Dear Penny: Should I Build a Real Estate Empire Over My Fiance’s Objections?

A billboard showing an unhappy couple sits beneath apartments.
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Dear Penny,

I am recently engaged to my partner of seven years. There’s a rather large delta between my fiance’s income and mine. I make roughly $400,000, and my fiance makes $85,000.

I am at a place in my financial affairs where I want to put my money to work either through real estate investments or other entrepreneurial pursuits. He is still about two-plus years from having the financial freedom to partner with me on plans like this. 

We’re both in our late 30s and aren’t getting any younger. I’ve strategically saved for the last 36 months to be able to invest in real estate. If I continue to wait for him to be financially stable, I’ll pass up a lot of good opportunities. 

He believes that I’m being selfish if I choose to make these financial moves without him and accuses me of being a bad partner, citing the fact that it will impact future investments we want to make together, such as buying a new home to start a family. 

I’m trying hard to consider his feelings and be sensitive to the fact that we’re in very different positions financially, but it’s proving very difficult to find common ground. He’s also very risk averse when it comes to money while I’m a bit more adventurous, so even if I did hold off on making any major investments, I predict that it will prove difficult to identify a business venture that we’re both comfortable in pursuing. 

I’m growing tired of putting my goals off because he doesn’t have anything saved right now and would rather work to pay off his debt — which I acknowledge is a wise move that I don’t want to discourage. I’ve even offered to help pay down his debt in order to put him in a better position to save and invest with me, but he declines every time because he believes it’s important that he address his financial obligations on his own. 

How can I keep him meaningfully involved as my future spouse without putting my own goals at risk?

— M.

Dear M.,

Are you sure you want your life partner to be your business partner? You and your fiance have very different risk tolerances and relationships with money. Maybe he’s dragging his feet here because he lacks your entrepreneurial drive and prefers the security of traditional employment.

The problem you’re facing, though, seems less about money and more about the way you and your fiance handle conflict. As you tell it, he doesn’t seem open to compromise, even though you’ve offered to pay off his debt. Calling you a bad partner because you’re ready to pursue your own goals is a low blow.

Dear Penny

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I’m not sure if you’re planning to quit your job to build your real estate empire or if you intend to continue working and investing in real estate on the side. But as things currently stand, the fact that you have $485,000 in combined income, plus your substantial savings, suggests that you have plenty of room for compromise.

You need to get clarity from your fiance on whether his attitude toward entrepreneurship is “not right now” vs. “not ever.” Because if he’s truly risk averse, he could be using his current financial situation as an excuse to delay putting off something that scares him.

You may be able to reach common ground if you suggest smaller baby steps toward your goals, rather than taking a giant plunge. For example, perhaps you could continue whatever it is you do that generates $400,000 per year but use part of your savings to buy your first investment property. You can keep part of your money in a separate account to eventually put toward a home of your own. If you find that being a real estate investor suits you, you can add more properties to your portfolio and reassess how much time you’re devoting to the venture.

Getting buy-in from a partner before you switch careers, start a business or make a major investment is a good thing to an extent. Your fiance would be right to object if you were talking about starting a business with zero savings or dumping your entire nest egg in penny stocks. But it sounds like you have the means to make your goals happen, and you’ve spent the past three years strategizing about your next steps. You’re not selfish if you pursue the dreams you’ve worked and planned for.

Perhaps couples counseling would be helpful for the two of you. Money is one of the most common sources of conflict for couples, so it’s vital to address your issues before you get married. Even if you opt not to be business partners, make sure your different perspectives on money won’t stand in the way of being life partners.

If you have more than $1,000 in your checking account, make these moves.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].