Sunday, November 2

Don't ask, don't tell

So I was cruising through my Google reader this morning and happened on a reader's conundrum over at Make Love, Not Debt.

Seems this guy got married after getting a "vague" estimate from his wife of her debt: besides student and car loans, about $15,000.

The first thing that strikes me as odd is that he wouldn't push further. Isn't student debt an awfully nebulous amount?

At any rate, after they were married, she had trouble getting a job and had to make do with a lower-paying occupation. She did eventually get back into her chosen field and back to making the $50,000 a year the man says they each make.

Unfortunately, he recently discovered they owe nearly $100,000 because of her spending. The minimums are about $1000 a month and she's still spending. Did I mention her five cards are maxed out?

As you might expect, she's refusing to change, and he's trying to take away the cards. They're at an impasse.

So... Lots of people chimed in with advice about marital counseling. One called him an enabler. One bitter fellow suggested immediate divorce as she clearly has no interest in changing.

Here's what I don't understand: How could you marry someone without a full accounting (if you'll pardon the pun) of her finances and debt?

I really and truly can't imagine saying "I do" without knowing exactly what kind of debt I was accepting in the process.

Would you marry someone without first meeting her kids? Of course not! But, after children, money is the most-argued-about topic in marriage. So what gives?!

I keep hearing stories about this sort of thing. And I have to wonder why these people never get around to talking about finances, goals for the future, and plans about how to get there.

Before you start in: Yes, I know some people are excellent at secret spending. It's a practice that truly bothers me.

I was on a forum once where many of the women would openly talk about hiding their purchases from their husbands. They would schedule deliveries for when their husbands weren't home. When new things arrived, they would be hidden in plain sight -- among the older things. If the husbands noticed, the women just insisted they'd "had it forever."


While I may not understand it, I do see how one partner can hide purchases pretty easily. Although it seems obvious that if both partners go through the financials together, the behavior is a lot harder to keep hidden.

That said, this woman didn't seem to be hiding anything from her husband. He just didn't want to make enough trouble to get the whole set of facts. (He explained that it took a lot of "pushing and pulling" to get the vague answer about debt.)

Obviously, most people suggested marital counseling. That's very important, of course. But I wonder why only one other person thought to ask him why he ignored some pretty big signs.

Most importantly, why didn't they have conversations about spending and saving and debt before they got married?

I also found it interesting that no one much cared why she is spending this way.

Like eating disorders, drugs and other self-harming habits, overspending is a way for people to avoid dealing with their problems. If you feel bad, you can overeat, or refuse to eat, or take some drugs, or go shopping.

The point is, any regularly occurring excessive behavior is usually a sign of a problem.

Both of these people clearly have a lot of work to do -- on themselves and their marriages.

But enough about my opinions. What would you tell this guy?

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Blogger a.b. said...

Wow, after reading it my BS meter hit a high that $85,000 worth of goods and services entered the house without his seeing it. If he was oblivious to that, hes probably oblivious to a lot of other things in his marriage.

I think this couple just has no comprehension of how to truly "merge." He speaks about things as a joint venture, but they kept completely separate finances, and even worse, he assumed when she took a huge hit with the reduced salary that she could still pay her bills. The minute she had to ask him for money he should have said, hey, let's take a look at the bills and we can see what I can take over to help you out during this time. Most likely they would have a stronger relationship, and he would know all these details.

Judging her purchases as clothes and knick-knacks isnt going to help. What if the clothes are for work? His attitude is certainly not going to get her to want to talk with him.

The concept that he bought a house and they didnt pull a credit report on her is odd, too. Which means, he bought a house, they didnt.

In most cases when a partner keeps something from the other, they think they're doing it for the others best interest. Its sad when that creates this much of a problem.

As to whether or not it should be an issue, when my husband and I got married I brought debt into the relationship, he did not. He also had no credit history, etc. I gave him a ballpark estimate, (which was accurate) and we moved on from there. Why? Because he knew that my past stupidity was in the past. I wanted a frugal wedding, I was trying to reduce expenses to make the financial burden easier on him.

Related rant: Why is it that two people think they can live separate lives, with separate jobs, incomes, financial goals, and profiles, see each other nights and weekends, make little if any changes in their lives, then file one document at a courthouse, and call sleeping in the same bed a marriage? Geez!

November 2, 2008 at 6:14 PM

Blogger Abby said...

Amen, a.b.!

First of all, marriage is all about compromise and coming together toward a middle ground. That's definitely become apparent to me in the last almost-6 months.

Secondly, Tim brought debt into the marriage, but on the other hand, until i started working, he was bringing in most of the money we were paying down the debt with. So it seemed fair to me.

November 2, 2008 at 6:20 PM

Blogger Meg said...

She obviously has a serious problem -- by the sounds of it, not that different from being an alcoholic, except for probably being more expensive.

I don't think that divorce is necessarily the answer. I think she's going to need all the support she can get if she's going to get out of this mess. And while he's in a terrible predicament, I'd like to think that there's more to this marriage than just the debt and that there's something worth saving.

Certainly they should try marital counseling and probably personal counseling for her, as well. She's got to want the help, though, and I wouldn't blame him if he did leave considering how betrayed he must feel. Hopefully she won't have to lose him -- or worse -- before she's willing to change her ways.

November 3, 2008 at 8:59 PM

Blogger Meg said...

P.S. Regardless of whether or not he wants a divorce, he really should talk to a lawyer about the situation.

November 3, 2008 at 9:01 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

A few random thoughts:

She was off by about $85K as to how much debt she was carrying? Wow. But I don't think it was that he didn't notice her buying $85k worth of stuff. I think she had most of that before they married and he just never realized it was all on credit cards. He assumed that the stuff she had was all paid for.

As for how to deal with it, it's always complex. You have to do something. This guy can't keep hiding his head in the sand, at least partly because the money has really run out.

But you have to know the person you're dealing with. Everybody responds differently to things. Some people need an intervention. Some need the other partner to step up and take control. Some need to be shown some cold, hard figures. Some need to be coaxed to take baby steps and so on.

I think counselling would help. If she won't go, I'd advise him to do so by himself to start with.

November 3, 2008 at 11:29 PM

Blogger Meg said...


In his defense, $85,000 worth of debt doesn't necessarily look like a lot depending on what you buy and what you do with it.

My husband and I got into quite a bit of debt ourselves, so I have a little experience in that area. And while we should have been on top of our finances, we really didn't know just how much we were spending until we were deep in the hole. Some of it was medical or related to the moneypit house we bought, but much of it was just us not being very frugal. And no, we weren't the ones with closets full of designer clothes or plasma t.v.'s. or video game systems.

One of our most expensive weaknesses was eating out a lot and spending a lot of money on convenience food groceries. You can sink a lot into food and drink without leaving behind a lot of evidence.

Then there are all those girly things that don't take up much/any space but that can cost a frickin' fortune depending on where you go or what you buy: hair styling, manicures, pedicures, makeup, skincare, etc. Guys who are used to $7 haircuts don't always understand how much those things can cost.

And heck, little purchases can really add up. When we started looking over our statements, we realized that most of our purchases were less than $20 -- lots of "bargain" stuff that seemed so affordable at the time. We could have spent half as much and had way more fun if we had bought the big things we really, really wanted instead of sinking money into cheap stuff like discounted books we could have borrowed for free from the library.

And then, also, it's really easy to not notice how much stuff you buy if you frequently donate old stuff to make room for new stuff. That's easy to do with clothes, especially.

The important thing for my husband and I, though, is that we're working on this together and we're not interested in blaming the other person. We know we both had a hand in creating or debt and we both have to work to fix it. Fortunately, we don't have the trust/betrayal issues that couple has. While we perhaps lied to ourselves, we never intentionally lied to each other or hid purchases (except at Christmas, lol).

November 4, 2008 at 1:33 PM


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