My Story: An Un-Frugal Spouse

by Maggie

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Here's my story about living with an un-frugal spouse. When Dear Husband and I met, he had a large handful of credit cards that were maxed out. He was a true "live in the moment" type of person. He tried to make up for miserable teen years by living the good life off credit. Going to bars, going out to eat, even using a cash advance for a down payment on his car. He was just starting to get into trouble when I found out. The first step was to get him to stop taking cash advances. Then we stopped going out to eat and I cooked homemade meals for us.

It's been 10 years since we were married. We have a house, two young sons, two cars in okay condition, cable TV, and a cell phone. We still have more debt than I am comfortable with, but his attitude has changed.

It has not been an easy road. We've had many fights brought about by our finances. It has been easier for me to prevail since I have the larger income and can throw that weight around when I need to. We have also never been at the point where we've had the creditors knocking at our door. We've always been able to make more than the minimums on all of our bills.

Here's a list of things that worked for us:

  1. Contributing to our 401(k) plans. I've always had one. He finally has a job that offers a 401(k). I put 12% in mine and he puts 10% in his. I want to be able to retire. My mother-in-law will not be able to retire. I don't want to be in that situation.
  2. We have three checking accounts. Two are at different credit unions that we could join through our employers. Legally, they are both joint accounts. But we treat them as mine and yours. We each have a set amount of money deposited into our own accounts from our paychecks. This is money we can do whatever without having to answer to the other person. The third account is at a local bank. The bulk of our pay is deposited here.
  3. We opened up two mutual finds. One is a money market fund that is our "emergency account." We have a set amount withdrawn from my credit union account every month. This account has checks that require both of our signatures. The second is our educational fund for our sons. We have $25 a month deducted from my credit union account. It's not a whole lot to put two kids through college, but it's a start.
  4. Budget for one meal out a week. Eating out is one of Dear Husband's joys in life. I did have a budget that at one time did not include a meal out. He was using all of his credit union account money going out. We plan $20 a week for the four of us. The bill is often a bit over this amount, but we share the extra cost out of our spending money. Usually it's breakfast after church on Sunday.
  5. We each have a weekly "allowance" that is the same. We tend to use this for lunches out, pops, snack, subsidizing the budgeted amount for dining out or any of the other things that come up.
  6. For quite a few years, we paid for gas with a credit card. Even though it was from the oil company, it was still a MasterCard. I finally discovered that this made it easy to whip out that card at other times (picking up prescriptions, other household items…) I was having trouble paying it off every month. So now we use cash. The tricky part is guessing who is driving which car when it needs gas. We have an envelope I fill every week that stays in my bill-paying basket.
  7. Make a weekly withdrawal of cash for groceries, gas and spending money. I do it Friday night or Saturday and use an ATM owned by my bank. Much more than a week's worth of cash disappears quick.

What did not work for us:

  1. Making Dear Husband responsible for the checking account. When we were first married, we moved from his hometown to mine. He was always saying something like "let's get cable TV, it's only $30 per month". This would only be X dollars per month. I thought if he could see the big picture, he'd think differently. He missed a few payments, made only the minimum payments because he was afraid of being out of cash.
  2. As I mentioned before, never eating out. Dear Husband loves to eat out. It's just a great experience for him. Since I too work full time, it's nice to get the occasional break.
  3. Trying to motivate him to reduce his spending by talking about what I thought was a shared vision. I would like to move to a bigger house within walking distance to school. I always though he shared the dream until about five months ago when he told me that the idea of a bigger house scares him because it was when his family moved to a bigger house that his parent's marriage fell apart. It took 11 years of being together for me to understand that insecurity and unhappiness that was behind his spending.

My greatest victories have been: I now hear Dear Husband talk about saving up money so he has extra cash for our vacation, seeing him eat breakfast at home, he packs his lunch several times a week, and he writes checks for many purchases when he would have used a credit card. And the other day I saw him truck up the stairs from the basement carrying the water-filled bin from our dehumidifier. He was going to use it to water the plants. Since it had just rained, he poured the water into the watering can to save until the plants needed water.

I would like to cut back a little more on some spending and pay off our bills at a faster pace, but when we discuss individual categories, we decide they are not worth cutting. For example, Dear Husband is adamant about keeping cable TV. When we watch, it's the cable channels like the History, Learning and Discovery channels we watch. Dear Husband also said he'd work overtime if necessary to pay for it. We decided to keep our digital phone with national service because I will be doing some traveling in the next year for work. It's nice that Dear Husband and the boys can contact me at any time.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it by with "My Story" as the subject.

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