Staying Sweet on Your Spending Spouse

by Helen Young


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So here's a little story that may give all of my fellow tightwads a coronary. The other night my husband poured himself a big glass of milk. (Not just any milk, but the expensive organic kind he insists I buy.) It sat around for a while, then he decided he didn't want it, and he casually poured it down the drain.

My husband and I both grew up in budget-conscious families. But while I conformed, spending my Friday nights happily weaving tea cozies out of dust bunnies and whatnot, my husband rebelled. He decided that life was too short to deny himself stuff like a mammoth TV.

Now, the marriage of two such dissimilar financial viewpoints might have sounded like a bad move. And I have to admit, there are still times (the milk episode being one) when his attitude toward money makes me freak out and demand incredulously to know what's wrong with him, anyway. However, most of the time I am able to view things more philosophically. After all, conventional wisdom has it that almost all couples disagree about money at least occasionally. And over the course of our largely happy 10 years together, I've learned a few lessons that might help others who find themselves in this (way too expensive and sporty) boat.

  1. Agree on some ground rules. Ideally it is best to do this before you get married or otherwise combine your money in any way, but it is never too late. In our house, these rules include no credit card debt and fixed monthly contributions to our 401k and 529b funds. We also have to check with each other if either of us plans to purchase an item that costs more than $100. Don't insist on too many rules, but never bend them except in cases of true emergency.

  2. Use the carrot instead of the stick. If you're constantly nagging your partner to spend less, it is only natural that he or she will feel deprived. Instead, help your spouse to see that your combined savings efforts can lead to greater enjoyment down the road.

    Stick: "You can't have a new moped now. We should put that money into paying down the principal on our mortgage instead."
    Carrot: "Hey, with all the money we'll save on interest, if we pay off our mortgage early, you could have a Learjet in 10 years!"

  3. Pick your battles wisely. Once, I refused to let my husband buy a souvenir sweatshirt on vacation, which he pines for to this day (five years later). The ongoing guilt from this mistake recently led me to agree to let him purchase a gourmet grill that cost about 5 billion times what the sweatshirt would have cost.

  4. Then don't obsess about the battles you didn't pick. The milk episode was a good example here. I watched my husband pour it down the drain, but then I nearly strangled him. Try whenever possible to step back and put things in perspective. That glass of milk, for example, cost maybe 73 cents. Definitely not worth murdering him over. Besides, they would have put me in jail.

  5. Remember that tightwads may not be the only chosen people. As somebody that's good at saving, it is easy to feel financially self-righteous most of the time. But just as in any situation involving two viewpoints, there are always lessons to be learned by considering the other side. My husband, for example, has taught me how to loosen up and have a little more fun with the money for which we work so hard. As a result, I've discovered that, just sometimes, cuddling up with your spouse in front of a mammoth TV really can be a great way to spend a Friday night. (Plus, the glow from the TV makes it easier to spot dust bunnies that you could use for more tea cozies...)
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