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When couples aren’t in sync about money

Linda has $175,000 in her 401(k), and along with owning two rental properties, she just paid off two cars. On her first property, she has about $12,000 left to pay. She bought the second property for her daughter-in-law, who had cancer, so she could live nearby and help take care of her. Linda still owes $62,000 on that property.

Her husband? He doesn’t have any retirement savings, nor is he interested in helping with her rental properties.

“I’m not sure exactly what to tell you, Linda. This is so painful,” says Ramsey. “You guys are so disconnected.”

They split groceries and bills, but she’s the one who owns assets, pays off debt and saves for retirement. Yet, as Ramsey puts it, they still “split the mustard in the refrigerator.”

This pattern has existed throughout their 29-year marriage. “I don’t know what to do with this,” says Ramsey. “I’d tell you to go see a marriage counselor. But guess what? He’s not on board. He’s not going to do that.”

Linda admits this isn’t a finance problem; it’s a marriage problem.

Research from Ramsey Solutions found that 41% of couples with consumer debt argue about money — indeed, it’s what they argue about the most. On the other hand, among those who say their marriage is great, 87% say that they set long-term goals for their money together.

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To stay or not to stay

“You’ve got a pretty significant challenge going on in your marriage,” says Delony. Linda and her husband have separate bank accounts, with a shared account for household items, such as groceries and bills, as well as a savings account for major expenses like fixing broken appliances.

“That’s exactly the situation I’d set up with Buddy and Craig, my two college roommates,” says Delony. “That’s not a marriage. That’s a couple of roommates.”

Delony says it comes down to whether Linda wants to live this way for another 30 years, or “cause a ruckus” and tell him he can’t keep using her as his bank — and that might mean “she’s out.”

But, he says, “avoidance cannot be a strategy.”

If Linda attempts to “make peace” with the situation, Ramsey says, she’ll likely have to sell her two rental properties to pay off their home, since they don’t have enough in their savings to pay it off. And when they retire, he will “eat out of your retirement” because he doesn’t have any savings of his own.

Key takeaways for young couples

Twenty-eight years ago, Ramsey says he would have encouraged Linda to go to a marriage counselor. “I don’t feel like I can help her. I feel like she’s so far in that she’s probably going to stay.”

For anyone considering entering into a marriage or lifelong commitment, he says it’s crucial to ensure you’re on the same page about money (as well as kids, in-laws and religion). Otherwise, “you’re going to end up with a roommate you don’t like.”

If there are problems early on in a marriage, he strongly recommends going to a marriage counselor.

Delony explains that this type of relationship is, in its own way, a form of infidelity. “You can cheat on your wife with a golf club. And you can commit infidelity with your job,” he says. In this case, Linda’s husband is cashing out on his wife. “You’re leaving your wife even though you’re sleeping in the same house.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach Freelance Contributor

Vawn Himmelsbach is a journalist who has been covering tech, business and travel for more than two decades. Her work has been published in a variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, CBC News, ITbusiness, CAA Magazine, Zoomer, BOLD Magazine and Travelweek, among others.

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