A Life Without Debt: Think Before Marrying Debt

I married a man just like me. He had no debt going into our marriage and no desire to incur any. This has made it very easy for us to create a financial life together that we both agree on and enjoy. I know many other couples who are not so lucky and this has made their financial lives miserable. The worst cases are where one partner does not want any debt and the other partner could care less about the loan and credit card balances.

My friend, Jane, is a perfect example. The man she loved had a lot of debt going into their marriage. He owed about $50,000 on various things and his credit record was trashed. Worse, he had no plan and no desire to pay any of it off any time soon. He is content to drift through life with no savings, no budget, and no plan. Jane’s excellent credit got them their home and car loans. She hates debt and was debt free until her marriage but, being married to this man, she has no choice. I asked her once if she thought about his debt load and his lack of financial care before marrying him.

“I did, and I almost called it off. He owed so much money. But I thought that I could change him, or that at least my financial smarts would be enough to carry us, despite his money troubles.”

Now she laughs because, having been married for several years, she realizes that you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to be changed. No matter how much she tries to teach him about finance, it all falls on deaf ears. He doesn’t care and until something happens to make him care, nothing will change. She also knows that the debt load is growing. Her husband won’t stop spending and is even using her credit cards now. The chances that Jane will ever be debt free again grow smaller every day. The chances that they can even comfortably raise a family and retire someday also grow smaller every day.

I asked her, if she had to do it all again, would she?

“I don’t know,” is her honest reply.

Should she not have married him? It’s true that sometimes you can’t choose who you fall in love with. Sometimes opposites attract and there’s no rhyme or reason for the match. And while it would be callous to choose someone based solely on their financial picture, you cannot live in denial and say that it doesn’t matter, either. If you want to be debt free and live that life, marrying someone with a lot of debt is going to put that goal off, possibly forever.

It’s different when the person you choose has debt, but also has a plan for paying it off and correcting their financial problems. The person with debt but a clear plan and goal of paying it down and living on a budget is a keeper. It shows that this person is thinking about the future and is making plans to have the life they want. The problem comes when the person you love has no plan, no goal, and no desire to pay off their debt or curtail their spending to at least stop the debt from mounting. This person is going to keep you in debt forever and, possibly, drag you down with them if they start using your credit cards or abusing the loans that you sign your name to. Given that money fights are the number one contributor to divorce, it only makes sense that you choose someone with whom you can agree about money.

If you are already debt free and want to stay that way you need to choose a mate carefully. You can marry someone who has debt, as long as you are both on the same page about getting it paid off and limiting debt in the future. If you marry someone hoping to change them, you’ll probably end up disappointed. Similarly, if you have debt and are serious about getting rid of it, the mate you choose needs to support your goals. If you marry someone who considers debt a fact of life, you’ll probably find your efforts to get out of debt sabotaged by their indifference to the problem.

You don’t have to choose a partner based solely on their debt level but you do need to give some thought to your overall financial compatibility, particularly if being debt free is important to you. Are you both uncomfortable with debt and want to get rid of it/stay out of it? Can you create a financial plan that you can agree on and that will get you to your debt free goal? You can hope to get as lucky as I did and find a partner who brings zero debt into the marriage, but those are hard to find. If you want the debt free life, you have to choose your partner with care and, possibly, even say no to the person who doesn’t share your financial goals.

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11 Responses to A Life Without Debt: Think Before Marrying Debt

  1. North753 says:

    She’s enabling his irresponsibility, by allowing him to continue to use her share of things.

    If she does not take control of her earnings (at least), she’s not without fault in this mess.

    She needs to separate all financial accounts for her future. Otherwise, she will go down with him sooner or later.

    Looking back is fruitless. Pepole need to take action when something wrong (like this) happens in their life.

  2. Broken Arrow says:

    An article that strikes home.

    Mine did not end so well though.

    Thank you for sharing!

  3. Mike says:

    Sadie, that’s great that you and your husband discussed your finances (or we both lucky to both have your finances under control) before you got married.

    It’s easy to avoid having that discussion as much as possible only to find out after marriage that your partner’s financial life is in shambles. A lot of people think that only a personal relationship with someone is enough reason to get married; what they don’t realize is that marriage is a HUGE financial commitment as well.


  4. Isabelle says:

    Money is such a component part of life and relationships, if the couple have very different attitudes there can be no happy ending. They may stay together – hardly the same thing.

    My old grandmother used to say –

    when poverty comes in the door – love flies out mof the window.

    I worked with a woman whose spendthrift husband lost them their home – sold to pay his debts on the promise of reform which lasted about three months! Her health, she became very depressed, this affected the children and their happiness and schooling. I lost touch with her at this point, I would not have been so forgiving and would have left long before it got to that point.

    And to think you can change your partner – if you can, you belong to a VERY small minority!

  5. Cindy M says:

    Yes, truer words were never spoken. You can’t change them, I certainly found that out and got out. I saw the problems ahead of time and ignored them. It’s a mistake to ignore your own common sense/instincts about another. How much better a marriage can go if both partners have the same outlook and be true friends. “Love” sure does NOT conquer all.

  6. Sandy L says:

    I have a friend who was saving for a downpayment on a house. Her husband took it and used it to buy a Corvette. They’re no longer married.

    I dated the whole spectrum..from total tightwad to spendthrift. Spendthrift was too stressful. Not only do they spend their money with abandon, but they take you down with them.

  7. Anne says:

    Not only all that, but if your friend Jane lives in a “community property” state like WI, any debt her husband incurs is hers 50-50, right off the bat. Not sure how pre-existing debt is handled but definitely anything incurred in marriage is hers…

  8. Diane says:

    Although my ex-husband & I both had good jobs & were debt free when we met & married, things changed rapidly. Within 3 years he left 2 good jobs to start his own business.

    He left me with $750K in debt when his business failed. In a community property state that was my debt as well. He refused to file bankruptcy, file taxes or get a job with health insurance (we had 2 small kids by then).

    In the end we divorced, I filed bankruptcy & got a job with insurance and waited 10 years to have the IRS lien on our house removed (because they wouldn’t make a settlement with me unless HE filed).

    It took me years to recover, but I have no debt, a house nearly paid for, 1 son out of college & 1 graduating high school. He still works for cash & doesn’t file taxes!

    This man came from a conservative family with parents & a brother who worked & paid taxes. I had no warning that he would turn into a renegade…

    Be aware that your choice of spouse can take you down financially – particularly in a community property state!

  9. Gail says:

    So right! It happened to me and it is a horrible way to live especially when the spendthrift pouts, yells, manipulates, etc. to get his way to continue to spend, spend, spend! Every fight is about money and none ever ends up with a kiss and make up session. Emotions are too raw and wounded.

    I’m sure most frugal men and woman could happily ‘fall in love’ with a similarly frugal person if given enough time! I would much rather be married to someone that I could be friends with and be on the same financial page, than be married to the ‘love of my life’ and not have money for groceries.

  10. Larabelle says:

    Thank-you for validating what I thought to be true. I am single and I will not accept a man who is not responsible for his financial life and debt free.

  11. Sharon says:

    After I married my husband I discovered he had huge debts. I thought about leaving him but he begged me to stay and promised to change. I paid his debts off. He put all the finances in my hands and all was well for a year or so until our first child. Money started disappearing from the accounts, credit cards started going up – all being spent on his own interests. We got a mortgage, all was manageable, although we fought every month when I saw the credit card. More debts came to light from his student loans – my mother helped us pay them off. We had another child. A few years later, he commenced an affair, took on a debt of over $100k, and forced me into a financial settlement on the house so he could pay out his debt and come back. He took the settlement money and did not pay off his debts or come back. That was four years ago – today he is depressed and miserable with nothing to his name, debts up to his eye balls and absolutely desperate to come back to his family. I love this man with all my heart but I cannot have him back unless he can show me a plan to pay off his existing debts. Right now he can’t even tell me how much he owes – he just says that it is a lot. Love cannot feed the children or pay the mortgage. Love cannot overcome this kind of dysfunctional behaviour. It is like an addiction.

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