I Knew My Relationship Was Doomed When My Boyfriend Revealed He Didn’t Know How Credit Works

Photo credit: Mike McCune, CC BY 2.0.

It was sometime after New Year’s, and the sous vide I had given Jim for Christmas bubbled merrily in the background. (His name wasn’t really Jim. I really did buy him a $238 sous vide.) It had only been a couple of weeks since our first Tinder date, but we were already talking about moving to New York together.

This kind of impulsivity isn’t usually my style—nor is giving expensive presents this early in the relationship—but I had endured the sudden demise of a three-year relationship earlier that year, and I was desperate. I wanted something, and I thought it was Jim.

So we spent that night planning our future.

“We’ll get produce from a CSA! We’ll only eat out once a week! We’ll sip sensibly priced wine at home and spend very little at bars!”

Then Jim revealed he had a trick up his sleeve, a strategy for securing future financial well-being.

“I don’t pay off my credit card all the way.”

“Ex-squeeze me?” I said, nearly spitting out my sous vide egg.

“Yeah, I just leave a little unpaid every month. That’s a good way to increase your credit.”

I spend a moment turning this over in my mind. It sounded eerily familiar.

“How does that make your credit score go up?” My tone was stern, like a disappointed schoolteacher.

“The credit card company wants to make money off you, so when they see they’re earning interest, they give you a better score.”

“That’s not how that works!” I said, clearly agitated. “Your credit card score shows how well you pay back your debts. You should always pay it off in full.” I’m not a financial expert, but I do have a pretty high credit score (not to brag, but it’s over 780).

“Not to brag, but my credit score is over 780,” I told him. “And I was always pay it off in full, every month.”

He descended into a full-on pout. “It makes sense to me,” he said, scowling like a scolded teen. Was my credit score intimidating? Or had I simply emasculated him with facts?

With a growing feeling of unease, I told him about a friend of mine who had entered near financial ruin using the same credit strategy. During the time I lived with her, nearly all of her money went toward paying off a massive credit card debt. She had heard the same advice as Jim, and always left a little bit of her credit card balance unpaid. Her interest grew and grew, and her financial literacy was such that she did not recognize the balance for what it was—until she was $10,000 too late.

“There’s no ‘reward’ for not paying your credit card bill,” I said, concluding my lecture. “It just accrues interest.” I tried to look in Jim’s eyes to see if I could see the gears turning. But his gaze wouldn’t meet mine. “It makes sense to me,” was his only reply.

I turned to Google for backup. Every article on the first page of Google results confirmed what my parents had always told me—pay off your balance in full, every month, on time. I read Jim a few relevant bits of information as an uncomfortable mood descended. I understand that sometimes anecdotes don’t always hold water. But now I was reading articles from real financial advisors. Sulking was all I ever got out of him.

Jim suggested we go see a movie. I agreed, even though I sensed he wanted to use the movie as a way to avoid talking more about financial planning.

Jim really liked that sous vide. It inspired him to buy expensive cuts of meat. In fact, he spared no expense at the grocery store. He made sure to always buy the top-shelf ingredients and followed recipes that came with the sous vide to a ‘T.’ He scoffed at my cutting corners—using dried herbs instead of fresh, the grocery store brand of coffee instead of the whole beans from Sumatra, etc. He didn’t have a car, and he started to increasingly insist that I drive to his neighborhood because the Lyft ride to my apartment was too expensive.

One day we were hanging out at my apartment. He was bored waiting for me to be done with work, and didn’t fancy entertaining himself—but entertaining Jim took an hour out of my work day and burned up more gas in my tank. Suddenly, it struck me that Jim didn’t value my time all that much.

He also didn’t value money the same way I did. I buy used clothes, I cook most of my meals at home, and when I want tender meat, do I whip out a sous vide? No, of course not. I dust off the Crock-Pot my mom got me a couple of years ago for Christmas.

Most importantly, Jim wasn’t someone who could listen to me when I told him he was wrong. He didn’t value me—at least, not the same way he valued his need to follow his yen. Could I plan my life around this person? For once my heart, brain, and guts were all on the same page: the answer was no.

So I said goodbye to Jim, and to our fantasy of starting a new life in New York together. As far as I know, he’s still racking up credit card interest and making sumptuous dinners for one in that goddamn sous vide.

Molly Kendrick is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. She writes a humor blog called Contemptible Impudence where she carefully documents her frequent foibles and hosts a scary story podcast called Yeah No Yeah. Follow her on Twitter @msmollybk.

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