Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My fiancé and I are planning on getting married next spring and have been having a lot more in-depth talks about our finances. Both of us were not good with our finances when we were younger. We both got into credit card debt and had them go to collections where we didn’t pay the full amount. That was almost 10 years ago though and we are much more financially stable. The problem is, we both seem to have learned very different lessons from the credit card fiasco.
I have been diligent about not getting into credit card debt unless it’s an absolute emergency. My boyfriend, however, sees credit cards going to collections as a legitimate way to get out of debt if necessary. I absolutely do not. My fiancé understands this is important to me and is generally OK with me doing the budgeting in our relationship. The one thing we can’t agree on is what to do when we might be facing financial instability. Neither of us really likes 9-5 work, but I can stand it for financial stability. We have both taken time off due to burnout and used the time to potentially pursue entrepreneurial activities. The difference is, I’ve always had a lot of money saved up when I did and had a specific time frame for when I would go back to work, which I stuck to. My boyfriend hasn’t.
He has done really extreme things, like selling all of his stuff and moving in with his parents. This isn’t an option for us anymore. We disagree on how to deal with the potential financial instability that comes with pursuing new businesses. I think he should be required to contribute a minimum amount to our monthly bills no matter what. I’ve told him the best way to make sure that he does that is to have at least six full months of bills saved up. He currently has three months’ worth of savings and is balking at my plan. He says we can always cut back on extra expenses and that I should be willing to make sacrifices to help him grow his business. He doesn’t seem to realize that all the sacrifices we would be making would be on my end and he would basically be sacrificing nothing.
I think giving him a minimum amount to contribute to our household budget no matter what proves that he’s willing to make sacrifices too. The amount we’ve talked about isn’t even the entire amount he contributes now, but it is an amount that I think is reasonable for us to keep a pretty similar lifestyle right now. He also won’t stick to a time frame after which he will go back to finding a job that can give him a stable income. He seems to think I’m just limiting his potential. Am I? Are any of my recommendations unreasonable?
Dear Budgeting Blunder,
It’s important that you’re having these conversations now. One of the top reasons couples file for divorce is money and finances. The fact that you can’t see eye to eye about an agreement as basic as how to split minimal household expenses is a major red flag. The number of sacrifices you’re made or are willing to make isn’t important. A relationship shouldn’t be based on comparative suffering— you’re not in a battle to see who is willing to suffer the most.
That aside, wanting him to contribute fairly to living expenses isn’t wrong of you. In marriage and relationships, you should work together to present a united front. Being a part of a team doesn’t mean one person pulls all the weight so another can pursue their dreams—unless that’s something you want to actively do. It seems that financially supporting him isn’t something you want to do right now. That’s not the wrong decision, it just means you both have different ideas of what support looks like.
I wouldn’t move any further toward living with each other until you ask yourself a few questions. One, are you set on him contributing a fixed amount every month, or would you be open to splitting bills dependent on how much you both make? Would you be open to each of you paying a certain percentage based on your income? Should he aim to pay his bills ahead of time in case his income does dry up?
Another question you need to ask yourself is what you are going to do if his business does slow down and he doesn’t pay his bills. He’s already expressed to you that you both can cut back and that he expects you to float him. Are you willing to do that? It doesn’t sound like it, and I don’t see why you would move forward with someone who feels entitled to it. If he feels like you should take care of him now, it will only get worse once you’re married.
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions and truthfully answered them, you’ll know how to move forward. You can also look into premarital counseling. Money will come up often so it’s important to figure out a plan now. Good luck.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I typically lease a new car every three years, with an eye toward technology and features rather than horsepower. I leased a 2019 model right before COVID, and the 36-month lease is coming to an end—way under mileage. Online lookups of the make and model show that after paying the lease-purchase price of about $20,000, I could turn around and sell it for $28,000-$30,000. Which would be great, but… then I need another car. Our second car is 15 years old and not reliable.
Should I be thankful for the ability to buy my car at a reasonable price and keep it? Or should I roll that equity into a new lease, at these high car prices? The upside of this car is that it could potentially cover half to two-thirds of the next three-year lease. I’m having trouble evaluating the options.
Dear Buyer Seller,
I’ve never leased a car because traditional finance advice says not to. Everyone always advises you to buy a used car because of depreciation, etc. But then, I bought a new car, and it was a game changer. I had heated seats! Sirius Radio! And more importantly, I didn’t have to worry about my car breaking down or putting any more money into a vehicle that even my mechanic refused to fix. So, I completely understand the allure of leasing a car every three years and living your life with ease.
You are actually in a great position financially with your leased car. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic cause a lot of Americans to be under mileage on their vehicle, but the pandemic also disrupted the supply chain. Microchips are scarce, and no one can predict when they will be fixed. One option you have, if your lease agreement will let you, is to shop around with other local dealerships to see if they will offer you more for your vehicle as a trade-in. You can lease another car with them and get more bang for your buck, or just sell the car for the cash. Purchasing the car can give you a break from the monthly payments, though.
You can always purchase a used car outright with the $8,000 to $10,000 you would make to replace the 15-year-old car, and then lease another vehicle. This would probably fit your lifestyle and allow you to keep leasing a vehicle so that you can enjoy your current lifestyle while being responsible.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m the mom of a 6-year-old with special needs; her dad and I are not married but still living together. I earn a great living, but my partner has been unemployed for most of our relationship and doesn’t contribute a cent to anything. We also live in a country where autism is not considered a disability, which means there is no government assistance and my private medical insurance won’t cover anything related to her care. There are no schools for special needs children, so I enrolled her in a very expensive private school specializing in autism. Between the mortgage, the private school, occupational therapy, neurotherapy, and now play therapy, my job couldn’t cover everything.
After running into a ton of debt I decided to get a second and third job. After a year, I’ve basically paid off most debt, did much-needed work on the house, and covered all of our bills. It meant working before my day job (from 6-9 a.m. every day) and then logging in from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the evenings and all weekend, but my daughter was able to get the help she needed. During this time my day job company (the principal source of income) was sold and acquired twice, leading to lay-offs each time and we’re still not sure if we’re going to have jobs in six months’ time.
I’m exhausted. I’m not sure how tenable working three jobs is going to be in the future. My partner can get a job but it won’t pay more than one of my part-time gigs, and he’s been trying without success for two years. To make things worse, his parents have confessed that they blew through their retirement fund and may need our support to keep their house and feed themselves. I don’t want to quit any of the work until I know what’s going to happen in the future with my day job or my “in-laws.” Unemployment is high and work isn’t easy to find. What is the best way to a) cover our bills and plan for my daughter’s future (considering that she may not live independently in the future) and b) keep my sanity? I’m providing for my family’s financial needs but I’m not there for my kid emotionally. There’s no family aside from my elderly parents who could look after my kid if pass away, so saving is very important to me.
—Burning Candle at Both Ends
Dear Burning The Candle At Both Ends,
If there is no one to take care of your daughter in case of an emergency, you need to get a few things in order. First, you need to start making sure you are maintaining as much of a healthy lifestyle as you can. This means eating right, exercising, and, more importantly, getting adequate sleep. What you’re doing is admirable, but it’s not sustainable, and even you realize that.
You mentioned that if your partner were to get a job, it wouldn’t pay more than one of your side gigs. Is that one of the reasons he hasn’t been successful, re: he doesn’t see the point? Or is there a reason that it’s harder for him to gain employment than others? I might be missing something but not being able to find a job after two years makes me wonder why that’s the case. That extra income, no matter how small, would certainly help lift a load off your shoulders.
Even if he were to get a job that paid what you make for one of your side gigs, that would still mean less time you’re working and more time you have for your kid. Can he pick up a new skill? Try to find a remote position, like a call center? Is there a line of work he hasn’t been open to that he can consider? I would make sure he exhausts all of his options—it’s important he figures this out.
Even if you were married, I would still say you are under no financial obligation to take care of his parents. You have a special needs daughter that needs all of your resources and it’s not your fault that they blew their retirement fund. You shouldn’t be required to bear this weight, especially if their son isn’t contributing at all. If they can’t see that, then ask your partner to go live with them and force them to figure it out amongst themselves. This kind of brash suggestion might push him to step up and be responsible. I think you need to make a hard decision here. Financially supporting your partner with no help is only adding to your burden. This isn’t fair to you or your child.
Finally, consult a disability lawyer in your community so you can get some next steps on what you need to do to protect your daughter. They might suggest you set up a certain type of savings account in the form of a trust to help aid with her care in the future. They can also help you draw up a will. I’m wishing you the best.
Dear Pay Dirt,
We are a low-income family, although not desperately so—we have everything we need day-to-day, and with some extreme frugality have even been able to save some money. Saving everything we could for several years, we now have about $10,000 in a “high interest” savings account; I put in the quotation marks because what they are calling high interest is 1 percent.
Is this enough money for me to get a financial manager? I feel like this money could be making more money than it does if someone who knew how to do so were handling it, but I don’t know if it’s such a small amount that fees would eat up any benefit. At what amount does it make sense to pay someone to manage your money?
—Not Much But Not None
Dear Not Much But Not None,
A rule of thumb is to keep three to six months of expenses for an emergency fund. This can be kept in your high-yield savings account. But I don’t think it’s a bad idea to look into a fee-based financial planner for the rest of your savings.
Fee-based only financial advisors charge a flat rate, unlike commission-based financial advisors who make money when they make a sale. Since the more they sell you, the more they make, they usually focus on products that will make them the highest commission and take clients with a certain amount in their portfolios. Fee-based financial advisors also have to follow fiduciary duty. This means they must have your best interest at heart and be honest with you.
A fee-based advisor can help you decide if you’re on the right track for saving for your family. They can also help you pick low-cost investment options that feel right, depending on your risk tolerance. Getting free financial advice off the internet is cool, but it doesn’t hurt to talk to a professional. Check out the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors website to get a local recommendation and someone who fits your budget. Be prepared to spend at least $350 for your session.
More Advice From Slate
I’m getting married to the woman of my dreams this June. We’re both medical professionals, and I have a very high amount of loans ($230,000) while she has none. We’ve fought several times about whether or not she will help to pay these loans off when we’re married. I understand that she feels like they are my loans and thus my responsibility, but I can’t help feeling a little hurt that she’s not willing to help at all, since it will be a major factor in our married finances.