My wife makes 65% of my salary. She wants me to pay her student loans. What should I say?


Dear Quentin,

I am a 22-year-old trade union member who has worked his way up the ladder to project manager. I went to trade school. My wife has worked as a registered nurse for four years and received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing through a local college. 

Prior to her being in the nursing field, she worked part-time, full-time and stay-at-home positions. We have four children. In addition to a salary, my job gives me a vehicle, fuel, phone, vacation, pension and health insurance.

Her position pays an hourly rate and matches some 401(k). Her pay is roughly 65% of my salary. She has always been one to measure what she gets against what I get as far as possessions, experiences, spending, and feels that it should be equal. 

I am frugal and save money, where she likes to spend money and feels she should be able to get whatever she wants. I handle all the bills, payments and money as far as balancing the budget, and she spends willfully. 

‘I handle all the bills, payments and money as far as balancing the budget, and she spends willfully. ‘

If we were to split all household expenses down the middle — including her cell phone, her vehicle insurance, her gas bill, household expenses, groceries — it would leave her with little extra at the end of the month. 

She will also soon have to make student-loan payments for her degree, which amounts to 13% of her monthly income. When I bring up her expenses in relation to her income, her response is I should cover more of the expenses. 

I have agreed to do this, but I am already covering part of her phone bill, vehicle loan, gas bills, vehicle insurance, and all of her healthcare insurance, where my expenses for those items are all covered by my work. 

She has said that I make more, so I should cover the extras, and yet my monthly expenses are far less than hers. Do you think it is fair of me to expect that she covers her student-loan payments and also that she cut back on her impulsive spending? 

Harried Husband

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Dear Harried,

A spoonful of sugar has not helped the medicine go down. It has only encouraged more spending, less saving and an increasing sense of entitlement. It’s hard to turn around and tell her that the sugar bowl is now empty, and she will have to find another way to pay her bills, but you have been left with little choice.

A registered nurse’s salary ranges from around $60,230 in Alabama to $87,840 in New York. Your wife is a nurse who is vastly underpaid, as all nurses are given their challenging and often life-saving role, but she won’t solve this by overspending and having you pick up the tab. Her student loans are a good place to start.

Put everything on paper: salary, expenses, spending money, student loans. Create a pie chart, if you have to. You both need to look at how much money you have coming in, what your monthly obligations are, and how much extracurricular money you are spending, and — crucially — what percentage of your income that entails.

This is an opportunity for you to press reset, and have a conversation about wants, needs, and personal responsibility.

You may even decide to pool your resources and stick to the same formula for monthly spending, saving and leisure. That may help your wife realize that you are a team, and it’s not a question of one person having more than the other, and deserving more because they they have a lower salary.

For instance, the personal-finance site NerdWallet advocated the 50/30/20 budget. “With this formula, you aim to devote 50% of your take-home pay to needs like rent and insurance, 30% to wants like gym memberships and vacations, and 20% to debt repayment and savings,” it says. Your “fun money” comes out of the rest.

The biggest takeaway here: It’s not just about your wife’s student loan, although that is a major consideration. This is an opportunity for you to press reset, and have a conversation about wants, needs, and personal responsibility. Managing a budget is an exercise we can all do at home. You, your wife, and the Moneyist.

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