What is the most likely to succeed and equitable method of teaching my fiancee to be responsible for her finances?
December 14, 2006 12:28 PM   Subscribe

What is the most likely to succeed and equitable method of teaching my fiancee to be responsible for her finances?

In principal, we've agreed to the following goals:

1) We are both responsible for half of all of the bills (rent, utility, car, food, etc.)
2) We are both responsible for our own personal spending.
3) We should work to carry a zero balance on our credit cards, maximize contributions to our retirement funds, and make contributions to savings.

The problem is that she's met none of them. She has spent virtually all of her income as if it were discretionary. She hasn't saved a dime in the time we've known each other, has never opened a retirement fund, has rarely paid her half of the bills, and, to be quite honest, doesn't really see a problem with any of this.

She reasons that since I make significantly more money per hour than she does, it's okay. However, I get paid for many fewer hours than her. For the past two years, our gross incomes have not been very far apart.

As a result of this problem, I've dropped out of college to pursue more clients to stem the tide of debt that we started to accumulate. I don't hold it against her, but I see no relief in sight. What would you recommend I do?

I am prepared to accept that I am just wrong in seeing a problem with this. Oh, and if I can possibly head some potentially bad answers off at the pass, let me just say that I'd rather be poor and in debt than leave my fiancee.
posted by sequential to Work & Money (65 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Break off the engagement. Seriously. I don't care if you don't want to hear this answer, it's the right one. You are not wrong in seeing a problem with this; this is a major problem. Approaches to money this different will make your marriage a source of stress, and will be a constant source of disagreement and problems. These sorts of differences are irreconcilable and lead to divorce. Then you end up poor and still not with your fiancee, and you've probably brought kids into the equation by that point. If not, then you spend your life desenting her frivolous habits while you pay for them.

If she recognized that her behaviour was problematic, it might be okay. But she's not going to change. Save yourself a lot of misery, grow a backbone and break up with her.
posted by Dasein at 12:47 PM on December 14, 2006


This may not be what you want to hear, but you need to take more control over the finances. If she's not living up to her obligations, tell her she needs to give you $x out of her paycheck when she gets it, and pay the bills, credit cards, etc. for her. Then she can do whatever she wants wih the amount left over. Let's face it, not everyone is good with money. As long as she respects you, and respects the plans you both already made, she should be OK with that. If not, I suggest a counselor for the two of you.
posted by miss tea at 12:48 PM on December 14, 2006


She can set up her bank account to automatically move a certain amount of money each month on a particular date into your account. If she gets paid in the 15th, have it sweep $500 (or whatever) into your account on the 16th and use that as her contribution toward paying the bills.

Alternatively, you might want to pick bills that will be "hers," paid from her account, and have her set up her bank account to pay them automatically each month. That way they either get paid by her, she goes into overdraft, or they don't get paid at all. It's much harder to not pay your half of the bills when you're the one signing the check.

Does her employer have a 401(k) program? That's a way to save for retirement without having to rustle up the willpower each month.

That said, it sounds like she might not really agree with points 1) and 3), especially point 1). You might want to suss out how she feels. If she doesn't *really* think the 50/50 bill division is fair, she'll never truly try to pay her portion of the bills; you should discuss the point before going further and try to come to a settlement that's not going to cause resentment on either of your parts.
posted by phoenixy at 12:50 PM on December 14, 2006


There's two ways to look at this: either you are two financially independent individuals with separate budgets, or you are one budgetary unit.

If you're financially independent, then you should simply put half of the shared bills in her name only, quit bailing her out, and let the debt collectors come after her if she doesn't pay. You should be prepared to defer the wedding indefinitely in this case.

If you're one budgetary unit, then you've got a different problem. You think she's exceeding the discretionary spending budget. However, you never assigned a dollar amount to this budget line item in the first place. You also haven't assigned dollar amounts to retirement and savings. You need a formal budget with dollar amounts.

Have you assessed your long-term requirements for cash to save for retirement, pay for kids, buy a house, etc? You need to be saving for those things now. This should be a sobering discussion for a confirmed spender. Once you have agreed to a budget that meets your short-term and long-term needs, then it's a different discussion if she exceeds the "discretionary spending" amount in the budget.
posted by crazycanuck at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2006


If she wants to change, that's great and there are an absolute ton of resources out there to help her get control of her own personal finances.

My strong indication, based on the fact she doesn't feel 50% responsible for bills based on your respective incomes, is that she's not prepared to change and you should be prepared to discuss the possibility that this is a very big deal to you and that love and compatibility in life goals is what seperates the couples that work and those who don't.

Good luck.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2006


Tell her in no uncertain terms that she needs to pay her half of the bills or you will be forced to seek more affordable housing. Then follow through with your ultimatum, no matter what.

It's equitable—she pays her half like she agreed. It's likely to succeed—what reasonable person wouldn't choose her man's education and future careet over lattes and Kate Spade?

I hope you haven't been so short-sighted to put her debts (lease, car, consumer spending) in your name.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:04 PM on December 14, 2006


If she recognized that her behaviour was problematic, it might be okay. But she's not going to change.
She recognizes the problem, but there is a disconnect between her cognitive response to the problem as I present it and her behavior absent constant lording over her finances. That I've chosen to allow this to go as far as it has is by choice.

At this point, I recognize it as a problem that is affecting me personally. I'd like to help her and resolve the problems it has caused me. I'm willing to put in the effort, but I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to simply rule the finances with an iron fist.
posted by sequential at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2006


Rather than split up the bills, you might want to agree each assume complete responsibility for some of them. For example, you: rent, food her: utility, car. The reason for this is that some natural consequences can be brought into play. If she doesn't pay the utility bill, the lights and heat will go out, and that might illustrate some natural consequences in a way that verbal discussion can't, which could be a starting point for some reform.

What's also possible, however, is that she'll come to you and basically ask you to abey those consequences. In which case
this sounds like a job for counseling if she'll go. Any good marriage/family counselor probably has tales galore to bring the spectre of strained relationships and lives of enslavement to debt into the realm of full consciousness, and may also have some insights on how to address the sometimes complex issues that cause people to behave poorly financially.

I have to say that think it's also worrisome if she really agreed to the goals and then doesn't see a problem with not upholding them. It's something of a betrayal of trust, though of course when it comes to money and other things that's often not all there is to it -- habits die hard. But if you agreed on something earlier and then she treats its breach casually, that's a portent of rough weather ahead, especially if she does it without apparent remorse.

I don't think you're wrong at all seeing a problem with this. Issues like those you've mentioned are often visibly at the center of relationship conflict and cause serious damage to lives, and especially where interest and issues compound, an ounce of prevention is worth pounds upon pounds of cure.
posted by weston at 1:07 PM on December 14, 2006


Talk to her about the possibility of combining your finances into single accounts instead of keeping things split down the middle. If you can do that she will overdraw the single account and Really get you two into Debt, or she will realize that money doesn't grow on trees and work with you to responsibly budget, or she will just let you take over the finances. Whatever the result, its best that you get to one of these conclusions now than in a few years of being married. From what I've read, money problems (and the stress related to them) are generally cited as the top reason for divorce. You might be fine living in poverty, but it doesn't sound like she will be okay with that. You might never leave her for putting you in debt, but she might be someone who would leave you for being in debt. She already thinks that all the bills are your responsibility.
I am only sharing a majority of Dasein's fervor; he's on the right end of the spectrum, but takes it a bit too far. Agreeing on a budget is one of the foundations of a marriage (whatever that arrangement might be).
(You dropped out of college to pay off her credit card bills?!)
posted by iurodivii at 1:09 PM on December 14, 2006


Put an equitable portion of the bills in her name, and don't bail her out when she gets into trouble.

If you live in a community-property state, don't get legally married, because then those bill collectors are going to come after you, too.

People's weird behavioral issues about money are a big deal, and you can't fix them just by wishing them away. The solution has to be behavioral, too. There's a great book called "Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes" that I try to reread every once in a while - maybe you should give it to her.
posted by matildaben at 1:09 PM on December 14, 2006


Is she aware of where her money is going? That is, can she see the trends of "oh crap, overspent on entertainment this month"? In talking to people who say they want to change their spending habits, I've seen that they're often not even aware of what their spending habits really are.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:15 PM on December 14, 2006


Perhaps one way of handling how much each puts towards bills is to take 30% (or however much will cover the bills) from each of your paycheques. This way you're both contributing an equal amount in relation to what you make.

There are a lot of interesting personal finance blogs out there. Check out:

PF Blogs which aggregates a few of them, may be a good place to start. They have some advice on budgeting/saving - often times from people who've learned the hard way how debt can negatively effect a life or relationship, and are now trying to work their way out from under it.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:15 PM on December 14, 2006


I don't think you're wrong (and only the fact that you've been blinded by love, and possibly your fiancee's persuasion skills made you doubt the fact that you're right). I strongly believe that couples that are serious about one another, i.e., considering marriage, MUST solve their financial agreements and behaviors before they take the plunge (after all money is one of the biggest causes of divorce).
I think that it is unfair of your fiancee to agree to the deal presented by you and to not follow through while hinting that you're the one who should take more financial responsibility. It is also a behavior that would stress me out and make me feel insecure if it comes to the common financial future with the other person. I think that you should discuss this issue with her and tell her how you feel. Also it would help if you said why she can't pay her half of the bills and save anything? What does she spend her money on?
posted by barrakuda at 1:16 PM on December 14, 2006


Also -- have you tried the three accounts method? Household, his, hers. You work out how much you need in the household account first, and then what's left over is divided into the other two, and each of you contribute an agreed-on amount to each account from each paycheck. Nobody is allowed to use the household account for any discretionary spending without the agreement of the other person, but spending from his and hers accounts is completely independent.

Not everyone likes this arrangement, but I'm told it works well for some homes.
posted by weston at 1:17 PM on December 14, 2006


Wait a minute, now you're contradicting yourself. She recognizes the problem, but to be quite honest, doesn't really see a problem with any of this.

Uh-uh. It's one or the other; can't be both. Therefore, I identify the problem as explicitly *not* your fiance's. It's *your* problem. You've observed that something's going on that isn't satisfactory to you, but you have not yet understood *why* it is happening.

There's no easy answer to this one. You're going to have to sit down and have a difficult talk with her. Changing someone else's behavior is hard. You're going to have to find out why it hasn't changed already, and then tailor your solution.

Does she really want to change, but can't curb impulse spending? This one's easy: you come to an agreement to cut up her credit cards, then you take control of her paycheck and give her a monthly cash allowance. Her impulses to overspend will be curbed when she runs out of money in her pocket.

Does she think she deserves to be supported by you, even to the extent of forcing you to drop out of college to do so? That sounds terrible, doesn't it? What if it were true? Wouldn't you want to know now, rather than later?

Does she simply not understand the consequences of her behavior? Well, this one's easy or hard, depending on whether or not she's educable. Again, something you'd probably want to know now, rather than later.

Is there a side to this story you're not presenting? Certainly. Do her the courtesy of actually bothering to hear it from her.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:17 PM on December 14, 2006


This may not be what you want to hear, but you need to take more control over the finances. If she's not living up to her obligations, tell her she needs to give you $x out of her paycheck when she gets it, and pay the bills, credit cards, etc. for her.
We started something similar in September. She got behind this past month, so I've moved from taking the money out monthly to taking it out from each paycheck, leaving her with enough spending cash for budgeted expenses. If she catches back up, I'll go back to taking the money out monthly.

Is this enough, though?
posted by sequential at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2006


iurodivil may be right that I came across too strongly, but I cannot say strongly enough that it is totally unnacceptable that you are sacrificing your long-term interests - employment and earning prospects, etc. - by dropping out of college because she cannot get a hold of her finances. You absolutely cannot let yourself be taken advantage of like this, even if it's at your own initiative. You may think it's an acceptable price now, but you will change your mind years down the road and deeply resent it. If she cannot take responsiblity for herself, you cannot do it for her.
posted by Dasein at 1:19 PM on December 14, 2006


There are two issues here, the process and the opinion. For some people (I'm married to one), you can explain till you're blue in the face, and they really honestly just don't get it. (imagine this characteristic coupled with a lack of punctuality and you wonder how we got through 16 years - of course, luckily I'm perfect and he recognises that.) In fact, you can set them up with a bunch of rules, and even make them do it so that they learn fiscal responsiblity but at some stage, something you didn't anticipate will come up and they will handle it atrociously.

But that's a willing participant, I'm talking about, who actually recognises equity within a relationship etc. I don't know from what you've said if your partner agrees with your position.

So, this is what i would do if I were you (actually have done).

1. Talk it through. Use diagrams if necessary, and charts and pictures. Explain the consequences of continuing financially the way that you have been.

2. Take over everything and allow a sum of pocket money. That is, all money goes into a joint account and each of you get an equivalent amount of bumming-around-money automatically put into personal accounts each week.

3. YOU pay all the bills. You take total responsiblity for the finances and make a concerted effort to keep her in the loop. Like, honey, if I die, here's the folder with all the warranties.

Why this method? Well, Metafilter taught me that you can't make people do anything, you can't change them. So this method solves the problem even if it doesn't solve the problem as you defined it, that is, teaching my fiancee to be responsible for her finances? I'm sorry, I don't think it can be done.
posted by b33j at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2006


If you're one budgetary unit, then you've got a different problem.
We are one budgetary unit.
You think she's exceeding the discretionary spending budget.
She agrees to this point.
However, you never assigned a dollar amount to this budget line item in the first place. You also haven't assigned dollar amounts to retirement and savings. You need a formal budget with dollar amounts.
Please excuse me for choosing not to share my personal budget with AskMe. As you can see by some of the other answers, not everyone is friendly around her. Suffice it to say, we have a formal budget. This will be the first year we fail to meet all of our goals.
posted by sequential at 1:25 PM on December 14, 2006


Instead of putting yourself in charge of her finances in any permanent way that might seem sinister or imposing to her, set it up like an experiment. For a month, as soon as she gets paid, all the money is given over to you. Together you work out how much goes to which debts, figure how much she will need for necessities, decide together how much of shall be held aside as savings, and then turn over the remainder of it to her and see how she does with it. Make it like a game.

In truth, this is how many couples have to do things all the time, and if it goes well, you may find that this is simply what works for the two of you. I'm sure you'd rather take on this task than the extra hours of work you're currently putting in to cover for you.

Let her know that if she runs up short and asks for more, she'll be expected to provide receipts or a record of how she spent what she had. Put it in writing in advance together so that when it the big fight happens the terms are there in black and white.

The big fight will probably happen. But better now than when your finances are legally joined. Right now you can go on the record as fighting about it because you care for her, not because your own financial status is at stake.
posted by hermitosis at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2006


1) We are both responsible for half of all of the bills (rent, utility, car, food, etc.)

Have her pay her fair share before she has a chance to blow it. You'll need to set up a household budget and decide how much each of you will pay into it each month. Both of you must cut a check for your amount the day you get your paychecks. Extra money can pay for household purchases or help cover emergency expenses.

There is no excuse for her not to pay her fair share of the bills and you need to put your foot down.

2) We are both responsible for our own personal spending.
3) We should work to carry a zero balance on our credit cards, maximize contributions to our retirement funds, and make contributions to savings.


Have her set up auto deductions from her personal bank account to pay her credit card bills and put some money towards retirement. This will help keep her save before spending. The rest after savings and household bills will help her limit her spending to what she has if she can go easy on the credit cards. If she has a problem spending too much on credit you should strongly encourage her to switch to a bank account debit card.

Also, consider talking to a financial advisor. They can help you tweo decide how much to save and show how saving and investing now can help later in life.
posted by Alison at 1:28 PM on December 14, 2006


I recommed opening a joint account for household bills, as was suggested above. You each direct deposit half of your monthly expenses into the joint account and pay the rent, bills, etc out of there.

The rest of her money she can do what she wants with, including getting herself into debt. Until you're married (and many would argue, not even then), it's really not your job to bail her out of debt. She's never going to become more financially responsible until she sees some consequences from her actions, and right now you're making it impossible for that to happen.
posted by rachelv at 1:29 PM on December 14, 2006


Believe my first-hand wisdom when I say this is the kind of thing that breaks up marriages, even between people who love each other deeply. Which may explain any bitterness that informs the remainder of this answer.

I would suggest that it is not unfair for you to control ALL the money, giving her an allowance that she can do whatever she wants with. Then she gets to spend what she has without a care, and you get the security of knowing that the family resources are not being pissed away. Many couples do live happily in that way. She may feel bad about your holding the pursestrings, but the alternative appears to be penury caused by her poor impulse control. At this point, when you have already made significant sacrifices on the altar of her financial autonomy, the onus is on her to prove - in small steps, and over time - that she can be left in charge of the joint resource that is your money.

Another thing you should do is go over the money situation regularly together. This week darling, we have to pay the mechanic. After that and the rent and our regular savings, we should be able to eat out next Tuesday. That would achieve several things. She would get an insight into the thinking of a good money manager (you); you would be able to discuss your joint financial priorities; and she could have some faith that YOU were doing a good job with the money.

When it comes down to it, you guys need a joint vision of your future as a couple. Do you want to travel? Then you need to save. Do you want 11 kids in a big house with a white picket fence? Then you need to save. Do you want a childfree life roaming the American hinterland in a campervan? Then you need to save for a campervan. You will get more traction arguing for management with your fiance if you demonstrate how this will build your joint future.

If you don't have a shared vision of how you might grow old together, then I honestly think that never mind the money, you have even bigger problems that should prevent your marriage.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2006


The fact that you've dropped out of college to accommodate her spending habits is troubling. Not just that you've done it, but that she didn't take this major event as a wake-up call. Relationships are about compromise, sure, but that's drastically lopsided and frankly disrespectful to you. If this didn't get her to mend her ways, I'm not sure what will, so you're stuck with managing her prodigality rather than reforming it.

It sounds like you're pretty much running the show when it comes to your mutual finances, and it sounds like she's willing to go along with that. Which means it'll be easier to manage her prodigality.

I'd advocate the 3-account set up (mine/ours/yours), not giving her access to the funds in the "ours" account, cutting up her credit cards, and making sure that she is paying into the "ours" pool with every paycheck (or having her paycheck paid directly into that, and then doling out her allowance to the "yours" account).

I know of a married couple that maintains separate residences as a way of dealing with this exact problem, as it forces the spendthrift partner to take responsibility. That's the extreme case, and with any luck, you won't need to go that far.
posted by adamrice at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2006


I hope you haven't been so short-sighted to put her debts (lease, car, consumer spending) in your name.
All of her debts are in her name.
(You dropped out of college to pay off her credit card bills?!)
No. I dropped out of college to prevent either of us from accumulating more debt than we could reasonably pay off with savings. It was a proactive move. Essentially, I couldn't pull in the clients while I had school obligations, so my income was significantly reduced while I was in school.
Is she aware of where her money is going? That is, can she see the trends of "oh crap, overspent on entertainment this month"?
Yes, but in the long run this doesn't seem to change her behavior.
and only the fact that you've been blinded by love, and possibly your fiancee's persuasion skills made you doubt the fact that you're right)
I'm a willing participant and have been all along. We're not in any trouble financially by any stretch of the imagination. My doubts are self inflicted - I don't want to be controlling or manipulative.
posted by sequential at 1:46 PM on December 14, 2006


If she is truly having difficulty sticking to a budget, then you should NOT set up automatic deductions from her account to pay various bills; she'll just end up overdrawing her account.

I think you are on the right track with transferring money out of her account after every payday.
Talk with her about how much she reasonably thinks she needs in spending money from each paycheck (this will probably be less than she actually spends), and have the rest transfer to a joint account. Do NOT keep ATM cards for the joint account; that way, she can't use that account on a day-to-day basis, but if there's an emergency, she can access it.

YOU should be in charge of the joint account, which should also receive regular funds from your separate account, and this joint account can be used to pay the household bills.

Do not let her use credit cards; if anything, she can use the debit card linked to her spending account. This will help her spend only what is in her spending account, and she can't complain about the amount, because she's the one who came up with the amount in the first place.

ALSO, have her get a receipt for EVERY transaction she makes. In a few months, she can use the receipts to create a spending history for herself. This would be helpful, because it sounds like she has a disconnect between what she thinks she spends and what she actually spends.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 1:46 PM on December 14, 2006


I am a huge advocate of the his/hers/ours bank accounts. We pay in to the joint account by percentage of income. Let's say 40% of our incomes will cover bills, a reasonable amount of groceries, and a bit into savings. That goes in first, every paycheck (we are direct deposited into our individual accounts), just like paying a bill. The three accounts are all in the same group, so we can both see/get to all three accounts from the bank website, it's simply a psychological and organizational division. I used to be a very sloppy spender, got myself into some trouble now and then, often ended up living on $20 for days at the end of a pay period, using credit indiscriminately, juggling bills, etc, and this has helped me tremendously.

You can't make her want it, though. You can micromanage every cent (bad idea, I think, but you could) and it's still not going to make her want to contribute as an equal in your financial relationship. Get organized, like you're trying to do, and make it as easy as possible to do everything right, but this is bigger than money.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:52 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think being responsible and learning HOW to be responsible with your finances is a process. There is no magic fix.

For starters, I would recommend that both of you sit down every Saturday night at 8pm and 9pm and watch The Suze Orman Show on CNBC. You can also just tivo it. It is a great reference on how to be good with your personal finances.
posted by pikaboy202 at 1:53 PM on December 14, 2006


The traditional solution is a variation on weston's: Both of your paychecks go into the the household account and each of you gets an allowance into your personal checking accounts.

If she continues to rack up credit card debt, this approach won't suffice.

(Make sure your pre-tax distributions are equitable, too. It's not fair if one person's fully funding their HSA or 401k and the other person isn't.)

Sometimes identifying the source of underlying attitudes about money come from helps couples communicate with less judgementally. Money issues aren't usually about money. My guess is that by dealing with this, you'll be dealing with a lot of other relationship friction spots at the same time. If you get really stuck, there are counselors who deal with exactly and specificially this.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:54 PM on December 14, 2006


I recommend against having one person control all the finances. You will resent each other in the long run- the controller for having to be in a parent position, and the controllee for being treated as a child.

Also, if (when) something happens to the controller, the controllee is in a world of hurt.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:00 PM on December 14, 2006


If you two both agree on the goals and budgets, then it's not "controlling" to help her meet her own requirements.

If you both agree that driving safely is important, but she has poor night-vision, it is not "controlling" if you drive the car whenever you two are travelling at night.
posted by xo at 2:02 PM on December 14, 2006


The NY Times once ran this handy dandy little article about training your spouse with the techniques animal trainers use. I don't know if it's applicable in this situation, but it's worth a shot. Otherwise, I agree with everyone else who has recommended that you take full control of the bills. If she agrees in theory to your rules but has no ability (or desire) to hold to them, then you have to enforce them yourself.
You should balance this by finding something she can take complete control over. Maybe she controls the social calendar? Maybe she's an amazing cook? Maybe she would rather do all the laundry? I know, all of these suggestions horribly reinforce gender disparity. Dan Savage will defend me.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 2:05 PM on December 14, 2006


Wait a minute, now you're contradicting yourself. She recognizes the problem, but to be quite honest, doesn't really see a problem with any of this.
Sorry, I misspoke. She doesn't see a problem with relying on me to meet our stated goals because I have historically made a disproportionate amount of the income. Does that clear up the issue for you?
Does she simply not understand the consequences of her behavior? Well, this one's easy or hard, depending on whether or not she's educable.
*finger on nose*
Also, consider talking to a financial advisor.
I'm almost embarrassed by the number of people have presumed we're in some sort of financial trouble. To put it simply, we're not, but that has to do with my fiscal discipline and my unwillingness to get into financial trouble at all costs.
Which may explain any bitterness that informs the remainder of this answer.
Where's this bitterness you speak of? I thought your advice about finances was good.
posted by sequential at 2:12 PM on December 14, 2006


Financial advisors (financial planners) are for people with money. Credit counselors are for people without. The cool thing about financial advisors is that they've got planning tools that can help visualize the results of saving and paying off debt. There's stuff for home, too, but sometimes you need a third party to make the numbers seem real.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:21 PM on December 14, 2006


Where's this bitterness you speak of? I thought your advice about finances was good.

I'm glad you think so. I just wanted you to know that *ahem* my views may be somewhat coloured by having been the responsible person in a situation not unlike yours.

I recommend against having one person control all the finances. You will resent each other in the long run- the controller for having to be in a parent position, and the controllee for being treated as a child.

Also, if (when) something happens to the controller, the controllee is in a world of hurt.


Those are solid objections, but I think a regular joint review goes some way to answering them.

Also, no arrangement need be permanent. Couples renegotiate agreements all the time. sequential's partner might well change her behaviour in the future in ways that would justify true joint control over money, or even sequential getting to take a break from responsibility and let her run things for a while.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:22 PM on December 14, 2006


I'm almost embarrassed by the number of people have presumed we're in some sort of financial trouble. To put it simply, we're not, but that has to do with my fiscal discipline and my unwillingness to get into financial trouble at all costs.

Ah, but you ARE in financial trouble now, and you WILL CONTINUE TO BE if she doesn't step up. Much of the advice in this thread seems to rub you the wrong way, but I think you've received about 20 excellent answers.
posted by tristeza at 2:31 PM on December 14, 2006


I'm almost embarrassed by the number of people have presumed we're in some sort of financial trouble. To put it simply, we're not, but that has to do with my fiscal discipline and my unwillingness to get into financial trouble at all costs.

Then get thee to a financial advisor. They are not just for people who currently have trouble with money.

A marriage is as much a business partnership as it is a personal one. What would you do if your fiancee was a client of yours?
posted by phatkitten at 2:31 PM on December 14, 2006


If you two both agree on the goals and budgets, then it's not "controlling" to help her meet her own requirements.

I'm guessing that someone (and it sounds like you, not her) has mistakenly cast this as a feminist issue. You don't want to be the father-knows-best throwback borderline-abusive guy. It is true that controlling all the money is the classic move of an abuser. But that's not you, and that's not this situation. Your hesitance to do anything to impinge on your girlfriend's agency is coming through loud and clear, and if it is obvious to me, it's got to be obvious to her.

So that said -- if, as you say, you'd rather be broke than lose her, why wouldn't you divide the money the way she wants? I don't think her way is fairer than your way, but what the hell -- women's clothes cost more, she has to buy the birth control and tampons, rationalize it however you want. Just give her what she wants -- more discretionary money. In return, she sweeps the new agreed upon sum automatically forever more, and you and she set up those things -- the 401k, the savings acct (also on automatic sweep) -- that you have agreed to do for your future together.

If, after all this, she continues to agree in words but doesn't actually do it, you need to consider the possibility that she is being passive-aggressive here, and is not really as committed to your future together as she claims.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:43 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sometimes identifying the source of underlying attitudes about money come from helps couples communicate with less judgementally. Money issues aren't usually about money. My guess is that by dealing with this, you'll be dealing with a lot of other relationship friction spots at the same time. If you get really stuck, there are counselors who deal with exactly and specificially this.

Sing it.

Your original question and your follow-up explanations to people's comments all lead me to one piece of advice: get couples counseling. I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but hear me out.

YOU cannot change her behavior. She has to do it for herself. You've probably heard people say that money is the #1 source of conflict in marriages. Statistically verifiable or not, the point is that in committed relationships, money represents a lot more than dollars and cents, so to speak. Money means different things to different people, and each partner's feelings about money are not going to be the same as the other's.

For example: I ended up doing pretty much all the grocery shopping because my wife would overspend in a big way at the supermarket. She readily admits that the buy-it-all urge stemmed from her childhood, when her family's cupboards were often pretty bare. Therefore the fuller our pantry was, the safer and less anxious she felt - no matter how much food went to waste before we had a chance to eat it.

You guys really need to talk about your respective emotions involving money with a professional counselor. The sooner the better. I know you love your fiancee. I know this problem doesn't feel like a relationship deal-breaker - and it isn't... now. I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but the more you "truth it out" now, the better you set up the understanding and cooperation that will keep the marriage happy 5, 10, 20 & etc years down the line.
posted by JustDerek at 2:50 PM on December 14, 2006


Sorry, I misspoke. She doesn't see a problem with relying on me to meet our stated goals because I have historically made a disproportionate amount of the income. Does that clear up the issue for you?

No, actually, it makes it more difficult to understand, because the way you've stated your stated goals, it's pretty clear that she's not supposed to rely on you to meet them. In other words, you say that she simultaneously agreed to the goals but doesn't see a problem with explicitly violating them. Phrased that way, you make it look like a character flaw in your fiance; she sees no problem with saying one thing and doing another. Is that what you're trying to tell me?

This is the way it looks to me: you're looking for a creative solution. You want someone to present the "Aha!" solution that's going to fix this.

But as I see it, it's not an "aha!" problem. The problem is that we don't know why your fiance is behaving as she is. Just talk to her, man.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:58 PM on December 14, 2006


Dan Savage will defend me.
Thanks for the laugh.
Much of the advice in this thread seems to rub you the wrong way, but I think you've received about 20 excellent answers.
That's because there are some very wild speculation going on here. Other than the speculation, I agree.
why wouldn't you divide the money the way she wants?
My intuition tells me she'd be happy with the percentage of income solution. I'm going to propose that this evening. Is it wrong to ask her to become current on her account, so to speak, or for any reconciliation for her most recent fiscal blunders?

Methylviolet, you somehow read through my garbled question and understood exactly what I was asking. Right about now I'm feeling like pretty much the worst question asker in the history of AskMe, but I think you deserve some sort of award. You hit every point on the nose. My failure as a writer could never convey my sincere and humble thanks.
posted by sequential at 2:58 PM on December 14, 2006


i am reading your follow-ups and i get the impression that you don't really want a solution. you just want to hear that you're right (from an independent source) and you will continue with the situation as is. you'll be the responsible one and she'll be the carefree one. you will accept the situation b/c you love her and her spirit, whatever. and you don't want to be perceived as the bad person who changes her to his own image. you know that the solution is talking to her and actually making her responsible for her words and actions, instead you've let the situation get as far as it is (or wait maybe not so far since on second thought you claim that you're actually doing fine financially). so what's your question, again?

by the way, you're very defensive if it comes to her. but please do note, that you posted this question, and you painted her pretty badly in it - essentially as an uncaring, responsibility-avoiding, free-riding, possibly a bit dense chick. hmm.
posted by barrakuda at 3:04 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yea, I think barrakuda is on to something....
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:14 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


After overcoming similar financial issues with my wife, I am a HUGE advocate of the three-account solution mentioned elsewhere, with automatic deposits (i.e. 40% of paycheck) going into the joint account on EVERY PAYCHECK, not just monthly.

Try it out. If she wants to spend everything left in her account, fine - at least the basics are already covered, and you can be responsible with your money. Just make sure to get rid of your joint credit cards (if you have any), and preferably her personal ones too. If she's not financially responsible, her sudden drop in "discretionary income" due to actually having to pay bills will probably lead to her using credit cards more. People shouldn't have credit cards until they can successfully manage a budget and live within their means - and from your description, she doesn't have that talent yet.

If she can't or won't do this, don't get married yet. I'm deadly serious. You may think you have money problems now, that you can deal with it and that you would rather be "poor and in debt", but man, you have no idea. Money wrecks more marriages than anything else. You have to get this figured out before you get married (and accepting indebtedness does not count as figuring it out).
posted by chundo at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2006


[Head swells] Wow, Sequential, how nice of you to say so. I'm glad I helped.

As far as her becoming current -- yes, you are hardly wrong to ask that. I imagine that you would feel a little taken advantage of now, and you need to give her a chance to make it right. Her paying her arrears on her previously agreed-upon share would be a good-faith gesture on her part. Going forward, the new deal will make much easier for her to stay current. If you tell her that way, I don't see how she could be hurt, or fail to see that this isn't really about the money, but about your mutual commitment to your future.
posted by Methylviolet at 3:17 PM on December 14, 2006


Phrased that way, you make it look like a character flaw in your fiance; she sees no problem with saying one thing and doing another. Is that what you're trying to tell me?
Excuse me if this is a bit cryptic to everyone, but if I recall correctly, we've actually spoken on IRC. Think real hard. Send me an email if you care to hear my answer.
posted by sequential at 3:21 PM on December 14, 2006


Has her nose started to grow longer. She won't change unless you somehow get through to her that what she says is impossible. It won't get better. It will get much worse. If it is not equitable now just wait until you get married. You will feel like a bulldozer hit you. She wants her money and she wants all of yours. Totally selfish.
posted by JayRwv at 3:48 PM on December 14, 2006


I second small_ruminant and the people advocating employing the services of a professional. These two pieces of advice fit together: it's unhealthy for you to put yourself in a position where you're dictating her financial decisions, plus she's sure to resent that. But, she obviously needs someone to help her establish good spending habits. That's where a third party comes in. A financial planner or a consumer credit counseling agency can help her set up a spending plan and then-- though regular meetings-- hold her accountable for it. That way, you get what you want (and need) but someone else plays the bad guy.
posted by chickletworks at 3:53 PM on December 14, 2006


There are also psychologists who only deal with issues that come up around money, if you want to keep that the main focus.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:01 PM on December 14, 2006


So, to recap:

1) I got what appears to be some great suggestions.

2) I should not be allowed to write, as I'm a danger to myself.

3) Every question that involves a relationship, even if the question is not specifically about the relationship, can be pre-filled with answers that say "Break up." and "Get therapy."

Thanks for your help everyone.

And.... scene.
posted by sequential at 4:16 PM on December 14, 2006


Metatalk.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:56 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


The part that concerns me is that she made an agreement with you about a subject that is important to you, then broke it. You 2 need to figure out if she's actually willing to share your financial goals. I recommend you each take on responsibility for specific bills, and allow her to experience the consequences if she is unable to pay her bills. What Matildaben and Barrakkuda said.

I was married to someone who did much the same thing. The money wasn't really the important issue. He would agree to important things, but not follow through. For that and a lot of other reasons, it wasn't possible to have a reasonable relationship.
posted by theora55 at 4:57 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I agree about number 3.
posted by shanevsevil at 5:40 PM on December 14, 2006


"As a result of this problem, I've dropped out of college to pursue more clients to stem the tide of debt that we started to accumulate. I don't hold it against her, but I see no relief in sight. What would you recommend I do?"

Clearly you're committed to the relationship to the point where you're effectively mortgaging your future for the sake of the couple. Have you confronted her directly with things as you've put them to us here and made her realize that this was a serious problem? It's one thing to have "student debt", quite another to not be studying and operating at a deficit anyway.
posted by clevershark at 5:46 PM on December 14, 2006


you're effectively mortgaging your future for the sake of the couple.
Not exactly. I wasn't going back to school after putting it off for fifteen years to make more money. I have a good career, I just wanted to engage myself differently for some time. I did get to do at least that much.
Have you confronted her directly with things as you've put them to us here and made her realize that this was a serious problem?
She's read the thread. Now she's afraid of most of you.
It's one thing to have "student debt", quite another to not be studying and operating at a deficit anyway.
*finger on nose* If she had been responsible, I could have finished my degree. She wasn't responsible and I dropped out this past semester. I do intend to go back part-time next semester, so not all is lost with my education. In the end, dropping my clients and going back to school full-time was probably the wrong choice for that point in our lives. After all, I knew this was a risk.

And it was the wrong thing to include in this question. Instead, I could have said something along the lines of "Her lack of responsibility has caused me some hardship, but not to the point of financial ruin or anything else quite on that scale." and probably gotten most of the answers that were useful to me.
posted by sequential at 6:14 PM on December 14, 2006


What does *finger on nose* mean?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:24 PM on December 14, 2006


Literally? I am emoting that I am putting my finger on my nose. Figuratively, "You hit that one right on the nose." Am I the only one who does this? That must look strange.
posted by sequential at 6:40 PM on December 14, 2006


In my culture there are only three digit on nose gestures.

1. Thumb on nose, 1st 2nd and 3rd fingers curled, 4th extended. Meaning "not me!" when there is a call for a volunteer.
2. Tapping the side of the nose with the first finger, indicating secret knowledge.
3. Finger inserted into nostril, indicating poor upbringing and indifference to the opprobrium of onlookers.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:45 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


All Your Worth has several chapters on how to talk to your partner about financial responsibility. The core of the book suggests making each person pay 50% of their income toward must-have expenses. These are expenses that you need for safety, like basic food and shelter, and are legally obligated to pay, like mortgage, utility, car payment, cell phone or gym membership. Then 30% goes toward things you want, like eating out, a new computer, or better health insurance. The rest, 20%, goes into a diversified savings system according to need. In summery, spend proportionally toward your income and then each person contributes responsibly as an individual.
posted by ericrolph at 2:11 AM on December 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Also, you're both human beings with many needs. Staying financially solvent is pretty important to you as well as others. The authors also mention, don't sweat taking responsibility for the finances. Each person has their own strengths. She, no doubt, will do things for your relationship that your just not as good, can't or won't do. Live with it, learn and take responsibility or get out.
posted by ericrolph at 2:21 AM on December 15, 2006


I recommend against having one person control all the finances. You will resent each other in the long run- the controller for having to be in a parent position, and the controllee for being treated as a child

Just a note-- this is silly. It's not treating someone like a child, or an idiot, or any of that, it's being practical without letting any emotional crap get in the way. Look at it this way-- if you're a single unit, it's redundant to have two people work on the finances. Why not have the person who is good at it do so?

In my household, I handle almost everything. My husband pays his own credit card bills and student loans. I don't think the fact that I prefer to pay the electric bill as I know I will do so promptly means I am treating him like a child.
posted by miss tea at 4:44 AM on December 15, 2006


miss tea- In every household (that I've run across) there is one main finance person. The posters above aren't talking about a simple division of chores- they're talking about completely controlling the finances for her own good. I could be wrong, but probably you aren't giving your husband an allowance and telling him to only spend this much and that the rest of the household finances are none of his business.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:38 AM on December 15, 2006


There are two things I think in this that are not okay. The first is, it is not okay that you dropped out of school for financial reasons, if dropping out of school was not what you really wanted to do.

It is not okay to go ahead and get married without some agreement about what goals you both agree you need to reach financially and some commitments and realistic strategies to make progress towards them. It is almost as important as being on the same page about having kids.

But I think realistically this - shared goals and an agreed-to plan - have to be what you aim for, not "teaching" your fiancee to "be responsible." Some people just aren't wired that way, they can only care so much about money. Even with the best intentions if they can get away with not thinking about it, they will.

Try investigating AskMe tags for the several deep threads on this topic that have gone before - i.e. check love, marriage and relationship tags and see the "related tags" listing for finances, money etc.
posted by nanojath at 10:28 AM on December 15, 2006


Oh I forgot I wanted to specifically stress, that getting back into school, if that is what you really want, needs to be one of those financial goals you need to agree about.
posted by nanojath at 10:29 AM on December 15, 2006


She, no doubt, will do things for your relationship that your just not as good, can't or won't do.

For myself a lot of stress of imagined relationship inequity has been solved by this perspective. If it works for one person to be in charge then do it: it certainly is less complicated (and if one person just intrinsically does a better job at it, well then the whole job gets done better). If I was in charge of Social Planning my wife and I would leave the house 3 times a year and that would Not Be Okay. I don't mind balancing the checkbook.
posted by nanojath at 10:35 AM on December 15, 2006


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