Am I being realistic?
May 21, 2013 6:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm getting ready to have a possible "final conversation" about financial responsibility with my boyfriend. I just want to check in to see that I'm being realistic with today's economy.

I did the self employment thing within the last 10 years and failed miserably at it. I then took a stable government job, which I plan to stay at due to the pension and benefits. I don't LOVE it, but it gives me the time and freedom to do things that I do love.

My boyfriend is self employed going on 10 years. We've been dating for the last 1 1/2 years, seeing each other on the weekends. We've talked about marriage, but not in the short term. I'm in my early forties.

When we first started dating, I was leery of his self employment. However, he was doing a lot of things that made me feel at ease. He had a 401k, an emergency health care plan, and a house. He made himself out as a successful businessperson, whose family member was on top of the financial aspects.

As time went on, signs started to appear that things were amiss. He was fairly honest and forthcoming about what was happening. But not so honest with himself that (in my opinion) the situation was the result of years of bad financial habits. He blamed the family member and a slowdown at work.

So, in a matter of months, the health care plan was dropped, the retirement account was drained, and the house payments were late. Suddenly, he was using a different family member to help with the finances. The new financier had him on "a plan" to pay down the debt.

OK. But he kept spending money. On stuff. Tickets to shows, plants, etc. because "life is short". I told him of my concerns about his finances and spending habits. He would say that his new finance person chided him about the same thing.

I have told him all about my ex husband who had similar bad habits. It took me 7 years to get out that mess. I'm not planning to go through that again.

I have asked more than once now when he was getting back on the health plan. He works in a high risk profession for injury/medical issues. He keeps saying that he needs to talk with the family member doing the finances. Yes, the next conversation is setting the final request with "Thank you for being so honest so far but this could be a deal breaker for me".

I find it irresponsible that he spends money on "stuff" when he could be purchasing a health insurance policy. If something were to happen to him, I would be the one dealing with an uninsured patient. I've seen what my friend has had to do in a similar situation. If something happened, I would be bitter knowing some of the legwork could have been prevented with a health care plan. And then somewhat guilty because I'm supposed to support my potential future partner. That's probably messed up, but that's how I feel.

He seems to want to change, and I'm willing to give him the chance. But I can't help wonder what it's going to take to get me comfortable. My ex would act similarly acting like he wanted to change, but then lash out at me when I held him to what he said he would do. Ugh. Baggage or lesson learned?

Am I being unreasonable here? Is health insurance just considered optional now and I'm just out of touch? Is the new retirement plan "I do what I love so I'll just keep doing it the rest of my life?"

Thanks for reading if you've made it this far. I just want to hear some different opinions before I go into this difficult conversation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I also had an ex-husband that refused to do the responsible thing, and it also took me years to dig out of the resulting debt. That is probably going to give my answer some bias.

He seems to want to change, and I'm willing to give him the chance. What concrete changes has he made? What steps has he taken to making you more comfortable?

I don't think health insurance is an "optional" thing. He should at a minimum get "catastrophic" coverage even if he can't go to the doctor for regular check ups.

Is this relationship seriously worth all this stress and worry on your part?
posted by getawaysticks at 7:00 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

It doesn't really matter what the internet thinks, if these things are deal breakers for you then they are deal breakers. Money is like the #1 reason couples fight, it is important to have similar feelings about money (or enough of it that it doesn't matter).

But, since you asked. Health Insurance is like the single most important expense. I would be late with my rent before I was late with my insurance premium, I would eat ramen for weeks if it meant paying my health insurance premium or not.

Honestly the part that worries me the most if that someone else is managing his finances. Inability to manage one's own basic finances is a deal breaker for me, I refuse to be poor due to totally preventable reasons.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:00 AM on May 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

Am I being unreasonable here? Is health insurance just considered optional now and I'm just out of touch? Is the new retirement plan "I do what I love so I'll just keep doing it the rest of my life?"

Nope, nope, and nope. I, as a similarly financially conservative person, see no evidence that the US will pursue single payer health care over the next ~20 years (the sort of time frame you're interested in before Medicare) or that the US will ditch 401(k)s and massively increase retirement welfare over the same time frame.

I don't understand how someone that is 40+ has a family member doing his finances. That, in itself, is the weirdest (although not the most fiscally irresponsible) item you discussed. That alone speaks to his lack of interest in ensuring he is fiscally solvent, and I think that would be enough for me to consider this a deal breaker. You have more evidence than that item. Take it as you will.
posted by saeculorum at 7:02 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind this man is not your ex-husband. You have been with him for 1.5 years, what is your assessment of his financial stability?

This is your relationship and your deal breaker. Once you see him clearly, trust that you are making the best decision for your own life and happiness.

Good luck.
posted by enlivener at 7:04 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're not being unreasonable. Going without health insurance in the U.S. is a big deal, because medical costs can be so high. And if he's working in a high risk profession, it's an even bigger deal. It's also a big deal letting insurance lapse, because it makes it harder to get it back sometimes. I know that's supposed to change with Obama's health-care bill, but it's not 2014 just yet.

Does he have a plan for getting out of the hole he's gotten into? The economy is rough right now, and so it might take him a while to get back on his feet and find more work and rebuild some savings. But he should at least have a plan for how he's going to get there that doesn't involve indefinitely mooching off of other family members who are somehow always to blame for his financial problems. I would also be very careful, while you're deciding if this is a deal-breaker for you, to not let your finances get in any way entangled with his. Don't lend him money, don't co-sign any loans, etc.
posted by colfax at 7:05 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

This isn't about health insurance. This is about maturity and financial solvency vs. impulsive spending and reliance on others to bail him out.

I have told him all about my ex husband who had similar bad habits. It took me 7 years to get out that mess. I'm not planning to go through that again.

Then don't. Let him know what your dealbreakers are and then stand by them.

He seems to want to change, and I'm willing to give him the chance.

You don't need to give him any chances. He's an adult, and he's made clear to you over 1.5 years that he is not the responsible financial planner you want him to be. You know who he is.
posted by headnsouth at 7:08 AM on May 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

Like me (so it's clouding my answer too) you sound stressed out by dating people who are financially unstable. It's ok not to date them.
posted by travertina at 7:11 AM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

It doesn't matter what your dealbreaker is, as long as you know what your dealbreaker is, if that makes sense. It could be financial mis-alignment, or wanting to have kids (or not) or religious beliefs (or not). Basically, when you know what will cause you too much pain to continue in a relationship, you have to make that known, because otherwise, you'll kill the relationship in other ways further down the line.
posted by xingcat at 7:17 AM on May 21, 2013

You know what, life's too short to worry about money. You've been down this path before and you don't want to repeat the journey.

I wouldn't even have a come to Jesus with him. He's demonstrated what he's willing to do. He's tried nothing and he's all out of ideas. The person financing him is telling him he's too profligate with his money, and even so, he's not willing to change.

This is how it is. You don't want this.

It's pretty easy if you do the math.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:20 AM on May 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Lots of people are stupid with money. This guy is one of them. It may or may not be a dealbreaker for you. I would dump him, since this is only going to get worse and you will end up supporting him. Better to end things now, rather than in a few years when he owes you piles of money.
posted by Slinga at 7:22 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine got married to a guy with these kind of issues, no planning, had to keep buying gadgets, guitars etc that were discarded barely sued. By the time she dumped him she had taken on £30k of his debts in her name. After they split he rented a house for himself while she effectively worked two job to clear her debt. He paid nothing to clear the debt. He was so irresponsible that when she was flogging the stuff he had left they found software that they were able to sell for £10k.

if you stick with him, the next family member helping him sort his finances will be you, and you will be doing it for as long as you are with him. If you don't like the idea of being insecure for the rest of your life then you are going to be gambling by sticking with him.
posted by biffa at 7:28 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

No, you're not being unreasonable at all!

Yet from how you've described the situation, I'm not sure you've been entirely clear that he needs to do X, Y and Z or you're leaving. You mentioned your ex and you've been asking him when he's going to do things instead of telling him to do things.

He may now be stupid with money, but this is one of those areas where I have found that people can be nudged into making better financial decisions with some support.

If you really love him and see a future, then I'd have one final come to Jesus conversation. You have to explain all your dealbreakers. Consider having this conversation in couple's therapy or with a financial planner. And one nice thing about a financial planner is they can actually help him properly appropriate money so he can get insurance and buy "life's too short" things and he learns how to manage money.

I vote give it one more try before you leave.
posted by kinetic at 7:34 AM on May 21, 2013

Baggage or lesson learned?


(Note: I am not your therapist.)
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:37 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Am I being unreasonable here? Is health insurance just considered optional now and I'm just out of touch? Is the new retirement plan "I do what I love so I'll just keep doing it the rest of my life?"

No, no, and no. Also, grownups with a business do not have a rotating cast of family members who handle their finances. They have accountants.
posted by deanc at 7:43 AM on May 21, 2013 [16 favorites]

If you were 20, then I'd have different advice for you. You're 40 which means you're at the midpoint of pulling together your own funds for retirement. At 40, I wouldn't tie my finances to anyone who can't moderate their spending. By his own admission, he's looking to someone else in his family to manage his money. Assuming he's about the same age that you are he has to pay himself out of debt and then start saving a lot if he plans to retire with any security.

If this is a dealbreaker for you (and it would be for me), then make a clean break. You've made choices in your own work history to secure a financially stable future. There's really nothing wrong with needing a partner who has the same priorities.
posted by 26.2 at 7:46 AM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

Someone who is bad with money and has hired someone to mitigate the problems is not being irresponsible, anymore than someone who is messy and hires a housekeeper is irresponsible. Not listening to your financial advisor is irresponsible, but there's nothing wrong with having one, even a family member.

I don't think you're being unreasonable for having the story be a deal-breaker -- he's not just incapable of managing money but doing things to mitigate the risk, he refuses to listen to a financial advisor who he asks for help, he avoids talks with the advisor (probably because he's not listening) and he's unwilling to put things aside to get health care.
posted by jeather at 7:52 AM on May 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not having health insurance even though he can presumably afford it is indeed very irresponsible and unwise. Your concern, dismay, and doubts about his good sense are fully warranted.
posted by Dansaman at 8:12 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

One more vote for "very understandable dealbreaker". I would not pursue a serious relationship with this person.
posted by Tarumba at 8:19 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The most successful self-employed people understand that their incomes are volatile and set aside money during good times to smooth the bumps and get by when times are lean. The fact that he raided his retirement accounts and dropped health insurance coverage without cutting other spending to the bone is a huge, huge red flag. The family-member-as-financial-advisor thing is also setting off alarm bells for me, having been in a relationship with someone whose "business" was really a hobby that barely broke even and who fell back on family for "support" (read: bailouts). It's only a matter of time before he starts leaning on you to prop him up.
posted by payoto at 8:32 AM on May 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you are being fully reasonable having this be a dealbreaker. I have broken up with someone for this reason, and oh my god do I ever not regret it! My best friend is faced with this very situation as well, and she is coming to the same realization that you are. Being irresponsible with finances is a BIG DEAL for me, because I think it represents some other side issues:
1. doesn't think things through (and this can come out in a lot of other parts of their life)
2. inability to understand that their choices will affect others (his spending and living beyond his means is making BOTH of your lives more difficult, not just his)
3. selfishness (depending on others to bail him out, not getting health insurance even though it could mean having YOU be on the hook for the bill if something happened to him, etc)
4. inability to stop and think about how possible consequences their choices may have down the road.

Staying with him probably won't end well. Money is what breaks up a LOT of couples. It is a major stressor and being on the same page in terms of finances is extremely important. There are two likely outcomes, as far as I can see. One is that you are constantly anxious and worried over your joint finances. While you are working your ass off trying to keep the two of you afloat he continues to make it worse by having huge chunks of your joint budget having to go towards debt repayment and just covering his random "life is short" expenditures. You resent him, and eventually you end it, but by that point your finances are toast. Your situation gets even worse due to the cost of divorce.

The second one is where the two of you somehow make an agreement that YOU manage the money for your household, and that he gives you total control. You still stress and worry over his earning potential and over the "what ifs" should his business tank. He gets increasingly resentful of you because you are limiting how much he can spend. He feels like a child with an allowance. One of you ends it. Your finances take a major hit due to the cost of divorce.

There are other ways this can play out, obviously, but those are the two I see as most likely. You can find love AND have the financial security and stability that you need. You're allowed to have this be a dealbreaker. I actually think you're very smart to have this be a dealbreaker.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:33 AM on May 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Needing to have a family member handle your finances after a decade in business is a sign of danger, or even imminent failure. Either you learn how to do it yourself or you have an accountant and other financial professionals help out.

Speaking as someone who has been in the terrifying position of being self-employed for more years than your boyfriend, I am of the firm opinion that you must have a firm grip on the concept of mandatory versus discretionary expenses - put another way, it's a matter of financial maturity.

I'm overly aggressive financially. In 2010, we restructured all of our remaining debt, some vehicle loans and a mortgage, into a new 30 year mortgage. We paid that off last month (three years plus a few months). We were always a month ahead on the payments, and obviously we were making massive monthly payments. It gave us the assurance that if anything bad happened, we could go back to making the standard monthly payment, which would have been less than an apartment rental. Some people will say that we should have been investing the money. I preferred the debt elimination strategy. Both are defensible and responsible in different ways. And we made it happen. So my wife didn't freak (too much) when I blew out the budget this month (and then maybe even a little more) by spending a fair bit of money on things that we had been viewing as unnecessary discretionary spending. We know it'll be paid off in a month and it is all good - and she knows it. But I taught her some good financial paranoia along the way.

But the situation you describe? It is a massive red flag. The reasons are well-explained in many of the other messages here, especially the one by PuppetMcSockerson above, so I'm not going to bother typing out the variation I was going to explain. I do think that there's a possibility that you might be able to succeed if you can get an accountant to handle the finances for the business, but that's extremely dependent on your boyfriend's willingness to actually work under such a framework, and I agree with PuppetMcSockerson's second way that this is likely to turn out poorly.

You must make a decision that makes sense for you, first and foremost.
posted by jgreco at 8:48 AM on May 21, 2013

Life is not that short.
posted by French Fry at 8:53 AM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

One more vote for "very understandable dealbreaker". I would not pursue a serious relationship with this person.

Likewise. Its one thing to not be great at managing money. It's an entirely other thing to not be able to manage the problem that you can't manage your money. Lots of people are bad with money and do things to make sure that basic things like bill paying and budgeting can still happen if they are necessary. My guy doesn't have a head for money but he knows this about himself and sets his bills to auto-pay, consults with me or another trusted person when he has to make difficult decisions and is a rigorous record keeper because he can't trust his own gut feelings about some of this stuff. And he has baselines like "Being unable to pay credit cards or health insurance is Not An Option" meaning that he would have to make drastic lifestyle changes before he's just toss up his hands and say "Well, I guess I'm just going to go bankrupt"

And it's one thing to make these decisions for yourself, everyone has different risks that they are okay with, but being in a partnership (or being a parent) means you have to compromise on your own level of comfort with risk and this is especially true with risks that you pool. So if this were just a guy you were dating and he had a lot of other fine qualities, I might say "Hey go have fun" but all of the things he's doing are red-flag level things for someone who I would consider getting legally entangled with (married) or having a family with. He does not sound like he's ready for a grown up relationship like the one you want to have. You sound like someone who sees the signs of this and wants something other than what he is able to offer. And this is an okay thing, for both of you. He doesn't have to be a bad version of you and you don't have to be a bad version of him, but your outlooks don't seem to fit together.

He seems to want to change, and I'm willing to give him the chance.

Lots of people want to change. Fewer can do the work involved in changing. If you do decide to give him another chance, I'd make it a hard line-in-sand quantitative "Do this by this date" and not some sort of qualitative "Start making better choices" open ended suggestion. Best of luck with however it works out.
posted by jessamyn at 9:02 AM on May 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

He seems like my kinda guy. He doesn't seem to be your kinda guy. I would move on. People simply do not change that much. A reckless feckless risk taker is always gonna be a worry to somebody who does a job they dislike cos the pension might be good.
posted by BenPens at 9:09 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm 52, self-employed, and very aware of my retirement funds. I've also had expensive experience with boyfriends who had hobby businesses, which is what this sounds like. If you take your business seriously, you don't endanger it by running around without health insurance.

I wouldn't worry about a boyfriend who has hired an accountant. It makes good business sense for the owner to focus on what they do well. However, I would worry if he refused to listen to the advice of this professional, or if the "professional" is just a family member with a little extra time and no expertise.

He should be planning to be your partner, not your dependent. You're not being unreasonable at all.
posted by ceiba at 10:53 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been touting this book all over metafilter because it seems like a lot of the people who end up with partners they envisioned yet didn't actually turn out to be who they thought they were could greatly benefit.

Deal Breakers: When to Work on a Relationship and when to Walk Away by Bethany Marshall. Amazing book, she explains in a no-nonsense way why women stick with good-for-nothing men and how to approach it in your relationship, when to walk away, and what to do if you want to stick it out and improve the relationship for the better. She also says when this would be possible, and under what circumstances, or if it will never change and you're basically wasting your time.

DTMFA. Life is too short for you to be wasting that time gambling on your financial stability for someone you've only been dating for 1.5 years. Find a better partner that believes a good retirement plan and financial stability are necessary goals in the relationship. You will be so much happier.
posted by lunastellasol at 11:03 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're not married and you don't live together. Your financial stability will not be affected. Just let him know you can't carry him if he stumbles.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:11 PM on May 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have told him all about my ex husband who had similar bad habits. It took me 7 years to get out that mess. I'm not planning to go through that again.

Then don't get into it. It would be one thing if he was like this when you met him and was heading up hill, but nope he is going downhill, and downhill fast.

Do you want to be with someone who values a concert ticket more than their health?

Flat out tell them you are not okay with their lack of financial responsibility and if you don't see improvement by a certain time, you're out. That is if you want to give him a chance, my opinion is just leave already, you haven't been with him that long, and you don't need someone with similar issues as your ex.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:16 PM on May 21, 2013

Would he be accepted for health insurance if he tried to get a private insurer? Just wondering, as I've heard it's nigh-impossible to do so if you have anything even minor wrong with you. This may change in 2014 though, I'm not sure. I'm just wondering if he has this option at all and maybe that's why he'd rather blow his money, i.e. if he has enough for toys but not health.

But other than that, I'm on the "DTMFA" side when it comes to people who can't handle their money or take care of themselves. Been there, done that, don't wanna again. You don't want this guy as your potential future partner/adult child, do you? Nope. Even if you stay with him, don't freaking marry him and tie your own money to him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:57 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm getting ready to have a possible "final conversation" about financial responsibility with my boyfriend. I just want to check in to see that I'm being realistic with today's economy.

I am currently amidst the multi-year process about becoming un-stupid about money, and my experience is that a partner with money-smarts can be an awesome resource to help kickstart or propel that change.

HOWEVER, aside from this line:
He seems to want to change, and I'm willing to give him the chance.
everything else in your post makes it sound like you don't actually believe he wants to change.

My guess is that after 1.5 years you know him well enough to have the correct gut feeling on this, especially if he has already procrastinated roughly half his lifetime on it.

Also, even as a healthy 20-something I would be horrified not to have health insurance.
posted by mokudekiru at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2013

I decided in my late 20s that financial responsibility was incredibly important to me and chose who to date accordingly.

I've been with my husband for 15 years now, and I think we've had one argument about money in the whole time. (It wasn't even fully about money - he arranged to have a modification made to our house without talking to me and paid for it out of his money. I let him know I needed to be consulted on big decisions, even if he was covering them.)

There's no way that now, in my 40s, I would date a guy who handles money the way your guy does.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:29 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

This would be a deal breaker for me and it's an issue on which I have given some thought. To me, it boils down to wanting someone who is willing to put family ahead of impulses and the ability to see the big picture. He is irresponsible with his money and health. If you're in a relationship that might end it marriage, I would want someone who was putting the relationship first.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:23 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

From the OP:
I texted him soon after posting. I told him that his health insurance was important to me and I wanted a "date" with which I could follow up. He ended up contacting the health insurance company that day, and re-applied.

This last weekend, we had a talk about my concerns. I laid it all out... that I was uncomfortable about the idea of making the huge leap of moving in together when I had concerns about his financial habits. He agreed wholeheartedly and said he would think about it... whether he would want a partner who had the same risk tolerance... or make more changes to his impulsiveness for my comfort. It was a good conversation. I don't know how this will end. I just know that I have a couple more years to decide. I am fine with that. He has many great qualities and has demonstrated his willingness to change. He has made huge changes in his life, so I'm not thinking he can't change. It just boils down to what he is willing to change.

Thanks for all of the feedback. It gave me the courage to have the difficult discussion. I think we're now both okay with the relationship either ending or not. It's now up to him and his actions -- and how we can compromise to get to an agreement. The book that somebody recommended about dealbreakers was especially helpful. I read it cover to cover without stopping, and really learned a lot. Thanks again!
posted by taz (staff) at 12:02 AM on May 27, 2013

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