Saturday, July 27, 2013

How to NOT convert a spendy spouse

I've come to think of having a non-miser husband as just one of those puzzles that adds much-needed challenge to my life.  Some people have physical difficulties that mean they can't walk to work or do their own home repairs.  Some people have health problems that they'll have to spend money on all their lives.  Some people start their adult lives deeply in debt.  As for me, I have the challenge of trying to live a frugal life while surrounded by obligatory cable TV, Starbucks Coffee purchases, and Vitamin Water.  It's an added degree of difficulty, an extra adventure.  But it's do-able.

I've read many articles on "how to convert a spendthrift spouse" (and by read, I mean "read and re-read and annotate extensively in my own head").  But conversion, that's not my marriage.

For one thing, conversion (at least as far as my husband goes) just wouldn't work:  he's not going to change just because I happen to have a more sensible approach, because, really, why be sensible when you can have fun?

For another thing, both he and I have a philosophical and moral aversion to people getting married and then trying to "change" or "civilize" a spouse.  I could go on and on about this, but I won't:  I'll just say we both find it repugnant.

But there's a totally frugal reason for not trying to change a spendy spouse, and that's the point of this particular blog post.  And it's this:  one key tenet to a truly frugal life is being grateful for what you already have.  And as for me, I'm truly grateful for my husband.  Another key tenet to a truly frugal life is finding good ways to make the most of what you already have.  And there are lots of ways that having my (admittedly spendy) husband makes my life better.

Part of the trick for me is to take on the parts where I can take over -- to do what I call "preventative shopping".  By buying the boys' school clothes myself, by purchasing beef in bulk and having it near-at-hand in the freezer, by getting sandwiches and trail-mix together for long trips, . . . by doing all these things I can head off many more expensive impulse buys.

Another important ingredient is just to keep talking matter-of-factly about where the money goes.  We have a monthly financial update, during which I go over what we spent and what we brought in.  This has become a ritual that we both appreciate, because it satisfies my craving for rigor and accountability, and it gives him a chance to warn me about expenses he thinks might be coming down the pike.

But the non-conversion part of this adventure comes in learning to make the most of my husband's non-miser ways.  It's almost like a form of Frugal Jujutsu, using the power of my husband's expensive tastes instead of opposing them.

Here's an example:

My husband cares a lot about clothes.  A lot.  When he takes the subway, the toll collectors call him "Mr. GQ" -- and, in fact, he has a subscription to that particular magazine.  Whereas I spend downwards of $80/year on clothing for my boys and myself, My Guy will blow hundreds of dollars on a pair of suits for my pair of sons.  (They're teenagers; they will wear these suits perhaps a dozen times in their life.  Sheesh).

In contrast, I know zilch about clothes, except how to get them for cheap.  (Before I married my husband, my highly-colorful clothing philosophy was, "since I don't know what I'm doing, sin boldly.")   Left to my own devices, I could end up looking exactly how you'd think a cheap-o Miser Mom would look.  Even more, I could condemn my teenage sons to Middle School Ridicule Hell.  But when I combine my thrifty ways with my husband's eye for style, I get a bunch of stylin' sons, and a personal wardrobe that gets me compliments.

Here's another example:

My husband is impulsive.  Our lives have changed directions many times in the 16 years we've been married:  he's taken new jobs; he's suddenly enlisted in the military; we've adopted kids.  His impulsivity in spending a gazillion dollars on a Big New Something has faded over time (oh, thank goodness), but he'll still fritter away money on a gazillion smaller things that catch his eye in a bakery, grocery store, bike shop, clothing store . . . .

But his eagerness for all that is shiny means my husband shakes me out of ruts.  And I love him for that, because it's all too easy for a frugal, careful person like me to grow complacent.  So when I'm thinking of possibly taking on a big new project, and when any other ordinary person would be pessimistic or even cautiously realistic, my husband is the Labrador who has just heard the word "walk" and the rattle of the leash.  And so I've taken on bizarre big projects at work, and I've donated a kidney to a coworker, and I've adopted kids with him, and I'm getting ready for a triathalon.  And all of these with my husband being my most enthusiastic cheerleader.

There are more examples of course.

I could tell you how my husband is the athlete of the home, and how because of that he keeps me healthy and active when I'd otherwise be sitting on my duff doing math.   Or how he's the macho, take-control kind of guy a peace-nik like me is supposed to shun, but because of that he has raised our daughters and sons to be unafraid of hard work and physical challenge.  Or how, because he's a total cell-phone addict as well as a Guy kind of a guy, he becomes the point-person for talking with Customer Service reps of all stripes.

The point is:  spousal conversion is not the goal.  Having a happy (and financially stable) life is the goal.  And it's possible to be a black-belt-frugalist married to a Man of the World . . . and to have both of us be the better for it.


  1. Wow! This post has helped me a lot. Thanks so much for sharing. This past month I've come to appreciate my husband's leadership skills, honed over 30 years in the USMC as we've had to deal with a horrible situation at church where I am the Women's group (Relief Society) President.

  2. Love this perspective! So many of us struggle against our spouse's habits as opposed to accepting, working with, and even using them to your advantage. Mine may hate crunchy towels and underwear, he may have a distinct affinity for energy drinks that burns money I have plans for, but he can build most anything out of anything. That skill has saved us literally thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years. He has homebody taste - having mastered the art of the homemade pizza - for our indulgent Friday nights of streaming TV, aforementioned pizza and inexpensive beverages. Thank you for this oh so important reminder.

    1. Sounds like our men-folks would get along well, serving as the founding members of in the Crunchy Towel Haters Club! For the meetings, it'd be BYOB, with lots of plastic bottled processed water to share.

      But then after the meeting, they'd get to go home to happy homes, and that's saying something! -MM