Thursday, November 10, 2011

A miser married to a spender

There are a lot of financial advantages to living with another person.  Those advantages would be even greater if the person were a perfect clone who agreed completely with everything you believe!

Real life is messier (and often, a lot more fun) than that.  But living with a husband who has different financial philosophy and habits can be, um, challenging.  For me, one of the biggest challenges has been trying to manage money when so much of our family spending is completely outside of my control.  

Here are two pie-charts that show the breakdown -- in percentages, not in dollars -- of our recent spending.  (This counts everything that doesn't get deducted automatically from our paycheck, so it doesn't count taxes, healthcare, and part of our charitable contributions, for example).
How our family spent money in August 2011.

How our family spent money in September 2011.

The purple sections of the charts are the husband-dominated spending, the parts I monitor but don't affect.  The little purple wedge shows one aspect of this:  it continues to amaze/dismay me that we pay more for telephone/cable service than we do for all our other utilities combined.  (Think about that.  We pay more for telephone and TV than we do for oil heat, electricity, water, and trash all together.  Ugh).   But being massively connected is exceedingly important to my husband, and so we throw money at Verizon and Comcast.

Even more significant is that large purple swatch.  There are families, I know, that have budgets.  My guy would rather be staked to an ant hill than to deal with budgets.  There are families that set goals.  If I bring up goals, my husband says, "You know money better than I do.  You should do whatever you think is right." . . . but his saying this has zero impact on the size of that big purple wedge.  There are families that agree that every purchase over a certain dollar amount needs to be discussed first.  My husband completely agrees with this, except when he forgets to tell me he's just spent a lot of money.

I've always admired from afar those couples that agree together to get out of debt, to pay off the mortgage early, to live a zero-waste lifestyle.  Can a tightwad convert a spendthrift?

Maybe that's really the wrong question.  There's more to a marriage than money, after all.  My guy and I agree about the joys of staying active, the importance of stifling (I mean, rearing) our kids, the delight of reading obscure philosophical works out-loud to each other . . . it's hard to kvetch about mere finances when all the rest of the marriage is so good.  But, if we mesh so well in all those other areas, a body still might ask if this miser mom can tinker with another person's financial personality.
  • I'm convinced that nagging, resentment, and/or nursing grudges won't work.  (They're not a lot of fun, either, which is even more important).
  • Setting a good example has a limited impact: we've slowly given up paper towels, but paper coffee cups look like they're going to be part of our landscape forever.  Starbucks sucks in more of our money than I would ever want to admit.  I take my victories where I can get them, and try to deal with the rest.
  • I do what I can to make it structurally easier for my husband to be frugal.  Years ago, I bought him a clothes steamer to use at home; he loves using it, and so this has saved us lots of money on his dry cleaning.  I bulk purchase local, organic meat, so when he cooks for the family, he can get his carnivore fix for cheap.  
Instead of trying to make a convert of him, I focus on that part of our budget that I can control.  I've cut our kids' clothing budget to almost nothing, because I can yard sale.  I teach the boys to cook from scratch.  We eat a lot of meatless and a lot of less-meat meals, because our work schedules have me at home for most weekday meals.

Even more,  I've learned to deal with the financial ups and downs.  I keep a cushion in our checking and savings accounts, and I issue dire warnings during those rare times when the cushion gets low.  (The dire warnings are more likely to get him to file overdue expense reports than to curb spending, but the net effect is the same).  We instituted a tradition of having monthly "financial reports", where I show him how we've spent and earned our money over the past 30 days.  All of this seems to help keep the communication about money flowing smoothly.

And you know what?  We're really happy.  Because I write this blog about money, it sounds like my husband and I are worlds apart.  But all of this structure I impose on the money side of things actually frees up the rest of our lives.  And in that abundant free space, we really do get to enjoy each other.  Go figure.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I keep track of spending in our household. I think that having monthly financial reports is a great idea. Thanks!