Linda and her husband are both 64, nearing their golden years of retirement. But for Linda, they’re not looking so golden.
She makes about $115,000 a year, while her husband brings in $45,000. They still owe about $180,000 on their home, but her husband “is not on board with paying the house off,” Linda told personal finance expert Dave Ramsey and his co-host Dr. John Delony on a recent episode of The Ramsey Show.
“I’ve kind of tried to put my foot down and say, ‘You know, when we retire, we’re not going to have a house payment because we’re going to have to sell it and downsize.’” But she says her husband isn’t on board with downsizing either.
“And I don’t really know how to get him on board.”
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 off. 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.
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.”
“I’m not sure exactly what to tell you, Linda. This is so painful,” says Ramsey. “You guys are so disconnected.”
But being on different pages isn’t something new for the couple. In fact, 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 what they’re dealing with 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.
Read more: Thanks to Jeff Bezos, you can now use $100 to cash in on prime real estate — without the headache of being a landlord. Here’s how
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,” Delony quipped. “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
A couple decades ago Ramsey might have encouraged the pair to go to a marriage counselor. But time has taught him that only works if both parties are interested in making a change — something he didn’t appear to see in Linda in their conversation or her husband from what she relayed.
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.”
What to read next
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.