Dealing with a partner’s debt

Dealing with a partner who's in debt

Hands up those with a partner saddled with debt. Do you ever resent him/her for it? Do you feel like it’s holding you back?

It’s okay. Our feelings are ours and they are legitimate. And sometimes you just need to let them out and acknowledge them.

Sometimes I wish I were the indebted person. I make more. I could pay off more, faster. What’s more, I’m not naturally a spender. (Maybe you snort at that having followed my blog for awhile. But my personal spending tends to fall along the lines of concerts, travel and eating good food. I don’t have a latte factor. I agonise over purchases. I don’t have or need a personal allowance. I would rather save my money than fritter it away on milkshakes and burgers or CDs or shoes.) In short, I would throw everything I had at debt until it was gone. But T is not like that.

Don’t get me wrong. The debt is not massive, it’s only in the four figures. And about half of it is to me. The rest isn’t even incurring interest. Not from ongoing living costs when I supported him (I chose to do that myself) but the other things – money lent after a long-ago car accident, car repairs, car insurance. Okay, mostly car related things. And a few other bits and pieces.

You know how I like to browse real estate listings for fun/self-torture? He likes to browse listings for motorbikes. That’s the next thing he wants to buy. The big thing. And of course he’s always finding amazing deals that if only he had the money he would buy right now. To which I can only say, you just spent hundreds of dollars on car audio! Obviously having doof doof sounds on your commute was more important than anything else to you, so you’ll just have to wait. The right bike will come along when you’re ready.

Of course, he could save for it faster if we directed all his spare into savings and none toward repaying me. And that’s a decision he leaves to me. That’s kind of a crap choice. Basically, it’s a battle of selfless vs selfish.

Sometimes I think maybe I should just write it off and we can start with a clean slate. But that’s not fair to me. That’s money I’ve worked hard for. Money that I chose to lend knowing it would be returned eventually. (And yes, money I could afford to give in the worst instance.) Maybe I should forget my random notion of insisting he maintain a $2k EF, because realistically, I would not drain it. As a first step, I would front the money, because dipping below that number is such a psychological blow. (I KNOW. IT’S NOT EVEN MY MONEY. WTF IS WRONG WITH ME?)

Even if it’s not yours, debt sucks. It hinders individual goals and joint goals. For him, it means no bike – for now. And for me, it means travel can’t happen as soon as I’d like.

I veer between wondering WHY AREN’T WE FURTHER ALONG YET??!! – after all, he’s been out of school for five years (didn’t go to uni) and sometimes it feels he has nothing to show for it. Meanwhile, I often feel similarly. But I have to remember I’ve only been working FT for a year, and I just paid for a car in cash. He’s sustained stints of unemployment, and yes, paid off other debts in that time. (The most frustrating thing is that very, very little of it was actually incurred by him. But let’s not get into that.) It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Yeah, I veer between that and trying to reassure myself that we have years and years ahead of us. But do we? In 10 years I would like to have bought a house and started a family and done my two big trips: the US and Europe. Blarrrrrgh.

I don’t want it to sound like we are clashing financially. In fact, it’s all going pretty swimmingly, albeit slower than I’d like. Joint pots with a separate allowance for him is working great and while initially that made me nervous, he’s been really good about communicating on money matters. But every so often, when progress feels nonexistent, you need to have a verbal retch. Ya know what I mean?

14 thoughts on “Dealing with a partner’s debt

  • Reply SS4BC February 12, 2011 at 17:44

    “But every so often, when progress feels nonexistent, you need to have a verbal retch.”

    LoL totally understand. I have to have these like every other week it seems. 😉

    Lemme just say that it also sucks being the one with debt. It feels like you’re stifling the other person, like you’ve let them down, like they’re better than you because they made better choices. And a lot of time it feels really crappy that you can’t get debt free as fast as you/the other person wants/needs you too.

    Also, I would keep him to paying you back until you’re more “officially” together – and then it won’t matter. =)

  • Reply Enza February 12, 2011 at 18:49

    You know, Lord Robert Winston says that females almost without exception are attracted to males who are intelligent, a few years older and, most importantly, financially secure. Looks are not that important. Males, on the other hand, are attracted to youthful women who have a good hip to waist ratio. His statement is supported by numerous studies some of which are cross cultural.

    So, in conclusion, poor males are a real turn-off. As a male, I’ve always subscribed to the view “no cash, no gash” – which has been a real motivator for me to invest wisely and save like there’s no tomorrow.

    • Reply eemusings February 12, 2011 at 19:25

      Okay, you’re a guy? I don’t know why but I always assumed you were female! Also, great stuff about the fees – he had insurance through work with Superlife at an old job and if he had joined Kiwisaver back then would have been in their scheme. We’re both with Mercer – I should check what their fees are in comparison.

  • Reply Alice February 12, 2011 at 19:01

    Hi there! Hang in there… you’re very young! You can’t plan these things by age. When I was your age I thought I would have a home, family, marriage and a great career by the time I was 30. However, now I am almost 30, while I have a home I am underwater in it (bought it at the height of the market in the US, at 25 when I thought I wasn’t going to reach any of my goals by 30.) My career is not great, but pays the bills, and although I’ve been unemployed several times in the last few years, I have also traveled extensively, I have no family or even a boyfriend but am happy holding out for the right one, I plan to enter grad school, and have student loan debt from college -a degree that is no good without a master’s and credit card debt from unemployment. But I have a plan to fix better all that soon, am slowly paying it off using the snowball method. I can’t control whether I meet Mr. Right or start a family and I can’t control the real estate market, however I can have a plan and I can save and study. You can also plan and get boyfriend onboard.
    You have plenty of time for your goals and remember some things are not just up to you. You’re a couple but you can’t control another person’s behavior. You can encourage him but there is nothing you can do if he doesn’t do things up to your speed. Things change. Plans change. The best you can do is support him, follow your travel dreams. Set up a travel vision board? Might help him to save by visualizing. Hang in there! Best of luck to you.

  • Reply Red February 12, 2011 at 22:10

    I just want to echo what SS4BC said. I’m the one with the debt in our relationship (though Mr. Red will probably start taking out student loans now that he’s unemployed), and it is not fun. I’m the reason we can’t go out all the time. I’m the reason we can just get in the car and drive to Gatlinburg on a whim.

    For you and T, the debt being owed to you makes it an even more complicated situation. You want him to be debt free so you can pursue joint goals but also so you can be repaid.

    I think about these things with Mr. Red sometimes. For instance, I think about being debt free and how, if he ever had school debt, I’d throw in my hat to pay it off myself in a heartbeat because I know I would be more determined and pay it off faster while he’d probably keep making the minimum payments for 10 years.

    • Reply Red February 12, 2011 at 22:12

      Whoops, that should say “the reason we CAN’T just get in the car…” That’s what I get for not proofreading before hitting the post comment button. 😉

    • Reply Cordelia February 17, 2011 at 07:11

      I feel the same way. The debt falls mostly on my side of the relationship, and even though I make more and am busting my butt to pay it down as quickly as possible, it hurts sometimes to look at how much we’re spending on debt per month and all the other things we *could* be doing with that $$.

      I’m thankful every day for a hubby that has willingly accepted these are “our” finances now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel bad when I tell him we can’t afford a nice dinner out because I’ve got things that need paying.

  • Reply FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com February 13, 2011 at 02:35

    I’d say that being the female who had debt in a relationship with a guy that had major savings and NO debt, it felt pretty crappy to not be able to go out freely and watch the bottom line. I felt awful buying things for myself, and while he was more than impressed with how penny pincher-y I was to get out of debt, he was happy when I was finally done and we could enjoy ourselves 😛

    In this situation, is he aware of the budget and the amounts? If he is, then perhaps he just isn’t debt-averse like you are. More into the “live and let live” philosophy of chilling out and not sweating anything.

    I would say that in your situation, I’d be a lot less guilty about wanting to be repaid. I’d just want to be repaid, and even though eventually it might become “our” money (not likely in my situation), as you said, you worked hard for that money and damn it you want it back!

    I think for me, a guy that is less into wanting to be sure he pays me or his family back ASAP, is perhaps a symptom of him not knowing how much it affects me/his family or how frustrating it is for others.

    My brother for instance, borrowed a good hunk of money from my parents and even though he SAYS he earns a lot of money, he has only been paying them back 10k a year. At this rate, he will be paying them back in full in 20 years which is total and utter BULLSHIT!!!!! My parents are very laissez-faire about the whole thing which makes me even more annoyed.

    I’m about to head back and tell him off.

  • Reply Amber from Girl with the Red Hair February 13, 2011 at 04:14

    Ugh I feel you. Luckily Eric and I started dating young enough that I was able to reign in his spending habits and now he’s almost as good of a saver as me 😉 Sometimes…

    I find the COMPLETELY separate money thing helps with us. He gives me a big sum of money once a month (for his half of things) and I cover all bills/groceries etc. With eating out/entertainment we tend to switch off with paying.

    Though last semester when he wasn’t getting a student allowance I was basically covering all the bills and he was helping out here and there when he could. I didn’t consider it debt that he owed me though. I don’t know why? I kind of just feel like we’re a team now and I know that if roles were reversed, he would cover my side of things no questions asked. I did not give him money for frivolous things though, I just covered the bills/groceries side of things…

    We are both extremely, extremely lucky to have practically zero debt (which is going to change in exactly one month when we get possession of our townhouse. Lol)

  • Reply Tweets that mention Dealing with a partner’s debt « Musings of an Abstract Aucklander -- Topsy.com February 13, 2011 at 09:33

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  • Reply First Gen American February 16, 2011 at 00:37

    Ah, the 20’s. In 10 years none of this will matter because you’ll both be on more stable footing. It’s hard when you’re first starting out because you literally need everything and it sometimes feels overwhelming with how long these things can take (getting out of debt, saving for big purchases, furnishing your pad, etc). Slowly but surely you do get there and eventually you turn into your parents at the holidays when you start saying “Don’t buy me anything, I have everything I need.” You’re doing great.

  • Reply Shellie February 21, 2011 at 04:26

    Wow-that is exacty my situation as well! I get a high from seeing a credit card balance drop, but the Mr gets a high from getting whatever is newnewnew.
    I wish I could offer advice, but I can only commiserate. What’s worse is that I was debt free last year and then we fell into an opportunity to buy a house that was impossible to pass (which is awesome) but it meant the thousands of dollars in things we needed to live in the house all went to me, so now I have that pile of debt on my shoulders again.
    Sorry to sidetrack there but all I can say is I feel your pain. I am constantly striving to pay off debt, while he wants a 3D TV and new ceiling fans.
    We’ll make it through someday!

  • Reply Newlyweds on a Budget February 21, 2011 at 15:58

    Thank you for writing this post. Since some family members (and my husband) read my blog, I sometimes feel inhibited by what I can write without sounding like I’m bagging on Eric.
    But I completely understand. I’ve always been financially secure–and if I ever got into credit card territory, I always had a plan to pay it off. Eric is not like that–and there have been many MANY times that we’ve clashed about how to save money. Almost a year into our marriage–and we’ve managed to pay off the credit card debt (it was all his). Being debt free has taken the stress off of us, but we still argue sometimes over how to manage the money. I also get bitter because I am the bigger earner and yet, we are constantly contributing toward his school. I feel like it’s just consistently unfair.
    There are days that go by where I simply simmer, but eventually the pot boils. And we have a blow out about it. I think sometimes arguments are essential because afterward, you realize what’s really important. We’re young right now, he’s still working on his career, and I know that he is the man for me. That he will love me no matter what–and if he had the money, he would give me everything I wanted. He is working on getting there, and I must be patient until he does. In the end, it’s not like we’re destitute. But sometimes it’s nice to have nice things.
    Thank you soo soo much for writing this post. It really made me feel less alone.

  • Reply mochiandmacarons November 4, 2012 at 01:39


    “Sometimes I think maybe I should just write it off and we can start with a clean slate. But that’s not fair to me. That’s money I’ve worked hard for. Money that I chose to lend knowing it would be returned eventually.”

    Honestly, it is the worst thing in the world to me, to owe someone money. It bothers me.

    I’d have paid the person first, before buying a new car audio. Austerity until my debts are paid. Then I can do what I want with my money, with (little) guilt.

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