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The Background

My partner and I have been together for a significant amount of time, 8 years soon, and are planning to get married (within a few years due to busy schedules and graduate school). I have recently gotten very much into personal finance and have started budgeting using spreadsheets and planning for expenses and such ahead of time. I have been saving my own money for a while and it makes me feel very good to know that what I'm doing now is going to kick-start a great and relaxed future of financial independence (that's the goal anyway). My partner on the other hand has been increasingly strapped for cash, as is the process for graduate school students. They have taken out many loans to pay for school and by the end of it all it will amount to somewhere in the region of $150-200k. Because of the schooling and time commitment, they are unable to work for very long during their studies (in fact, the school recommended no more than 5-10 hours a month to be spent working outside of schoolwork, due to the heavy course-load) and so can earn very little of their own money.

It is because of this that I want to press forward with my idea of being fiscally responsible and keeping track of things, so that we can dig ourselves out of the hole of (necessary and understandable) debt that will inevitably be created by these life decisions.

The Problem

As a result of all of these factors, I have been solely financially responsible for the both of us (rent, food, bills, etc.) I have absolutely no problem with this, but it seems that my partner feels awful about it. They take it very hard when something happens that costs money could be spun as their fault. As an example, some dishes fall off of the counter and shatter on the floor meaning they need to be replaced. This is taken by my partner as a great mistake and "now the budget is going to be off and its all my fault, I'll pay you back for this, I promise."

  • I would rather not focus on these events, as ultimately a little hiccup in the budget doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things IMO
  • I want to be able to convince my partner that its not an issue for us to spend money on things; just because we don't have much money, doesn't mean we don't have any and that we are going to starve for needing to spend an extra $20-50 here and there.

My partner and I both grew up in lower-middle class families, however due to me being an only child and them being in a family of 5, money was always more of a touchy subject in their life than in mine. I worry that the stress that I am causing as a result of my insistence of tracking our expenditures (not to a crazy extent, but to one that allows for it to be effective) is becoming too much for my partner to handle. I want to discuss these things and make sure that we are on the same page about finances since coming up soon, it is going to be not just my finances and my partner's finances, but rather our finances.

I know the common advice of "it's their money and you can't tell them how to spend it," but in this case it's my money, and I want to be sure that it is US that benefits in the long run, without overstepping comfort zones. I heard somewhere that the most common reason cited in divorce is financial issues. Obviously, this is something that I would like to avoid, and I'd like to be started in conversation and communication sooner rather than later.

Recently, I have been looking to meet with a financial advisor to make sure that we are on the right track. I want my partner to attend these meetings with me, even if right now the only funds will be "my funds." Unfortunately I am having a very difficult time coming up with a way to ask them if they would like to attend these meetings with me, that would avoid adding unneeded stress onto my partner's platter. (Indeed a quite full platter)


The Questions

  • How should I go about asking my partner about planning our financial future, when I know that they are already stressed, and will likely become more stressed after I ask?
  • What can I do that might help them understand that I am fine with supporting the both of us in this journey, and that they don't owe me anything, since we will both benefit in the long run?

[Update]: We have gone to a meeting with the financial advisor as mentioned above, but it seems like the situation is still the same. My partner seemed uncomfortable during the meeting; when pressed, they replied that they were simply bored, since none of it really applied to them. "It's not my money, after all." Relating to my second question: how can I convince them that it really is our money? Or will that just need to wait until I have our marriage to lean on for "proof"?

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    I'd suggest going back once more to money.se for how to handle if your boyfriend gets a degree, a well paying job, and a new girlfriend in the same week. Especially if you get married to someone with $150,000 in debt you need to protect yourself first.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 12 at 18:12
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    It sounds like your partner is pretty overwhelmed with everything going on their life, and perhaps can't see as far as graduation, marriage etc. Which makes me ask how certain you are that they are committed to marriage and a future together?
    – DaveG
    Nov 16 at 20:15
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    @DaveG I can see your point. I think the confidence is warranted in that we have talked about our life together and plans to get married many times in the past. However, there is the obvious caveat that we clearly don't both view our monetary situation in the same manner, perhaps due indeed to their difficulty seeing that far ahead. I suppose for the purposes of the the question, please assume that our life and future together is inevitable, however potentially accurate/flawed that statement may really be.
    – Flats
    Nov 16 at 20:22
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Given what you describe, your partner is at least somewhat correct. You need to narrow your focus. A lot of the things that a financial advisor can help with in terms of investments are currently meaningless to your partner, who has neither the time nor resources to use that information.

However, there is one financial thing that your partner can do which will probably ease a concern you have. And that's being completely, absolutely transparent about debt.

After all, if you are managing the investments, if you know in general your partner's income and debt level, you have a good overall financial picture. You might want to share this for your partner's information but really, it's not going to affect anything right now. And perhaps in the future when your partner has more time they will be more interested in the financial picture.

However, if your partner is building up debt that you don't know about, for whatever reason such as compulsive shopping, helping out a needy parent, unexpected school expenses, that really impacts both of you. I found this out the hard way, as my ex-wife only revealed some fairly massive debt when she absolutely had to. That definitely had an impact on our relationship.

So focus on making sure you really do understand your partner's financial picture. You don't need to know the nuts and bolts of each and every expense, just that you know what their debt level is, and that it's not building up faster than expected. That should make sense to your partner, and also be something that they can easily do without being too stressful.

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    Great perspective! I guess I am perhaps handling the situation with a bit of a finer-grit sandpaper than necessary. For now, a big picture of debt is really all that is needed, since in general we aren't even able to do much other than document it right now anyways. Tackling the payment of it at all is a task for a few years out.
    – Flats
    Nov 18 at 18:30
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This might be a bit boring and predictable , but...

Make a budget!

I had a shortish stint of being unemployed right after college - leaning heavily on my then employed girlfriend. I recognize, or rather, empathize with your partners behaviour. It is not so easy, feeling like a grown-up dependant.

The situation you are describing is shared by many, perhaps not at the same extreme case of it, but many. Financially estranged spouses tend to end up feeling a lot of negative emotions - guilt, cluelessness, fear, feeling of everything being a financial risk. And it does foster some unhealthy financial behaviour (shopping expensive items to alleviate financial stress is a fairly commonstance occurance...)

In fact, this is how a lot of single people also feel, when they feel like their finances are slipping out of control. Every issue seems big, mental arithmetic has to be done for even the smallest expenses and every guilty pleasure purchase becomes a dark cloud hanging over you. Guilt, cluelessness, fear... I know I have felt like that seeing some unexpected expenses tossing everything into the blender.

This can, I think, be alleviated by letting your loved one in on the budget process. Income, subtract fixed costs, set aside savings first and expenditures next (food, clothes, etc) and of course, there has to be some "funey". Money for enjoying life. Alcohol, books, streaming, luxuries...

Have them join you in setting up the budget, and following it. Let them feel pride when a bargain was found and half the whatever budget could be added to either savings or funey. Let them in on the "oops" events, the bad news and the mitigation of it. Let them be reassured by the strategy you have set up. That the money comes from you, now, will hopefully be secondary. As a benefit, and if they insist, you can even keep a tally of how much they need to commit in the future to "even the score". Now it probably feels like a tonne of lead around the neck, this invisible, unknowable, probably humongous number. But in the end, once you calculate it - it is just a number. Measurable. Assailable. (This last bit is for you to decide, I think over time that is the right step, but maybe once you see them be happy over a budget month going in the green a few times. Or it might not be necessary, maybe the reassurance is enough.)

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    Good answer, but I don't think that it really applies in my sense unfortunately. I have already made a budget (mostly for me, but also so that we can track things together) and it seems that the act of looking at or entering things into it simply make the situation more stressful for my partner. I think that they might benefit from the idea of "paying me back" as you suggest near the end, but due to the sheer size of this number (I expect), I think it may be unreasonable to expect my partner to not be put off by it, and feel even worse about what I've "thrown away" on them and their schooling.
    – Flats
    Oct 12 at 18:49
  • How about suggesting to pay back with other non-financial means? Perhaps something that's worth the effort too (so not something too easy) so that's it can believably feel equivalent (incorporating your grace too) to their "debt".
    – justhalf
    Oct 15 at 3:09
  • @justhalf Though I think that your suggestion might be difficult to use, it might be worth a shot thinking of how I could ask that in a respectful manner. I do worry however that intentionally coming up with a solution of repayment other than with monetary means, could potentially be more damaging to the situation by making repayment seem like it is necessary or the focus. This of course, is not the case, as I am perfectly comfortable with no repayment at all.
    – Flats
    Oct 19 at 13:06
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    @Flats Problem is that the feeling of owing someone something is not necessarily connected to actually owing someone something. You saying it is no guarantee for them not feeling it... Oct 19 at 13:09
  • @StianYttervik Indeed, this is why I was searching for the best way to communicate that there was never anything owed. I do unfortunately realize that this may never be able to be communicated successfully, but I hope that I might be wrong nonetheless!
    – Flats
    Oct 19 at 13:12

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