 and paid for our own food. We honestly did not share anything except a savings account. It was truly a yours and mine money situation. The only difference in the make more-pay more philosophy is that I contributed more to our joint wedding savings because I was able to. He didn’t pressure me into it, I decided to on my own. Now that we are married, we have a joint checking that all of our money goes into and every time we get paid, we give ourselves each an allowance, but the amount is the same. This is what works for us. We believe that it unfair to pull the “I make more than you” card because salaries change every year (for the most part). Situations are always in flux. Right now, yes, I make a lot more than him. But when he finishes his MBA and gets out of his current industry, his income potential is higher and thus HE’LL be making more than me. We only care about the total income, not the individual contributions. It would be too exhausting to have things constantly in flux and be determined by whose income is higher and what percentage of the bills they should pay, yadda yadda. We’re a lot more productive financially now that we have pooled our resources and attack things together. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, and every situation is different, but this is what we have found is more fair and works for us.
beans629 January 31, 2012, 2:48 pm
Anon, as someone with a professional degree (law), is it possible for you to work off some of the debt? For instance, doing pro bono work (I’m assuming you’re in the US) in poor/rural areas.
Just thought, the gov seems to be begging for certain professionals and are willing to offer great incentives. Also, if you are even remotely inclined the military has some kick ass options for paying off loans/debt in a short amount of time.
anon January 31, 2012, 4:43 pm
Thanks for all the feedback! I like the idea of figuring out all of the personal expenses before figuring out how much to contribute to joint expenses.
beans – the military is not for me, but my career could very easily lead me into federal government work after getting experience in the private sector. I’ve looked into many of those programs, but the timing of when I needed a job and when agencies were actually hiring didn’t really mesh.
painted_lady January 31, 2012, 1:51 pm
My two cents: as someone who comes from a family with a fair amount of money, there’s a certain amount of guilt that I have for not having been self-sufficient and independent until really recently. Your boyfriend – unless he’s got some sort of entitlement thing going on – probably feels the same way. I have a lot of debt from grad school now, but my grandparents paid for my undergrad degree, and my parents helped me out a huge amount in grad school and while I was struggling to find work for the two years after. There’s a good chance your boyfriend might see his own good fortune as a liability and proof that he’s not a “real” adult yet – I did. My boyfriend has been financially independent way longer than I have, and I’ve had to ask him how certain things are done in order to stay afloat. It may prove a great way to grow as a couple – he had a massive college scholarship whereas I was able to go to a better university with no scholarship. When he went back to school last year to get a medical tech certification, he had to pay for it all for the first time, and I actually did know far more about the way that worked as I handled the funds my grandparents had set aside for me myself. So remember, you’re not saddling him with the relationship equivalent of cancer. You’re trading a flawless, shiny credit score in for some real experience and financial savvy, and both are valuable in their own way.
LANY January 31, 2012, 1:54 pm
LW, I am in the position of coming from a wealthy family – no debt coming out of grad school or undergrad, condo down payment paid for, etc. That said, I had my car payments, and a huge mortgage in my name… as other commenters have posted, your boyfriend has an understanding of debt, and unless he lives under a rock understands that most people have not had the opportunities that he has had.
My boyfriend “came out” to me about his debt about a year after we started dating — he had close to $200K in law school loans (good, esp. considering that he went to a top law school and works for a top firm = ability to pay off those loans), and another $40K in credit card debt (bad, bad bad, especially his rationalization that he knew that after school he’d be “making enough money to pay them off”).
I’ll be honest – I didn’t love hearing about his financial situation — the law school stuff was totally fine, but I was a bit uncomfortable about the credit card debt, and what it said about his financial responsibility… but we talked about it, and it was good for me to realize his situation. He hadn’t been adding to his debt for the year he’d been out of law school and that we’d been together, but the credit card interest wasn’t going away… I let him know that I didn’t need nice dinners out every weekend, or expensive tickets to shows. I insisted on paying for more things (we split a lot of things, but since he made 75% more than me, I let him pay for the more things that he wanted to pay for)… and after a few months, we realized that him paying $2000 / month on rent was a waste, he was pretty much living at my place anyway, he should move into my condo, and help out with expenses but not pay rent (since I’d be spending the same amount on the mortgage anyway) – putting that extra cash towards paying down his loans. The best hting that came out of it was a discussion on our financial values, the recognition that neither of us are savers, and it’s something that we’re going to need to focus on and encourage each other on, and an understanding of how we want to spend our money together.
In the end, the credit card debt was paid off in 6 months, a large dent has been made in his law school loans, and we’re planning on getting married sooner rather than later…
You are who you are, and working hard to get to where you are is admirable. If he loves you, he’ll recognize that this made you who you are, and also do what he can in terms of supporting you as you reduce your debt burden… But the longer you wait to share this, the more he’ll feel like you were hiding such an important thing from him, which may (or may not) impact his ability to trust you. Sit down, have the discussion from the standpoint of, “since we’re talking about marriage, you should know these things”, and make sure that he’s the man you deserve based on his response.
Lindsey January 31, 2012, 3:07 pm
As a fellow writer and poor person, I’m in agreement with everyone else about telling him. Not only is it good for your relationship but it might alleviate any stress you might have. Being poor by yourself sucks (believe me) so sharing it with your boyfriend can only be a good thing.
L January 31, 2012, 5:17 pm
YES. Do yourself a favor and go have a conversation with him now. If you don’t, things WILL get worse. Finances are an integral part of your relationship whether you like it or not. And if you’ve been with him for 3 years, he’s likely to stick by you through this debt. And you know what? You’re not alone. In this crappy economy, LOTS of people are living paycheck to paycheck and LOTS of people have loans. I think you’ll find that there is a weight lifted off your shoulders when you don’t feel as though you have to hide your debt from him anymore.
WatersEdge January 31, 2012, 7:29 pm
I don’t think you have anything to be ashamed of. Having debt does not equal being bad with money! Sometimes debt is necessary to build a future.
Just for a fun little anecdote, I have about 200k in student loan debt. I also had about 6k in credit card debt. When I met my husband, I was a grad student. Broke as a joke. He made really good money and would fly me to see him for the weekend every 2 weeks. I felt SO BAD that I was so much worse off than him financially. Making no money, coming in with debt… blah blah blah.
Flash forward to now… 14 months later. Seriously, 14 months. Husband quit his job to go back to school (in a more family-friendly and higher-earning field, but yeah… he makes no money). I finished school and got a job, and now I am the sole breadwinner. Making good money, even after my huge loan payments. I paid off my credit card debt, but we found some of my husband’s that he forgot about. I started learning about finances and now I do all our financial planning. My husband is more of a spender than me these days, and I’m constantly reigning him in. He’s getting better but it’s been a slow transition. Want to know why? He’s ALWAYS HAD MONEY and he’s NEVER HAD TO BUDGET. Just like your boyfriend.
My point is, just because you have less money than him, or more debt than him, does not mean that you can’t contribute to the family financially. You know how to live within your means, and how to deny yourself the “wants” to meet the “needs.” And who knows when the tides may turn and your assets and skills may be what your family needs. I never anticipated that I would be the one to hold my family together financially when I entered this marriage.
Meredith January 31, 2012, 7:34 pm
Yes yes! Have the conversation with him! Before you get engaged! I made the mistake of not discussing debt w/my now husband until we were engaged and Holy cow was I in for a surprise when I found out how much debt he was in! We agreed to tackle it head on together, but I do wish we’d discussed our debt much sooner. You’ve probably been feeling a lot of anxiety about this for quite some time and you’ll feel soooo much better once you get it off your chest. I think you’ll be surprised at how supportive your boyfriend will be about it.
katie January 31, 2012, 9:13 pm
Lw, i will tell you that 1. YES tell him, like yesterday! and 2. if he truely loves you, this wont be a deal breaker.
I dont have any debt, except for my car, which i bought specifically for the purpose of having debt and building up my credit. my boyfriend, on the other hand, has student loans and a car that he had no choice but to take out a loan for. i also make a lot more then my boyfriend. so i pay our rent, i pay our car insurance, our groceries, our cell phone bills, my car, and any going out we do. he pays for his loans and our gas/electricity and internet. from the outside, it might look like i pay for everything, but from the inside, it is absolutely not so lopsided. i love him, and were a team, and the money is ours. not mine and his, but ours. we actually pay about the same towards our bills each month. and i dont care at all that i technically pay more then he does, because i love him. also, he actually pays all of our bills. like the act of opening the mail and writing the check and all that- i honestly have never had to do that before. ever. and so he handles that part of our life because he is good about bills and money, while i am not. we balance each other out. i make the money for more of our physical, immediate life then he does, but he takes the time and energy to make sure everything is paid on time and that there is enough money in our 3 bank accounts for everything, and he also makes a spreadsheet and tracks all of our expenses every freaking month! also, he cooks for me. see, LW? i wasnt even trying and i found all these reasons that i dont care about why i “technially” pay more to enrich our lives then he does, because he does other things that enrich our lives in different ways.
just please, please tell him!!!
pamplemousse January 31, 2012, 10:03 pm
I am surprised how committed the LW has been the last 3 years in hiding her financial situation (past and present). I for one feel like growing up poor has been extremely defining in terms of my identity. I just can’t conceive how she’s kept this part of herself from him without feeling like she’s pretending to be someone else (not that she is, but that is how I would feel). It’s not something that defines me all the time, but it’s definitely something that I feel defined by when interacting with those who’ve never experienced lower-class lifestyle.
I think the LW should be proud (not insecure) to tell her boyfriend, “hey, nothing ever came free in my life and that meant I had to start working as soon as it was legal and I paid for every dollar of my college education myself. I am proud to be so self-sufficient but this does mean that I am in the very normal situation of having student loan debt, etc.” Might as well own it 🙂
Faith+1 February 2, 2012, 8:24 am
Absolutely tell him. That is one of the showstopper problems that causes lots of relationships to end. My ex hid over $30K of credit card debt she had run up. When I uncovered all the debt and the fact she had hidden it from me–and bascially took little or no action to address it–I moved out the next day.
If you and your boyfriend can’t sit down and talk about finances you aren’t ready to get married. There are tougher discussions in your future compared to this.
Brian G. February 2, 2012, 12:07 pm
If he truly loves you, he will understand that before you met him you, like the rest of us, were stuck living under the criminal Bush Administration, who destroyed the economy with Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, his two illegal wars, and the raiding of the treasury in order to make Big Oil, Halliburton, and Wal-Mart rich, at the expense of women, children, minorities, and gays. I am sure he would understand and work it out with you. After all, if he didn’t and if he were a Republican, I can’t imagine you’d want to marry such a low life pond scum Republican anyway.
djo February 2, 2012, 12:43 pm
1. you are lying to him. 2 You are not superior because you’ve worked. 3 you can’t say you’ve gotten where you are by your effort if you haven’t paid for it yet. 4 Get a job ( “a writer” isn’t isn’t one if no one is paying for your next project) and a good job to pay off these loans yourself. Then you will have self respect……… sorry to be rough on you but it is good to hear the truth.
Don Gwinn February 2, 2012, 6:24 pm
COUNSELING COUNSELING COUNSELING. Do NOT get married without going to a qualified marriage counselor, even if it’s expensive. I didn’t, and I spent ten years not talking to my wife about money nearly enough (and we knew several times more about each other’s finances than you and your boyfriend, Letter Writer) along with several other issues. If you haven’t sat down and talked through sex, money, kids, religion, home, work and probably a lot of things I’m forgetting, your BEST case scenario is to get as lucky as I did and manage to pull the marriage out of the fire years later, after a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering. And the kicker is that it’ll probably require marriage counseling or at least a willingness to sit down together and talk honestly, even bluntly, about all the things you were avoiding in the first place anyway.
Don’t do it later, when it’s a lot harder, a lot more fraught and a lot less likely to work. Do it NOW.
CommenterfromTX February 3, 2012, 6:52 am
Here is my take on it.
His family may be well off. But later on he may have run or own a firm and there could be some bad years where he has to sacrifice before things get better. Good times do not continue. You have to ask YOURSELF if he was suddenly bankrupt, would you start all over with him, because he could be wearing your shoes. A lot of women who marry well off men suddenly resent it when a business deal goes south and liquidation occurs and there is a lean year. I’ve seen it happen.
Next, his family is well off because his parents know how to manage money. And so do you. Maybe he does and maybe he does not. But to make it, both of you have to manage money well. Couples have to pass through this filter to be successful. You will bring this skill to the relationship. So you may see this a weakness, yet is it a major strength.
Next, don’t focus on just your insecurities. Look at him as a man and as a partner. Things never get better in a relationship when you are young. You may be focused on how he sees you, but you must take a hard look at him as well. Little things now often become deal breakers later.
A marriage is more about constant negotiation than anything else. Money, kids, work, sex are the big ones to constantly adjust.
i want a boyfriend now March 7, 2014, 9:38 am
This means you should leave him alone a while to get over his pain.
By doing this, your ex starts to think the worst: that you no longer need him.
So the question arise if you don’t make any attempts to apologize
your mistakes then what should you do right now.
Sue Jones September 9, 2014, 4:55 pm
By the time I finished grad school (med school) I had about 40k in student loans that I thought I would never be able to pay off. That 40k seems like peanuts compared to the 200k it now costs, 20 years later to do my same grad school program. It is all relative.. I see lots of couples in my profession who meet in school and marry each other and they have 400k in student loans between them! Anyway I feel so foolish for letting my measly 40k in student loans (which are all paid off btw) make me feel like I was a liability back then and so for a long time I didn’t think I would be a good partner. So tell him! Yours is honorable debt since you had to pay for everything yourself. Who knows? Maybe if you marry and he earns more he may even help you pay them off or support you financially in other ways.It has been known to happen.
Texican Ashley January 17, 2023, 10:14 am
I feel like you are so insecure in your own finances that you haven’t taken a good look at his. You say he’s from a wealthy family and assume he has a lot of money, but no, his PARENTS have money. He only recently started paying his own rent? In my mind that makes him a financial baby. You might actually be the one that needs to take the financial reins in your relationship. You have experience, power, and the gumption to make a life for yourself. Don’t forget that.
Jessica January 18, 2023, 9:14 am
You have been with this man for 3 years and he is talking marriage, and it sounds like he’s tried to get you to talk to him about your finances before. That tells me he ALREADY knows and is just trying to get you to open up to him. You really need to, because if you keep putting off the marriage talk he might just end up thinking you’re just not wanting to, and drive him away. It really sounds like he loves you very much. He’s been with you for 3 years, sees where you live, and I’m sure he knows you got there on your own. I felt this way when I got with my fiance who I have now been with for 12 now cause he makes about 50,000 more than me a year and I’m on disability cause I broke my back. I was successful up until my injury too. I was raising 2 daughters on it, and paying for an overpriced apartment but I managed. We got pregnant and I would never ask for help even though he knew I needed it but was too proud to ask. He loves that part of me too. He knows I’m strong and can and have handled every sh** storm life has thrown at me so far, and that’s been alot. He don’t ask me if I need help now cause he knows I’ll never admit it, so he just pays a bill or slips me some cash when I’m not looking, but we never want or need for anything is my point. Trust me when I say it’s your pride that’s been stopping you. You don’t want him or his family to think you need him because he comes from money and I would honestly probably feel the same way. You want them to know you’re with him cause you love him, and he makes you happy. You gotta get over this before you risk losing the love of your life. Being independent is great but being in a partnership with the love of your life, doing life together is so much better ❤️ Good luck and I hope you update us on how it goes. I’m telling you though, I really think he already knows. I really do. Good luck and put your pride away for a while, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.