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.