My husband spends too much money… or is it just me?

I’m 28 and my husband’s 35. We met a year ago. Six months later we moved in together, I got pregnant and we got married. Everything is great… except that I get angry each time my husband spends money.

For example, we’re at the store and he buys potato chips. He doesn’t need them. He’s not buying them because he’s hungry. He just “wants some.” Or he takes the car to work even though he has a buss pass. He doesn’t need to take the car. He just “doesn’t feel like taking the bus today.”

Now I don’t mind it when he spends money on buying a good jacket instead of a cheap Chinese-made model. And I didn’t mind it when we recently bought a pricy range hood for the kitchen – it was actually me who insisted on not getting the cheapest one.

So I don’t have a problem with him spending money on stuff that lasts. But I do have a problem with him wasting money on everyday perishables like snacks and drinks. (I can’t even call it “food” because, well, that’s not food.) And if we want to afford the quality items in clothes and appliances, we have to cut the spending on everyday junk. We shouldn’t take the car and spend money on gas when we have a buss pass. And we shouldn’t use a lot of water when we shower.

And by “we” of course I mean you, honey.

MY STORY WITH MONEY

To some of you, me obsessing about the money my husband spent on potato chips is bizarre. Or unreasonable. Or just… bitchy.

If that’s an easy judgement for you, I’m sure you’ve never struggled with money.

Most of you know the story about My money problems (and wins) . When I was 24, I took a loan to start my own business which sort of failed in about 6 months. I was left with no job, bills and rent to pay, and huge debt on top of it. Also, my father died and my mom was a wreck.

I thought I’d never get out of this. I could easily see myself slaving away the next 5 years just so I could pay off my debt. I felt like a cartoon character with a raining cloud above her head, following me wherever I went.

Eventually, I paid it all off in just 18 months, and working for minimum wage at that. But that was only possible because I was living a frugal extreme. I tracked every cent of my spending. I brought not only lunch to work, but also coffee. I quit smoking. And I made it through one chilly winter with a single pair of black trainers. (They were dirt cheap trainers. Just a month after I bought them, they developed holes to the sides where my pinky toes would be. I only bought black socks that winter so the holes wouldn’t show as much.)

If I absolutely had to buy something, I agonized over whether I could really, really, really justify the money. Do you know how I “justified” a purchase? I asked myself “Am I going to die if I don’t have this?” I asked myself this absolutely serious. It wasn’t a metaphore.

When I first started doing this, it was because I wanted to get out of debt. But once the debt was paid off, I continued. Maybe I had integrated it in my thought process and now it ran on autopilot – after all, I’d been doing this 24 hours a day for 18 months! Or maybe it was because I now saw how good saving is. I kept living like that for about three years, and I never really went back to my pre-debt spending.

Then I met my husband, who’s money habits were…

Different.

MY HUSBAND’S STORY WITH MONEY

My husband is not bad with money. He’s actually pretty reasonable compared to the Average Joe. We have some common ground, but we are not a perfect overlap.

I guess that for him, not buying a bag of chips when you actually can afford it is weird.

We’ve had this conversation every other time we go into the store:
ME: Oooh, look, potato chips on sale! It’s sour cream and onion. (He knows that’s my favourite.)
HIM: (grabs a bag and puts it in the cart) Okay.
ME: Heyyyy, no, we’re not getting those!
HIM: We’re not?
ME: (putting it back) No! It’s too expensive.
HIM: But they are on sale.
ME: Still, it’s too expensive.
HIM: No it’s not. The whole bag is 1.59.
ME: We don’t need them, so why spend 1.59?
HIM: Geez, live a little! It’s a lousy bag of chips for God’s sake.
ME: Exactly. It’s just a lousy bag of chips.
HIM: But if it makes you happy, and you can afford it, why not?
ME: Because we’d have less cash at the end of the month, that’s why!
HIM: You’re being cheap to yourself. It’s 1.59.
ME: You have no idea how it adds up!

So we usually move on with our shopping, sticking to our short grocery list. I try to only buy stuff for cooking like meat, potatoes, beans, oil, eggs and so on, or stuff I can’t make myself like bread or soap or shampoo. Which is how we’ve been able to afford a whole bunch of stuff for our apartment remodel. (More about that in Newlyweds with a baby on the way: our money and finance )

Now I bet you’re wondering if we have the same conversation if it’s him that wants something and not me?

Well… not quite.

I’ve dropped him hints about that kind of spending and how it adds up, and it makes me bite my lip when I see him spend money on snacks, but honestly I don’t have the heart to tell him sgtraight how I really feel about it. He’s been hooked on hot peppers all summer. He gets coffee and cola every morning because he hates dry smoking. He loves to have mustard with his dinner. But when he reaches for a jar and we can’t afford it without compromising our savings goal for the month, I only say “You feel like eating mustard?” He says “Yeah, I’d love to have some with my dinner.” I tell him “We only have XX left until the end of the month” (of course I don’t count the money for our savings goal). He usually says “We’ll be fine” and buys it.

Maybe the reason he’s so sure we’ll be fine is because, just like mom, I hide money from my husband and he knows I always have a little stashed away. He also knows that I will come up with some money if we really hit the red.

So, where does that leave us?

OUR STORY WITH MONEY

Now don’t get me wrong: we’re actually pretty much on the same page about money. We both want our finances to be in good shape. We agree on what our goals are.

But I guess we see different paths to our goals. I like the Quickest path, which is a little extreme when it comes to cutting everyday spending; he likes a more moderate path – for example, he thinks that arguing over a bag of chips is cheap. While I agree that this might seem a little extreme, well, that’s our reality for now. We make decent money, but if we want to move forward with our finances and actually build something, we’ve got to cut out spending wherever we can.

However, recently I realized that I’m actually getting obsessed with the little stuff. Maybe it’s the habit I’ve built over the last three years, or maybe I’m just nitpicky by nature… but it’s not healthy. Not for him, and certainly not for me.

For example, yesterday he was washing his hands for dinner and he used three squirts of liquid soap. I use half a squirt. And it bugged me so much! I wasn’t going to say anything, and I didn’t, but it kept bugging me. Even during dinner!

That’s when I thought – okay, that’s not right. I can’t be this upset about three squirts of soap, can I?

But I guess I could! And you know what, the same thing happens every time he does something less-than-perfect money-wise. The other day he bought two packs of peanuts because he didn’t have a snack at home like I suggested. He leaves the water on when he’s doing the dishes (And yes, I know, it’s super sweet that he does the dishes.) When he blows his nose with toilet paper, he uses way more than he needs. Sometimes he can’t get up on time to catch the bus to work and ends up going with the car.

THE SOLUTION

So how do I get over this? I realize it’s not healthy to think about how much TP my husband uses or how he’s not turning the water off while he soaps the dishes. If I bite my tongue, it makes me miserable, and if I speak up, I make us both miserable!

I shared the problem with the online community over at Reddit (r/personalfinance), and it became clear that I actually taught myself to be obsessive about money from when I had debt. If I did that, then maybe I can also reverse it? Yes, I could teach myself to take it down a notch (or two), and I’ve been working on it for a while.

Now, the truth is that while it’s hard to change your spending habits and become more frugal, it’s just as hard to change from being a frugal nut to allowing yourself some spending. (At least when you’re teaching yourself to save you know you’re doing something good and teaching yourself to be responsible; it feels weird to teach yourself to be less responsible with money.) Yes I know that a bag of chips or two packs of peanuts or three squirts of soap will not be the end of the world, but trust me, it is damn hard to stop thinking about that stuff. Especially if you spent three years training yourself into it and becoming a pro.

I guess after all is said and done, the bottom line is this: he needs to learn to spend a little less money, and I need to learn to stop obsessing about every penny. We need to meet somewhere in the middle.

See you there, honey. <3 PS: There's Part 2 to this story: My husband’s spending is NOT out of control… but my mouth is?

Like that? Check all our stories in the archive.

8 thoughts on “My husband spends too much money… or is it just me?”

  1. Hi Raya,

    I’ve been following your blog for more than a year now, because I often find your problems quite similar to mine. Well, I am a bit older, so I’ve already experienced most of the stuff in the past. But the situation with you and your husband’s attitude to money spending was exactly the same with me and my ‘honey’. I was obsessed with not spending money on stupid junk the same way, as a result of living for a long time on quite low budget. On the contrary, my husband had never felt any lack of money in his life. The first year we moved together and began shopping together, he was wondering all the time why in the hell I insist to buy only ‘boring’ stuff (i.e. products that I would cook later, or simple products for home) and not chips, or nuts, or some interesting type of cheese, etc. Eventually, we taught each other to some sort of balance – he began to re-assess his spontaneous instinct to ‘buy something’, and I re-educated myself not to be obsessed to save every possible penny.

    Even now, I must confess, I still watch out over him and our son not to waste water, or food, or resources as a whole (after more than 12 years marriage:-)).

    Just to give you a hint to think – don’t you think it is some kind of a matter of self assessment? My husband used to say – I have worked for this money, so I have deserve to spend it as I wish. In fact I do not quite agree with this, but even though…..

    And finally – I think, that saving water, and food, and even liquid soap is much better, than spending them unscrupulously. For me it is the right way of thinking in the context of saving Earth’s resources. It is the antipod of the ‘consumerism’, when spending was a measure of standard of life.

  2. That was a funny post Raya.
    I have to say I feel more sympathetic to your man than you.

    You clearly have some form of OCD, all of us have some.
    My OCD is getting rid of stuff (dishoarding). I love to sell/give/throw away unused items from my household. Same goes with buying – only buy what you need, not what you WANT.

    Having said this, I am not counting every penny, especially not in regards to food. I’d rather work for one extra day to provide for all those little guilty pleasures.

    Oh, one more important point. There is a special relationship between a man and his food :-) A lot of men like their good food and it is a feel good factor to be able to afford almost any food you want :-) I may spend a day researching where to buy an electical item 5 EURO cheaper, but have no problem spending 20Euro in a nice place, meeting friends over lunch. This is what we are like, men.

    Although being frugal and staying on top of your finances helps, try to be more relaxed about the little things in life. After all, if you keep your mind occupied with these insignificant details, you may loose the bigger picture.

    As for your husband – give him a choice – have crisps or drive the car. Ha ha ha…

  3. It is difficult to loosen up when you have a little money.
    For example if you earn 500 per month and you try to save 100 and you save every lev. And then you say “Ok, I don’t need to save more” so you have 100 levs more to spend. But 100 levs more is just about 3 levs a day – this means a snack or a bottle of cola additionally, or to have a dinner or go to the cinema once a week. In fact it won’t change your habits much.
    If you totally change your habits, you may spend 700 a month and this will take you in debt once again.
    On the other hand if you earn 2000 per month and save 1500, and then you loosen up, you will not start spending 2500 but rather about 1000-1500 and you will feel ok and you will still be able to save some money.

  4. Hi Maya,

    Thanks for following and thanks for speaking up :) It’s nice to have a veteran with 10+ years of marriage back up my ideas! I think the key word here is “balance” and that’s what we are trying to establish now. Well I’d love to have the “balance” leaning more my way :) but I realize that obsessing is never healthy. Extremes are never healthy.

    By the way, even though I am all for frugality, I’m very glad he’s not as frugal or obsessed as me. I mean, I might whine about his money habits, but I don’t think I would have been happy with someone who had money habits exactly like mine. Ain’t that weird?

  5. Well of course you’ll side with him, Andy! You’re a man, too :))

    My point is not about focusing solely on spending less. I also acknowledge the huge benefits of earning more. But after all, neither of those matters – what really matters is the difference between the two, i.e. how much oyu’re able to save at the end of the month. So while your theory about earning more to avoid saving makes some sense, the absolute optimum is to BOTH spend less and earn more.

    I don’t know about the special relationship between a man and his food… but I try really hard to not bitch about the small stuff. There are many many many little things he’s done with money that I disagree with but said nothing about. The problem is that this is bad for ME, becuase it eats ME up on the inside and makes ME miserable. So it really is more of a problem for ME than it is for him.

  6. Of course it’s hard to loosen up when you earn a modest amount. Can’t spend more than you earn, right? (Well you could but then all hell would break loose.)

    For me it’s all about WHERE you want to be financially and HOW FAST you want to go there. If you want to reach 2000 in savings, you can do that by saving 50/month or by saving 200/month. One path will get you there faster but will require more drastic measures. Would you be willing to sacrifice your everyday comfort in order to reach your goal sooner? That’s very much a personal question.

  7. I think that the art of spending less is hidden in the details. Find what really matters to you and stick to it – everything else could be ignored. Sometimes in favor of some little things we could forgo the expensive big ones. But in my opinion we should not end up empty-handed because of the opportunity cost – you can’t give up on everything in exchange for hoping for a better tomorrow! You can’t do this to yourself! (To all of you who live in Bulgaria – please read the last two sentences just once more …) After all, most of the cases you cannot spend a penny unless you have earned and saved one, right … ?

  8. Hi Petya,

    There’s a rule of thumb in saving which says it’s okay to spend on what’s important to you and save on everything else. The problem for me is that the things that are important to me are pretty big: I want a nice home for our family, I want us to retire early and not have to work, and I want us to be able to provide for the three children we want to have. I can’t find one single thing (of the everyday stuff) that’s more important than these big goals.

    So the solution for me does not lie in changing my views, but in accepting that the man I love has slightly different views. I’m learning to live with that and not let it bother me. It’s hard work, believe me! :)

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