Singletary: First comes money talk, then comes marriage

By Michelle Singletary, Columbian business columnist

Published:

 
photoMichelle Singletary

There are times when you're right, but you wish you weren't. This is one of those times.

Ten years ago, a reader wrote to me asking for advice about his relationship with his girlfriend. It was near Valentine's Day, and he wanted to ask her to marry him. But he had major reservations about how she managed her money.

"I plan to propose to my girlfriend of a year and a half," he wrote at the time. "Her spending habits are outrageous. She justifies (the spending) by saying she works two jobs and bargain-shops. She has more than 400 pairs of shoes, some she's not even worn, and clothing falls in the same category. There is almost no room left in her home. I am the frugal one in the relationship, and I hope it's beginning to sink in that she can't spend the way she's done in the past."

He asked me: "What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?"

I told him to hold off on the engagement. He had a lot of work to do before hitching his life to someone he was concerned had financial issues, and in particular to a partner not willing to acknowledge she might have a spending problem.

"Realize the two of you are a classic case of money opposites attracting," I answered. "This isn't unusual. But having different spending styles that aren't worked out can cause serious conflicts in a marriage. The important thing is to exchange your views about money before you exchange wedding vows."

I suggested that they pull their credit reports and share them with each other. Same for their credit scores. You can get free copies of your credit reports every 12 months from www.annualcreditreport.com. You have to pay for the credit scores, but it's worth the money to check each other's creditworthiness.

This month ,I got another email from the same guy.

"Your column that February 8th was spot on and, although I read it, I didn't follow it," he wrote. "Thus here I am on the brink of financial ruin and a failed marriage."

Earlier this year, , the National Endowment for Financial Education released a survey that found 13 percent of couples who have combined finances have deceived their partners by lying about such things as the amount of debt that they owe or how much they earn.


Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas. Reach her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or singletarym@washpost.com.