"I CONFESS: I Paid Off My Fiancé's Debt"
By Kelly Snowden
My dad paid for most of my schooling; my fiancé graduated with $30,000 in debt. When we decided to get married last year, I was prepared for the payments to his loan officers. What I couldn't handle was his "bad debt," the $6000 in credit-card bills he racked up when he relocated to New York City three years ago.
I'm super-careful with money and nearly obsessive-compulsive about paying off charges in full. It's an inherited trait — my grandfather was a CPA, and my mother was scrupulous about her budget. Meanwhile, my fiancé's parents put a semester of his sister's college on their Visa. He moved to the city with little savings and no job, charging takeout and toiletries while searching for work. And I couldn't help but judge him for spending money he didn't have.
I began to ponder what would happen if we got married: I saw my shoe budget going toward his finance charges, getaways to Morocco and Hawaii morphing into stay-cations as we pored over receipts. Pretty sexy. Suddenly, I felt like I was supporting a family — and we didn't even have kids yet.
But what made me feel even worse was the creepy awareness that I was buying into a stereotype about guys as protectors. How could I be so retro? I felt total acceptance from my fiancé, even of the prickly parts of my personality. In turn, I realized I shouldn't be cherry-picking the best parts of him; I was committed to the whole package.
But I hadn't entirely conquered my worries. After he proposed, I called a "financial summit" at our favorite coffee shop, where I laid out my reservations about his debt — and suggested I pay it off. My fiancé, a Kentucky gentleman who instinctively holds doors open for women, refused. I was shocked at first, then relieved: He didn't expect me to take on this burden alone; our relationship was more than the financial transaction I was letting it become. Finally, he agreed to take a loan from me that he would pay back monthly.
We were still patting ourselves on the back for hammering out such a progressive arrangement when my dad swooped in with a lump-sum wedding gift — large enough to, among other things, wipe out my fiancé's debt. Of course I'm beyond thankful, but I almost wish we'd had a chance to watch our financial experiment play out. Almost.
"I CONFESS: I Make Way More Than My Parents"
By Corrie Anderson Gifford
Here's how it goes down every time my folks come to visit: We go out to someplace like Applebee's for dinner. My mom orders an appetizer for her main course, and my dad lets her pick at his meal. And when the waiter drops the leather folder on the table, I lunge for it and stuff my debit card inside. "Thank you," my dad says, his cheeks reddening a little.
Knowing you outearn your parents is almost like seeing them naked. It forever changes the way you look at them. I'd always assumed my parents were comfortable and viewed my mother's rummage-sale habit and my father's wheezing 15-year-old pickup as proof of their quirks, not their income. Then, during a visit, my dad started crowing about my cousin's $40,000-a-year nursing salary. I didn't have the heart to tell him I made that much in my first job out of grad school.
My husband is an optometrist; I'm a journalist. We're your typical busy professionals who throw away leftovers and splurge on iPods. My folks are Midwestern savers who spend as much on tires as I do on haircuts. And so I can't resist showering them with the trappings of my stuff-filled life: designer sunglasses for Christmas, a digital camera, an all-expense-paid trip to a family reunion in Cleveland. How generous of me, right? But one afternoon, as I tried to pay for my mother's latte, she grabbed my arm. "I'm the mom," she said almost wistfully as she reached for her wallet, a sign I wasn't doing anyone any favors with my Trump routine.
That said, I'm probably not going to stop spreading the wealth anytime soon. I like my life, my stuff, and at this point my parents aren't magically going to start making more money. Where, again, is that line between being generous and showing off?
"I CONFESS: I Still Run to Dad for My Financial Decisions"
By Julia Scirrotto
I ask my dad's permission on all things money related — cable service, stocks, whatever. If cash is required, I'm calling Pops for preapproval. That wouldn't be so odd if I were still 16, tooling around in the car he paid for, charging "emergency" purchases at the Gap to his card. But the thing is, I'm 27.
My friends think I'm crazy — they were eager to cut the parental purse strings and free themselves from the constant monitoring of their expenses. But I crave oversight. The decisions I make these days, from elective dental work to buying my own place, come with bigger price tags and consequences than ever before. And — smart and capable as I consider myself to be — I'm afraid to take on that kind of responsibility alone.
Here's the weird part: My dad's no financial genius — he's made his share of fiscal mistakes. But he's been my pro-bono money manager since I was 14, when we had to figure out what to do with insurance payouts left to me after my mother died. As we sat at our dining-room table, schooling ourselves in investment basics, we weren't just a father and his daughter — we were partners, allies during the ultimate family crisis. By referring all of my money questions to him, I keep that partnership alive a little longer.
Of course, fathers and daughters aren't meant to be teammates forever. My dad's remarried now, and I'm in a serious relationship. Lately I've even been making some big purchases without checking in. Maybe I'll give him a peek at my tax return this year, just for old times' sake.
"I CONFESS: I'm a Hopeless Overdrafter"
By Sarah Z. Wexler
I may be the only woman in America who's paid $36.79 for a bottle of Diet Pink Lemonade Snapple. The drink itself cost less than two bucks. But since I rarely carry cash, I threw down my debit card to pay for it. And since I never know what's in my checking account, I didn't realize I was overdrawn, incurring a $35 penalty. The fees didn't end there. Over the next few days, I whipped out the plastic for a sandwich, a movie ticket, and some other must-have-now stuff. Then I got a rushed letter from my bank: Could I please pay the $300 in fees I'd racked up?
I can't really afford these unnecessary charges, yet I find myself paying them all the time. In fact, over the past three years, I've shelled out about $1000 in overdraft fees I could easily have avoided by checking my balance online. In every other area of my life, I am a classic overachiever, Little Miss Competent who never misses a deadline or a friend's birthday. Yet I routinely go weeks without peeking at my checking account.
But my other dirty little secret is that I don't feel all that guilty about neglecting my finances. No one knows about my private sinkhole, so my carelessness doesn't exact the same fear as, say, blowing a presentation at work. For now, I'm filing a balanced bank account under the same category as shaving my legs in January: Until someone (besides the bank) is looking, it just ain't happening.
Of course, those overdraft notices send me into panic mode for at least a few hours. But then I shuffle some cash around from my meager savings and go back to business as usual. I figure that a few raises from now, I'll finally be earning more than I spend, with maybe even enough left over to hire an accountant. Until then, I refuse to dwell on my money woes. Balancing my checkbook is dreary work, not nearly as fun as meeting up with my girls for cocktails — and I'm pretty sure I've got enough to buy the first round.
"I CONFESS: I'm the Poorest of My Friends"
By Jihan Thompson
I should have gone straight home, but when my best friend texted me at work one afternoon suggesting margaritas, I couldn't say no. I'd already been out twice that week and had all but exhausted my dining budget until payday. But there I was, scouring the pricey menu while my investment-banker pal ordered a second $10 mango marg. I did some quick math and realized dinner would set me back at least 30 bucks. For the rest of the night, I nursed a single cocktail, hoping she wouldn't expect us to split the bill.
I endure this scenario at least once a week — going out with friends, then beating myself up for spending money I don't have. The problem is, I live in the most expensive city in the country — on a publishing assistant's salary. I make considerably less than all of my friends, who have the kinds of jobs that call for Theory pantsuits and expense-account meals. My paycheck should be a social deal-breaker when it comes to pitching in for bottle service at a club or a $45 prix-fixe dinner. But I rarely turn down an invitation.
Of course, I chose this profession with eyes wide open. I knew I'd have to pay some dues (shop the sale racks, share an apartment) while I inched up the career ladder. But I can't help feeling resentful at not being able to keep up with the big-spenders. I'm as smart and hardworking as my banker friends — don't I also deserve a night out?
Money wasn't an issue before we moved to New York last year. In college, we were all jobless, tapping the same kegs on the weekends. But now that we're working, the financial differences that have emerged are glaring. While my friends lunch on company-paid rib eyes, I'm unwrapping a brown-bag turkey sandwich — again. I've tried pre-empting their lavish plans, but I always end up feeling like a cheapskate when I suggest a more affordable dinner venue or a vacation spot a little less deluxe than the four-star Caribbean cabana.
It's not that my friends are insensitive, either. They try to cut me breaks. Like the time my best friend offered her beach time-share for a girls' getaway, delicately instructing me to "pay what you can." No, thanks. I'd rather sweat it out in my cramped apartment than feel like my set's charity case. I may earn less, but I've still got my pride.