Tales From the Ex Files: I Married a Spender—and I’m Still Paying for It

Penny Wrenn

king and queen chess pieces facing away from each other on chess boardIn the LearnVest Personal Stories series, everyday people share the details of their money lives, discussing the individual choices they’ve made and how it’s impacted their financial journey.

Today, one man explains how a lopsided financial relationship with his ex-wife landed him thousands of dollars in debt—and how he’s now reclaiming his money life.

Leslie* and I were college sweethearts. We met at Indiana University in 2004—I was working as a costume designer for the school play, and she was one of the actresses.

We had a slow courtship—a friendship that turned into a romantic relationship. She made me laugh and brought me out of my shell. We were a good fit.

In 2005 I graduated and moved to New York City to attend a theater program at Juilliard, and Leslie and I continued dating long-distance while she finished up her senior year. The separation was hard on her, but I was able to fly back to Indiana to see her every couple of months.

During one of my visits, Leslie asked me to go car shopping with her. It was her first time buying a vehicle, and she wanted my input. There was just one problem: When the salesperson at the dealership processed Leslie’s application, he saw that she had a low credit score and told her she’d need a cosigner in order to qualify for the loan.

Leslie was surprised because she didn’t have a lot of debt, but it turned out that there were a couple of nicks on her credit report due to medical expenses. Not wanting to let the sale get away so easily, the salesperson looked at me and asked if I could cosign. I thought, “Why not?”

I didn’t know what my credit score was, but I had a few cards and always paid the minimum balance on time. So I volunteered to add my name to Leslie’s application, and a few minutes later, she was the proud owner of a new car.

Call it a misguided moment of spontaneous chivalry or the blind decision-making of a starry-eyed guy in love, but I had no idea what I was really signing up for—to be on the hook for the payments if she ever stopped making them.

Fortunately, cosigning didn’t end up hurting my credit score because she made the payments on time—but it hurt me in other ways. That day marked the beginning of our lopsided financial relationship. As the years with Leslie went by, I would become the sole burden-bearer of our collective debt.

RELATED: ‘We Went to Financial Therapies to Deal With Our Money Issues’

  • Courtney

    I think he’d do better by not blaming all of this on Leslie. He took out the student loans and was also responsible for poor financial decisions. Taking responsibility for these actions will help him in the long run.

  • BeeBee

    I don’t know why at the end he emphasizes his credit score. I see that as a common theme in these types of articles. The last thing the writer–and others in similar circumstances–needs is to take out more debt, and really that’s the only reason to be concerned about your credit score. It otherwise serves no purpose.

  • Sprz

    The title of this article is pretty off. It sounds to me like he was the sole poor decision maker, and Leslie was along for the ride, benefitting from his need to impress (co-sign car loan, condo to keep up with the joneses, loan for brand new furniture…). It’s great he’s gotten everything back on track and can see where it all went wrong (very impressive, and congrats, man!), but I’m not so sure blaming Leslie’s shoe and handbag issue is the right move. The problem started with all his (their) bad decisions, not with her disinterest in paying it off after the fact. He may have married a spender, but so did she…

  • Vanessa

    He thinks he took financial risks for someone else, but he really did it for himself as well. He needs to accept the mistakes he did as his own fault and to stop blaming his ex for being stupid enough to take out that many loans. He did this to himself by buying bigger condos and taking out massive loans, when he could have said no to his ex. If you can’t afford it, then don’t do it! This guy will be happier if he stops blaming others for his bad choices.

  • Kat

    Sounds like she has no integrity and owes him whats left of her half. I dont know what half you girls are talkin about that he needs to take responsibility blah blah. He did, read the end.
    He clearly spent most of that money for both of their lives, he learned a painful lesson many girls have earned, and if that happened to most of you commenting youd be seeing red.
    And sure, youd learn the valuable lessons, but you would feel owed or screwed over just like him!

  • gotmilk

    Dude, you were as involved as Leslie. When I tell me people my ex saddled me with debt, I mean it. I went overseas for work for 4 months (with my expenses paid by work) and came home to ZERO bills ever having been paid except rent, and $15k on my credit cards. He took his girlfriend some freaking nice places and I got stuck with the bill! By the time we finished the divorce, I had another $3k in court costs, because he refused to sign the paperwork unless I paid for the divorce. There was then about 3k in therapy for him and us (mine was free through my employer) trying to save said marriage. While less debt than you have, there was long term damage: the interest rates on all the cards were over 30% – because he had not paid them while I was gone. And he was still getting my salary the entire time I was gone – I had a separate work living account of $600/month (I was in a rural area of a developing country and $600 was plenty). That’s your ex spending you into a hole.

  • Jen

    This article sounds like a retaliation effort by a spurned ex. Yes, she should have been ethical enough to share the student debt if it was used to pay living expenses and items for their home, but he was not very smart in making his monetary decisions in the first place. They were equally to blame for their debt.

  • Leah

    It seems to me that they both made mistakes by being young & uneducated financially.

    I can certainly understand the ‘blinded by love’ argument with the car but it sound like that didn’t last forever.

  • runninggal81

    Wait a minute here!

    While Yuri’s story was completely understandable, and I’m glad that he was able to bounce back post-divorce, the title is very misleading. (Typical click-bait that passes for “journalism” these days!)

    He spent just as much as she did–he was just more responsible about paying off his bills.

    RE: the emphasis on credit scores, it is a big theme in these articles. I don’t understand why. It’s likely a simple number that people are using to gauge their self-worth or responsibility. Wasn’t there an article about someone who wouldn’t marry a man with a credit score below 800? What if he had debt to the gills, and no savings, but paid on it every month? That’s not a partner I’d want.

  • Lin

    Although I was shaking my head with every decision that Yuri made, I’m glad that he is able to make it out now. There’s are too many people that make the same mistakes Yuri did thinking they will be ok, but it takes a lot of work to get out of that rut. This article is a good warning for people finding themselves making these decisions, or for people about to marry someone with these habits.

  • Nettyd

    I say she is as equally responsible. I think people should look at relationships not only as partnerships in marriage but in business! Each person being responsible for there own debt and any thing they both sign onto in the marriage they split! with the exception of credit card in there own names. Never carry anyone under a single social security number. If he wants a motor cycle then he pays for it, if she wants a fancy car, then she pays for it! only if they don’t agree on these items. I hate making love sound so contractual, but hey sometimes its worth it! but I guess you could say be-careful who you marry.

  • Milasmatic

    Oh, the things one does for love.

  • JOY

    my name is Miss joy slim, am from
    Russian. my boyfriend Teddy Harrow left me
    for another girl five months ago’ ever since
    then my life have been filled with pains,
    sorrow and heart break because he was my
    first love who dis virgin me when i was 23
    years old about four years ago. A friend of
    mine, Kate luis told me he saw some
    testimonies of this greatspellcaster
    that he can bring back my lover within some
    few days. i laugh it out and said i am not
    interested but because of the love my friend
    had for me, she consulted the greatspellcaster
    on my behalf and to my greatest suprise
    after four days my boyfriend called me for
    the very first time after five months that he
    is missing me badly and that he is so sorry
    for every thing he made me went through. i
    still can’t believe it, because it just too real to
    be real Thank you [kizzekpespells@outlook.com]

  • http://mauishopgirl.com/ Tania

    Sorry dude but you were a spender just as much she was. You got into your initial mess together. The problem was you were taking out student loans not for educational purposes but to fund a lifestyle beyond your means. The problem started well before her larger salary and increase in spending.

  • Shannon Lee Gilstad

    This is a very typical tale that illustrates the Millennial mentality about money, love, and so many other things. I understand and can sympathize with Yuri for feeling misled and used, but at the same time, he was an enabler.

    With an economy that is still recovering, recent grads in thousands of debt and no jobs to pay them off with, plus an entitlement mentality, Yuri took many unnecessary financial risks and is paying for it now.

    • Kitsu

      Trash the “Millenial” bull. It doesn’t matter what generation you are, if your view of money extends to taking on unnecessary debt to pay for the latest and greatest STUFF… you have a problem. And acting as cosigner on a big ticket item? Oh heck no. That is a huge problem just waiting to happen! And it’s happened before – to Gen X parents!

  • leeleebee

    Sorry, no matter what your story is, going bankrupt is not “digging yourself out of debt”. That’s taking the easy way out and passing off your responsibilities. I got saddled with a my ex’s debts too, close to $50k, and I am paying off every single dollar and I haven’t move back home. I am a lot less likely to go into debt again once I do pay it off, but this guy is a lot more likely to go bankrupt again, he hasn’t learned a thing.

  • NYgirl

    He’s a college professor (who’s supposed to spread knowledge to our younger generation). Meanwhile, he didn’t seem to have much of a brain as he kept making all these poor financial decisions (being blinded-sighted by love I assume)? Unbelievable. Is there truly people out there who are that stupid??

  • Jen

    +1 to this not being Leslie’s fault – you bought a condo (but she paid the mortgage), you were a co-signer for a loan (that she paid), you took out student loans for living expenses (which is her fault how?), and then when you decided that her salary should go to paying your student loans, and she disagreed, that was her being irresponsible? She then proceeds to pay another $1500 towards your debts, before cutting you off, and your response is to sue her for $5k, then declare bankruptcy? Gee, can’t imagine why she decided she’d be better off without you.

    • Gretchen

      Right on. In full agreement here. She paid for his lifestyle while he was in school. So maybe he took out loans but she was footing the bill for the rest of their life. Seems to me he is just trying to blame someone else for his own bad judgement. Kudos to Leslie for growing her career and getting out of a relationship where someone was using her for her hard earned money

  • Elaine

    My first quick read of this article ended with my thinking, ‘Poor guy!’ Then I re-read it, a little closer this time, and also looked at the comments. And it hit me, this has nothing to do with Leslie and everything to do with him. Oh, you bought a condo because you always heard it was a better thing to do than rent? Then just save up for it and wait until you can afford it. You didn’t have enough money to buy clothes and go out? Oh well, join the crowd. A lot of people make tough decisions because of either poor or limited choices in their situations. I’ve read a lot of articles through LearnVest, and the one thing that always impresses me is how hard people work to pay off their debt as quickly as possible, and the hoops they’re willing to jump through to make it work. The one thing that impresses me with this story is how, every time things got rough, the answer was always, let’s take out a loan. The biggest red flag should have been having to borrow money to buy the engagement ring. This all points to people who are not yet mature enough to get married. I don’t like to be so critical, and I know that we all make financial mistakes, big or small, but this story seems to focus on a guy who left the blinders on for a little too long, then wants to blame his girlfriend/wife for his actions.

  • Courtney M

    I think its kind of messed up to put most blame on his ex wife when clearly he had just as much, if not more, of a part in taking out more loans. After all HE was the one who actually took the loans out! On what planet would a reasonable person already in debt take out a loan for a $6,500 engagement ring?! That’s insanity!

  • Ann

    I can relate…

  • thegirlburgan

    Wait, wait, wait. How is this just on her shopping habits? It sounds like both were financially ignorant, both made poor decisions, neither communicated well, and both had to pay for it in one way or another. Generation or love commitment don’t really play here… I’ve seen the same stories in my parents’ generation and in the one younger than me. You are a little off, you dig yourself deeper, then you have some type of a-ha! moment and figure out how to get out of it. It was all dual decisions of people looking to live outside of their means and scrape by on borrowed cash. Having the revelation to start over and do better is the important part.

  • Amy Adams

    I kept seeing that Leslie paid this and Leslie paid that and Leslie’s career took off and Leslie spent what she earned. It sounds like Leslie footed the bill while Yuri whined and lived off of Leslie. And then when his big break on Broadway didn’t materialize he moved back home so someone else could take care of him. Leslie may be an unwise spender but he’s a whiner.