Dear Lifehacker, I'm working to get out of debt. My boyfriend has his finances in order, and he likes to go out a lot. But I have to live frugally because of my financial goals. We don't share our finances, but we do live together. I don't want our differences to come between us. What can we do? Thanks, Debt Downer
Photo by Guian Bolisay
"We" is key here. While you might feel like your debts are holding your boyfriend back, this is a relationship issue that involves both of you. You can deal with some stuff on your own, but, overall, both of you should be committed to addressing the issue. Here's how we suggest you get started.
Talk About Money
Money can be a taboo topic. Couples are often afraid to address each other's finances. But, especially when you're living together, communicating about money is important. Claire Murdough of financial site Ready for Zero tells us:
I've been on both sides of this problem — the penny pincher and the freer spender. In each situation, open communication was the key. Talking honestly to your partner about your budget will save you the frustration or resentment of spending when you don't want to or feeling like you're always the one who plans events out.
In fact, most experts say you should have a clear understanding of not just your partner's spending habits, but their past financial habits, too. This will help you avoid conflicts.
Here's how you should handle these conversations:
- Discuss your current financial situation.
- Discuss your spending habits.
- Talk about your financial goals.
- Discover each other's financial philosophies and accept your differences.
At the same time, Murdough suggests keeping it simple.
You want to open up the channel for future financial talks, not flood with information. In terms of beginning topics, general budgets are a usually good jumping point. Sharing a future savings goal is also a great way to talk about your future financial plans. One tip: it always helps to have a handle on your own money values before asking another person for theirs, so take a few minutes before the talk to write down your top two or three financial goals. It's a great opportunity to define and assess your plans!
Once you know where the other person is coming from, consider holding weekly financial meetings with your partner. It doesn't sound terribly romantic, but it's good relationship maintenance. You'll stay on the same page, and it will serve as a helpful reminder to your partner that you can't afford to splurge.
Pay Yourself First
When you're struggling to pay off your debt, the last thing you need is temptation. And your boyfriend's entertainment splurges are probably enticing.
One way to avoid giving into temptation: use a zero-sum budget. Pay yourself first, then have a home for every cent of your income.
Decide how much you want to put toward each of your financial goals. Each time you get paid, that's where your money goes first. The rest of your pay is dedicated to each category of your budget, with not a dollar left.
As our own Eric Ravenscraft put it, this method allows you to be much more intentional with your spending. So when your boyfriend tempts you with an outing you can't afford, you can tell him it's literally not in your budget. And you've already made your debt payments, so there's no "borrowing" from that fund.
Even if you have separate budgets, it might help to allow your partner to help with your own budgeting. This way, he can clearly see and understand that you have debts you're trying to pay — and going out all the time isn't helping.
Letting him in on your budget can also help you come to a compromise and come up with a system. Maybe you agree to spend a certain amount each month on entertainment. But set a limit, and let him know what that limit is. This way, there aren't any surprises.
After you've talked about your finances and included your partner in your budget, come up with some frugal entertainment options you can enjoy together. Murdough suggests:
I used to think financial balance in a relationship was all about compromise but I've since realised it also requires a fair bit of creativity. There are tons of events and activities that are free or cheap - it just takes a little brain juice to discover them.
Planning these dates together can be a fun challenge.
Make Subtle Frugal Suggestions
At The Simple Dollar, writer Trent Hamm talks about this same issue. If your boyfriend is turned off by frugal options, you might consider Hamm's tip:
…when making spur-of-the-moment entertainment or social choices, suggest frugally but don't point it out. If your spouse wants to do something today, take the initiative and suggest something that doesn't break your budget in half. Instead of a trip to the mall, suggest going to a free museum. Instead of going out to eat somewhere expensive, propose that you make a romantic dinner at home. The best tactic is to suggest the idea spontaneously, but don't focus on the fact that it's cheap.
Hamm uses museums as an example. Here are some other frugal date options:
- Coffee dates
- Volunteering together
Celebrate Goals Together
Consider letting him in on your goals, too. Healthy couples support each other, so hopefully he's willing to cheer you on and watch you succeed with your debt repayment.
"It's important to acknowledge that your goals are not necessarily their goals - thus they may not understand right away," Murdough tells us. "With that in mind, paint the big picture for your partner - highlights, shadows, sparkles, and all. Explain and clarify the scope of your financial goals and what these goals really mean to you."
She adds that, when your partner understands the whats, whens and whys of your goal, it's easier for him to see your perspective and help support your financial journey.
Maybe you can agree to celebrate the milestones with a small entertainment splurge once you reach them. This way, he gets to go out with you — and you get to pat yourself on the back for achieving your goal.
Remember To Compromise
If there's a concert your boyfriend is dying to go to, and you just can't afford it, maybe he can check out the band with a friend instead. It's OK to do things separately.
Come to an agreement on how often you can go out and how much you can spend when you do. If he wants to take you out on a date every now and then, that's a different story. But as far as your budget goes, you should both have a clear idea of what your limits are. Your goals don't have to hold him back — he can go enjoy those things, but he'll have to understand that you can't always join in on the fun.
At the same time, make sure you spend time together, too. Quality time with your partner shouldn't cost anything; you shouldn't need to go out all the time to enjoy your relationship. Of course, we assume he understands this.
These tips also assume your boyfriend is willing to work with you. If not, that's a whole other issue. But if you're in an otherwise healthy relationship, and you just happen to be different in different places financially, a few simple steps can help you get on the same page. Good luck!
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