Sometimes, I unintentionally review my most shameful and embarrassing moments. I’ll be sitting there trying to complete a crossword puzzle and my mind will jump to that time I accidentally tucked my flouncy skirt into my underwear when I worked at the bank and a customer had to tell me I was flashing him when I came back from getting him cash. I’ll giggle to myself while more of the silly things I’ve done come to mind.
Other moments, however, leave me shaking my head at myself. These are the memory equivalents of staring into one of those magnifying mirrors for too long: every pore, pimple and unwanted hair staring back at you, equally as horrified to be there as you are to see it.
I have four years full of those moments, and there are no giggles involved. The financial mistakes I’ve made while in relationships are my ugly truth mirror. I hate looking back at them, but for the sake of preventing others from getting into the same sewer of a situation I was once in, I am taking that long, uncomfortable look at my financial relationship mistakes, so you know exactly what NOT to do.
A Joint Checking Account Is Not A Good Idea If You Don’t Also Have Your Own
My Moon and Venus signs are Pisces, which apparently makes me dreamy and “in love with the idea of love.” And able to manifest that idea where real love doesn’t exist, apparently. For the astrological skeptics among us, I’m a hopeful, hopeless romantic. Keyword: hopeless.
When I first started dating my financial mess ex, I was very young, naïve and ready to give my heart away to the first man who expressed genuine interest in me. He made me feel like I was special and, more importantly, loved.
I was finishing my BA and working at the bank when we first got together, and as things quickly became serious between us, it seemed logical to add his name to the account. I got free banking. I loved him. My parents had always had a joint account. I saw no issue.
The thing was, after six months of dating, I really didn’t know him, his financial habits, or where our relationship was going. In my heart, I knew all of that, I just forced down the doubt with the idea that love would sort out the details.
It was way too soon to jump into a joint bank account, share-everything situation. Actually, it’s always too soon because you should never do that.
Sh*thead (that’s what my parents referred to him as, post breakup) wasn’t working at the time, so the majority of the funds in the account were mine at first. Almost immediately, I watched my hard-earned cash deplete as he spent it.
We moved in together, and as he wanted me more and more to himself, my world got smaller. There was no room for family and friends, only him. He wanted to control my life, and by having the same bank account, he could keep tabs on a large part of it. He’d soon start questioning me about transactions, making me explain why I was spending my own money.
Although the relationship was an unhealthy one, I never should have joined financial forces with him.
Talking finances in relationships can seem daunting, but it’s better to have an open dialogue than to be in the dark about your partner’s financial situation. And you should always have your own money in your own account -- period.
Joint Credit Cards Can Be Detrimental To Your Well-Being
Another perk of working at the bank was my low-interest, high-limit credit card. Sh*thead wanted in on that deal, so after some convincing, I added him to the account and got him his own card. The onus was on me to pay the bill since I was primary account holder.
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. I know.
I never had credit card debt before the joint card. My style was to use it and then pay it off immediately before interest could accrue. His style was to max out the card and pay the minimum payment every month.
He started putting everything from Pumas to car repairs on our card, and soon, we were thousands of dollars in debt. One night, we were out for dinner for my birthday, with a few of my friends. He ordered tons of wine and food for everyone, and then pulled out a credit card at the end, saying, “I got this.” Everyone at the table was all “What a nice thing to do!” and “He’s so great!” It was my card he paid with.
The growing debt made me incredibly uncomfortable and became the subject of many of our fights. It caused me so much anxiety that I became an insomniac, lost my appetite, and worried constantly about money and the relationship in general.
Joint credit cards, unless you are married, are NOT a good idea.
What is a good idea is open and honest communication with your partner when it comes to credit cards, and other financial matters. And, also, not dating losers.
I interviewed Suze Orman about couple’s finances a few years ago and she wasn’t a fan of the joint card. “I would not have a joint card, no matter what,” she said. “With that said, you should both at least once a quarter, sit down with your credit reports and your FICO scores, and openly show each other what you have going on. In a really dynamic relationship, both people are not afraid to ask the hardest questions.” Yep.
Sketchy Investment Behavior Should Be Dealt With
SH told me that he was going to start investing $300 to $400 per month of our money in stocks with his dad’s broker. I was pleased by the thought of saving some money, so I agreed, and he had me sign a document to verify the automatic transfer of funds.
When the statements started coming, however, my name was nowhere to be found, because I wasn’t actually on the account. He was building an investment portfolio of his own, with our money. I confronted him, and he lied, saying that I was on the account, just not the statement. As he started ripping into me about being stupid and not knowing anything about investing, I dropped it. By this point, the relationship was totally abusive. I had no energy to fight, because I used it all up worrying and crying.
If you’re going to invest together, go to the bank and do it right. Be involved in every step. Even better -- have separate investments altogether.
When we broke up, I saw not a penny of the thousands of investment dollars I had contributed to. It was all his -- and legally.
HAVE A SAVINGS ACCOUNT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
There’s nothing worse than sitting in the bowels of your relationship’s gut rot, knowing that you can’t get out of it anytime soon because you can’t afford to.
Most of my financial mistakes happened when I was dating a right loser, but even if you’re dating a good egg, you still have to look out for yourself. And guess what? A good egg would want you to.
To be so tied to someone else that you can’t remove yourself from an abusive, or otherwise unpleasant, situation is a terrible thing.
This doesn't all have to do with finances, of course, but take away the financial freedom to leave a sour situation, and suddenly, the emotional mess you’re in seems -– and gets -– much more hopeless.
Perhaps we’d do well to heed Maya Angelou’s wise advice:
“A woman should have enough money within her control to move out and rent a place of her own, even if she never wants to or needs to.”
Further to that, it’s wise to have at least enough money saved to pay the rent for three months, whether you’re in a relationship or not, just in case.
Watch Your Spending
My life, relationship and finances were all spiraling out of control when I was with SH, and I got to the defeatist place where my attitude became: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
I was tired of watching him bring home expensive wine, shoes, and nice clothes, and go on trips BY HIMSELF, so I started indulging. I could never match his spending, but I did start buying myself things I wanted but knew I couldn’t afford. Being a reckless brat spoiled by a magical credit card that allowed me to buy whatever I wanted made me feel awful. There is nothing you can buy yourself that will make debt easier to live with, or a bad relationship better.
Watch your spending. Even if your partner likes to spend, whether they have more money than you or are pretending to, that doesn’t mean you have to compete.
Financial compatibility is just as important as romantic compatibility.
Split Bills Percentage Wise, Not Dollar Wise
Now this one didn’t really apply to me with SH, since everything was in a joint account, but when it comes to bills, Suze Orman says that a 50/50 split isn’t always fair.
“The correct way to split bills is percentage wise, not dollar wise,” she advises. “You have three accounts: one for you, one for him, and one joint account -– and that money goes to pay all the bills that you jointly share: the rent, the mortgage, the utilities, the food, and so forth.”
Using this system, if your partner makes $30,000 per year and you make $60,000, he would pay 1/3 the amount of the total bills to your 2/3.
Suze cautions that if your partner does not want to split things percentage-wise, it could be a major red flag.
“If they do not want to do that, you have troubles,” she says. “That is a danger sign. Get out and don’t even bother moving in.”
Don’t Date People Who Make You Feel Bad
Chronic lying, incredible mood changes, manipulative behavior, isolation from family and friends, and verbal abuse were all things I overlooked in SH. I knew what was going on, but I was too afraid and sad to walk away.
At first, blinded by new love and hope for the future, I made excuses. “Oh he’s just really stressed,” I’d say when he’d be rude to my family. “His dad hit him a lot as a kid,” I’d tell myself when he’d lie to me, somehow justifying what he was doing because he had a shitty childhood. When I could no longer make excuses, I surrendered to feeling totally trapped in a desperate situation.
It was hard to admit to myself that maybe Sh*thead didn’t love me as much as he claimed to. Besides buying me presents with our joint credit card to make up for his awful behavior, he did nothing to show real love. He only made my life harder, in almost every way.
Bottom line: Don’t date people who don’t make you feel good.
In typical SH style, he emptied our joint bank accounts the day I finally left him. Although I was broke, and broken, at the time, being rid of him was the greatest gift I could have given myself. I vowed to never again become that financially wrapped up with another person, especially one whose heart was three zillion sizes too small.
In the four years since then, I’ve gone from being a financial, emotional crash test dummy to a bit of a ball breaker, and the biggest lesson I learned was to trust myself.
Speaking to Suze Orman was extremely helpful, not just in terms of her advice, but also because she told me that SO MANY women make the same mistakes I made.
“There isn’t a person out there that hasn’t been screwed by a loved one who didn’t enter the relationship thinking: This is it, I love this person, oh my god, here we go, I don’t have to worry, it’s not going to happen to me,” she says.
Our conversation ended with Suze giving me a bit of hope. “Listen,” she said, “You’ve learned what you needed to learn at a time when you can afford to learn it. Whatever happened to you was the greatest lesson.” Sure was.
Any couple’s financial advice you’d like to share? Horror stories?