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Combine incomes, debt -- everything

Dear Dave: I live with my boyfriend, and we have a baby together. I brought debt into the relationship, and I’m using your debt snowball method to pay it off, but he is debt-free. We have quite a few shared expenses that we split 50-50, but that means we are constantly reimbursing each other. Should we keep our finances separate until I pay off my debt, or is it okay to combine everything now? I’m 26, and we love each other and want to get married, but he makes quite a bit more money than I do. I feel guilty taking that step when I still have debt. — Dakota

Dear Dakota: I don’t tell people they have to wait until they’re out of debt to get married. I don’t tell people they should wait until they’re debt-free to have children, either. Listen, you two love each other. You have a baby together, you live together and you’re trying to figure out a way to combine incomes and everything else — except the debt. Too late. That ship has sailed.

Here’s some arm-around-your-shoulder, old-man advice. The best thing for that baby, and the best thing for you and your boyfriend, is for you two to get married and combine your incomes, combine your lives — combine everything — and join it all so tight it cannot be torn apart. Then, go live a beautiful, glorious life together. Getting out of debt is part of the adventure. Raising that child together is part of the adventure. Waking up and looking at your husband when he starts to lose his hair is part of the adventure.

It’s very difficult legally and relationally to play house financially when you’re not married. You get into stupid arguments over who bought the mustard when you’re sharing the same bed. It’s just so inconsistent and incongruent. That’s the system you’re using now, but there are better things waiting for you.

I’m not being judgmental, Dakota. I just want good things — the best things — for you and your family. — Dave


Advice
Give clunker new lease on life

You should see my email inbox. Yikes. It’s overflowing with questions, tips, stories, feedback, rebuttals and all kinds of love from you, my dear readers. Today, I’m making a tiny dent in the pile with these responses to a handful of your questions on auto leasing, homemade laundry detergent and more.

Dear Cheapskate: My wife and I are disagreeing. I want to lease a new car now because ours is old and paying for repairs is like flushing money down the drain. She wants to keep it until we can buy a better car. I hate car trouble and think peace of mind is something to be considered. I’m sure we can afford the payment, but she’s not. What should we do? — James

Dear James: I’d rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than ever lease a new car again, which is another story, but enough about me.

Here’s my best advice: Do whatever you must to keep the old car running for now. Then, for the next 12 months, live as though you are making $400 monthly lease payments — but make those payments to yourselves. Don’t even think about being late, just as if you were under a stern leasing contract.

At the end of a year, you will have two things: a good idea of your comfort zone for big lease payments and $4,800 cash. Now you’ve got options.

No. 1: You can sell the clunker and buy a used car with the money; or No. 2: You can make a down payment on a newer car.

To me, buying a car is far better than jumping into a lease where you will spend a fortune and have nothing, not even a car, to show for it at the end of the lease period.

Thanks for writing and for calling me “Cheapskate.” As you might know, I used to be a world-class spendthrift (EverydayCheapskate.com/about), and that nearly ruined my life. Learning to live frugally turned my life around, so I wear that “cheapskate” moniker with pride and joy.

Dear Mary: I’m so confused about laundry products, particularly detergents. Are powders better than liquid? Is the word “ultra” just hype? Thanks. — Cindy

Dear Cindy: Here’s the scoop on laundry detergent: Typically, the word “ultra” means the product has been concentrated to fit into a smaller box. The problem is unless you read the label and carefully measure and experiment to find the least amount that works for you, you probably will dump in the same amount you have in the past. Not good.

A product that has fabric softener added isn’t going to clean or soften as well but generally is cheaper than buying two different products if you insist on using laundry softeners.

If a product says it has more stain fighters, it contains enzymes to dissolve stains better, but you’ll still have to pretreat heavy stains. Detergents with enzymes usually cost more than those without.

Typically, liquid detergents are more expensive and work better on greasy stains, but the cheaper powdered detergents are better on clay dirt and mud stains.

Both liquid detergent and liquid bleach will get a boost and work better if you add a half-cup of baking soda to the wash cycle.

And now for my super-duper laundry detergent savings secret: I make my own homemade laundry detergent (EverydayCheapskate.com/laundry-detergent). Seriously. And it’s so cheap — about 5 to 7 cents per wash load. It has no perfumes or mystery ingredients and works better than any commercial laundry products I’ve purchased in the past.

Give it a try.


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