When Partners Don’t Cooperate With Setting Goals

Yesterday, I posted an article about setting goals with your partner. In the comments, Brittany left a wonderful question that I felt deserved a post all its own:

What if you have your shared goals, but one partner doesn’t have the financial gumption to see it through? I’m not married, not even engaged, but I’m in a relationship that looks like it might be heading for the long term. But my partner is awful with money and even worse with savings. We have a few shared long/medium-term goals (and one is a life goal of his, so I’m positive it’s not my goal I’m just calling “ours”), but my partner isn’t making any progress towards the goal. He’s far more likely to make a bunch of little frivolous purchases now (”Eh, it’s just $10… its just $20… I’ll save when I have a reasonable amount to save.”)

Normally I try not to push the “gospel of frugality” on anyone, just live my example and take satisfaction from people’s faces and questions when I get to say things like, “Yeah, I know my car (a PT cruiser) is a bit silly-looking, but I paid cash for it when I was still working for minimum wage, so…” But I also don’t have a vested interest in others’ financial futures.

Everything else in the relationship is great, but I can’t see myself becoming financially involved with someone who doesn’t share my financial views (even though this seems like a silly reason to break things off). How do others handle their partners not being on the same financial page as them?

First of all, I would move forward very slow in this relationship. Clearly, the values you have and the values your boyfriend has are in signficant conflict – and if you’re seeing this that early in the relationship, you need to move forward slowly and not jump into anything. I would also, for a very long time, keep your finances as separate as possible.

Value conflicts are the core of virtually every relationship problem out there. Value conflicts are actually resolvable, but they require a willingness by both partners to work through that value conflict, compromise on a solution, and work together to make sure the solution holds.

It sounds as though your partner is not interested in or engaged in long term goals or puts a much higher priority on his own goals than any shared ones you have. That’s in direct conflict with where you’re standing – it sounds like you’re goal-oriented (at least to some significant degree) and are also willing to compromise on the goals you’re both working for.

The only way to resolve this, then, is to simply do what I mentioned above: work through the value conflict, compromise on a solution, and work together to keep that solution in place.

The first part is working through the value conflict. A big part of that is trying to make sure you both understand what each of you value, and how you each act is a very big part of that understanding. By his actions, he seems to put value on short-term rewards for himself.

You can’t really be judgmental here. We all think our values are the best way of doing things or else they wouldn’t be our values (the DINK post from last week is an example of that). The trick is to recognize that not everyone shares our values – and no one likely shares your exact set of values.

Discussions like this are usually painful because when someone you care about says that they don’t share your values, it often feels judgmental no matter how you word it. You have to make it clear that you want to understand what he values and you want him to understand what you value, no judgments or anything.

This requires the ability and willingness to communicate. If you can’t get to this point in the process, then there’s a communication breakdown in a way that will make this relationship very difficult going forward. It will likely require one of you subjugating what you value to the other one, and that’s an unhealthy relationship that either ends up in therapy, an explosion, or with someone in misery for a long time.

The only way relationships work is through compromise – you agree to certain arrangements that allow you both some freedom to retain your values but also respects the values of your partner.

My wife and I compromise on a lot of things. For example, Sarah likes the television series Bones – and I can’t stand it. Sometimes, when I go downstairs after putting the kids to bed, she’s watching an episode of it. Our compromise is that I can just go read a book or something if she’s in the middle of an episode.

However, if I’m doing something similarly engaging that she’s not interested in – say, playing an online game with some friends or something like that – she’ll do the same. She’ll go read a book or something like that.

She doesn’t demand that I stop playing so we can watch Bones. I don’t demand that she stop watching Bones so we can do something more interesting together. We compromise.

Here’s another example that’s money related. Sarah is very, very conservative with investment choices. She does not like her retirement savings to be at risk, even if that means earning less. She would far rather put away more for retirement now and have it be at less risk than put away a little less now and have to take on risk to reach her retirement goals.

I feel differently. I don’t mind some investment risk if the term is really long. Since I’m in my early thirties and don’t intend to touch any of that money for at least thirty years, I have no objection to putting a hefty portion of my retirement into stocks – even foreign stock indexes.

Our compromise? It’s a simple one, actually. She handles her retirement accounts as if I didn’t exist and she was solely responsible for her own retirement. I handle my retirement accounts as if she didn’t exist and I was solely responsible for my own retirement. She has her money in some pretty conservative stuff. I have a target 2045 retirement fund (2045 is a bit past when I actually expect to retire). Add the two together and we have a mix – the majority of the money is pretty conservative (all of hers and a slice of mine) and some of it is in high-risk high-gain areas.

In none of these cases are Sarah and I getting exactly what we individually want. What we do have, though, is respect for what we value and some ability to express that value.

That’s exactly what you guys need to strive for if you want to make this work: respect for what you each value and some ability to express that value. That’s compromise.

So, if you’re a long-term planner and he’s a short-term person who aims to live life fully now, one thing you might want to consider is a “free” account – an amount of money set aside each week/month that he can do whatever he wants with. Perhaps you can even have a small account like this for yourself, if you wish.

That account, though, is the limit of what you can spend frivolously. The money beyond that is set aside for the long-term goals that you guys share.

If your partner rejects such a conversation or any such attempt at a compromise, your relationship is not on a good foundation. If you’re willing to accept his values and bend on yours, then he should be willing to do the same. If he won’t, then he’s requiring you to subjugate your values to what he wants – and as I said above, that won’t end well.

Where can you start? Sit down and talk about this. Try to really figure out what he values. Suggest a good compromise that allows you to keep some significant degree of what you both value. Keep your end of the bargain and live up to the compromise – and see if he’s doing the same. If he’s not, then I would back away slowly from the relationship.

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  1. Claire says:

    Please don’t think this is a silly reason to break up. This will affect your everyday life with this man. People tend to think that the vague “love” that they have for someone is the most important thing in a relationship, but if you can’t work out your differences (about money, parenting, sex, general household chores, whatever) your love will disappear and you will be left with nothing but misery and regret. Treat this as a very real problem and follow Trent’s guidelines to see if you can work it out. Good luck Brittany!

  2. matt says:

    Its hard to give advice without an age range, is this a still in college couple? does he still have his hand in daddy’s pocket? Are you both completely on your own? I find people tend to act like this until the purse strings get cut, once they have to pay their own rent, cellphone etc, they usually quickly wise up to penny saved type philosophy. My fiance in fact was living paycheck to paycheck before we moved in together (and still receiving support from parents).

  3. Joanna says:

    Agree completely with Trent & first poster. This is a fundamental issue when you choose to share your life with someone. Money was one of the top areas where the “leave and cleave” was felt strongly after my husband and I married. We combined accounts from the beginning and, though we were in agreement to do so, it was emotionally challenging as we each let go of complete “control” over our financial lives. And we’re pretty much aligned on money matters. I will say that, though it was difficult, we’ve talked about it since and we are both very glad that we combined accounts b/c it has us led to a real sense of teamwork which, IMO, is key to marriage.

    As for practical advice, the “free account” / “allowance” has worked well for us. Each feels that his/her needs/wants are valued and, for me at least, it gets me to “treat” myself in a way I probably wouldn’t if I were watching every penny. It feels almost luxurious.

    Good luck whatever you decide.

  4. Leah W. says:

    I agree with Claire. People get divorced over money all the time. It’s the number one thing couples fight about (or so said my premarital counselor about a year ago). Money is personal, and management of it can be stressful. Don’t feel bad about ditching this guy over money now. It’ll be cheaper than ditching him over money after a few years of a miserable marriage!

    And Trent, you don’t like Bones? For shame. That show embodies the notion of good television. It’s the best forensic drama on television right now, hands down. I’m curious: what do you watch? And don’t give me that “I don’t watch much TV” line. Everybody watches something sometimes. When you turn on the TV, what do you gravitate towards?

  5. Meghan says:

    Having been married (and divorced) at a youngish age due, at least in part, to financial irresponsibility on his part I plead, “please listen to Trent!” You don’t want to work twice as hard for half as much because your partner spends what comes through the door. Keep your finances separate, save towards your goals (joint goals too, but make it clear that he has to contribute half, or least proportionate to his income), and do NOT bail him out.

    Now I am married again, we are on the same financial page. We make mistakes, but they are small, and we are honest. It is such a relief. We discuss our finances, make joint decisions, and follow through; both sticking to our budget. The stress level is like night and day.

  6. Kathy says:

    My husband and I were not on the same financial page and it nearly cost us our marriage. His attitude about money came being raised by a parent who was very irresponsible with money and who also controlled the money in their house, so he never learned how to save or how to handle money. Long story short, my husband went ahead and did something anyway that I was against, it backfired on him, and I had to “bail” him out. After that, I told him that this was it, and if he ever pulled a stunt like he did again, we were finished and I was leaving him. At the time this happened, he was unemployed, but in a job retraining program through the state where he could collect unemployment while the state paid for him to go back to school, but he could not work or he would forfeit his benefits. I was working a lot of overtime and we still couldn’t make ends meet. We had a very important talk where I let him know how I felt (tired of scraping by and feeling very disrespected because I worked the OT and he wasted it on things we couldn’t afford). We did things “my way”, which meant we re-evaluated our entire financial situation and we both made changes. We started saving and watched spending and he learned to not give into wants at the expense of necessities.

    But what happened to me only happened because we were both willing to work out the issues. A lot of people don’t even get that far. It’s so important to discuss these things and work out the issues before you merge your finances or make a commitment to each other.

  7. Amy says:

    Leah W. – I realize that TV is pretty ubiquitous I the US but it is true that some of us just don’t watch TV. We have a TV with which we watch movies and a few DVDs of older shows. I haven’t watched an episode of aired TV for about 9 years (on the TV or the computer). It is just not something I or my husband values. We are rare but we do exist. :) Also – I have to agree that I’ve heard money is the number one cause of problems in marriages. It is definitely a big issue!

  8. anne says:

    Very sound advice from Trent and Claire (poster #1)!!

  9. Heidi says:

    I have to agree that money, and more importantly, the underlying values which determine how each person deals with money, can make or break a relationship.

    I married a man that I loved, who seemed to share my same long-term goals and values. Unfortunately, his actions spoke another story, and after two years of trying to work with him, I finally had to call it quits.

    One suggestion I might make to Brittany, if she does choose to sit down and have a serious discussion with her partner, is to explain the importance of his actions. It sounds as though he claims to have similar goals as her; he may honestly have not realized that his short-term actions are in direct competition with those long-term goals. It’s a pretty sad excuse, and certainly not a very good argument, but some people have just never learned that claiming a goal is not enough to actually make it happen.

    Sad but true story, my ex honestly didn’t think he needed to save because “we always manage to make it happen.” Somehow, he was completely oblivious to everything I was doing that was “making it happen”…

  10. Laura says:

    Having just moved in with my partner not too long ago, I can really relate to the person who asked this question. It is tough even for me to talk about finances with my partner from time to time, and we don’t always agree, even though we’re both doing alright financially.

    I think it would be helpful to have a few calm discussions together about this. Try approaching it gently at a time when you’re both not stressed out about money. You probably already know that if you bring it up at a time when he’s spending his money on something or when he’s tired, he’s only going to feel judged.

    One thing I’ve learned is that people have different perceptions of what is “too personal” to discuss. So it’s helpful to preface discussions with, “hey, can I ask you about this, or is that too personal?” He might feel like parts of his budget are too personal to share details with you about. If so, you will have to accept and respect that as long as you are in a relationship with him or unless he changes his mind. Also keep in mind that it takes time to build trust in talking about personal finances someone, especially for someone not as comfortable with long-term saving (as your boyfriend might be).

    You might pick out one medium or short term goal, and ask him how he feels about saving money together for it. Maybe it could be a vacation together to a destination you both want to visit – something that’s big enough to save for, but not something that’s going to be major. From your email, it’s hard to tell how much you’ve actually talked about meeting your goals. I would at least talk about one of those goals and make sure you’re on the same page as far as how to make progress towards that goal together.

    I also wonder if these are shared goals you want to achieve “together,” or if they are goals you just both happen to want. If you just both happen to want to own a house one day, at this point in your relationship, he might feel like it’s a little too early to start saving “together” for it. So, for right now, you should only talk about things that you feel are appropriate at this level of your relationship.

    You might also test the waters by sharing more responsibility for day-to-day purchases. For example, my boyfriend and I often split purchases 50-50, but one of us will pay for the entire purchase up front (tickets to sporting events, for example) and the other will pay the other person back. We have an online spreadsheet set up where we keep track of who owes who what. This is one thing that allows us to “check in” with each other regularly about money, and increases our accountability to each other. At the same time, it’s not like we’re bugging each other about our “life goals,” we’re just talking about a $50 expense here and there. My boyfriend wasn’t comfortable with this until at least a year into our relationship, so even this was a big step for us.

    Whatever the outcome of your discussions, remind your guy that “we’re in this together” because just saying that can help the discussion be more positive and less judgemental.

  11. Rebecca says:

    Having lived with a proverbial “grasshopper” for nearly 25 years, I can tell you he will never change. It’s stressful, and becoming more so as the years go on as I now realize that no matter what I do, say, or demonstrate, he will never, ever come close to being financially responsible. If I could go back in time, I would have never married him.

  12. lurker carl says:

    “What if you have your shared goals, but one partner doesn’t have the financial gumption to see it through?” – Your partner has dreams, not goals. His ‘goal’ is that you’ll make his dreams come true.

    “How do others handle their partners not being on the same financial page as them?” – You don’t handle a partner, either he gets it or he doesn’t. There will never be a reasonable sum to begin saving with. Live with the frustration or move on to someone else that has more basic values aligned with yours.

    You said it yourself, “I can’t see myself becoming financially involved with someone who doesn’t share my financial views.” The most commonly stated reason for divorce is not a silly reason to break things off.

  13. Matthew says:

    I can appreciate the sensitivity of this situation, as I have seen my friends struggle with money in their relationships, and in some cases, it has ended them.

    My wife and I use savings sub-accounts to save for things that we might not otherwise save for effectively. I am at times an impulsive spender, so I need the money out of sight, out of mind. When we paid off our curent car, I made a sub-account called “Car”. Every month, our “car payment” gets directed there. The balance for that account does not show up on the total for our regular checking or savings accounts, so I am not tempted to spend it. We have one called “Vacation” where we periodically deposit our rolled pocket change.

    Before we set these up, I had a much harder time saving for important purchases. Now, it’s effortless.

  14. kim says:

    He sounds like the financial tornado that I married. I was not smart enough to address these issues before marriage and was surprised when differnt issues surfaced.
    Such as:
    -finding boxes of unopened bills in a storage unit full of junk.
    -paying his storage and late fees on the above storage unit.
    -Having the old lady at the storage unit advise me “to do the bills in the family or you will be living on the streets.”
    -Talking to a bill collector about his defaulted student loan.
    -Having to pay off thousands of $$$ on his defaulted loan before we could close on our first home.
    -Paying off a defaulted credit card bill of his after the student loan, all in order to close on the house.
    Having been through this and I continue to battle this today, my adice is to address this as thorougly as possible before you ever even live together. If he can’t get his act together, RUN.

  15. Sandy says:

    Just curious, Trent…did you and Sarah have this discussion before you two wed? From what you’ve written, it seemed like you were much like the guy in this story before you were married. Just askin’.

  16. Brittany says:

    Thanks for all the advice. It is really helpful to have this kind of constructive support.

    Just to clarify as few of the questions asked, we’re out of college, but still fairly young, and about a year into the relationship (but have been friends for over six years). I’ve been basically on my own since I was 18 (a little help with some big medical bills a while back) and completely on my own for a couple years. He’s mostly but not quite on his own (his parents pay health and car insurance (and are equally bad with money)). We do have some similar-but-not-shared life goals (i.e. grad school), but the goals where the lack of progress is bothering are shared-do-together type goals (i.e. taking some time off to travel).

    Heidi and luker carl hit the nail on the head. He’s a dreamer. I’m a have-dreams-and-plan-to-make-them-a-reality-or-ditch-them person. I don’t know how to get him in the realm of laid-out planning and taking concrete steps without feeling like I’m pushing a “my way/values are the only way” philosophy, which I actively try not to do in any relationship.

    I’ve been kind of waiting for an impetus for this conversation, but I think I’m going to just have to bite the bullet and bring it up on my own.

    Thanks again for your support. Additional advice always welcome!

  17. Deborah says:

    On the shared values part of this conversation, all I can say is ‘amen.’ I have been happily married for almost 30 years and we have handled our finances in different ways at different life points but we always agreed to whatever the strategy was (even when the strategy was to simply out-earn our stupidity)

    On the TV front. I’m with #7 Amy – I haven’t watched a serial TV show since the 2nd or 3rd year of My Name is Earl… and that was the first one I’d watched since Hill Street Blues. By and large, TV is a mind-suck and I’d rather spend my time more constructively.

  18. Sue says:

    Here’s where The Millionaire Next Door is a terrific read. It talks at length about the importance of couples being largely on the same page as to how to handle money. Hopefully, that page is geared more towards frugality than not, if you wish to grow your net worth. Best of luck!

  19. Sandi says:

    Brittany, I could have written this ~20 years ago. My (now) husband and I bought a house together before marriage, and we split all bills 50/50. I was always the saver and over-planner, and he tended to dream, and go along.

    He *did* have an inherent sense of fairness, because he agreed he should carry his own weight. So I wasn’t the sole breadwinner – he always had more pride than that.

    Over time, I started coaching him … the barrier for him was the planning, and the logistics. But if I said “Hey, you could have Schwab take $200 per month out of your bank account automatically instead of writing them a check….” and once I did the legwork, he’d agree.

    We did this with vacation savings, retirement funding, and house repairs. Over time, he became very proud of what we accomplished due to my long-term planning.

    Now, I handle the $$ for us as a couple (and my individual “mad momey” – and he owns a business, and balances his books to the PENNY every week. He maxes out his Roth IRA and SEP-IRA, and has no consumer debt. In short, he’s LEARNED HOW TO DO IT with encouragement and practice.

    The key – he was willing to trust my judgment, he was willing to talk about it, and he was willing to understand that savings MATTERED to me, and HONORED that.

    Hopefully, your guy is the same – he just might be stumped with the logistical barriers. And you can help with that.

  20. Moneyedup says:

    It is so important to have a conversation with your significant other about money before a relationship gets serious. I have been in a relationship before where our heads were in two totally different places when it came to money and it became a major issue in our relationship. I like the suggestion of having a “free account” for a partner who is a bit frivolous with his or her spending because it allows them to set aside a certain amount each week or month to spend and keeps important accounts like savings accounts untouched. Many people go into relationships thinking that they can change their partner’s spending habits or the way they think about money. More often than not this is not the case, so make sure that this is an issue that is discussed early on in the relationship in order to avoid unpleasant surprises about spending habits.

  21. Online TV says:

    Good partners are hard to find nowadays because people always have different visions and intentions

  22. fiona says:

    I was/am in a similar situation. The only advice I have is TALK!
    I’m fairly good with my money, don’t spend money on anything frivolous, and am very determined to delve into the housing market with a large house deposit.
    My partner was (and still has the occasional slip up, so “is”) pretty bad with money. He has personal loans, car loan, credit card… Debt collectors calling him, his bank after him….
    I didn’t know how bad things really were with him financially. So when I said I wanted to buy a house in the next few years, he just changed the subject.
    After sitting down, talking, and working out his situation, we came up with things that both we, and him, can do to get him out of debt, he’s really started to knuckle down and pay off his debt.
    I still feel a bit like a “nagging wife” – everytime he buys his lunch at work, I show him on a calculator how much it would cost a year to do that. Everytime he wants new clothes, how much further away both his and our goals are getting….
    But he’s reduced his loans considerably, and is proud of himself for that. So it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
    It would never have happened if we didn’t talk candidly about our finances and our goals.

  23. I think in this situation, you have two options. One is to side with compromise and “let it go” to an extent.

    The other is to slowly but firmly press the issue. Also, the financial makeup of your relationship probably comes into play. If your spouse makes good money, you may have a hard time convincing them to be more frugal. If that’s not the case, then it should be easier.

  24. Maria S says:

    Yeah – we have netflix and a bunch of DVDs… no cable or satellite… What is Bones?

    Hubby and I seemed to be on the same page but after 5 years of marriage, our paths appears diverging. I’m an accountant and no matter how many spreadsheets and pencil diagrams, he can’t comprehend the advantages of holding low interest, tax deductible debt that lowers your effective income tax rate while increasing your long term savings ability. Yet the whole ‘squeezing blood from a stone’ escapes him also. The budget hasn’t changed in two years yet he can’t understand why there isn’t any money left at the end of the month.

    LASTLY: Since NO ONE has said it… If you think this guy is worth it – consider spending the money on a fee-based financial planner if all else fails. Sometimes, getting advice from a third party is easier on your relationship. They will be able to help frame your goals as a couple and put some numbers down on paper so you can both see where you are going.

  25. deRuiter says:

    “I can’t see myself becoming financially involved with someone who doesn’t share my financial views (even though this seems like a silly reason to break things off)” Actually this is a sound and important reason to break off the relationship and now would be a good time to make the break. Your entire life and lifestyle for the next fifty or so years depends upon your choice of a mate. Your future housing, friends, social class, vacations, quality / quantity of food you eat, the vehicle you drive, the neighborhood in which you live and your children go to school (this is a physical safety issue), the quality of clothes you wear, all depend on whether you and your partner are on the same page financially. With his atitude to saving ( he doesn’t save!) you’re consigning yourself and your children to a hand to mouth / paycheck to paycheck cliffhanger of a life. Do you want to live on the financial edge with bill collectors hounding you because of a spendthrift spouse? That’s the question. He’s “Yes dear”ing you to death about saving money and tossing his money away with both hands at the same time. The man is screaming “Im financially irresponsible!!” to you and you are ignoring his message while talking about what a great relationship this is and how you are on the same page. The man was raised by financially unstable people and he is an adult still sucking his parents financial blood for recurring bills. Yep, sounds like the ideal mate for a woman interested in a financially stable life. Throw in a couple of children and you not being able to work full time when the children are born / small, him feeling trapped by the additional expenses of children, and this looks like a match made in Heaven for a thrifty person. Remember, none of us can “fix” another person. This is akin to women who are the subject of domestic violence and are telling the police and others, “When he isn’t hitting me we have a wonderful relationship.”

  26. Leah says:

    In reading your description of your possible-husband my first thought was “that sounds like me” particularly when I was younger. My husband and i have been married for over 27 years now, so obviously we worked it out, but if he had followed some of you all’s advice he never would have married me in the first place.

    So here is my question – has your boyfriend really been taught about money? Does he really understand how it works? Does he understand the financial principles behind the things that you do and say? I will tell you that I was about 40 years old before i finally discovered how the whole credit card game worked, and I am still learning about money (thus the simple dollar blog). I really had never learned all of that before, so I didn’t really understand the long term impact of that little interest payment on our life and future.

    I think that you should insist that your boyfriend take some kind of personal finance course, from a community college or something, and see if any light bulbs go off. I remember that when my husband would “nag” me about money, that is how it seemed to me – like nagging – you have your values, I have mine – I didn’t understand that I was missing the boat on the whole concept of money.

    So – I would say give him an opportunity to learn from a neutral party, and see what happens. Don’t give up on him yet! He might be worth the wait.

  27. Patricia says:

    Please don’t take this in a negative way. You are stating what I found to be a major lesson in life. I love the article, but I can summarize it for you, a partner who don’t cooperate is truly one’s adversary!!!

    I have email this to many church people!!!

  28. Katie says:

    The man is screaming “Im financially irresponsible!!” to you and you are ignoring his message while talking about what a great relationship this is and how you are on the same page. The man was raised by financially unstable people and he is an adult still sucking his parents financial blood for recurring bills.

    Oh lord, yes, writing people off as potential lifemates in their very early 20s right after they graduate college for unspecified financial mistakes and taking a small amount of money from their parents is SO productive. I agree, of course, that a serious conversation and some changes sound like they are in order, but dear God this kind of comment is silly.

  29. Elizabeth says:

    Just wanted to say this a great article Trent. So much of what you said is not only apt for personal finance, but also really true for relationships in general. This line really did it for me:

    “In none of these cases are Sarah and I getting exactly what we individually want. What we do have, though, is respect for what we value and some ability to express that value.

    That’s exactly what you guys need to strive for if you want to make this work: respect for what you each value and some ability to express that value. That’s compromise.”

  30. Katia says:

    I am very fortunate in that I married a man who also watches his money carefully, so all of our money is in joint accounts. But from what you are saying, it would be better for you to do like my one brother did (and at the time I couldn’t understand why they did this, but it has really worked well for them) They have a “household account” where each put a certain percentage of their paychecks…but you need to decide how much…I think they put 75%. All household bills get paid from this account. They tithe 10%, then they each have their own accounts for the remaining 15% to spend as they please. When my sister-in-law wanted to get new curtains that were $500.00 per window, their compromise was “household” payed half, and the other half came out of her spending money. This has been working well for them for over 26 years. :-)

    I agree with others who say you need to get this financial thing straight before you get married. And each should live on their own for awhile so that you can make sure that he is responsible because ultimately, his debt becomes your debt after you get married whether you are joint account holders or not….best wishes!

  31. Philip says:

    Plain and simple. Blunt and to the point. She needs to find someone who is more compatible with her from the financial, along with other, standpoints.

    If she sticks with this guy, she may very well end up down the drain financially. There are millions of guys out there, and I am sure someone who she will be much better off with.

    Like I said, blunt and to the point, but oh so true.

  32. WendyH says:

    If he’s never been financially educated, he may not be able to fully grasp the concept of forgoing immediate small gratifications in order to save up for a long term goal. Kind of like Trent trying to teach the children, “one piece of candy now, or 3 pieces in a half-hour”. It may take small steps (small goals) to get him committed to really saving for your bigger goals.

    It’s taken my husband many years to grasp the connection between simple but expensive things like eating out at work every day, and not having the money for vacations. Explaining it didn’t work as well as taking a small vacation and showing it.

  33. Griffin T. says:

    My girlfriend and I share similar long-term goals, especially when it comes to traveling. This article is a great reference for us to make sure we are honest and open with each other about achieving those goals.

  34. GayleRN says:

    It is fairly easy to be on the same financial page when you are starting out and don’t actually have much money to argue or decide about. The trouble comes later when you discover that stated goals and actions differ wildly. You have discovered the divergence early in the relationship. Go forward very slowly. It may simply be a function of immaturity. Or not.

    My ex was really good at saving money for long periods of time. Then there would suddenly appear a brand new car in the driveway. This would happen every 3-4 years. While this was not the cause of the marital split, it significantly affected our net worth by about $200K. For those who doubt that number, we were married a long time and had at least 3 and as many as 6 cars at any one time. At the divorce he kept all the cars but 2, one for me, one for the boys. I kept the house. It just shows the difference between impulsive purchase of shiny objects and concentrating on long term goals and values.

  35. Matthew says:

    Brittany, the only further advice I have is to remember that none of us actually know you, and none of us know your partner. It is easy for us to say, “Help him to understand,” or, “Ditch the guy,” when all we know is text on a screen.

    Neither my wife nor I were financially perfect when we started dating, and we still had fundamental disagreements about money for years into our marriage. I can be an impulsive spender, like I wrote above. My wife was too conservative with money. In our case, we each needed to learn something from the other. Your case may, or may not, be different.

  36. chacha1 says:

    Good article, mostly good comments. I think Brittany will be fine because she’s not kidding herself.

    I’ve lived the “we’ll work it out” thing with a non-contributing partner and I know how strong the temptation is to just pretend nothing’s wrong.

    Heidi and Lurker Carl were right on the money: Brittany has goals … her SO has dreams. Dreams can be turned into goals, but only through action.

  37. miriam says:

    thank you Trent, for the well written article, Brittany for writing about her fears and hopes in such a precise and inspiring way and thank you to all the commentators – a lot of good food for thought here…! Now I will go slowly through them again… ;)

  38. Crystal says:

    It might be a little white and black, but I don’t think a relationship can exist between someone who has goals and someone who won’t support them. I’m not saying that both people have to be on the same frugal or spendthrifty level, but I do think they need to be close enough to compromise and support each other.

    For example, my husband does not think we need to save as much as I think we do, but we came to a compromise, set our goals together, and we both stick to the plan. We agreed to hit certain savings goals first, put a little aside for fun money and vacations every month, and to divide any extra between savings and fun. By working together, we follow through on that plan every month…if my husband or I just blew off the plan, I would think that the other person has every right to feel hurt or betrayed.

    Relationships are all about trust and cooperation and compromise…without all three of those things, no relationship can thrive.

  39. reulte says:

    Brittany — Ask him how much is a ‘reasonable amount’ to save; then show him how it is 3 or 5 or however many of his trivial purchases it is. Perhaps he is someone who finds it difficult to implement plans to a goal; show him how you work towards your goals. Perhaps he doesn’t know how important this is to you — let him know how much of a priority this is for you if he intends to advance this relationship any further. Always gently. If you do decide to continue this relationship into marriage; consider having a lawyer do a pre-nup and keeping your finances separate. I wish you the best of luck.

  40. Pat Chiappa says:

    I only know what I know – but in my experience which is 20 years with my husband so far, creating life goals, (including financial goals) together and working on them together makes us a successful couple.

    I don’t mean successful in terms of money, but in our relationship and as individuals. We aren’t wealthy, but we have ‘enough’, which is plenty more than most people on this planet have.

    I think many couples miss out on the value of working together with their partner. There really is strength in numbers and especially with the ‘Power of Two’.

    And I have to admit – I find goal setting to be great fun. Creating a plan, a budget and goals together is an annual celebration for us. Even though it takes time and is a lot of work, we approach it as a fun exercise and make it a party – for two.

    As a side benefit, planning together can bring you and your partner closer – because it keeps you communicating and focused on your why you want to be with them – or not. And I’m no shrink, but I would offer that one should pay attention to the red flags when partners are being uncooperative when it comes to setting goals and planning. That’s your future you’re talking about.

  41. Caroline says:

    I’m in the same situation with my bf. We’ve been together 5.5 yrs, but I’m not sure we’ll continue on since the goals we established in the beginning just haven’t been stuck with. Coming into the relationship, I had about $2.5k in student loans and he ended up having about $60k by my estimation (he never wanted to add it all up and he underestimated a loan that came out of deferment). I was adamant that these debts be paid off asap – many were in collections due to a string of bad luck and poor timing on his part. I wasn’t completely insane – we still had some fun, but it always felt like I was putting in more effort, even though I owed far less! However, my bf certainly made progress in his life and his thinking, and we owe a lot to “Your Money or Your Life.”

    Originally I wasn’t interested in any more than one combined checking account for our mutual expenses. However, it became clear that he wasn’t as adept (or interested) in making sure his finances were running smoothly (he felt really bad about the recent downturn his finances had taken), so I took over management of everything. In the 4.5 yrs we’ve been living together, I dug us (or mostly him) out of $35k of debt and saved about $15k. This may seem pretty good, but it was supposed to be better. I have tried to get him interested in how it all works, encouraging him and trying to establish limits together. It only partly worked. I’ve now divided all of our accounts and told him he needs to be responsible for his own things since he won’t (completely) abide by our goals and limits.

    It could have worked, but it’s hard to keep tabs on what 2 people are doing. In hindsight, we should have been strict about cash only allowances. In hindsight, we should have kept our accounts separate. If I saved all the money I was making (yes, in addition to everything else, I have always made far more money than he has), I would have a pretty good sized nest egg perfect for spending on my big goal, which is grad school aboard. Instead, he has significantly less debt, I have a small portion saved, and I have a lot of resentment toward him now that I’m thinking about ending it.

    In the beginning, everything is rosy and everyone acts like they’re on board with goals, but you just can’t tell who’s going to stick with it. My reason for doing what I did was that I didn’t want him to be so far behind me, and I thought this was THE relationship. It could be. You just don’t know what will happen. If I could have, I would have told myself to set goals and limits but keep everything separate. You just don’t know where you’ll be in 5 years, and you don’t want to feel like it was all for nothing. Don’t do everything I did! Cash allowances! Separate accounts! The only thing we did right was keep everything open and known to each other (which is hard when you DON’T combine accounts). Arg. Yeah…it’s complicated. I’m sure you can do it. Give him “Your Money or Your Life.”

  42. rob says:

    I will let you know what its like to live with a person who does not take their finances. I have been married to a person like the one mentioned in your article. Over the 25+ years we have been together our life has been wonderful until it comes to money. At the beginning of our marriage I was working 50+ hrs and was running a small very profitable business. My partner took over the bill paying for the family. I got a call one day that i needed to deposit $3000 in the checking acct. or checks would bounce i made the deposit and went home to look at the acct. It turned out there was $5000 balance before i made the $3000 deposit.
    At this point i was informed that we should have separate accts. I agreed to this. At this point i will spare you the gory details of our financial life together. Which included 3 refinances of our family home and a bankruptcy. We still love each other which makes things harder. However, I recently found out that my partner credit cards are close to $50000 on my partners income of about $20000 a year. The house no longer has any equity and i can not go through this again. After 25+ years it is going to end in divorce. So sad. I still love her but can’t live like this anymore. My advice: work on the problem now or walk away friends.

  43. cj says:

    Okay…there is so much here. Having been married 23 years before a difficult, drawn out 4 year divorce…I have to say: money makes difference daily than almost anything else. From groceries, kids parties, where you live, how much you or he spends to be with friends, how much they risk. If it is not compatable it will eat at you. But please don’t use the throw away term “ditch” about another human being that she cares about.
    Talk about showing your values.
    And yes, this is somewhat lined up between the spender/saver or goal setter/dreamer tags. This is the easy way out. It is usually not that black and white. I once knew a couple, both nice on their own, and she was upset when they were engaged that he spent what she considered a large amount for a very nice bed. Furious he could “childlessly” spend so much on stuff, as she put it. But, turns out – it was not the spending but the “at least he could have used it to travel or something interesting.” Yeah, they did get married. And divorced less than 4 years later.
    And I don’t even want to touch the ways immature couples use money to get back at the other and those games.
    Good luck. this is why everyone should know who they are and what they can live with before they marry.

  44. ~megan says:

    My husband is the same way: not realizing that those $2 to $30 “little” purchases add up. A few months ago, we decided to budget ourselves each a set amount of fun money. We each were in charge of tracking our own spending of that money.

    Next month, we’ll be switching to a cash allowance because I think he’s still missing a few transactions a month and I think I may be too. (Typed as I sip a morning hot chocolate bought from the local shop.)

    Suggest an allowance to your bf and ask that he commit an equal amount to a savings account with a shared goal, like the vacation suggested by a previous poster.

  45. jonnyzbabe says:

    I think there is a difference between maliciously working against shared goals and not understanding how actions affect the results.

    I’ve seen lots of dieters who don’t understand why they aren’t loosing weight while eating 3 packs of low-cal snacks. Sometimes one must be informed of their actual vs percieved actions and must be taught a new plan of action. Sitting down and ‘dreaming on paper’ your goals, needs for each goal, a notebook where you log all money spent and then a budget can help accomplish that.

    That being said, if you’ve already had these types of conversations, he’s not interested in the conversation or he can’t commit to the plan (or give up control to let someone more qualified do it) – then this could be a long-term problem.

  46. Brandon says:

    Money is a serious issue in a relationship, because it has the potential to control almost every single aspect of a successful relationship.

    The best option is for the both of you to agree on a course of action and completely share finances. Barring that, you can sometimes reach an agreement that each person does their own thing, or that you do your own thing in certain areas. My parents are something like that – it drives me crazy, but it works for them. That being said, they’ve struggled at times, especially after my mother finally asked my father what his credit card debt was after years of saying she didn’t want to know (trust me, she really did need to know).

    Love, in most relationships fades. Everyone thinks theirs will be different. I’ve seen too many divorces to know the truth. There are a select few who are truly in love forever. Since, statistically, you aren’t likely to be in that category, this is a serious conversation that I would try to reach agreement on before the relationship moves on. That’s not to say end the relationship, be aware that people can and do change quite a bit in their financial age, just be very aware that this could be a major major potentially catastrophic relationship issue. It’s probably even above the whole – want kids or not conversation.

    I had to hit bottom before getting on-track financially, luckily my parents let me do it. Age is important, especially in men, because I truly don’t think they begin to mature until about age 26 – which seems to also be about the time most of us get half a handle financially. Just my 2 cents, best of luck, and kudos for feeling strongly enough about the relationship to try and work on it – that’s a good sign already.

  47. K.sol says:

    Trent is wise to say go slow and don’t gloss over this. How money is handled is a serious issue. If he’s responsible in other ways, if it looks as if you two can meet in the middle, etc., perhaps this can work, but it’s definitely something to look at before making any commitment.

    My first marriage was to a man who was completely irresponsible with money (and in other aspects, too), so when I first read your post, my gut screamed, “Run! Run!” But that’s my own baggage. You know your own situation better than I could. I think it’s right to not assume love will find a way around this, and I also think the posters are right who say that it’s not an automatic reason to call it quits.

  48. Of the two of us I would say I’m far more financially conservative but he is good enough with money that we do well. I wish we saved more and he enjoys occasional big purchases. I have a general rule with myself where I just am not in a spending mindset and do whatever it takes not to spend money so I’m grateful he balances me in that when we had to buy a car after mine clunked out he was willing to pay more so we could get a good reliable Toyota (used) and haven’t had a single problem in the over two years we’ve had it.

    You’re right. It is about compromise.

  49. Pattie, RN says:

    Gayle, I disagree…money is an issue no matter how much you have or don’t have. Blowing $30 on a videogame or manicure is annoying if you are trying to pay down debt…it is a HUGE problem if that was all the grocery money left and it is 9 days until payday!

    And the OP is a smart young woman to know that being on the same page with financial responsibilty as a partner is a deal breaker.

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