Dear Penny: My Fiance Spends His Student Loan Refund Like It Doesn’t Cost Interest

A young man and woman hold hands across a table.
BraunS/Getty Images
Dear Penny,

I’ve been working full time for five years and have slowly learned to budget as I've clawed my way through student loans and credit card debt, which I’m still not out of. This year, I am also saving for my wedding. After that, I want to start saving for a down payment on a home.

All the while, my fiance has been a full-time student; he will continue to be a full-time student for another two and a half years. He gets student loan money at the start of each semester. Rather than looking at that money as income he can budget, save and even use to begin making payments toward his student loan debt, he sees it as his total semester budget and runs through it until it's gone.

How can I reframe his thinking about loan money and encourage him to start saving and being fiscally responsible without literally monitoring his bank account or nagging him for going to Chipotle too many times in a single week? Or should I focus on my own financial health — which will soon be OUR financial health — without worrying too much about his spending, since his loan money isn't going to make a massive dent in our savings account?


Dear T.,

The answer is yes, and also yes.

As you prepare for your wedding and your new financial life together, now is a great time for you to take a closer look at your own finances. It sounds like you have plans in place to tackle your debt while still saving for what’s important to you in the coming years.

But sit down for a spell with some wine or coffee and give everything a once-over, to make sure you’re feeling confident about your plans for paying off debt and saving. A wise mentor once reminded me that you’re only person whose behavior you can control, and so it’s in your best interest to shore up your own finances as tightly as possible before embarking on this joint journey.

Now, about your fiance. I’m sure so many students reading this (including my former self) know that feeling of getting student loan money to cover living expenses and doing only one math equation: How do I make this last all semester?

Maybe basing your whole financial plan on that one question is fine if you’re an undergrad or living with five roommates in a three-bedroom apartment. (Hey, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.) But your fiance has some pretty specific events on his horizon, and he should be thinking as strategically as possible about how to allocate the cash coming in from loans.  

But you can’t just roll up with PowerPoint slides to remind him of the impact compound interest will have on the balance he’ll eventually pay back. You have to take a curious approach rather than a furious one — because it’s not really about his Chipotle visits. It’s more about attitude, right?

If he’s not yet contributing to the wedding savings or any savings of his own, ask him how he plans to save once you’re married. He may already have expectations of how you’ll manage your money together.

Until you know what those expectations are, you won’t know how much his approach to money will need tweaking. Only after you have more information can you sit down together (wine, coffee, popcorn, Chipotle — whatever you need) to talk about how you’re going to reach your goals, both now and in the future, together.

Have a tricky money question? Write to Dear Penny at

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny.