Should Debt Be A Deal Breaker?

September 26, 2011

I’m single, and have been advised that I should not settle for anything in a relationship that would not be workable for the long term.   Some of my must-haves for a relationship are:  A college degree, love of pets {and yes, must love pugs}, at least 5’8″ or taller preferably…. and here’s one:  I don’t see a future with anyone who has debt.

People are usually supportive of my stringency when it comes to deal breakers, in fact- most of the people in my social circle encourage me to have requirements.  They, kindly enough, think I’m a catch (yay!) and want me to find a good match, even if it means being rather…particular about things.  But when it comes wanting a debt-free dude, am I being a jerk?

I contribute to my Roth every month, I have a loose budget and I don’t have any consumer debt.   My goal is to have my student loans paid off in the first year after graduating.   I have some money in savings for an emergency fund & a little cash on hand for that same purpose.  I am by no means as smart with my money as I should be- had I been a ninja with my finances for the past 5 years I would be far better off.   I’m not perfect, and I won’t expect my partner to be, but yet I would like us to enter into the relationship with the ability to not only have common dreams and goals, but be able to start on those dreams and goals from an equal starting line.

Simply put- I live frugally now and stay out of debt because I want to offer the very best to my future partner and start our relationship fresh, strong and without adding any additional baggage.

To me, finding the right person involves having similar priorities and life goals.  When I settle down, I want somebody who sees a marriage as not only an emotional and lifestyle commitment (fidelity being a huge one) but as a business and financial commitment.  It’s amazing to me that so many count on having similar tastes and hobbies when choosing a mate, but scoff at the idea that financial compatibility and spending habits- or even the way we have relationships with our money will impact our personal relationships.   We know that money problems constitute a huge factor leading to divorce, so how can a couple be successful if they don’t take compatibility in their fiscal lifestyles into consideration?

I don’t want to liken debt to deviance- but it seems that in some cases debt is part of being a wild and crazy bachelor/bachelorette.  Some of us go into big debt over silly mistakes out of naivety, others have serious life changes and setbacks that require taking on debt for survival.  But what is to be said of those who have never put in their time owed and partied their way into debt?    

I hear stories of people going into debt in their younger days because they were having fun in college and figured they’d pay it off SOMEDAY.  Well, oddly- that “someday” seems to coincide with the age group I’m dating right now.  Why does anyone even think it’s fair to pass the buck off to your partner?  “Well, I had fun in college-  I took on about $50k in student loans, studied abroad, and even bought a car- but now that debt has caught up to me and I’m so busy paying it off I have nothing to offer you or a future we might have together!”   What’s even WORSE is when people in the dating pool STILL haven’t woken up to the reality of their debt and are out with you, wining-and-dining you in luxury only to reveal that the extravagances they insisted upon in order to impress you with is paid on borrowed money at a high interest rate (and yes, so is their fancy outfit, and they haven’t even started paying off their last relationship!)

I hope I’m not being a b*tch (but maybe I am) for wanting a guy that’s got his act together and isn’t going to make me pay for his wild-n-crazy days.   I didn’t get to go to Paris for a semester (ahem, couldn’t afford it) nor did I go to Vegas for spring break.   I went to community colleges, applied for scholarships like a fiend and did my best to live within my means.  If someone’s JUST NOW waking up to the fact that credit cards need to be paid and the economy sucks, well…maybe we shouldn’t meet for drinks.

Look- I’m a frugal girl at heart.  I’m always going to be this way, even when I’m making gobs of money doing what I love {because, you know, I’m going to totally do that} but I kind of wonder how well a relationship would work when two people are looking backwards to simply pay off a person’s lifestyle they had previous to the relationship?  How feasible (or even fair) is it for one partner to dedicate their time, energy and resources to help the other escape debt they brought into the relationship, instead of starting anew looking forward to build an empire together?

I’m not looking to date Mark Zuckerberg or any other billionaire.  I’m not looking for a sugar daddy or someone to eat caviar with or buy me Tiffany & Co. to celebrate our 3 week anniversary.  I’m fine eating Top Ramen and watching DVD’s on the couch with a $2 bottle of wine with my guy if we’re making sacrifices for our FUTURE.  What bothers me is the idea that people aren’t stressing about their PASTS and expect their future partners to make those same sacrifices for pre-exisiting and self-imposed debts.

I also want to make the point that if you’re bringing debt into a relationship, I don’t think you’re bad.  We’re human, we make mistakes, and if you’re working to pay down your debt and you’ve been honest with your partner, I commend you. People that have put on their big girl/big boy panties on to say “Look, I made mistakes, you can take it or leave it, but I’m working through it,” are strong, commendable partners (and probably pretty sexy too).  BUT, what I seem to encounter, again and again is the ambivalent attitude towards debt- that attitude that debt is somehow something you deal with only after you get serious and want to get married.  

I have a feeling I’ll be single for awhile because I want to have that talk from the beginning.  Guys don’t like it that it’s one of my criteria and that I want to be honest and upfront about our finances (even vaguely at first as we get to know each other).   I would be pretty pissed if a man “forgot” to tell me he actually served time for stealing a car at 19 or that he “didn’t think it was important” to mention his divorce isn’t quite final.   I’d like to think if I met the right guy and he was managing debt, I’d give him a chance, but too people aren’t even managing it, too many are hiding it.

We seem to think those are reasonable deal breakers, but why isn’t debt (especially when it hasn’t been dealt with or is even being covered up)?  

Why can’t that be something savvy potentials ask on the first few dates without looking like a gold-digger?   {I assure you, I’m not, I can buy my own damn Tiffany & Co. and I do.}

I see too many people who would have looked for the door in other circumstances seem to forgive this.  I also seem to find that too many people are surprised I see this as a problem in the long term.  These same people advise me not to “try and change/fix someone” since it won’t work, so why is debt something you work through together when it wasn’t your problem?

I’m really not sure, but this frugal lady will be drinking her boxed wine, wearing the stuff she paid for herself, and continuing on the frugal path until she finds someone who “gets it.”


34 comments so far.

34 responses to “Should Debt Be A Deal Breaker?”

  1. Lindsey says:

    Oooh girl, I could write a book!
    I completely agree with you (although I DO think every situations warrants it's own set of "rules") and here's why. You need to be compatible with how you both spend money. It's is such a big, personal, intimate topic that it could potentially drive you apart and ruin a relationship.

    When I married my husband, I had (still working really hard on paying it off) a student loan for my BA. And even though I did have a student loan, I didn't have any credit card debt, I saved, paid my bills, didn't spend out of my means. And even though my husband would rather not spend money (ever) and I think if all the bills are paid, savings tucked away, let's spend some of what's left–the foundation for how we spend/save/manage money is the same. We don't spend more than we have. We save. We make paying off the student loan a priority. We may differ on the little, day-to-day spending, but we agree on the big things.
    And I would go as far as to say that I think how you spend money is a life-habit. Yes, you can change, but someone who is comfortable racking up a credit card, for whatever reason, probably isn't going to change for you.

    It's having similar life goals, similar outlook on life…I think it's one of the things that if it isn't there, you're wise to walk away. Marriage is hard enough when you agree that you don't use a credit card for purchases you can't afford….if one person thinks differently, it's going to be a constant battle.

  2. Jeff says:

    I do think you aRe a catch 😉

    But I don't think you should should limit yourself so. You never know your soulmate may have a bit of debt but with love in the equation and you teaching him, his ways may change and you live happily ever after.

    My wife came with debt and a bankruptcy, adding student loans after we got together. We keep finances separate and are working towards common goals with our money. Been together 14 years now

    So asking for a balance sheet at the first date may not be the way to go

  3. I don't you can state absolutes since there could be some caveats to any situation. My wife and I got married and were debt free, but incurred some debt for graduate studies. Had I met her after that, I would have hoped that having that debt would not have disqualified me from consideration.

  4. @applecsmith says:

    I completely agree with the points you made here. Too many people think that getting into and staying in debt is "normal" and some even expect that's just how life goes. It's difficult for me to even get my family to share the same views and ideas as me, much less someone I plan to marry.

    I think you should stick to your guns, and find someone who shares relatively the same views as you. Keeping in mind, like you said that we are all human and make mistakes, but to still see the potential someone has to "man up" and fix the problem they created.

    The only thing I could say is, if not owning up to debt and fixing it is a deal breaker for you now, it will become an actual deal breaker in the future if you compromise. Either the person is worth it or not, don't succumb to the lie that you can change people. They will only change if they WANT to.

    I could go on and on, but I commend your attitude and stance as you bring up a very sticky subject.

  5. Yes, big debt is a deal breaker. I wouldn't consider college loans in the debt though, because that's often necessary. The problem is, how are you going to find out about the debt before you fall in love?

  6. parisianfeline says:

    I'm always very wary of using debt as a marker for – anything. That's because many people make assumptions about debt and how we spend our money. Even for a romantic relationship, I think it depends. This is also because for the most part, a majority of people aren't very responsible when it comes to money. People HATE talking about money – their earnings, their spending. At a collective consciousness level, there's a great deal of shame surrounding money and especially debt. It takes a really conscious person to sit down and look at their finances and plan for the next step, or figure out ways to make their lives easier financially.

    So do I think debt should be a deal breaker? Yes and no. I think it depends on the amount and kind of debt (50K in student loans is different than 50K in consumer debt) and also how willing someone is to address and deal with their debt. I do believe that very few people are debt free and when you calculate under/unemployment statuses, it can complicate a situation.

    This post was really interesting and made me think of some neat stuff!

  7. MJTM says:

    Haven't been reading your blog long enough to know if you are a catch or not (if I am going on looks alone I think you will make someone really happy one day…how is that for being superficial but keeping it clean?), but I think putting up that kind of road block may be just an artificial way to eliminate guys before giving them a chance.

    How could you possibly know about that world inside 3 dates or 3 months? Maybe he is a spendthrift because he has a HUGE trustfund OR maybe he is a spendthrift because he makes a couple hundred grand a year?

    I can see being 6 months into a relationship and learning of the CC debt, but it really would be hard at first. I am positive if a girl asked me about my 401(k) 4 months deep I'd be running for the door assuming it is the opposite and SHE IS THE GOLD DIGGER!

  8. Jenny McDonald says:

    First off, kudos to you for being totally comfortable with putting your "deal breakers" out there in public! Goodness knows I have mine as well, and even though it might mean that you and I will be single for a while, I think we deserve to end up with our ideal men 🙂

    I think you hit the nail on the head with what's important here – a person's spending habits can be indicative of their personality and a relationship has a better chance of success if both people agree on financial priorities. For example, I am working on paying off my loans from our time at CSUSM, but don't have any other outstanding debt. I would be totally fine if my future partner has some student loans to pay off, as long as he has demonstrated financial responsibility elsewhere in life.

    As long as you both have the same outlook on finances, I think you'll be successful… just have those "big picture" discussions early on and you should be all set 🙂

  9. Kylie Ofiu says:

    I am in 2 minds on this. I think it really depends on what the debt was for and if they are striving to pay it off. I mean, if youa re going to be dating for a while, they can get it paid off before you start planning your future if it is not huge.

    When we met my husband was a hardcore saver and had provided for his mum and siblings for years. I was 18, had credit card debt for some furniture and things and was not as good with my money as I should have been. But we got married, he took on my debt and we paid it off. Over the years we have grown together and have almost identitical thoughts about money. I have taught him and he has taught me. Had he not gonoe out with me due to stupid consumer debt we would not be married, own a house and have 2 kids.

    I commend you for having standards, but the debt woudl depend totally on what it was for and their current efforts in paying it off. If they are still living a debt lifestyle, I would not date them, but if they were genuinely trying and had changed their ways I would consider dating them.

    But, only you can judge whether that is right for you or not. 🙂

  10. Helena says:

    I had the same requirement concerning debt but with two exceptions: 1) education-based loans and 2) medical expenses. In an ideal world everyone would have insurance to cover the latter, but that’s not always the case.

  11. Ryan says:

    All ya need is love, baby… 🙂

  12. As one of the most utterly single people on the planet after my failed 8-year marriage, I'm all for having standards. I won't even talk about mine because they're kind of ridiculous.

    For me, I think I care less about whether a guy HAS debt and more about what he's doing about it. If he's still in rabid spending mode? Sorry, been there, done that. But if he's paying off his debt and has stopped accumulating more, I could be okay with it. Especially since that's what I'm doing right now. And especially if the guy met my other stringent requirements.

    I'd hate to think a guy would write me off because of my debt when I'm working so hard to get rid of it. Then again, I can understand how someone with no debt wouldn't want to get tangled up in a mess.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, it depends. But I do agree that finances should be a consideration. You shouldn't have to wait until the engagement party to find out if your values are the same – why waste time dating and getting to know someone if you'll never end up together?

  13. Jaime says:

    There's nothing wrong with having preferences. Your preferences seem pretty reasonable. I wouldn't date someone with debt either. I have my own preferences as well. It's better to have the talk in the beginning and be upfront. Too many people seem to want to hide it and make their bf/gf/husband/wife angry that the truth was hidden. IMO this is an important deal breaker.

    Especially since money is the #1 cause of divorces.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      Agreed- infidelity isn't just about the promises we make for our bodies/relationships, it's about honesty in the marriage overall! I have friends getting married and am praying they at least have this talk with their fiancees! It is so odd people will now talk about sex openly (which was formerly taboo) but money is still off the table…why?

  14. apockylypse says:

    I don't think you are a b*tch for you thoughts, because each person is different & has to do what makes them happy. You should stick to what is right for you & not settle!

    I will say that I'm glad my husband didn't feel this way….otherwise I would still be a single gal. My debt wasn't entirely my choice…it was the only way I could afford college at all. It's not something I'm proud of (actually embarrassed about it), but it's part of what I had to do to get where I am today. I'm just glad I was never silly enough to go maxing out credit cards during college to keep up with other's who had Mommy & Daddy's money getting them by.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      Thank you darling! I know I am in some student loan debt because of my education too…I think that's fine. What I don't understand is the people that complain about being "poor" when they went to a very expensive private school and did a study abroad program, joined greek life, etc. etc. and racked up exorbitant amounts of debt.

      Now, I'm all for people having ACCESS to expensive schools, but we all make choices and we have to deal with them. If your family is unable to pitch in, students need to work hard writing scholarships, networking with faculty for recommendation letters, and working a part time job to get by. Don't be embarrassed about your debt- too many kids are out there maxing out credit cards to wear brand name jogging suits to school (Do you really need to wear Victoria's Secret velour jumpsuits to class?!) with fancy handbags and no form of personal income…it just doesn't seem realistic and I see it happen a LOT.

      There is debt out of necessity and debt out of stupidity…sometimes it's a little of both (like is the case with me and my student loans, did I really need an MA degree? I have to wonder) but at least I (and you) are realistic about it.

  15. Jana says:

    I don't think that there's anything wrong with having standards and knowing what is and isn't acceptable for a partner. I think that those standards change as we get older.

    I met my husband in college when we were 19 and honestly, money and debt were not things that were important at the time. It really wasn't even something we talked about. So the debt didn't matter at the time. However, if I met him now and I knew that he had as much debt as he does–even though it's only student loans–I still don't know that it's a dealbreaker, especially if he was financially responsible and working towards paying off the debt. It would be a dealbreaker if he was irresponsible, frivolous with his money and had absolutely no plan to pay it off.

    I guess for me, it's more about the attitude and the personal responsibility than the debt itself. Unless he expected me to pay it off for him. Then we'd have a problem.

  16. Hunter says:

    I don't think you're a bitch at all. You have standards and aspire to be with a partner that shares your values. Kudos.

    Funny, this reminds me a lot of me, many moons ago. I had similar financial standards. I wanted my future spouse to have a clue about money. I cleared all my debts soon after college, and began to build for my future. After marrying, I paid off my wifes student loans! Not exactly what I had planned.We don't have exactly the same attitude towards a lot of things, but that is what makes it so awesome. We're both committed to our future together, no matter where we came from financially.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      HA! Well as long as Hunter doesn't think I'm a bitch, I'm in the clear…you hear that fellas? My character is vouched for! 😉

      I think I might soften my opinion a bit if I find someone, become stupidly smitten and then want to build a life together, educational debt won't be a deal breaker, and I know I have the skills to help him pay off debt and save for the future (yay for blogging!) but I suppose I've had bad experience with my "help" being abused…finding a man that's husband-worthy might change that though!

  17. […] Should Debt Be A Deal Breaker? “Simply put- I live frugally now and stay out of debt because I want to offer the very best to my future partner and start our relationship fresh, strong and without adding any additional baggage.” Frugal Beautiful […]

  18. For me it was all about balance. I dated a guy with debt… long term in fact… he was supposed to be working on paying it off and not charging more, but he kept his spending from me and lied. We didn't have any combined finances… but he wanted to marry me, but he just couldn't seem to clean up his act on his own and it because clear that I wouldn't be able to marry him because I couldn't trust him. I felt like I'd be marrying a child i'd have to take care of…

    My now married husband had debt when we dated… but he walked to school in the snow in Utah so he could save the money from selling his blood plasma could pay for a small diamond ring for me… when he moved to California, he got up at 4am to wait in line for minimum wage hell work while he looked for a real job…. and a week before our wedding he was able to pay off all of his debts…

    I give the 2 black and white examples because one shows someone who would do anything for what he wanted (me) and another who couldn't… what someone is willing to do in the present can make up for a past of "stupid."

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      I totally agree- it's all about his current habits! I know I had dated a man once that was the same way- every time we would get him out of trouble and set up a plan to ensure his bills were met, etc. he would muck it up again and it was unbearable after a time. I was even dumb enough at 19 to loan him a significant portion of my meager savings, which he only paid back about 75% of (I was lucky to get even that, thinking about it, I was so stupid!)

      I have also met people that are now getting their act together and know that it takes serious sacrifice to get out of debt, and it takes a lot of painful retraining to teach oneself to not reach for the credit card or simply avoid impulse buy inducing stores for awhile! I know I had to make some cuts to avoid debt, and I think it's admirable for anyone who does the same!

  19. Tanya says:

    I think you've got the right idea; I think debt because he bought a house or car, for example, is not so bad, but thousands in credit card debt etc. is trouble. Be choosy.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      Agreed- there's a difference in my mind. But also- I don't think I'd find it tolerable to be with a guy who got in over his head for a fancy house or car that was beyond his ability to pay. I've seen that happen..some people consider an education or a home "good debt," but how good is it if you went to a school for a name but you are $100k in debt for a BA degree, and how "good" is a car when you could be taking the bus just as easily and putting the money aside for retirement/emergency fund.

      I guess for some debt, it amazes me how people justify what they did "Well I had to buy it (this house) it was good deal and I hoped the money would follow!"

  20. Kellen says:

    Interesting topic! I have debt from my masters degree. Looking back, I definitely didn't realize it would take me 3 years to pay off one year of spending, or I would have started being frugal a lot earlier.

    That said, I have a good job, I will have it paid off in 3 years total, and in the meantime, I am budgeting my food to the penny, sharing with roommates to save money, and putting some money towards an emergency fund and savings.

    My boyfriend has expressed an interest in me paying off this debt ASAP, so I suspect he feels the same way that you do. However, his grandparents paid in full for his private college, he is in grad school now, not taking on new debt, but not earning very much, and instead of saving he wants the luxury of a private apartment, and eating out breakfast and lunch every day. So, which one of us is more responsible with money, ultimately? My frugal food habit is rubbing off on him and he is packing his lunch more these days – he would prefer I don't have debt, so I am making it a priority. We're both being good influences on the other's financial situation in the end.

  21. I guess it just depends on what's most important to you. It's your life, so do what makes you happy.


  22. Andrea says:

    I completely agree with you! Coming out of a three and a half year relationship where I've been working my butt off to get out of debt and achieve my goals and fix my house, build my life… with someone who wasn't into all that. ARGH! I agree with you that these things are so important and they will be a key breaking point in whoever I date next, similar views and similar life goals, otherwise no-go. You have to be on the same footing.

  23. My bf does have a little bit of consumer debt and student loans, but now that he knows how important a debt-free lifestyle is to me, he's really working on it. I love being able to work with him and see him "get it." He sees that getting rid of his debt is the right thing, not only for him, but for us and I love him even more for that. I never thought I would date someone with debt either, but sometimes you don't get to pick who you love. And sometimes you don't know someone's financial picture until you're too deep into the relationship.

  24. aaaaa says:

    i don't care how frugal you are, you went for a sociology degree. that counts as having fun in college. so i don't think anyone should take your words seriously. like someone stated above "all you need is love".

  25. ihavetriedit says:

    Definitely date a person with financial goals that are in sync with yours! Paying off debt your entire life is not profitable or fun and will definitely add stress to your relationship in the future…especially if your partner KEEPS spending. I found your blog via "SITS"

  26. […] Should Debt Be a Deal-Breaker – Frugal Beautiful […]

  27. Karma says:

    I liked the valuable information you provide here… Good luck!

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