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I paid for my wife’s master’s degree and vacations. I suggested we save for a house, but she walked out — my in-laws told me to be a man

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I am 31 years old and my wife is 30. We both live in New York. We have been married for four years. She makes a little more than me, but doesn’t really save.

Three years ago, she started her online entrepreneurship master’s degree, which cost $50,000. I was against it because I think it is a waste of money. It was her dream to get a master’s degree even if it is unrelated to her job in banking.

We have one joint checking account into which I deposit my entire paycheck. She, however, only put in the same amount as me and her extra pay into her own secret account. Her tuition and student-loan debt comes out of our joint account.

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During the two years of her studies, our joint account never had more than $3,000. I was stressed constantly as we have no emergency money. It was a struggle trying to pay her student debt.

She traveled twice to Europe during her school vacations. I was against that too, as we can’t afford it based on the joint account balance. She went anyway with her girlfriends, and every year she buys luxury bags. I had to ask my parents to chip in to pay for her credit-card bills.


‘During the COVID-19 shutdown, her spending and travel was put on hiatus, so our joint account grew. For the first time, it broke the $7,000 mark.’

She told me she had no money in her secret account because she used that money to pay her other credit card. We argued about this a lot. In the end, she graduated and her leftover student-loan balance was $12,000 at the beginning of 2020.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, her spending and travel was put on hiatus, so our joint account grew. For the first time, it broke the $7,000 mark. She paid off her student loan in one go with her secret account money, about $10,000. That shocked me, because I always thought she had no money in that account.

I suggested that we start to save money for a down payment on a house and to put the breaks on any travel for two years. She got angry, mostly due to the stay-at-home order. She was bored. I told her that, given that she achieved her dream of getting a master’s degree, now it is my turn to fulfill my dream of owning a home.

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She insisted on putting money aside for travel, and said if I won’t go, she will travel alone with the money. I finally blew a fuse and texted her parents that I want a divorce. She has been staying with her parents since then. After cooling down, I went over and apologized to her parents.

Her parents were so angry with me. Her mom said, “What is so wrong with traveling and buying a few bags?” I said, “We don’t have money for that right now.” My mother-in-law said, “You don’t understand. It is not about the money.”

Her mom said she regretted giving her daughter permission to marry me. She said my wife’s secret account money came from her bonus and it’s her right to spend however she wants with it. Her dad told me to be a man and treat my wife better, and so I went home alone.

I am frustrated. I saved my paychecks just so she could afford her tuition. We didn’t have a Health Savings Account/Roth IRA, or any investment account in order for her to fulfill her dream. I have no other accounts, and after four years of working I am left with a four-digit balance in our joint account.

I just wished she would have shared more of the financial burden given that she is such a big spender. We are both Chinese, so there are a lot of “cultural” expectations for the husband to take care of his wife.

However, I felt that no matter what I do, I receive no appreciation for my hard work. I just hope she can come back and change, be more transparent, and have no more secret bank accounts. But in my heart, I know the ship has sailed.

Dedicated Husband

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Husband,

There has been much enabling of your wife’s unreasonable behavior in this relationship, so I’m glad that it finally came to a head. Of course, it’s better to tackle these issues before they reach a boiling point, but it’s a good thing that you have put your cards on the table. Once they’re there, there’s no turning back. As for your wife, she was not playing with an open hand.

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You can both finally have an open conversation, but you should do so face to face without her parents present. This is your life and your marriage, and it has nothing to do with your in-laws. I urge you to cut them out of the picture from now on. Telling your in-laws that you want a divorce and discussing your marriage with them are bad signs. It’s time to take control.

I agree that this is a good time to start both saving for a home and investing in your future. Your wife has been used to doing as she wants without any regard for how it affects your joint finances. I assume she was spoiled by her parents and she/they assumed you would continue to bankroll your wife’s trips and spending habits, and education, while sacrificing your own needs.


‘It’s common in a relationship for one person to put their own dreams on hold so their spouse can fulfill them, and then reverse the roles. But there is no room for role reversal in your wife’s world.’

But there’s nothing wrong with finally putting your needs first, and having those needs met too. As you said, it is/was possible to do both, but your wife seems to refuse to either understand or compromise, and may be unwilling and/or unable to put herself in your shoes. It is not healthy behavior from an adult. Your wife’s behavior is both childlike and self-centered.

It’s always better to discuss your financial priorities before getting married so you can commit to supporting each other. It’s common in a relationship for one person to put their own dreams on hold so their spouse can fulfill theirs, and then reverse the roles. But there is no room for role reversal in your wife’s world, and that realization is slowly dawning on you.

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When you speak to people who have gotten divorced, they oftentimes say the same thing: “I thought they would change when we got married,” followed by, “Nothing changed,” with the final denouement, “People don’t change.” That may sound like a nihilistic view of the human condition, but on the whole I believe it’s true. People usually show you who they are.

But who are you? What kind of life do you want? What kind of relationship would be healthy for you? This is a good time to figure out what you want in life, and decide whether you are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with this match. You work hard and have admirable goals, and you see marriage as a two-way street. Your wife do not appear to share those same values.

It’s time to start living your life, instead of having your own dreams held hostage by the never-ending demands of another person.

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My husband doesn’t get along with my son. I brought most of the wealth into our marriage. How do I split my estate?

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Dear Quentin,

How do couples typically handle their estates in a second marriage? My husband and I have been married for seven years, and it is the second marriage for both of us. I have one adult child from my previous marriage; he has no children.

I brought the majority of our wealth to our marriage, including almost $1 million in my 401(k) and a nice home that is almost paid off; otherwise, we have no debt. My husband and I bought a second home together. We work hard to fund our new 401(k)s, and own a successful business together.

I am turning 65 this year, so estate planning is long overdue. My husband is five years younger than me, and we are both in very good health. We have two issues facing us: I see our retirement as living very comfortably on the monthly income generated by our 401(k)s, pension, Social Security, etc., and leaving whatever may be left to my son.


‘The other issue is that my husband no longer gets along with my dear son at all, and feels no obligation to get along with him.’

I am not interested in scrimping, but I want to be able to have enough money to last us until age 90 (or beyond) by not touching the principal. My husband is more interested in dipping deep into our savings, and living it up in retirement while we are young enough to enjoy it.

The other issue is that my husband no longer gets along with my dear son at all, and feels no obligation to get along with him, to the point that neither one wants anything to do with the other. As far as he is concerned, my son doesn’t meet his expectations, and so deserves nothing from me and certainly nothing from him.

I want my estate planning to be fair to both my new husband and my son. How do people typically handle this type of quandary? I think that I need to create some type of trust to pass on my share of our estate to my son. My pre-marriage assets involved my son as I pursued my graduate degree through night school and worked long hours throughout his childhood.

Second Wife

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

Dear Second Wife,

Don’t allow your husband’s feelings toward your son to influence your estate planning.

Your relationships with your husband and your son and your own plans for retirement are all fair game when making decisions about your estate, but your husband and son’s fractured relationship is their business, not yours. You worked hard for this money, and your son is your legal heir. Any effort by your husband to spend all of your savings and fritter away any inheritance that you intended to leave to your son should be resisted at all costs.

You have worked too hard your entire life to compromise your plans for a comfortable retirement where you have money set aside for long-term medical care insurance, unforeseen emergencies and/or your son. If you jointly own your home, you can leave your half to your son in your will, and specify it can only be sold after your husband passes away.

If you own the home, you can give your husband a life estate. Your son would pay capital-gains tax on the value of your home when he sells it, and not when you bought it. You could also make your son the beneficiary on your life-insurance policy, and/or gift him a certain amount of money per year to see how he manages and spends that money.

Figure out what is fair to yourself first before moving on to what is fair to your husband and your son. It’s OK to put your needs first. I caution against your dipping into savings at a rate that is beyond your own risk tolerance.

Ultimately, you are entitled to leave all other separate property to your son when you die — and, along with a financial adviser, set up a trust with that in mind for you, your husband and your son. Not necessarily in that order.

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