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Color of Money Live With Michelle Singletary
Honey I Need Some Money

Wednesday, February 16, 2000 at 2 p.m.

Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary

This week you may have spent more time picking out flowers or candy than talking about your finances with your loved one. But money is one of the top reasons why couples break up. So, let's talk about money and your honey. Over the years I've received many letters from couples who want to know how they should handle their finances. The choices are many. I know couples who don't divulge to their spouse what they earn, divvy up all the bills and keep secret what each has in their individual bank accounts. Other couples I know do a combination of things. They pool some of their money but still keep separate accounts. In reality couples have to do what keeps the peace. No one plan fits all. But I will say this. If you want to have harmony, you better make sure your honey as the same values about money as you do.

Stop in Wednesday at 2 p.m. to share your stories and strategies and get answers to your financial questions.

washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon and welcome to another discussion about money. A special thanks to those of you who returned after yesterday's postponement. Well, let's get to it. There are lots of questions from lovers about their honey and their money.

Washington, DC: My boyfriend has a wrecked credit history - 18,000 plus in debt piled up as an irresponsible college student - and he isn't working to pay it off because he's a student and has no money. He plans to pay it down as soon as possible - I know he will- - but for now there's a pile of letters from collection agencies.

I've told him no marriage till his debts are gone -and in the meantime, I'm not supporting him either!- I can't help but feel as if I'm being an ogre in some ways - isn't love about helping others out? - but I don't want to wreck MY credit either, or support someone else financially. He's several years older than I am, and I'm more merciless because I equate age with responsibility-

Am I doing the right thing by saying "I don't" till he's clear?

Michelle Singletary: Your mama must be proud. Yes you are doing the right thing. Love doesn't mean footing the bills created by your current flame. If you ain't got a ring than don't worry about bailing that guy out with your hard earned money. And, even if you do have a ring walking down the aisle doesn't mean walking into his debt mess. I suggest you steer your honey to some debt counseling agencies such as Debt Counselors of America. There is nothing shameful about being in debt but keep a close eye on how your boyfriend is handling this financial situation. Chances are if he's not handling it well as a single guy, he won't do much better when the two of you get married. Even students can get a job and start paying back some of their student debt. Keep saying "I don't" until he says "I am" paying my bills.

Bethesda, MD: Hi Michelle, this is Doug I just e-mailed you..Anyway my question is I'm engaged to be married this year and My fiancee makes 52,000 a year and I make 20,000 and she feels that I should pay half of everything..She also said that she shouldn't have to pay when we go out....I really lost a lot of love for her, because of her views..Give me some advice...

Michelle Singletary:
Doug my man, I would hold off marrying someone with those kinds of values. From what little I know about you from your question here and the e-mail you sent me your fiancée's views on money really bother you. Why should you have to pay every time you go out? Well, you shouldn't. It's not fair and sounds like she's taking advantage of you. She's got a big fat paycheck so ask her to pony up some dough when the two of you want to go out. I'm not sure after you get married how you can split the bills given the inequity of your income. Would you rather pay 30 percent of the rent and leave the rest to her? Sounds too complicated to start a life together. With such a disparity it makes more sense to pool your income and pay the bills together. If the reverse were true and you were making more I bet she would go for that. Trust your gut. You don't like her views about money and if as you say you have lost some love for her perhaps you should get some counseling before taking the marital plunge. Not sure of your faith but many churches these days offer premarital counseling which include courses on finances. I would suggest you find such a course if you want to stay the course with Miss He Should Take Care of Me Even Though I'm Making The Big Bucks. Good Luck.

Suitland, MD: My favorite part about your article this week was when you mentioned that your husband got you a smaller diamond than you wanted and that made you love him more because he was frugal!

This man I know sheepishly admitted that he waits until today to buy his wife and 5 daughters -- he also has 4 sons -- candy hearts, because they're on sale. A man after my own heart -- too bad he's taken!

Does your husband's frugality ever go too far, in your opinion?

Michelle Singletary: Thank you my your comments. I was very wise to hang onto my baby and now husband. He had the right attitude about money even when I was making a demand that was unreasonable given his financial situation at the time. I wanted a big rock for an engagement ring. He got what he could afford. You got to respect someone who knows their own financial limitations. And, no my hubby isn't so frugal that it ever bothers me. He's very generous. In fact, often I end up fussing at him for spending what I think is too much money on me. I'm the cheap one. Thank God, he sticks with me. When you find a man or woman who have the same financial values as you do..hang onto them for dear life. I did.

Laurel, MD: How far along in the dating process should one wait before discussing finances? One doesn't want to appear to be hung up on money, but this is an important subject.

Michelle Singletary: Part of dating is getting to know someone you might want to marry. If however, you're still at the stage of dating just for fun and you'll not looking for a mate then I would keep my personal financial business just that - personal. I don't believe in sharing income figures, bank account holdings and such with people you are just "dating." But you can use the time with this person to just observe and talk in general about their views on money. Are they frugal, a spendthrift, miserly or so cheap that they would know an old lady out the way to pick up a penny? You should be looking for their morals on money. Are they likely to help out relatives in need? Once it becomes clear that you may be considering marriage then you can talk more candidly about finances, such as how many accounts you might have as a married couple and their views on saving and investing.

Herndon, VA: Ms. Singletary: I find it hard to believe there can be a good, well-functioning marriage unless both partners know where ALL the money is going and actually, really discuss finances. Lord knows, my wife and I will disagree about money matters, but conceal spending?? That ain't too smart!!

Michelle Singletary: I agree with you. I don't happen to believe that in a marriage there should be secret accounts or assets. Separate perhaps. Secret no.

Mt. Rainier : People need to get real about this diamond ring issue. I don't mean just women either, though they can be the worst in thinking they have to have 'Gibraltar' on their finger to show off to their girlfriends. Don't need a diamond. Don't need a stone. Don't even need an engagement ring. Do need a real firm commitment to each other - harder to show off but lasts a lot longer.

Michelle Singletary: You got the right answer baby!!!! If you can afford a nice ring by all means buy it for your baby. Otherwise, it's the love that counts not the band on the finger. It's corny but all so true.

Inwood, WV: My fiance declared bankruptcy about 4 1-2 years ago after his divorce. His ex took everything and more, so his credit is total garbage. Mine on the other hand is so pristine as to look unreal. I've always forgone food if I had to to in order to pay the bills. He's lousy with money, so just gives me most of his money every month and then I do all the finances. We're in really good shape now with money in the bank and everything. My question is, should we wait until his 7 years for the bankruptcy to be discharged are up to get married? I don't want his past problems to screw up my credit so that we won't have any. Thanks. P.S. - I don't want people thinking I'm a money grubber, I just want us to be able to buy a car or house eventually and don't want his ex to be able to stop us.

Michelle Singletary: First of all if he filed for bankruptcy and the case is closed all his debts are discharged already. The time factor relates to how long the bankruptcy will stay on his record. It takes 10 years to clear off. It's totally up to the two of you whether you want to wait that long. If your groom-to-be is good at managing his debt and the bankruptcy was due to the divorce then you shouldn't have any trouble with keeping a good credit report. He could write a letter that can be attached to his credit files explaining the bankruptcy. His past debt won't affect your personal credit report. It's the debts that the two of you incur together that will matter. Besides your credit report should help balance out the two together. At any rate lenders love to lend these days and if the two of you have good paying jobs, no current debt problems you should be fine. But I would help him get better with how he handles the finances. What if something happens to you and he has to do the bills. I would focus on that. Maybe you can suggest that he take some financial planning classes. It's good that you are concern but sounds like you have things under control.

D.C.: Ms. Singletary: If you ever, ever leave your baby, will you marry me?

Michelle Singletary: I don't know. My boo is a hard act to follow.

Alexandria, VA: Re: Washington D.C.'s debt-ridden boyfriend.

I, too, emerged from college with a barrel of debt along with my diploma. Plus, my credit history was a wreck from unpaid credit cards and bounced checks. My husband, who is -thank the goddess- terrific with money, knew that going into the marriage. We decided to open separate accounts, one of which would be a joint account and the other for my personal use. I never even -looked- at a checkbook for our joint account. It's now two years later, and I have paid all my debts off myself, in the process restoring my credit rating. I've got two credit cards which are always paid in full and on time each month. It's been tough for me to do, but I did it not only for myself, but for our future as a couple. Don't help him, he needs to figure this one out himself!

Michelle Singletary: Here's advice from the trenches. Again I say don't clean up the debt of your boyfriend/girlfriend. They got into the mess let them get out of it. It makes for a better credit-worthy person.

columbia, md: howdy michelle, you occasionally write about how our values are too money-oriented, yet you seem to be saying we should choose mates based on how they handle their finances. isn't that a contradiction? isn't that doing what you sometimes say we shouldn't do - make money too central in our lives?

Michelle Singletary: Nope. You got me all wrong. What I'm saying is it's important to know what values your potential mate has about money before you get hitched. Realistically money is important to our survival. You can't walk into a bank and plop down a bag of love and pay your mortgage. I'm not saying choose your partner based on how much they make or have in their bank account. I'm saying be sure their values match yours. I married a man who believed in saving and investing and not overspending. I married a man who values church and family first and not making a million above all else. I knew that before we were married. You got to know how your potential mate handles their finances so you can decide if that's how you want things to go. I wouldn't want to marry someone who bounces checks because they can't be bothered with balancing their checkbook or doesn't believe in saving. It's about morals not just money in the bank.

Falls Church, VA: Is the title "Color of Money" a reference to race?

Michelle Singletary: It's a reference to the fact that it doesn't matter what race you are the color of money is always the same - green. Therefore all issues about money effects all of us.

Washington, DC: I found your column last Sunday very interesting - and timely. We married in April '99. We've opened one joint account, but so far have kept everything else separate. Our decision was to bring our financial lives together over time. We're both in our mid-30s and very used to handling money in a certain way. It would've been too strange to change that all at once.

Michelle Singletary: To me that's like saying we decided to get married over time. You got married all at once. What are you waiting for?

Bethesda, MD: Just because some of us may have had some problems with money and accumulating debt doesn't mean that we are totally irresponsible. I am paying for what I did in my 20s and feel as though I have learned more than probably someone who has always been fiscally responsible. I certainly know what not to do. I don't think I would make a bad mate because I have had past problems.

Michelle Singletary: Are we a little touchy? Didn't say you were bad because you have bad debt. People get into debt for all kinds of reasons, often no fault of their own. Bad health, bad marriage, lost of a job. It's not a crime. I'm just saying that it's your problem to handle and shouldn't rely on a boyfriend or girlfriend to help bail you out.

New York, NY: Hey there, thought I'd share the way we do it. Any income we get goes into one place, our checking account. All bills get paid out of there. Each month, we earmark a few hundred bucks per person as "my money" and keep a balance running in Quicken. The money stays in checking, we just earmark everything electronically. So when I want to blow $800 on NASCAR tickets or something, I don't have to feel guilty about blowing OUR money, just my own... :-
We only started this though AFTER the massive credit card debt was paid down...

Michelle Singletary: Hey my kind of accounting. My husband and have a very similar system. Keep up the good work.

Silver Spring, MD: I'm living with a man who I will not marry because he owe's back taxes. We've been together almost 5 years. I just purchased a house myself about 1-12 yrs. ago and we split
all the bills down the middle. He thinks that after 7 yrs. it will become a common law marriage and that he will get half the house anyway. -I live in VA and as far as I know VA doesn't have common law marriages-. I don't see him ever paying his taxes and I've even tried to help him. Should I leave him in my will and give him have of the house or should I just consider his half rent?

Michelle Singletary: Sounds like you need a lawyer not advice from a financial columnist. And, just why isn't he paying his taxes. What a guy.

Wash, DC: Not sure this will make it in time, but here goes...

My husband and I have a ton of debt -mostly his-. We are thinking of using a company that works directly with the creditors in lowering the interest rate; we pay them monthly and most of our money then goes to paying down the principal and they take like a 1% fee each month.

Is this a good idea? We haven't been able to get a consolidation loan to cover our large amount yet. I'd love to have only one payment a month.

Michelle Singletary: Hi. A 1 percent fee every month sounds like a lot to me. Please check out Debt Counselors of America or Consumer Credit Counseloring. To my knowledge they do the same and don't charge that kind of fee. Send me an e-mail and I can get you more information singletarym@washpost.com

Gaithersburg, Maryland: My wife stays home with our 18-month old son, so we're living on my income alone for now. For the past several years, all of our money has been in a single shared account.

We don't have a lot of extra money but she keeps spending our money on items of questionable necessity or even frivolous -in my opinion- short-term luxuries. I'm all for enjoying today, but we also have both shared and personal medium and longer-term goals that we'll never achieve if we're always living from paycheck to paycheck. I think I've got a pretty good understanding of personal financial management, but most of the techniques that I've learned go out the window when moving from an individual to a couple situation where the partners have different priorities and levels of financial savvy.

I want to find an equitable way to prevent her from spending away my ability to reach my-our goals without creating a situation where she feels like I'm controlling her. I've suggested that we contribute a portion of our income as an "allowance" for each of us into separate accounts that we can spend no-questions-asked -while keeping the shared account for joint expenses like the mortgage, etc.- but so far she's resisted this and says our present system is fine. I obviously disagree.

If we go the allowance route, I'm not sure how to set the amounts. Should the shares be equal? A base amount plus a percentage of the income each of us contributes -when she eventually goes back to work-? How should we divide the proceeds if one of us makes some extra money freelancing or something? If a potential purchase is something I may get some benefit from but is something I wouldn't have chosen to spend money on, how do we allocate that purchase between personal and shared money?

I realize that there's no way you can know the right approach for us, but I'd appreciate your comments on the pros, cons, and other subtle effects of these and-or other approaches you might suggest.


Michelle Singletary: This is a very long and complicated question. But in a nut shell sounds like the two of you have a communication problem not just a money problem. If her spending is getting out of hand then it is important to devise a way to control it so that you both can meet your financial goals. Why don't you try finding a mediator such as a financial planner. You can hire a fee-only planner that could suggest ways to get back on track. That way the advice isn't just coming from you and your wife won't feel dictated to. In the short term, I like your idea of an allowance system. And you can compromise on the amount. For example, since she likes spending more than you perhaps her amount could be higher than yours. The important thing is that you get this settle soon before it creates the kind of resentment on your part that is hard to get over. I hope it all works out for you.

Lanham, MD: How do you approch who will run the finances in the home?

Michelle Singletary: You approach it by talking. Usually, it's the more organized person who takes on the responsibility of household finances. But it should be a joint decision. And no matter who does the number crunching you both should keep track of what's going on.

Well, that's it for today. There was a lot more questions I didn't get to so I've decided to continue this issue for my next online discussion scheduled for Tuesday Feb. 29 at 2 p.m. So, join me there to talk some more about money and your honey.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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