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…
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.
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?