For two years in my early 20s, I dated a man who was absolutely awful with money. Unfortunately, it took about 23 months too long to figure that part out. From a distance, he appeared to have his life together – he had his own apartment, a car that was paid off, and a job. Or so I thought.
Unfortunately, I found the poor guy couldn’t balance his checkbook to save his life. And his credit was absolutely ruined, with tens of thousands of dollars of outstanding debt and collections agencies involved.
And his job?
Well, he quit at least six different jobs during the time we dated – mostly because he didn’t want to go, or because he had a bad day and didn’t really feel like going back.
Eventually, I was to the point where I’d had enough. I was tired of worrying that he would stomp out of work like a toddler after an especially horrendous day, or that he would spend his rent money on dinners out with his friends. I was tired of arguing. I was tired of struggling.
It was about that time that my mom gave me some particularly poignant advice:
“If you stay with him,” she said, “your whole life will be like this.”
Moving On and Lessons Learned
Fortunately, I listened and we broke up quickly after that, both moving on with our lives in drastically different ways. And even though it was traumatic, I was immediately relieved to have it all behind me.
Just out of curiosity, though, I sometimes wonder how different my life would be had I stayed. Would I still be living paycheck to paycheck? Would we be broke? Would my credit eventually get ruined, too?
I shudder at the thought of any of these outcomes, partly because I’m in such an amazing place personally and financially now, but also because I feel like I dodged the biggest bullet of my life.
Because, with him, there would be no way I could have succeeded in life to the degree I have; and there is no way I would have a dollar to my name, either.
Even worse, I would have missed out on life with my amazing husband and our two beautiful children. Thank goodness I had the sense to listen to my mother that day because she could see something I simply couldn’t.
Unfortunately, not everyone gets the same warning I did.
When You Actually Marry Someone Who is Bad With Money
Valerie Rind, author of Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads: True Stories of Friends, Family, and Financial Ruin, is one who didn’t see the signs until it was too late. After blindly loaning money to her then-husband’s architectural firm back in the 90’s, Valerie found out that she was financing a slowly-sinking ship.
Meanwhile, she also discovered secrets about his debts and assets. He even “hid the fact that he didn’t own the condo we lived in,” she says.
But, by the time she found out, says Valerie, it was too late.
“I lost my life savings, his business failed, and our marriage imploded,” she says.
Valerie felt stupid, embarrassed, and ashamed, but ultimately parlayed her bad experience into new careers in personal finance and writing. And that was ultimately what led to her writing her book, which is full of the true stories of many individuals who have experienced financial ruin at the hands of lovers, spouses, family members and friends.
5 Scary Consequences of Marrying Someone Who is Bad with Money
While Valerie’s story is unique in its own way, there are plenty of other things that can happen when you marry someone who is a financial slacker. Here are some potential consequences that come with marrying or shacking up with someone who is awful with money:
- You may experience future credit troubles – Even though individual credit reports stay separate even after you get married, a partner can trash your credit if you wind up with any joint accounts. According to credit reporting agency, Experian: “Any accounts that list both you and your future spouse as account holders will affect both your report and his, regardless of who uses the account or pays the bills.”
- You may not be able to buy a home together or take out any type of loan. “Even if you maintain separate credit histories, your spouse’s previous bad credit could affect your ability to qualify for new loans,” notes Experian on its blog. “Lenders will take both credit histories into account when reviewing joint applications, so those late payments could affect your ability to qualify for something like a mortgage.”
- Just like my mother warned, your whole life could be one financial struggle. Even when you’re not in debt, marriage is work. “Relationships can be stressful,” says Valerie. “The pressure screws tighten if you struggle to pay the bills or have radically different ideas about money management.”
- Debt repayment could consume most of your expendable income. If your partner or spouse if an out-of-control spender, you could spend most of your working life paying down old or ongoing debts – or simply trying to keep up with new ones. “Your household finances will be affected if your partner carries a lot of debt and repayment is a big red line item in your budget,” says Valerie.
- You may found out their problems are worse than you thought. Similar to what happened to Valerie Rind, you may discover that your partner’s money secrets were worse than you thought. Because, when someone is really bad with money, sometimes anything goes. A good example would be a “person with a gambling addiction who is unlikely to change and may drag you down with them,” says Valerie.
How to Avoid Financial Disaster in Marriage
Here’s the thing: Everyone’s situation will be different, and there is no one way to avoid financial hardship in a marriage. But there are signs to watch out for, says Valerie. In Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads: True Stories of Friends, Family, and Financial Ruin, Valerie lists at least 30 discussion questions to get an accurate picture of your potential partner’s finances and your future life. Here’s a sample of what everyone should know before they form a legal union with, well, anyone:
- Do they have medical debt?
- Do they have past bankruptcies?
- What’s in their investment portfolio?
- What are their views on saving for college tuition vs. saving for retirement?
- What about insurance coverage?
Other details to find out can include whether or not your spouse is a saver, what their views on personal debts are, how much consumer debt they have currently, and whether or not they’re saving for retirement.
According to Rind, her fumble was not asking enough questions ahead of time. “You need to know what your potential partner owns, and what they owe,” she says. “And you need to reveal your own financial details as well.”
At the same time, it’s important to also consider the context of your partner’s situation, says Rind. Not everyone in a bad financial situation plans to stay in one. For example, you might be involved with someone who made financial mistakes in the past but is slowly digging their way out. Perhaps they’ve learned from those bad experiences, and truly want to change.
In the end, maybe the “wanting to change” part is the most important. It’s one thing for your potential spouse or partner to have made mistakes, but it’s an entirely different situation if they just don’t care.
“You need to be fully aware of your fiancé’s past and present financial foibles and how their behavior may make your life together more challenging — or more rewarding,” she says.
The Bottom Line
Even though we all need different amounts of money to be happy, most people would agree that no one wants to live a stressful life full of financial hardship. While it’s one thing to live on an average or less-than-average income, constantly struggling to make ends meet due to poor choices is an entirely different animal.
From Valerie’s experience, and the experiences of others she shares in Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads, it appears the key is knowing all of the dirty details ahead of time. It’s true that marriage is “for better or for worse, for rich or for poor,” but it’s a whole lot easier when you know what you’re getting into.
Have you ever dated someone who was bad with money? Do you think someone who is bad with money can be “fixed?”