Dear Penny

Does anyone else read Dear Penny? I love advice columns–human drama and a chance to learn something new. Just as with Ramit’s podcast, the answers usually swerve between actual financial advice and questions about the health of relationships that money troubles usually highlight.

Here’s a fun one to start with. “Fun” being relative haha.


I’ve never heard of this but I love advice columns!!!

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Yesss I thought you might!!

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I mean I’m petty and nosy so it fits me like a glove. This was a good one. I agree with the advice. Guy sounds a bit douchey.


LW has a pension of $90k/yr. I am so jealous haha


I know! So much money. I’m glad the advisor said she shouldn’t let his snide remarks go.


This one complements the other (and maybe hits closer to home for many of us?)

This is probably easy to say since we are ending up making equal-ish incomes, but it blows me away how often people seem to get hung up on income differences when looking at marriage? It’s possible that the people who talk about it are the people with issues(so, self selection) but like, isn’t the idea of a partnership to support each other in various ways? Like obviously I’m not saying marry a possible con artist after 3 mos and give them access to all your assets, but at some point… don’t you have to trust your partner to have your best interests in mind?



It’s been a wonderful two years. You’re talking about growing old together. Then the conversation turns to how little money you make and how you might be a burden to your boyfriend later on.

That doesn’t sound wonderful to me. That sounds cruel.

NAILED IT. I am also pretty surprised how often this seems to come up. And for people with no debt and decent solo incomes, even.

Most couples encounter this situation to at least a degree. Few people will marry someone whose salary is identical to theirs for their entire careers. You’re marrying a person, not a paycheck.

I also think people who are high earners assume they always will be. Things happen. You either trust the person you love, or you don’t.


I thought the same thing and I make $0 a year. When we got married I made like three times what my husband made and he had no college degree/worked construction and service, lol, so we’ve been on both sides of it here. I never worried for a second about his lower earning.

Me too! And I’m glad she brought up illness/disability because honestly I always wonder about that with people who keep things super separate. It’s like…if you’re married you’re not really totally separate because things can happen.

I wonder sometimes about the character traits people look for in a potential spouse when they are dating? When I read things like this, I mean. Because for me one thing that was a deal breaker in importance was generosity. My uncle (v old school, I admit) who was the patriarch of my whole family once told me that when evaluating potential suitors I should pay attention to work ethic and generosity but not so much current income. He said income can change, but lazy and stingy/selfish is impossible to fix.

I’m really glad I listened to that and used different litmus tests to gauge generosity early on. Obviously I’m a bit unique in being a millennial who went into dating knowing she’d need to be financially supported (but not for the reason of conservative ideals, religion, etc.) but even if you’re a boss lady I think you probably want someone generous even if the need is less pressing than for me.

I thought this was especially smart to point out, because this was one of my biggest fears:

“But the control factor also worries me here. If you got married and he paid most of the bills, could he still approach this as a true partnership of equals? Or would he make you feel like a child asking a parent for allowance money?”

I think what she’s talking about is what I would call generosity of spirit. Like sure anyone who isn’t an asshole will say “of course I’d support you if xyz!” but like…doing something grudgingly because you feel you have to and doing it happily because you have a giving heart are very different. Generosity is such an important trait in a partner, both ways, and in terms of money but also time and emotional support, etc. Keeping score in any area is a terrible idea.


Also I hadn’t considered this!

“For some people, money is very much a dealbreaker. But other people get really antsy when they start talking about the future. So they look for a dealbreaker — any dealbreaker”


This is such a good way of putting it!

Interestingly it seems like (from advice columns and forum discussions, so SUPER scientific lol) men seem to worry more about “gold diggers” and it’s like OK, you’re afraid that somehow her living in your house will cost you extra even as she covers utilities, but like, where is the line in the prenup where she gets compensated for every unbalanced hour of picking up your socks or changing diapers? (Given that, statistically, women do more house and parenting work even when they work or earn more. And I’d wager more often true in case of a wage discrepancy…)


Totallllly. And I feel like it’s not usually super rich men either, lol. I think it’s a misogyny thing for insecure/stingy men to reassure themselves that they’re such a prize that greedy women are just, flocking to them to steal their riches, or whatever. It reeks of weakness! And it’s like the exact opposite of being noble or brave or strong or protective, which you’d think men who are into sex-based stereotypes would care about, lol.

I feel like it manifests with women more in wanting a guy “at their level”, like if she has a master’s degree and makes six figures she doesn’t want to date a guy without a degree who makes $40k because she wants an “equal”. I’ve heard that a lot from high achieving women friends, but they don’t use the terminology of gold digging so much as being out of that league?

Both are classist and gross but the former seems more sexist. Although I also feel like dating is not an equal opportunity market and shouldn’t be because it’s so personal? So if people want to have whatever arbitrary/superficial standards they certainly have that right.


Adding this to “future things to tell my offspring.” I have dated folks with generosity of spirit and those without and…well it’s no surprise DH is probably MORE generous than I am and that is what I want in a partner–someone who pushes me further in that direction.


The semantics are super interesting :eyes:


I sometimes thought it would be nice to have higher earning because then we’d get to our target number faster, but they contributed in so many other ways. The bigger thing for me was that I wasn’t just driving decisions because I had the larger income, and that they felt they had an equal say.

Not perfect. I did have a time where they made an expensive book purchase (damn you Subterranean - shipping is usually $30-40 on top of the cost of the books…) when I thought we were trying to be a bit more saving, which maybe I wouldn’t have felt so much if they were bringing in more, but I also tried to keep that inside, because it was an emotional reaction, and not really fair for them to keep in the back of their mind for the future.


I see what you’re saying but I also see other reasons for this? Like, there are definitely stereotypes here but I think it speaks to wanting shared interests/values more than income specifically. I think most professional women I know would be more open to dating/marrying a teacher, adjunct prof, or similar who makes <50k and enjoys cycling and avocado toast with mimosas rather than a self employed plumber making 150k who drinks bud lites and collects project cars. (Which is not to say a plumber can’t enjoy mimosas or be an avid cyclist, or that an academic can’t be a hobby mechanic collecting cars… But the archetypes are real in a general sense, I think?)

ETA To be clear this is not a values statement on bud lites or project cars or avo toast or mimosas. Like, to each their own, obv. But when looking for a partner we often want certain overlaps…


I don’t agree that they are real any more than other stereotypes are (there are women who gold dig, after all) like yes there are blue collar people like that but there are also plenty of empty headed people with lots of degrees and no common sense or interesting hobbies, etc.

But I think you’re right that that is the perception among some highly educated and/or high earners. My parents were extremely worried about my choice of partner when he was working service/construction type jobs and asked many questions that implied those types of stereotypes. Like they asked me if he’d been to prison, lol, if he used hard drugs, and wondered what we could possibly have in common, etc. My mom even said something about how I wouldn’t want to spend my life watching sports, drinking beer, and never discussing books or going to museums. But even when he was a low earner in a certain type of field he was super intelligent, individualistic, wrote poetry, hated sports, taught me a lot about lots of things, and had a really diverse social group (which I definitely noticed).

It took years for my parents and my extended family to accept him, though. It really wasn’t until he went to school for a STEM degree that things changed a lot. Once they saw he had that type of ability everything changed completely, even though he still had tattoos and was a little rough around the edges for their tastes. Once he started making a lot of money it shifted further, but even when he first started going back to school I got some comments like, “don’t be too surprised if he drops out,” and similar things.

It’s funny too because my family was a real american dream story, like my grandparents came here with nothing, had very little education, etc. But then within one generation there was lots of wealth and there was always a huge focus on reading and education. So I don’t think it was just about not having money, it was about the perception of US vs. THEM in terms of types of people without money and their perception was that he was the wrong not-classy or upwardly mobile/educated type. Wild.

ETA: But like I said, I firmly believe people can have any standards they like! And if someone only wants to date someone who went to an Ivy, or who has a certain earning power, or a specific niche hobby, or can build stuff with their hands, or whatever, that’s cool with me! I just think people are missing out on true love sometimes because they are too narrow minded and focused on superficial things (hobbies, outward things) <3 and I love love! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


I haven’t heard of this one and I also love advice columns! I’ve only read a few and I really like the advice given here.

I also read Pay Dirt on Slate which commonly gives atrocious advice.

Here’s one where the writer doesn’t even mention the penalties involved with withdrawing money from a 401k


I think we’ve established that I’m a selfish, money hoarder already, right?

But anyway, this was an issue for me. It was just easily solved with a prenup. As a woman in a cis-het relationship I was making 2-3x what my future spouse was making with the expectation that I wanted to FIRE or downshift 5-10 years into our marriage. He was a postdoc that presumably would start making money at some point in the future. My spouse is a wonderful person who would never do this but I knew of too many women who put their spouse through medical/law school and then the spouse left them. So they were divorcing when there was a lot of debt and a history of the woman supporting the man. Maybe laws are better now but I didn’t want to end up penalized for bringing more money in during the beginning of our marriage.

FWIW, our prenup was biased towards whoever brought in more money got more money in the first 5-10 years. After that it’s much more equitable.


I wanna give them the benefit of the doubt that they meant “keep it out of the stock market” not “take it out of 401k/IRA” but it does not look good…