I want a bigger house. My partner says no way.


Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

My spouse and I are in a very emotional disagreement about moving into a bigger house. I want to (and think we can afford to) and they panic about money even though we are doing quite well. We have a very healthy 401(k) and 529s, we have no debt except for our current mortgage, and I expect my small business to experience significant growth in the next one-two years. We are looking at a house that includes a rental property and the rental property basically covers the increase in our mortgage but our maintenance/utility bills will also surely go up. We have had to dip into savings and sell some stocks in the past few years to do things like take lavish vacations and do home improvements.

My partner takes this as a sign that we cannot afford our lifestyle. I think this house is a good investment and a great opportunity. It is a great location in a great neighborhood, a suburb of a major city. To be fair, my partner works in an industry where they are worried they will age out and be laid off without warning. Do we need to be able to put money into retirement and college funds AND into a savings/brokerage account every month to feel like we can really afford this move?

—Dream House or Nightmare

Dear Dreamhouse or Nightmare, 

I’m going to side with your partner on this one. The first red flag in your letter is the fact that you have to not only dip into your savings but also dip into stocks to take a lavish vacation. I can understand the need to dip into savings for home repairs. That’s what those savings are for. But if you are selling stock and draining your savings account to take a trip, you can’t afford said trip. Yes, we all deserve to relax. But if you want to see the sights, you must start a vacation fund to save for the next one adequately.

Red flag number 2 is that you’re basing this financial decision off your husband’s job, which sounds like it can be gone tomorrow, as well as the business income you “might have” in a year or two. You’re counting on business income you haven’t earned yet. I’m sure you already know this, but your profitability can vary from month to month. Low sales, difficulty retaining employees, and business expenses can all come into play. It’s great to hit your target income goals, but it doesn’t always happen. Instead of relying on what the next year or two may bring, divide your income from the last year by twelve. This will give you a more accurate picture of what your business is bringing in currently.

I would discuss with your partner what financial stability looks like and then go from there. Maybe you can’t afford the home upgrade right now—but can revisit the topic in a year or two.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I am a 54-year-old male widower. My wife passed away four years ago after a brief and brutal battle with cancer. We met in high school and were married for nearly 30 years raising two children who are now adults. We spent our entire lives within 50 miles of our hometown—a place where my children now live with their significant others, who are from nearby as well. Two years ago, I was offered a wonderful career opportunity about 2,000 miles away. And thinking I needed to make a change and try something new, I took it. However, I didn’t sell my house, thinking I would like a place to go when I did come back to town. This was the family home where everyone grew up and where we still have holidays like Christmas every year.

On my last visit though, stepping into the house filled me with sadness, not only because it reminded me of my wife, but because I felt dragged back to the past. Truth be told, I am loving my relocation. The job is fantastic. I have met some friends out here and gotten involved in activities I never would have otherwise. I live a way more healthy lifestyle than I did before. In short, I am very happy. So I made the decision to sell the family house. When I shared this news with my kids, it unleashed all sorts of emotions, not only about the house but with my relocation. One of them said they felt “abandoned” by my move! And well, maybe they are right, but they are adults and because of that, they are often busy with their lives even when I come back to town. I offer to fly them to my current location, and while they take me up on it, the visits are short because they have jobs and families too. And I am OK with all of this. But how can I help them understand my point of view? Because truth be told, I am not planning to move back until I retire. And even then, I am not sure about that.

—Selfish Father

Dear Father,

I am so sorry for your loss. You needed a change to get yourself out of a rut, and I’m happy your relocation helped you start anew. Losing a childhood home is sad—and their grief is likely manifesting in very different ways—so you should keep that in mind when you speak to them. But at the same time, remember that you’re not abandoning your children by any means. They are grown adults with their own families. Covering the costs of maintaining a house just for the holidays is steep. You also offer to cover their travel to come to see you, which is very generous.

I wonder if they assumed they would get the house if you were to pass away. Maybe they want to keep it because it reminds them of their mom, or they believed it would be left to them after you passed away so it would remain in the family. If this is the case, would you be willing to sell the home to them if you haven’t already finalized a deal? I would only sell if they could get outside financing and if they are willing to pay the market price or close to it. If you know they won’t be receptive or will demand it for free, this isn’t a viable option.

Either way, you should return to your hometown  for a weekend and meet with your children to discuss everything face-to-face. Let them know you are listening to them and consider their feelings, but that this is best for you now—and that you need to consider your finances as you inch toward retirement. Remind them they are not being abandoned, and apologize to them if they do indeed feel that way. Lay out all the ways this relocation has improved your life, just like you did in this letter. Then, ask your children how you can help them feel closer to you once the home is gone. This is an opportunity for an honest conversation that will bring you all closer. It’s important to feel heard by your parents, so listen alongside your explanations.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My partner is a spender, and I’m a saver. I’m terribly worried that I’m going to wind up subsidizing our life together; in a way, I already do, and my financial support is enabling my partner to spend more freely than he should. We bought a house together, where I contributed 80 percent of the down payment. He agreed to pay more of the monthly mortgage payments until we are evenly matched in home equity.

His parents were both overspenders, buying small things weekly that added up to living beyond their means. Unfortunately, my partner also makes these impulse purchases (funny t-shirts and hats, trading cards, posters), and he hasn’t been able to save any money in the last year. Watching him open yet another delivery package every week is so painful when he owes me hundreds of thousands of dollars and doesn’t have a fully funded emergency savings account. He wants to have a wedding and do home renovations, and I am tired of being the person who has to say, “We can’t afford that until you can save money.” It took him several years to begrudgingly track his spending on Mint, and he only does it to make me happy; it has no effect on curbing his spending. How can I help him break out of his family’s lifetime habit of overspending?

—Solo Saver

Dear Solo Saver,

The first step to help your partner stop overspending is to find out why he’s doing it in the first place. It’s easy to blame his parents and upbringing but he could be overspending for a different reason. Does he like collecting things? Is he bored? Is he looking for excitement? It could also be a more serious issue that hasn’t been discussed.

Take this as an opportunity to start communicating more about finances. Your current situation is untenable. If he’s only doing Mint to please you, and so far it hasn’t worked to change his spending, don’t force it. He needs to find a way to budget that makes sense for him. There are a ton of different methods for him to try—it doesn’t have to be Mint or bust. Start here for some ideas.

I’m curious if he’s keeping his end of the bargain on paying more on mortgage monthly payments to match your equity in the home. If he isn’t, that could be one way to open up the conversation. You shared that you’re already subsidizing his lifestyle. Is it because you make more? Have you set boundaries on how much you’ll willing to take on when it comes to financially supporting him? If someone paid my bills for me every month, I wouldn’t care to change. Try opening up the conversation by saying, “I’m so happy you have extra money now. Can we talk about how we can get back on track again?”


Classic Prudie

I discovered my husband is having an affair with a woman at work. I saw them talking one day and got suspicious, so I looked at his texts. Then I angrily confronted her. Surprisingly, she’s really nice. She’s about 15 years older than us. She said they had a mutual attraction and he approached her, but she wasn’t in love with him and didn’t want to break up our marriage and would stop seeing him.

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