Dear Mary: I have been dating a woman for about two years. Getting to know her, I have learned that she has significant financial problems that she has not told me about. I have found out by doing a little research on my own (public records, etc.).
This is a serious relationship. We are both divorced with children. Money issues were one of the things that led to the breakup of my first marriage and hers. I am recovering from my past mistakes and well on my way to living debt-free.
What is the best way to approach this with her? — Jared
Dear Jared: First, let me say that the single most important factor in marriage is mutual trust. Regardless of everything else you love about this woman and her kids, without trust, you have nothing. It’s all emotional.
If she will mislead and lie to you about this most important issue, can you trust her in any other area? I am not saying that she hasn’t confronted her past financial problems and made a successful change. However, considering you put this in the present tense (“She has significant financial problems”), I’m going to assume that hasn’t happened.
I can tell you from my own experience that your beloved is afraid that if you find out who she really is — warts and all — you will reject her. She’s trying to present the best package possible to assure a future with you.
Can broken trust be restored? Yes, absolutely it can, but it is a process that takes time and two individuals, not only one, who are totally committed to fidelity and the restoration of that broken trust.
If you have never had a completely honest relationship with this woman, you may have little, if anything, to restore. You are essentially trying to build this relationship on quicksand.
I suggest that you trade credit reports before you invest any more time into the relationship. A credit report can be an amazingly accurate character report. Granted, credit reports can contain errors, and she may be able to explain an item or two. But outstanding balances, judgments, liens, collections and patterns of behavior cannot be hidden or explained away.
If she agrees and then comes clean with her situation and problems with money, you should consider investing in couples counseling. If she refuses to show you her credit report, you should see that as more than a caution flag. That’s when I would tell you to grab the kids and run, not walk, away from this relationship.
Dear Mary: How does one go about telling a loved one she is ruining her financial life? I have an older sister who is a spendaholic; her husband is co-dependent, and they have a spoiled brat for a daughter who gets everything she wants.
They are at least $45,000 in credit card debt. They have a car loan and other debts and bills, yet they continue to spend like they have money. Recently, she picked up a $10,000 bonus check. She told me she was going to “knock down some of the balances.”
This week, they are shopping for a hot tub to put in their backyard. — Katelyn
Dear Katelyn: I know how difficult it is to stand by and watch those we love make serious financial blunders. But these are not your dependent children. It is really none of your business what they do with their money or the way they raise their child. You need to mind your own business.
The way you conduct your financial life will speak much louder than anything you could say. Keep your unsolicited advice to yourself and your nose out of their financial lives.
In the meantime, devise a plan of recovery you would recommend, just in case they come to you and ask for your advice. They just might.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living.