Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I have a friend “Amy” who has made some financial decisions in the past several years that seemed strange. They weren’t bad, she makes good money, but just not as budget conscious as normal. I didn’t really think anything of it at first because people’s money habits change as they make more money and she’s gotten a lot of raises and promotions in the past five years. I know her husband also got several huge promotions over the past few years and I know they now make several hundred thousand dollars a year. For many years, we both lived in the suburbs of a major city, where the cost of living has been very affordable. She and I both had dreams of moving closer to the urban center. I was lucky to find a house that worked for me right before housing prices shot up. Amy was not. Over the summer, she mentioned that they were finally going to start looking for a place closer to me. Then, shortly after that, Amy got very anxious that they hadn’t found a place, which was weird because they had a lease for several months still.
They finally found a house. Well, Amy came to me crying this weekend telling me that they bought a house with a lot of issues thinking they could fix it up, but they very much underestimated the financial and emotional stress of that. I asked her why she moved so quickly and she admitted that her husband had agreed to let family come live with them for an extended period of time and they needed a house with extra space. Because she was so upset, I didn’t press her for details, but I get the feeling her husband made this arrangement without involving Amy. She asked me for several thousand dollars to make some much-needed repairs before the family comes to stay. I told her I would have to think about it.
After thinking about it, I realize that all of her strange money decisions started when she moved in with her husband. He has somewhat expensive tastes in food, hobbies, and entertainment. I’ve had my suspicions for a while that he’s been calling the shots on certain things since they got married, but I figured that’s something a couple has to figure out between themselves. I’m trying to figure out if I should bring this up. I know I shouldn’t accuse the husband of anything since I technically don’t know what’s happening, but I would like to ask her if she thinks she’s been making good money decisions since she started dating him. Do you think this is inappropriate? Normally, I would just let them figure it out themselves because they’re adults with well-paying jobs, but her money issues are clearly so upsetting that she’s coming to me for help.
Dear Friendly Money,
I love being honest with friends about finances, but you know more about Amy’s money decisions than the typical friendly conversation. Usually, I recommend staying out of friends’ marital money decisions, but Amy asking you for a loan opened the door to broach the topic. You definitely shouldn’t lend Amy money—if her husband controls the household finances as you suspect, a loan would be subject to his bad decisions. You might want to review this list of warning signs of economic abuse before you talk to her, too.
When turning down the loan, try pointing out what you’ve observed: “I have noticed that you’ve been under much more financial stress since you started dating your husband. Is anything going on?” Combing through her every money decision is less important than making sure she knows she can continue to open up to you if anything is wrong. And don’t lend her money unless you know her husband won’t have access to it.
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