DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My boyfriend and I are in our mid-30s have been together for 13 years. I love him dearly and we get along great. My life with him is truly the happiest I’ve ever been. We have no interest in getting married or having children as a personal choice, but are looking forward to having a long cohabitating life together. He’s truly a sweet, loving, and hard-working guy.
However, he isn’t financially responsible.
For a bit of context, I grew up in a low-income home and he was raised upper-middle class. We are currently a middle-class working couple in different careers, but make almost the same amount of money. We also live together in an apartment and share all of our bills equally. However, everything is in my name in order to ensure that everything is kept up with and paid on time. I wish I could share that burden of responsibility, but I can’t. I have retirement, non-retirement investment, and savings accounts. He does not. I have my financial paperwork generally organized and in one place. He does not. I occasionally check my account balances and credit score. He does not. When I make a big purchase, I do my research. He does not. I pay my expenses by the deadlines. He does not.
He’s not a lavish over-spender and has enough money to take better care of his finances, but just doesn’t care about it and neglects these (and other) responsibilities either entirely or until the last moment. Even when he faces consequences for his indifference (like losing $1500 because he forgot to fill out a piece of paperwork on time, has to pay late fees for expenses that could have been easily taken care of in advance, or loses his tax documents for the 4th year in a row and having to pay everything to be re-printed) he doesn’t make any changes, is completely unfazed, and makes the same mistakes over and over.
We’ve never argued about money, but I want to make sure we are protecting ourselves and each other. I’ve tried to talk with him about it a few times and find some solutions, but those conversations never go anywhere. He’s not mean or openly dismissive. He just doesn’t seem concerned or feel any urgency to make changes. This isn’t an issue that affects our day-to-day life, but it does come up sometimes.
What do you do when you care about someone, but they lack any desire to develop financial insight? Should I just let it go and focus on me while he hurts himself?
Bad Credit, No Credit, Big Problem
DEAR BAD CREDIT, NO CREDIT, BIG PROBLEM: So I’m going to be honest: this sounds more like a conflict in approaches to lifestyle than it does an actual relationship problem. From what you describe, the issues he has with, say, paying late fees or costing himself more money because of missing filing deadlines are inconveniences for him rather than issues that mean the difference between actually being able to pay the rent each month.
This isn’t to minimize your concern, BCNCBP: money and the stress that comes from dealing with finances is probably the single greatest cause of relationship strife out there. Whether it’s a significant imbalance in who’s contributing how much to the household finances, one partner blowing their cash from the joint checking account on lavish indulgences or simply dragging their partner’s credit into the mud, money ranks at the top trigger for break-ups, even beyond cheating and sexual incompatibility.
But that doesn’t sound like what’s going on here, exactly. It sounds like you two haven’t co-mingled your finances, your boyfriend isn’t sponging off of you to live the lifestyle to which he intends to become accustomed and you’re not at risk for his tanking your credit score. Instead, it sounds like things are divided between “I wish he was a little more analytical” with things like big purchases and a desire to see him be more responsible with actually getting his bills paid on time.
That’s why I’m gonna be vulnerable here BCNCBP: I’m a little like your boyfriend. I’m not exactly the most organized guy you’re ever gonna find. I have a tendency to do the last-minute scramble when it comes to things like bills, taxes, important appointments…
(And I think I hear my editor very pointedly sending me that Douglas Adams quote about the sound deadlines make as they woosh by, even as I write this)
For me, this is because I have a nasty case of “out of sight, out of mind”. I’ll have a brief period of “ok, I’ve got to remember that I have to do X thing by Y time,” where I resolve that I’m going to get everything done exactly when it needs to be if not beforehand… and then I fall down the research rabbit hole because I suddenly had a shiny new idea that’s shoved everything else aside and occupies the entirety of my attention. My good intentions tend to fall by the wayside in a sort of benign neglect.
Now I’ve been lucky. The worst consequences I’ve faced have been the brief panic of “oh crap oh crap oh crap where is everything” or running out the door with coffee in one hand and a piece of toast shoved in my mouth as I realize I’ve got to make a 20 minute drive in 5 minutes. Not fun, exactly, but not terribly dire either. But I have had a few close calls that’ve been enough to make me try to find a system that works for me. And here’s what I’ve learned about dealing with issues like chronic tardiness with one’s bills:
Sometimes the path to success is the path of least resistance.
You can’t force someone to develop a sense of fiscal responsibility or switch their personality to match yours. You might get them to try something different for a little while, but they’re going to slide back into old habits the moment that you aren’t there to constantly reinforce the change. All that’s going to do is cause annoyance and resentment on both sides.
What you CAN do, however, is help set things up to work with and around your boyfriend’s flaws. Since the issue here is that your boyfriend is just bad with due dates, rather than being chronically short on cash, you can help him set things up so he can’t not be late. So it’s time for some better living through technology and outsourcing some of life’s repetitive annoyances to digital assistance. First, start with automating everything you can. One of humanity’s greatest inventions is being able to set up automatic recurring payments. Setting things up to, say, have the utilities company charge your (the generic “you”, not YOU, BCNCBP) credit card every month helps make sure that you’re never going to be in danger of the electricity being shut off.
Those same automated charges and options mean that you and your boyfriend can set things up so that he’s less likely to be late on the bills.
If you want to make sure he’s always getting his share of the rent and utilities to you on time without nagging him, you can set up recurring monthly transfers via his bank, PayPal or Venmo. This helps ensure that he holds up his end of the arrangement without your having to feel like the nagging, shrewish killjoy who’s always dumping on her partner’s good time.
Similarly, you can set up automated systems to help do things like “keeping his financial documents in the same space”. If he can arrange to go paper-free and get electronic delivery of his important forms, then you can set up filters on his email that will direct those files to specific folders, helping cut down on the last minute scramble or having to contact people to get new copies of important documents.
And for those appointments, deadlines or other events that tend to float in one ear and out the other? Set up recurring – and annoying – reminders in a calendar app, preferably one that syncs across all his devices. Quite possibly in triplicate. Having notifications repeatedly pop up to remind him that he has to be at X place at Y time helps cut through the distractions and keep his responsibilities at the forefront.
It isn’t a perfect system to be sure, and it requires some dedicated time to set it up and make sure he understands where all the various gears and levers are… but it’s worked out pretty well for me. It may well work out for him.
But otherwise? Yeah, unfortunately, this is going to be a price-of-entry issue for the relationship. You’re a little more rigorous than he is, and that’s unlikely to change. If you don’t want to take on a secondary job as his financial advisor – and that’s not your responsibility – then there’s not much to be done. You can help him set things up to mitigate his absent-mindedness, but at the end of the day, he’s the only one who can decide if he wants to do things differently. Thankfully, the consequences have been annoying, rather than disastrous. Hopefully that’s an annoyance you can live with.
Just make sure you don’t put yourself in the position where his lack of responsibility drags you down with him.
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