Money manners: Boyfriend’s debt chills plans to marry

Jeanne Fleming
San Jose Mercury News correspondents

Q. My boyfriend and I, both in our 40s, have been discussing marriage. Unfortunately, he owes thousands of dollars on his credit cards and has other big debts as well. I’m debt-free, and that’s the way I like it. My question is: How big a deal is it, marriage-wise, that he owes so much money? He’s a great guy, but I don’t want to be responsible for his debts.

A. Getting cold feet? We don’t blame you. In fact, we suggest you don’t start planning the wedding until your boyfriend has made a big dent in his bills. Because whatever your legal responsibility might be if you’re married to this man, you surely will feel some obligation as his wife to help him with his financial troubles.

Moreover, unless there’s a very specific, one-time-only reason why your boyfriend is so deeply in debt, it’s all too likely that he is simply in the habit of spending more than he has. And that’s a hard habit to break, especially for a 40-something.

Bottom line: If your Romeo can’t get his debt under control before the wedding, he probably won’t be able to after, either — and that, to answer your question, is a very big deal, marriage-wise.

Q. A friend recently invited me to go with her to her beach house for a four-day weekend. The place is about 500 miles from here, and we took her car, splitting the cost of gas. Once there, we ate most meals out, getting separate checks. On departure day, we both tidied up the house, and she brought the linens we’d used home and washed them.

Now, here’s why I’m writing: Another friend thinks I should have done a lot more for my hostess than paid for half of the gas we used. Is she right? And if so, what should I have done, because I’d love to be invited back? By the way, my friend with the beach house has plenty of money — a lot more than I do.

A. Well, we certainly won’t be inviting you to our beach house anytime soon.

Seriously, your other friend is right: You did not do enough for your hostess, and it has nothing to do with your relative resources. When you’re someone’s houseguest for several days, you always should bring a nice hostess gift and take your hostess out for dinner at least once during your visit. Otherwise, you look like a sponge. And the next time someone drives you a thousand miles, offer to pay for all of the gas.

So how can you make amends? By giving your friend a nice hostess gift now, along with an apology for failing to have gotten it in time for the weekend away. Plus it wouldn’t hurt to say: “I don’t know what happened to my manners that weekend. “I should have taken you out to a nice dinner, and I hope you’ll let me do that now.”

Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz California-based columnists and authors.