Welcome to ‘Ask Jenni’, a new blog series where I try to help you resolve your big money dilemmas. This week, let’s have a chat with Claire who made a nightmare discovery when having a spring cleaning session…
My girlfriend (28) and I have been together for 2 years and we recently started renting a small flat together in London. Over the weekend I decided to have a huge sort out while my girlfriend was at work. While tiding the wardrobe, I found a handful of bills that showed she’s in over £30,000 worth of debt from credit cards, store cards and payday loans. When she came home, I confronted her about the debts. It didn’t go well. She’s mad at me for looking through her stuff and refuses to talk about the debt. She says there’s nothing she can do about it right now because she’s living pay cheque to pay cheque as it is. Since we first got together, she’s always found enough money to go on nights out and treat herself to new clothes though.
I’ve always been sensible with my money and aside from my student loan, I don’t have any debts at all. I don’t want her finances to ruin mine, but I also don’t feel right breaking up with her over money. Every other aspect of our relationship is perfect so I feel like I should help her. But I’m annoyed that she kept this from me for so long and I don’t know how to fix the problem. From looking at the statements, it seems like most of the debt was accumulated before she and I met.
Claire, 25, London.
So it’s clear we need to address two big problems here:
1 . Your girlfriend didn’t tell you that she has a massive debt problem
2 . Your girlfriend has a massive debt problem in the first place
Before we can decide how to resolve this dilemma, we need to determine why your girlfriend kept such a big secret from you for so long. Once you’ve found out, you can choose whether to work through the problem together or leave and start afresh.
If you’re not the type of couple to discuss money matters, this does let her off the hook ever so slightly. After all, there’s a big difference between lying and keeping a secret. If you’ve never discussed your income, bank balance, or overall financial future together, one could argue that she was under no obligation to disclose her debt situation.
If, however, your girlfriend has kept schtum about her predicament despite numerous opportunities to open up, or she has actively claimed to have little to no debt in the past, this does make the betrayal that little bit more sinister. Why did she lie? Was she worried about your reaction?
Most importantly: Do you feel as though you can trust her again? After all, a relationship without trust is not going to work.
Once you’ve identified the reasons behind her secrets or lies, you can decide what to do next. Ask her whether or not she wants to resolve her debt problems and improve her finances. If she says yes and you’re willing and able to help, sit down together and set out a plan of action:
Can you move into a cheaper flat to lower the amount you pay in rent?
Can you move out of London? I appreciate this might not be feasible, but if you can, it could make a huge difference.
Is there anything you can do to reduce your bills?
Can you save money by changing the way you food shop?
Can she go without nights out and new clothes for a few months until she’s made a dent in the debt?
Is she able to get a pay rise at work or find a better paid job?
Can she side hustle alongside her current job to make extra cash?
In your circumstances, I certainly wouldn’t advise paying off any of your girlfriend’s debt for her, even if you do have a healthy stash of savings. However, you could help her in other ways by paying for your weekly food shop from time to time or treating her to the occasional meal out. Most of the work needs to come from her though. It’s not fair for you to pick up the bill if she’s blowing her spare income on nights out, clothes or other fun stuff. Although the occasional treat is important, these are expenses that can be put on the back burner until her finances are looking a little healthier.
Considering just how big the debt is, I’d strongly advise that your girlfriend contacts a free debt charity such as StepChange for advice. They’re experts when it comes to helping people get out of the red and they’ll know exactly what to do to help.
If your girlfriend isn’t particularly enthusiastic about getting out of debt or she’s unwilling to change her attitude to money, run a mile. Leave the relationship and consider yourself lucky for uncovering her debt problems before they escalated even further. Leaving people we love due to money problems alone can be extremely difficult, particularly if every other aspect of the relationship seems healthy. But if you’re incredibly sensible with your money and she’s not, this suggests to me that you may be financially incompatible. Many people overlook financial incompatibility because breaking up due to money matters can seem cruel and unromantic. No one wants to be thought of as shallow or a gold digger who puts money before love, but with monetary differences being one of the leading causes of divorce, it’s better to part ways sooner rather than later.
We can’t help those who won’t help themselves and sometimes, the best thing to do is step aside and let them rectify the problem alone. Debt problems can be toxic if left unaddressed and the last thing you need is for her bad financial track record to impact your own.
Whether you decide to stay together or go your separate ways, I wish you all the best. Let’s hope your discovery inspires her to overcome her debt problems.
What do you think? Have you got any advice for Claire? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below or join the free Money Mess To Financial Success Facebook community to discuss this dilemma with the rest of the group.
Or perhaps you have a money dilemma of your own. If so, please drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you might find yourself featured in the next Ask Jenni. If you’d like to remain anonymous, let me know in your email.