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My girlfriend and I have dreams but we don't know if we can afford them - advice please.

heart to heart
My girlfriend and I are at an impasse. She wants to get married and start a family. I need to finish serious house repairs/maintenance. I found out she has 45,000 in student loans and 30,000 loan against her 401k. I don't think we can afford both house improvements and a child. I think it's got to be one or the other.

I am presently debt free except for the mortgage. In the process of house improvements, I will have to go into debt because she is pounding away at her debts. I expect her to contribute equally to the house/community bank account (but I see that isn't going to happen for at least 5-10 years.) I am so frustrated! Am I out of line? What does it cost monthly to raise an infant/child nowadays? (I have got to figure out if we can afford it).

Wallace's reply
Wallace You are frustrated because you are not pulling together to solve your financial situation and to agree on and realize your dreams as a couple. I suggest you turn your aspirations to get married, have a home and a family into a financial plan. You need to do this together. If you are unfamiliar with setting out projected monthly cash flows on paper I suggest you employ the services of a book-keeper.

Initially assume you can realize all your aspirations. Aim high. This will help you pull together and stimulate your creativity. Then with the help of the book-keeper create a cash flow forecast (similar to the one you would do to start a business). A cash flow forecast is where you research and estimate likely future income and expenditure on a month by month basis. Project your forecast two or three years ahead.

If you got married, when would the wedding take place, what kind of wedding would it be and how much would it cost (bearing in mind that couples often get help with the costs of getting married). Estimate when you would have a child (I know this is not a precise science) and estimate the costs of pre-natal classes, birth and after birth care. Do the same with the house repairs, what repairs, when and how much. Build that all into your cash flow forecast, along with your regular monthly and annual bills and income. Bear in mind that living together as a married couple often brings savings over living apart as two single people - e.g. tax savings, accommodation savings etc. Your aim is to create a financial vision that will allow you to realize your dreams.

Make doing your financial forecast fun. If you find as a result of your forecast that the cost of certain goals, like repairing the house or having a child are proving difficult, play with options. Can you cut back on your living expenses by focusing on buying and paying for essentials only? Can you manage with just one car? Can you earn extra income through going for promotion or working overtime?

You may decide as a result of this exercise to postpone some of your goals until your finances allow. The important point is that if you decide to postpone goals at this point it will be done from a position of knowledge, based on a sound financial projection that will have focused both your minds and let you see what is and is not possible.

As you work toward your goals always see yourself as a team that bring different and complementary skills and abilities to making a home and a family and avoid having fixed ideas about partners making equal financial contributions. In a team both partners contribute in line with their skills, attributes and capacity. This does not necessarily mean that both partners contribute equally financially.

It is important to have dreams and to follow them together. It is also important to make your dreams practical. Doing the financial projection will focus your minds on a practical plan and help you make key decisions. Then if you decide to make a life together, the plan will form a blueprint that you can both follow.

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