Pay Dirt

My Fiancée Owes Me $10,000. She’s Still Going On Lavish Trips.

Should I always be ready to bail us out?

Woman laying by a pool, smiling and wearing sunglasses and a hat.
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Dear Pay Dirt,

My fiancée has a rich social life and loves to go out with her friends to drink and dance the night away. They have a monthly dinner club where they go to the coolest restaurants where they spend over $100 per person on dinner. She recently spent $600 on a weekend trip with her friends to celebrate a birthday.

The problem is that very little money is going into savings/emergency funds. She currently owes me and her mother roughly $10,000 each because of emergencies that have popped up in the last year or so. The latest big ticket item is the wedding we have to plan. She wants a giant party but then complains about how she doesn’t have enough money.

I sound super patronizing when I explain how saving $300 to $500 a month by forgoing social events could accumulate into a decent chunk of change—maybe enough to pay for the lavish wedding that she wants. It’s also a bit insulting that she prioritizes social events with her friends over paying me back. But those conversations are always antagonistic and uncomfortable. In the future, I’m sure other huge purchases will arise and I don’t want to go through this back-and-forth struggle when we plan to have a kid or when we have to buy a new car, or, fingers crossed, a single-family home. Should I live the rest of my life always ready to bail us out financially? Any advice on how to approach this diplomatically when another big expenditure eventually comes up?

—Financially Frazzled Fiancé

Dear Financially Frazzled,

Are you sure you want to marry this person? It sounds like your financial priorities and lifestyles are mismatched. It will sound terribly unromantic of me, but marriage is a bundle of legal contracts at its heart. Even if you maintain separate accounts, there are still many ways in which your financial futures are intertwined when you sign that marriage certificate. That is especially true if you’re in a community property state.

I am not going to begrudge your fiancée spending money on experiences she values—it sounds like your fiancée’s social life is a big part of her identity. (And her monthly dinner club honestly sounds neat!) But if she’s not concerned about repaying her debt at the expense of these events now, what makes you think she’ll be even a little motivated to pay you back after you’re married? It sounds like she doesn’t think she should have to chip in for your lavish wedding. I’d venture to say she expects someone else to pay for it. You have bailed her out before.

There’s more to a marriage than financial compatibility, but this type of disagreement points to an underlying conflict of values. Not only does your fiancée prioritize vacations over repaying you and her mother, but you two can’t even have a productive dialogue about it. You should only consider marrying her after you can have an adult discussion about finances without it turning antagonistic. Marriages require you to have the same long-term goals. Both partners must agree on shared financial priorities even if one partner is more financially savvy and manages the budget.

If more people talked about money before marriage, I’d receive far fewer letters to this column. I’d recommend attending premarital financial counseling or taking a personal finance workshop together before you let wedding planning go any further. Propose it as an opportunity to work together to make a budget for the wedding, but also use it to assess if you’re genuinely well-matched. If you don’t find a way to have open and honest conversations about money, you’re setting yourself up for constant arguments (and resentment) around every life decision. Money is just an exchange of value—but sharing the same values is the foundation for a successful marriage. And if you decide to go ahead with the union, I have three words of advice: Get a prenup.

—Lillian

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