I’m engaged to a ‘money monster’ who racks up parking tickets and credit-card debt

Published: Sept 25, 2019 5:47 a.m. ET

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‘We have separate finances because I don’t trust her to act prudently financially’

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‘I am engaged to a money monster. She just got rid of her old debts, but now has new debt and it’s growing.’
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Personal Finance Editor

Dear Moneyist,

I am engaged to a money monster. She just got rid of her old debts, but now has new debt and it’s growing. We’ve been together seven years and engaged for four years. After getting engaged I found out about her debt, bad FICO score FICO, -3.24%, excess parking tickets, etc. I educated and worked with her, and she eventually climbed out of it.

‘Her parking tickets are still piling up, and her credit-card debt is $5,000 the last time I checked.’

Now she makes $75,000 a year and has a career with the state. Life is good, except she has new debt. She has $18,000 in student loans (a master’s degree she dropped out of). We now have a 2-year-old child. Her parking tickets are still piling up, and her credit-card debt is $5,000 the last time I checked.

We have separate finances because I don’t trust her to act prudently financially. Since we met I have purchased a single family home and plan to buy more real estate. (I own rental homes.) Do I have anything to worry about since we live together and I have purchased a home during our relationship and plan to buy another?

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The homes are under my name, nothing is under her name although she does help by paying utility bills and groceries. I’m concerned that if we were to split she would want to fight to me and feel like she is entitled to our home or new properties.

Sunny in California

Dear Sunny,

I do understand your concerns about your girlfriend’s lack of money management, and they are valid. Racking up parking tickets and maintaining credit-card debt don’t inspire confidence.

Your fiancée’s fretful finances feel frustratingly fainthearted and fickle. (Try saying that sentence quickly with a gobstopper in your mouth.) But I have questions. Why did she drop out of her master’s program? Something about that sentence pulled at my heart strings. She didn’t just want to rack up $18,000 in student debt. It’s not the same as overspending. That tells me she has dreams.

Why did she drop out of her M.A. program? She didn’t just rack up $18,000 in student debt. She had dreams.

Why does she keep parking in places that result in parking tickets? Does she have a plan to pay off the $5,000 on her credit card before using her card again? Does she need help with such a plan? Maybe you can go through these issues together and, in a solemn ceremony, put the card in a box with a lock. Given that you both have a child together, act out of love, rather than fear.

Your fiancée sounds impulsive, but being impulsive is not a crime. Of course, it could lead to serious financial woes in a worst-case scenario. I too wish she was more responsible. However, all of this does not add up to her being a money monster, or any kind of monster. She needs to examine the connection between her emotional life and her financial life.

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At our worst, we act out of anxiety or anger or frustration or, worse, shame. A financial therapist could help your girlfriend examine this pattern of behavior. What void is she trying to fill and/or what anxiety is preventing her from facing up to her financial problems? You have a 2-year-old child. Is she a good mother? Is she warm and affectionate to you? Who is she?

I too want her to be responsible. But this does not add up to her being a money monster, or any kind of monster.

All of these issues are missing from your letter. My first take with what little I know: Your fear of commitment or commitment to this particular woman — given her financial shenanigans — are in some way dehumanizing or objectifying her in a way that suggests your problems in this relationship go both ways and are bigger than her debts.

To answer the legal part of your question: California is a community property state and anything you purchase before your marriage is owned by you. You take out of the marriage what you brought into it. There is some precedent of a common-law marriage in another state being recognized in California. You can read more on palimony law — and its limits in California — here and here.

I wouldn’t advise your fiancée to marry someone who calls her a monster. She is your girlfriend and mother of your child.

I understand that some people will read this question and react in an extreme fashion. “Document everything! Watch out! Dump her ASAP! Get out! Leave her! Run away! Get primary custody of your child! Don’t get married! Get a good attorney!” They are just some of the comments on your letter on the Facebook Group FB, -2.38%  for this column.

Of course, consult an attorney when dealing with real estate and marriage. And I wouldn’t advise you to marry someone you don’t trust. But I wouldn’t advise your fiancée to marry someone who calls her a monster either. She is your girlfriend and mother of your child. She has a four-figure credit-card debt and a five-figure student-loan debt. Guess what? So do millions of Americans.

Relationships are a complicated business. You are more than the sum of your fears and the mother of your child is more than the sum of her parking tickets and debts.

Recommended: My dying friend wants to marry me so I can have his Social Security — should I do it?

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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