Dear Penny: Should I Dump My Financially Irresponsible Jerk of a Boyfriend?

A woman looks fed up with her boyfriend who is sleeping on her as they sit on a red sofa.
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Dear Penny,

My boyfriend and I have been together for seven years now. Unfortunately, we are not doing too well financially and are paying off debt with a debt relief company. Even with this, we still struggle to get by. 

I make $40,000 a year. He barely makes $30,000 a year as a construction contractor who isn’t even on a W-2, so his taxes are very expensive come tax season. He also purchases cigarettes and weed on a weekly basis, which is a chunk of change as well. He claims he wants to get ahead, but he won’t budget or look for a better job. 

What should I do? I've tried talking to him, but he gets defensive about this stuff and then walks away. Should I just end the relationship because he’s not willing to grow up? 

-Stressed Girlfriend

Dear Stressed,

The problem with being in a relationship with someone who won’t grow up is that you feel more like a parent than a partner. It’s been seven years. Based on what you’ve told me, I’m not holding out hope that your boyfriend will change his ways.

Your boyfriend is detached from reality if he expects his financial situation to get better without making changes. But what bothers me most isn’t the cigarettes or the weed or the refusal to plan for the giant tax bill he gets every single year. It’s the fact that his response when you express concern is to walk away from the conversation. That suggests a problem that goes way beyond money.

Dear Penny

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I’m in favor of dumping this guy unless he’s given you some reason to think he’ll turn things around. But I get it: Breakups are hard, particularly when you’ve been together for years.

If you’re not willing to end things just yet, you could see if he’s willing to make a small change instead of asking for a complete overhaul. It’s understandable why you’d want him to look for better-paying work or stop wasting money on smoking. But switching jobs or giving up a long-term habit can be enormously stressful.

You could start with something that’s less likely to put him on the defense, like telling him how stressed you feel every year at tax time. Independent contractors are supposed to make tax payments each quarter instead of waiting until tax season to pay, but you can make payments as frequently as you want. Ask him if he could start paying his taxes each week or on paydays so that you won’t be panicked next year at tax time.

Compared to changing jobs or giving up a smoking habit, this is a relatively small ask. If your boyfriend still isn’t willing to budge, he’s sending you a clear message that things will never change. As long as this relationship continues, your odds of achieving financial stability are pretty much non-existent.

I think you should start prepping your finances now, assuming that you are going to end this relationship. If it’s possible to save a little extra, either by cutting back or working extra, do it. Be sure to keep the money in a bank account that’s in your name only. If you don’t think you’d be able to afford your current housing on your income alone, look around at alternatives in the area. You may want to ask around to see if anyone you know is looking for a roommate.

I’m not sure whether you’re enrolled in a joint debt management plan or if the debt is in one person’s name. If you’re jointly liable, you may want to ask the company you’re working with if it’s possible to separate your debts. Given your boyfriend’s poor track record for managing money, I wouldn’t trust him to make his share of payments should you split.

Sometimes people need an impetus to change. Your boyfriend is clearly comfortable with letting you absorb the stress of his decisions. Perhaps a breakup would give him a much-needed kick to grow up already.

Regardless, your boyfriend’s days of holding you back are numbered. Either he learns to act like an adult, or you’re gone.