I am 31 years old and my wife is 30. We both live in New York. We have been married for four years. She makes a little more than me, but doesn’t really save.
Three years ago, she started her online entrepreneurship master’s degree, which cost $50,000. I was against it because I think it is a waste of money. It was her dream to get a master’s degree even if it is unrelated to her job in banking.
We have one joint checking account into which I deposit my entire paycheck. She, however, only put in the same amount as me and her extra pay into her own secret account. Her tuition and student-loan debt comes out of our joint account.
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During the two years of her studies, our joint account never had more than $3,000. I was stressed constantly as we have no emergency money. It was a struggle trying to pay her student debt.
She traveled twice to Europe during her school vacations. I was against that too, as we can’t afford it based on the joint account balance. She went anyway with her girlfriends, and every year she buys luxury bags. I had to ask my parents to chip in to pay for her credit-card bills.
‘During the COVID-19 shutdown, her spending and travel was put on hiatus, so our joint account grew. For the first time, it broke the $7,000 mark.’
She told me she had no money in her secret account because she used that money to pay her other credit card. We argued about this a lot. In the end, she graduated and her leftover student-loan balance was $12,000 at the beginning of 2020.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, her spending and travel was put on hiatus, so our joint account grew. For the first time, it broke the $7,000 mark. She paid off her student loan in one go with her secret account money, about $10,000. That shocked me, because I always thought she had no money in that account.
I suggested that we start to save money for a down payment on a house and to put the breaks on any travel for two years. She got angry, mostly due to the stay-at-home order. She was bored. I told her that, given that she achieved her dream of getting a master’s degree, now it is my turn to fulfill my dream of owning a home.
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She insisted on putting money aside for travel, and said if I won’t go, she will travel alone with the money. I finally blew a fuse and texted her parents that I want a divorce. She has been staying with her parents since then. After cooling down, I went over and apologized to her parents.
Her parents were so angry with me. Her mom said, “What is so wrong with traveling and buying a few bags?” I said, “We don’t have money for that right now.” My mother-in-law said, “You don’t understand. It is not about the money.”
Her mom said she regretted giving her daughter permission to marry me. She said my wife’s secret account money came from her bonus and it’s her right to spend however she wants with it. Her dad told me to be a man and treat my wife better, and so I went home alone.
I am frustrated. I saved my paychecks just so she could afford her tuition. We didn’t have a Health Savings Account/Roth IRA, or any investment account in order for her to fulfill her dream. I have no other accounts, and after four years of working I am left with a four-digit balance in our joint account.
I just wished she would have shared more of the financial burden given that she is such a big spender. We are both Chinese, so there are a lot of “cultural” expectations for the husband to take care of his wife.
However, I felt that no matter what I do, I receive no appreciation for my hard work. I just hope she can come back and change, be more transparent, and have no more secret bank accounts. But in my heart, I know the ship has sailed.
There has been much enabling of your wife’s unreasonable behavior in this relationship, so I’m glad that it finally came to a head. Of course, it’s better to tackle these issues before they reach a boiling point, but it’s a good thing that you have put your cards on the table. Once they’re there, there’s no turning back. As for your wife, she was not playing with an open hand.
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You can both finally have an open conversation, but you should do so face to face without her parents present. This is your life and your marriage, and it has nothing to do with your in-laws. I urge you to cut them out of the picture from now on. Telling your in-laws that you want a divorce and discussing your marriage with them are bad signs. It’s time to take control.
I agree that this is a good time to start both saving for a home and investing in your future. Your wife has been used to doing as she wants without any regard for how it affects your joint finances. I assume she was spoiled by her parents and she/they assumed you would continue to bankroll your wife’s trips and spending habits, and education, while sacrificing your own needs.
‘It’s common in a relationship for one person to put their own dreams on hold so their spouse can fulfill them, and then reverse the roles. But there is no room for role reversal in your wife’s world.’
But there’s nothing wrong with finally putting your needs first, and having those needs met too. As you said, it is/was possible to do both, but your wife seems to refuse to either understand or compromise, and may be unwilling and/or unable to put herself in your shoes. It is not healthy behavior from an adult. Your wife’s behavior is both childlike and self-centered.
It’s always better to discuss your financial priorities before getting married so you can commit to supporting each other. It’s common in a relationship for one person to put their own dreams on hold so their spouse can fulfill theirs, and then reverse the roles. But there is no room for role reversal in your wife’s world, and that realization is slowly dawning on you.
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When you speak to people who have gotten divorced, they oftentimes say the same thing: “I thought they would change when we got married,” followed by, “Nothing changed,” with the final denouement, “People don’t change.” That may sound like a nihilistic view of the human condition, but on the whole I believe it’s true. People usually show you who they are.
But who are you? What kind of life do you want? What are your goals? What kind of relationship would be healthy for you? This is a good time to figure out what you want in life, and decide whether you are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with this match. Even if your wife did acquiesce to your needs, my guess is she would not do so willingly or happily.
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