Dear Penny: I’m 74. I Love My 24-Year-Old Boyfriend, but He’s Awful With Money

An elderly woman is hugged by her much younger boyfriend. They are holding hands.
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Dear Penny,

I am 74 and have fallen for a 24-year-old. He says he wants to get married, but he has only the house he inherited. 

I’m self-employed but have only a meager income. It makes me uneasy that I have to pay for everything. He may be able to work eventually, but for now all he finds are part-time jobs. Should I break off this relationship due to poor finances?

-Too Much in Love

Dear In Love,

I’m going to attempt the impossible, which is to put aside this glaring age difference for a minute.

Here’s what I would have told you if you hadn’t mentioned your ages: You’re pulling all the weight here, and you don’t feel good about it. Your boyfriend doesn’t sound very responsible. Nine times out of 10, when someone writes to me, a stranger, to ask whether they should end their relationship, the answer is: “Yes! End this relationship.”

Now, let’s talk about this gaping age discrepancy. There’s no way I can make myself not worry that your boyfriend is taking advantage of your generosity here. Yes, plenty of people fall in love with someone way older or younger than they’d ever imagined. So I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations about what constitutes too young for someone of 74.

But I think an age difference becomes too much when you’re in vastly different places in life. Even if you’re both in love with perfectly pure intentions, surely this is one of those times.

Aside from the fact that he’s dating a 74-year-old, your boyfriend doesn’t sound that unusual for someone who’s only 24. Most twentysomethings haven’t acquired much in the way of assets. It’s not unusual for someone this age to have a string of part-time jobs and side hustles instead of a career.

Meanwhile, you’re 74 and don’t have much income, which certainly isn’t unusual for someone who’s retirement age. You deserve to retire at some point. I’m afraid you can’t afford to wait for your boyfriend. You say he may “eventually” be able to work. Somehow, I think “eventually” will happen a lot faster when he has no choice but to pay his own bills.

You say you’re paying for everything, so I’ll assume he’s living in your home. Since you say he inherited a house, hopefully he can move in there and you can make a clean break.

Whenever you end a relationship, you need to act quickly to unmingle your finances. That includes closing any joint bank accounts and removing your boyfriend if he’s an authorized user on any of your credit accounts. If you’ve listed him as a beneficiary on a retirement account or life insurance policy, or included him in your will, be sure to remove him as well.

And yet, untangling the heart can be even more complicated than separating your money. There’s nothing I can say to make that part easier.

Just know that it’s not too late for you to fall in love all over again. But make sure that anyone you’d consider dating in the future is at a similar place in life as you are. That doesn’t mean you need to be the same age. But that person needs to be a mature and independent adult, not someone who mooches off you. Anyone who’s not willing to be your equal partner doesn’t deserve your time.

Once you finally get your finances in order, you want to keep them that way. Here are several moves to make now.

Editor’s note: Dear Penny is on vacation this week. This column was originally published July 21, 2021.

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