Am I selfish for asking for more input in our financial decisions?
February 26, 2011 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand financial partnership in marriage. Snow flurries within.

My husband and I had our first real married person fight. It began when he balked at lending me $10 to buy cat food. There is a huge disparity in our incomes. He makes in 1 month more than I make in a year. Since my job is so low-paying (university adjunct instructor) we’d agreed, despite my discomfort with the proposition, to set up a joint account into which he could deposit money I could use for things I needed. Well, I’d just paid several bill plus bought a wedding gift for one of his employees with the joint account and there wasn’t much left in it at the time I asked for more money for food. His stance was that he shouldn’t have to pay for the cat food since the cat is “my responsibility” and I probably spend too much money on my cat’s food anyway. He did give me the $10 after asking me how much it costs me every month to feed my cat.

Oh yeah, this was two days after he told me he was buying an airplane.

I was hurt by his penny-pinching and I mentioned it to my therapist. My therapist recommended I talk to my husband about our finances, since he feared we were setting up a precedent of uncooperative behavior. When I did bring it up to my husband, the conversation eventually devolved into a common refrain I hear from him: that I’m selfish and “uninvolved” in his life.

To his credit, he pointed out to me that he had given me almost $1500 that month to pay for my bills. I have to pay at least $400 a month in student loans every month, plus I buy groceries for the household with that account. My own checking account usually just covers my commuting costs with a little left over to buy myself lunch or whatever. I never have extra left over to put into my savings account.

Also to his credit, he asked for my opinion on the plane. I said I wasn’t going to tell him what to do, but I would just point out that we could do more practical things with that money. Privately, I doubt my dissent would have resulted in his deciding not to purchase the plane. Also, I fear being blamed or held responsible down the line for getting in the way of his dream of owning the plane.

What really upset me was that he can afford the frakkin airplane (which could pay both of our student loans) yet acted so put about $10. I hoped our conversation could open the door to our acting more as a team in financial matters, to which he claimed that he does everything for me while I fail to reciprocate by being interested in his life.

There are two issues here. The first is the financial one, which I suspected would be a problem for us. I have historically had a lot of trouble accepting financial assistance since I find it so often becomes a means of control. I would rather have my own money and not have to ask him or it. In fact, he has really had to push me to ask him for money when I need it instead of trying to sort it out by myself. I don’t think I lead some sort of extravagant lifestyle. Am I really being selfish?

The second issue is the constant return to the idea that I’m remote, uninterested or uninvolved. I’m one of those INT people. Not terribly demonstrative but I make sure to send him sweet text messages, get him cards and tell him often that I love him. When I asked him what would make me more involved in his life, he was unable to articulate that for me. He said some vague things about pouring him a glass of water or picking up his plate when we’re done eating dinner, which makes it sounds like in his mind “involved”=housekeeper, but he tells me this is not true. I ask him about his work, we talk about blogs he follows, I often invite him to talk to me about any issues he has. To me, this demonstrates involvement. Oh yeah, and I overcame my commitment phobia to get married to him. I don’t know what else I can do to be “involved.” He said what he really wants is for me to “be more considerate.”

Anyway: TL;DR: Am I selfish for asking for more input in our financial decisions? How can I show my spouse that I consider us a unified front?

Amendment: I am asking him to come see my therapist with me next week.
posted by Kitty Stardust to Human Relations (90 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
This is all so beyond me that I hesitate to say much. But here goes. I married a young woman 29 years my junior. I had income. She had nearly nothing--in fact not even a job . We opened a joint account and we share in everything. Years later, she is now making very big money, much more than I made at the peak of my career. I am retired. We continue as before to share in a joint account. Neither one of us sees why it should be otherwise.
posted by Postroad at 1:29 PM on February 26, 2011 [35 favorites]

No, your husband is a selfish prick. Marriages don't work this way.
posted by Jimbob at 1:30 PM on February 26, 2011 [53 favorites]

It's irrelevant that you think the two of you are a united front since clearly he doesn't. Don't just bring him to your therapist, start couples counseling. This entire scenario sounds totally unhealthy.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:30 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Anything that works for both of you is good. There is no one way to do finances in marriage, and don't listen to anyone who says 'IF YOU DON'T HAVE A JOINT ACCOUNT, YOUR MARRIAGE IS DOOMED! DOOMED, I SAY!'

That said, what you guys are doing now is clearly not working for you. Talking with your therapist might help. Talking with a financial planner or budgeting coach might also help.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:31 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're probably going to get a lot of answers that say the best way to handle finances in a marriage is to put everything into one pot, and let both partners have equal access to / equal say over what is done with the money in the pot.

That's because the best way to handle finances is to put all the money in one pot. Otherwise, it can become about control, especially if the partners in the marriage are unequal earners.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:32 PM on February 26, 2011 [16 favorites]

Financially, you wanted $10 for cat food, and he thought that was out of line, but he bought an airplane? Um, yeah, he sounds like a major jerk with respect to that.

The emotional sharing is a different story. If he feels like you're not supportive or whatever, that's a big deal, especially if he thinks you're just using him for his money (and it sounds like he does).

Couples counseling might be a good idea.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Are you guys a team? Because it doesn't sound like you're a team. You're still talking about your bills, instead of "our bills", for instance. One of the ways that you join forces to fight crime and be married people is by sitting down to talk about the debt you both have and the income you both have and what you want to do about each. This is kind of one of the first things to do, before getting married, even. That way there are no big surprises when the accounts start coming up. It's clear that he thinks feeding and caring for the cat is solely YOUR responsibility - ok, fine. And paying your bills is something that you accept as your responsibility. But where's the sharing in these situations? I think that asking him for specific ways that he would feel you're more "involved" is a good step. I think asking him to pool your resources - so you can be involved in his financial decisions personally and see the stake in them - is an even better step.
posted by lriG rorriM at 1:39 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

You don't have to put everything in one pot to share financial responsibility. My husband and I have our own bank accounts and divvy up the bills as they come in according to whoever is in the best position to pay them at the moment.

Saying that he shouldn't have to pay $10 for "your" cat is a huge red flag that he is not treating your marriage as a partnership. Also, you are using the monthly allowance to pay for different kinds of things - your personal financial debt, your shared food, and gifts for his employees - yet he is treating all of these things as "your" expenses and being grudging about it. Sounds like he is forgetting how to value you as the woman he married and treating you as a glitch in his spreadsheet.

I can only say, counselling with a big pinch of DTMFA if he can't learn to respect you and remember that he married you and loves you for the person you are.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 1:40 PM on February 26, 2011 [16 favorites]

There is no "normal." If something works for you, it works for you regardless of what others think. It seems like this isn't working for you, though, so perhaps it's time to go to a secular marriage counselor. It seems unhealthy to me that one partner has to beg for cat food money while the other partner buys an airplane. In fact, the disparity is ludicrous in scope and my mind boggles that this is a real situation. Not that I'm implying it isn't. I'm just boggling.

I imagine that the husband might very likely view your career as a hobby and therefore not an equal drain of time and energy as his own career, making him think uncharitable thoughts because you aren't acting like a housewife from the 50s.
posted by jsturgill at 1:42 PM on February 26, 2011

It began when he balked at lending me $10 to buy cat food.

Lending you money? I'm sort of blown away by this. I guess I'd have to understand what you two think money in a relationship is supposed to be like, like what understanding you two have between you. I personally would feel bad if money in my marriage was considered "lending." I would just give my husband $20 or $50 if I had it on me and he needed it and he does the same for me. Do you guys label your food in the fridge too?
posted by anniecat at 1:44 PM on February 26, 2011 [21 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi. Wanted to add that we're both in our mid-30s and this is a first marriage for both of us. I never had any expectation that he should have to pay for my debts, much of which I accumulated while in grad school and before I met him. I just assumed that those debts were mine and not something I wanted to burden him with.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:57 PM on February 26, 2011


This is our situation where one makes a lot more:

We add up our household expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, etc.) and we each contribute a percentage of our income.

He also covers all "fun" stuff like going out to eat and most of vacations.
posted by k8t at 1:59 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

You asked:

Am I selfish for asking for more input in our financial decisions?

No. As you said, they are "our" financial decisions. By definition, you should have input into these decisions.

I'm kind of amazed that when he asked about the airplane, you said that you weren't going to tell him what to do. It doesn't matter how big the income disparity is between you two; you're married, so the money is yours as much his. (Note: this may differ depending on state law, I think.) Therefore, you had a right to input on the airplane decision.

You also asked this:

How can I show my spouse that I consider us a unified front?

It sounds like you're already doing that. It sounds like he isn't.

I fear being blamed or held responsible down the line for getting in the way of his dream of owning the plane.

What about your dreams? It sounds like you feel guilty about the income disparity.

It also sounds like he uses money as a replacement for love. He rewards/punishes you by giving/withholding money. Meanwhile, you're supposed to be his domestic servant?

Something is not right here. I think the counseling is a good idea.
posted by Tin Man at 1:59 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Next time he balks at giving you 10 bucks for cat food remind him that you're entitled to half that plane he's about to buy!!
posted by katypickle at 2:01 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

I just assumed that those debts were mine and not something I wanted to burden him with.

My wife has debts. Hell I do do, but my wife has debts. If I earned 12x as much as my wife, and could therefore wipe away her debts with practically a wave of my hand, I would, and I would have done it a long time ago. Because that's a thing you would do for someone you love. It's not a burden. It's an opportunity. Meanwhile it appears he is saying to you "You have this debt, you can continue to suffer under it because it's not my problem. Also, I'm willing to let your cat not eat for the sake of the cost of a belt buckle on the plane I have to buy".

Not good at all.
posted by Jimbob at 2:03 PM on February 26, 2011 [64 favorites]

I never had any expectation that he should have to pay for my debts, much of which I accumulated while in grad school and before I met him. I just assumed that those debts were mine and not something I wanted to burden him with.

I have a friend whose husband paid off her $70K in grad school debts (a degree she doesn't use now since she quitting her job and had two kids through IVF and is a SAHM now) right after they got married. He had the money, and two kids from a previous marriage. So there were lots of things he could have done with it (like put it in a trust for the kids). But he had the money and did it, and also paid for the IVF cycles (many many cycles).
posted by anniecat at 2:04 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, my cousin who is smart but accumulated credit card debt that she hid for years was yelled at by her fiance for not telling him about them sooner because he knew they would be his problem too.
posted by anniecat at 2:06 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

The story you present to us is so lopsided, it sort of boils down to "he's getting a plane and won't give me $10 for cat food!" which sounds like some sort of Scrooge McDuck move.

Are you a bit of a spendthrift? The only thing that could make your presentation of events make this guy not seem evil is if you're truly bad with money. Some people are, it is not a moral judgement. I once went out with a girl who was constantly having money troubles, and if I'd give her money for rent, invariably half of it would go to something that was not necessary. If she were to ask me for $10 for cat food I'd probably say no, only because I know only $2 would end up going to cat food (though I'd probably buy the food myself). Obviously this didn't last.

Perhaps, if not you, he was burned by someone like this in his past. In any case, I can't imagine turning down a friend for something like $10 for cat food, let alone a significant other. This is something that you guys need to work out yourself, I don't think there's going to be a good answer here.
posted by geoff. at 2:13 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

The two of you need to sit down with a therapist and/or financial planner to agree on your financial goals. If it's important to both of you that your income go to paying for your cat's care and your student loans, that's fine. In that case, though, you need to be able to tell him, "I'd like to pay for those bills and buy that wedding gift, but there isn't enough in the joint account for me to cover those and my other responsibilities. Would you like to cover one of those bills yourself, or would you like to put more money in the joint account so I can go pay it?"

If he's not willing to do that kind of budgeting and financial goal-setting with you, you aren't really a unified front, and you'll need to have some deeper conversations about what you each expect from your partnership.
posted by synchronia at 2:14 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Geoff,
I admit I'm not great with money, but I've somehow managed to make sure all my obligations are paid for. Much of that may be because I've never earned much, so I've learned how to stretch my cash when needed. But I do occasionally buy things that aren't necessities per se but are within my price range (books, supplies for my crafting hobbies, shoes that are on deep markdown only).
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:27 PM on February 26, 2011

This is. . . I. . . what?

I'm a SAHM. I have no income. I spend easily three times what my husband does, because I do the grocery shopping and buy all the cat food for the clothes and the kids. We do have to budget for stuff, and that involves keeping a limit on personal purchases for both of us, but it's not like he gets to buy an X-Box every month while I have to panhandle for money for a latte just because he makes more than I do.

You're MARRIED. You're a unit, financially as well as socially. There are different ways for people to manage their money, but really, it's not his income and your income, it's both y'all's income. It's y'all's debts, y'all's bills. (Forgive the vernacular, SBE doesn't have a good way to disambiguate second person singular from plural.) I can see managing things this way if you have had real problems with money in the past -- I have had real problems with money in the past, and my husband and I spent the first five years of our marriage with me on a strict cash allowance -- but even then, it was OUR problem to solve, not my problem to solve while he bought a frickin airplane.

As for the "consideration" angle, you might want to pick up that Five Love Languages book to help work out what he means. If he can provide specific examples, that might be worth working on, but it absolutely shouldn't be connected to money, because otherwise he's paying you to act like he thinks a wife ought to, and that's messed up.
posted by KathrynT at 2:32 PM on February 26, 2011 [17 favorites]

I do not like cats. I did not want cats.

One day my wife came home with two cats. I consider them her cats, but if they need cat food or litter or God help, the pan changed, I do it, because they're in our house and I share in some of that responsibility.

Bitching about $10 for cat food when he's about to buy a plane? Yes, it sounds selfish, fucked up and ridiculously self absorbed but it also sounds like a symptom of something else. Nobody 'cept a complete and utter jackass who was born mean and is having a bad day refuses to give their spouse 10 measly dollars when they're buying a plane. I think he's pissed or annoyed about something else and he was using that instance to express that anger or frustration.

Hell, I can't afford a remote controlled plane and if the spouse asked for $10 I and just about any other married person would say "Yeah sure, that all you need?" Seriously it's $10 bucks and he said NO at first?! What the fuck is his problem?

You two need to seriously talk and get on the same page about money and expenses 'caues fighting over $10 is sign of something else.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:33 PM on February 26, 2011 [25 favorites]

Dude, what? If you both have student loans that equal the cost of a freaking airplane, that means no, you can't afford an airplane. You can afford to pay off your student loans.

Couples counseling. ASAP.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:38 PM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

I don't think that financial decisions are best made by percentage of a household's GDP. I mean, if he makes $180,000 a year and you make $20,000 a year, an arrangement where you only get 10% of the say in how your household's money is spent doesn't feel like it would work for most people. It's certainly not the norm.

If there's anyone here who is doing that, and for whom it works, more power to you and your partner(s), but I don't think that the OP is at all selfish for wanting a more equitable role in the household's financial planning. It's not like the OP could just work more as an adjunct college instructor to get income parity with the husband.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:38 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow. Even if you're a huge spendthrift, he's treating you like a naughty child who has to beg for her allowance. Not cool. To me this is compounded by the fact that the cat is a living being dependent on your - not an impractical pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes or even a coworker who is having a baby shower and needs a gift.

Marriage should be a partnership between two adults, not a parent-child relationship. If one partner plays "controlling parent" all the time that is bound to sour the relationship. Ask yourself, is he generous in other ways (emotionally, in bed, etc.) or is he controlling and stingy?

In the worst-cases scenarios, I've seen people like this grudge money that their kids cost (putting the kid in inferior daycare to save money, music lessons are "a waste" if the kid has no talent, etc.) which is an awful way to raise a kid.

Please seek therapy; it sounds like there are issues in the marriage that go beyond just money. And don't let your cat suffer because your husband is a tightwad.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:40 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Once I noticed a little list stuck to a relative's fridge door with a magnet. It had stuff like

Joan owes William
$5 newspapers
$10 cat food

William owes Joan
$2 cream
$15 gas

(yes, it really did have cat food on it)

And I thought 'Huh!' And then I thought 'I take it that must work. Good for them...!'

However. This stuff...this is different. This doesn't sound like you guys are married. Your cat...his airplane. Bickering over nonsense about being 'considerate.'

'The constant return to the idea that I’m remote, uninterested or uninvolved,' particularly with nothing to back it, says 'needy jerk,' sorry. And anybody big on demonstrations of being 'considerate' should be happy to fork over ten dollars for cat food.

Do you know why you are married to this man? It doesn't sound like a useful partnership. How is he buying a plane when you both have debts? And you are afraid to speak out on this irrationality.

He wants you to bring him glasses of water and clear his plate... Are you controlled/condescended to in a multiplicity of ways?
posted by kmennie at 2:42 PM on February 26, 2011

Kitty Stardust, I don't think everyone here means to sound like your marriage is doomed. You're entitled to do any kind of financial arrangement you want. But what happens when you, say, lose your health insurance or need a procedure that you can't afford on your own. Does he say, "Well, too bad you didn't make more money." Does he help you secure financing for it and expect you to pay it off on your own?

Does he buy an ice cream cone on a hot day and eat the whole thing and say "Too bad you didn't have a buck on you because this is sure tasty" while he has five bucks in his pocket?
posted by anniecat at 2:43 PM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'd understand your husband's behavior if you were, say, amassing debt by racking up funtime degrees à la Buster Bluth, and spending that $1500 on your monthly weed bill or Tory Burch bill or what have you. It certainly sounds like you're living frugally, and I take you at your word. However, I wonder if he perceives you as being irresponsible with money - whether you are or not.

I don't know about the money situation, and I don't know why he acted like he did. None of us here know that, so our advice can only go so far. It sounds like you and your husband are both trying to figure it out, but can't put your thoughts into terms the other can understand. Couples counseling can help you here. Ultimately it doesn't matter what the problem is about or what the solution is; the important thing is that the two of you need to be able to work together to find that solution.

You mention that this is your first married fight. I wonder, have you been conflict-free until now? Have you been disappointed or upset with your husband in the past, and how did you handle it? This is just spitballing on my part, but if you resist asking for help with money most of the time, maybe you treat your feelings the same way, and if so, maybe that's why your husband thinks you're not involved enough in the partnership.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:50 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let's pretend for a moment that your husband isn't coming across as some kind of weirdly entitled asshat. You guys are in your 30s so the norm for both of you is doing whatever you want with your own money. He's got a lot, you don't. But you've both been able to spend it however you please. You're a smart and free woman, you didn't marry your man for his money and you want to make that clear. That's cool. However, now you two are married and it's time to learn the new way to do things -- the way that works for both of you and enriches both of you.

Two main things: 1. You guys should have a general financial discussion that talks about how you each handle your money and include how your parents handled their money. We learned all our first money habits from our parents. Some of these will be good, some bad and some just don't work for the two of you as a unit. Get all that out in the open. And discuss how you feel about saving in general and repaying debts and deciding which debts to take on. This is a general discussion to get things out on the table so you know where each of you stands.

2. Goals. What are your shared financial goals? Start making a list. A house. Kids. Repayment of debt. A big month-long vacation? All of these are goals that you can work towards together. To get an understanding of how achievable these goals are then you need to do an exercise where you list all of your monthly expenditures. If you don't have those numbers you can ballpark them. How much do you spend on gas, mortgage, dining out, groceries, etc., every month? What is your income and what are your expenses? Think about pooling both items (even if you don't in actuality) and look at what devoting a % of your income to those expenses looks like. Discuss how that makes you feel.

Money is an emotional topic and I think it's the one married people fight over the most. Pooling your money makes the most sense for a lot of people because in most average scenarios it is the easiest. One set of books. One set of accounts. Everyone sees what goes in and what goes out. However, for some the emotional trade-off of pooling resources is too painful and so they work out a system. What most often works is a joint account with a percent of income automatically put into it and that's what pays all the household bills (including the fucking cat food). And whatever is left over is play money (or whatever you two decide).

Here's the thing: you guys are a household now. Figure out what that means to you and try to get harmony on the money front. I mean, splitting hairs over this stuff will end your marriage. It's a crappy way to live. Does your husband enjoy denying you cat food money? I bet there's a part of him that feels like a petty asshole for doing that. It's a bad rut to get into for both of you. Down that road is you insisting he pay you for cooking dinner or doing chores around the house. Down that road is you justifying Junior's trombone lessons. It's not pretty and neither of you want to live there.

If you can't have conversations 1 and 2 from above, get thee to a counselor. There's no right way to do things but there is a wrong way. Y'all are doing that.

Good luck. Money arguments are the worst.
posted by amanda at 3:05 PM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

Also, what is your husband's background with money? Did he escape poverty at some earlier point in his life? Does he fear poverty, either because he got out or because it flat sucks? Were his parents very controlling over financial affairs, either due to poverty or due to wealth? Has his life been marked by a lot of denial-- parents not letting him have things he wanted, putting off pleasure for long-term goals, etc.?

I don't think we necessarily need to know that much detail, but you do if you want to understand why he's being this way.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:11 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Let me also add in his defense that I told him I would pay for the cat's needs, which I have bent over backwards to do, since I make much less now that I did when I adopted her. In this one instance, I didn't have enough.

Also, he is not a Scrooge McDuck. He pays when we go out to eat. He pays for any vacations we might take. We live in a nice place that I could never have afforded on my own. But he does not buy many things for himself. It's a struggle to get him to shell out for new socks. He is otherwise very supportive. He has seen his parents slip into poverty over the years and I think that is why he resists spending money sometimes.

This: "This is just spitballing on my part, but if you resist asking for help with money most of the time, maybe you treat your feelings the same way, and if so, maybe that's why your husband thinks you're not involved enough in the partnership." Metroidbaby, is probably true. I am terrified of being dependent and have a tendency to stuff down my needs and feelings to avoid feeling needy. I keep a lot of my feelings to myself.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 3:27 PM on February 26, 2011

I have little advice since I am in precisely your same boat, down to the income multiplier and the disparity in spending on shared essentials vs expensive hobby. However, I wanted you to know that you are not alone (and it's this issue that prompted me to create this account).

For what it's worth, I've found it useful to cultivate the knack of providing even responses to inquiries from others about why, say, I drive a 20 year old beater when my husband has a $50K sports car. Saying things (even to myself) like "I don't have money for X right now" or "It's just not possible right now" with quiet dignity, not from a place of victim hood, has been empowering. I have also, when necessary, learned how to say things like "[Husband] prefers to keep his resources separate."

Another thing for you to explore concerns a) planning for your retirement and b) estate planning, especially if you have kids or own property together that you could not afford on your own if something happened to your husband. I made the mistake of assuming that my husband would one day include me in his will; when our tenth anniversary rolled around with no change, I gave up and started saving for my retirement in earnest.

I will keep you in my thoughts.
posted by MySockyWocky at 3:32 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can't google it right now - but Slate just did a week long piece on how couples should/do divide their finances in early stages of marriage. Seems like you should read that with your partner to get a couple ideas for how other couple's do it.
posted by quodlibet at 3:35 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm still stuck on the fact that the cat is "your cat"/"your responsibility".

Uhhhh, you're married. The cat belongs to both of you. Feeding the cat should be in the same category of expenses as utilities, toilet paper, maintenance, and other stuff that is for both of you.

The groceries, too, should not be coming out of "your expenses", as you both live there and both eat food.

I'm also a little curious about how saving is your responsibility out of your private money - if he makes so much, shouldn't he be saving for both of you? What, is he going to retire to Florida and tell you, "Sorry, guess you should have saved more...", leaving you to wait tables till your hips give out? In the same category is the fact that you're paying down student loans, while he's buying a plane. The debt belongs to both of you, and while it's true that said debt is due to your education, it makes more sense for the two of you collectively to pay down all mutually held debt before buying mega-spendy toys. Though both of those are more reasonable for you guys to agree to disagree about than any of the stuff I mentioned above.

On a slightly different subject, it seems odd to me that he lumps in financial issues with you being "uninterested in his life". Especially since he seems to be equating "interested in my life" with "be my body servant". It just reeks of a really fucked up quid pro quo arrangement that is a lot closer to prostitution than marriage.
posted by Sara C. at 3:36 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

To SockyWocky: IANAL or anything, but I'm pretty sure you can't disinherit a spouse - a spouse is entitled to at least a share of the other spouse's money, even if there is no will. I believe even specifically disinheriting a spouse in a will isn't allowed, but again, IANAL.

Kitty Stardust, in addition to a couples counselor and/or financial planner - maybe a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace seminar might help the two of you. I know sometimes it is a bit heavy on the religious stuff, but Ramsey has been a lifesaver for me and many other people I know. Taking a Dave Ramsey or another reputable financial planning seminar or course might help the two of you to work out a plan for sharing your money as a couple, spending it responsibly, and saving wisely.

If your husband has emotional issues around money and has seen bad things happen to people because of the lack of it (and it sounds like he does) having a plan and the tools to manage his money might be tremendously empowering for him and in turn help the two of you to come to an agreement about finances.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:48 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've previously mentioned that Mrs arcticseal and I are SINKs. This is due to us traipsing around the world with my job. As others have mentioned, marriage is a partnership and this doesn't sound like an equal partnership currently.
Fair partnership doesn't have to mean just money. Our money goes into a pot, because it's OUR money, not MY money or HER money, it's irrelevant who earnt it, since WE spend it on OUR needs/wants. You contribute in other ways to the partnership, not just financially and it has equal value.

Loan $10? I call BS and you both need to map a way forward otherwise this is going to be a major issue in your marriage.
posted by arcticseal at 3:49 PM on February 26, 2011

But he does not buy many things for himself. It's a struggle to get him to shell out for new socks. He is otherwise very supportive. He has seen his parents slip into poverty over the years and I think that is why he resists spending money sometimes.


It sounds like he is perfectly comfortable buying things for himself.
posted by Sara C. at 3:51 PM on February 26, 2011 [21 favorites]

It's really effed up that you need to cover the full cost of food for both of you. The other stuff like how you manage student loans is your business (though, for what it's worth, I have loan debt and my wealthier husband thinks it's "the right thing to do" financially and in terms of our relationship to help pay for them), but there's no way that the shared household expenses should be your responsibility.

Also, he is not a Scrooge McDuck. He pays when we go out to eat. He pays for any vacations we might take. We live in a nice place that I could never have afforded on my own.

Scrooge McDuck had a big ol' mansion for himself. He even liked to go swimming in his money when he was in the mood. All of these things you named are 1. fun and 2. benefit your husband, and while you might incidentally benefit, it's not exactly the same as, say, covering grocery expenses.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:51 PM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

Kitty Stardust: "He makes in 1 month more than I make in a year. Since my job is so low-paying (university adjunct instructor)"

This sounds bad, but then I remember why I don't adjunct: I'd make like 1/10th of what I could in a year. Seriously. 800 dollars a credit hour times an average of 5 credit hours a semester == poverty. I remember observing the local CC adjunct listserv and discovering that basically, the most vocal adjuncts were all married to engineers and lawyers who paid the bills, freeing them to underbid the competition and complain about their plight.

Without evidence to the contrary, I'd assume that working as an adjunct is an indulgence here you're not accounting for. Fortunately we can calculate that; take a glance at your university's help wanted section and the full time employee benefits package. What you'll likely find is that administrative assistants earn more than you once you factor in health insurance, retirement, student loan forgiveness, and steady wages. That's not to say that you can't still teach; several of my coworkers taught a course as adjunct for the pay, experience, and intellectual stimulation.

What I see here is a massive inequity in the relationship that you can take some steps to correct. That and he doesn't like your cat. Going forward, I think you two ought to have a constructive conversation about finances: prepare a unified budget of all expenses, savings, and future goals (children, home ownership, retirement, giant air fortresses, teaching in a tenure track at a uni, etc.). It seems neither of you really know how the other's finances work, and if one or the other died, it'd be a messy cleanup for the survivor.

Fixing the relationship though, I'm clueless on. It might be easier if you felt less guilty about taking money from him. I see other people are suggesting couples' counseling, and I can't argue with it.
posted by pwnguin at 3:56 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please don't think "MySockyWocky"'s position represents something acceptable to most people. It sounds like an unpleasant sort of subjugation, nothing at all like marriage as most modern people recognize it. There isn't any "quiet dignity" in carrying on with permitting poor treatment of oneself.
posted by kmennie at 3:58 PM on February 26, 2011 [26 favorites]

For what it's worth, I'm also the sort of person who prefers to handle my own debts, nothing wrong with that. But I think you're letting your guilt about having debt to pay off cloud the issue of your husband using his money to control you. Your debt is your own; fine. but household expenses, like groceries and cat food, are joint expenses and shouldn't be held over your head as if you were a naughty child who got caught sneaking cookies - you were feeding him for goodness sakes, not to mention taking care of a social obligation that, pockets being equal, should have come out of HIS budget, not yours. How are you responsible for buying presents on his behalf but he can't countenance the price of cat food?

Re: what seems to be his resentment over paying for things that only benefit you (don't benefit him) - did you ever discuss you taking this low-paying position? Did he say he was okay with supporting you through it? I took am occasionally non-paying job a while back, but we went into it as a couple with eyes open and he covered my back when the paychecks were thin, because we were a couple but also because we had discussed it as a couple and he agreed that we, the couple as a financial unit, were okay with supporting my half of the couple through this.
If he wasn't prepared to be supporting you quite this much, I could see a cause for some resentment - but I say SOME resentment, 'cause really he's into unreasonable territory imo, and just seems to think money talks, and if you aren't bringing money to the table then where are his martinis and blowjobs when he gets home, damnit?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:16 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow. I'm really tempted to issue a Dan Savagesque DTMFA, even with such a limited bit of information (and only your side of the story). If this is how is is when you are newlyweds, what are you going to hear when your first child needs new soccer cleats?

Fighting about money destroys a lot of marriages, and I don't think a person with such a severe reaction to such a minor amount of money is capable of changing all that much, even with counseling.

Did you go into this marriage with both eyes open? This is a huge red flag to me. Does he complain when you talk to your friends, visit family, monitor your email or other classic controlling behaviors? Good luck, this just made me sad.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 4:31 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know about any of the other stuff but for Christ's sake it's ten measly bucks and it's for the goddamned cat. I mean come on.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:35 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Okay, here's my suggestion, based on:

"Also, he is not a Scrooge McDuck. He pays when we go out to eat. He pays for any vacations we might take. We live in a nice place that I could never have afforded on my own. But he does not buy many things for himself. It's a struggle to get him to shell out for new socks. He is otherwise very supportive. He has seen his parents slip into poverty over the years and I think that is why he resists spending money sometimes. "

You guys need a BUDGET. A joint one. Watching his parents become impoverished is a legitimate fear. First, look at your COMBINED take-home income. (We will make it $200,000 for argument's sake, with the $180k/$20k someone mentioned above.) Figure out what your combined HOUSEHOLD expenses are -- food, housing, heat, gas, car insurance, taxes, necessary clothing allowance, etc. I deeply believe the cat is a household expense. I also think your student debts are a household expense, but handle that however you want. Okay, so let's say you spend $40,000/year on household expenses that goes in a joint account. You've got $160,000 left. How much does he need to put away to feel secure about the future? That goes in a shared investment account. Maybe it's $100,000/year. $60,000 left. If you really, deeply feel that you should be contributing in shares proportional to your income, HERE is where that comes in, AFTER the household expenses are paid and AFTER your JOINT future is funded. So you split the $60,000 "fun money" on that 90/10 income split, he gets $54,000, you get $6,000. He can buy his plane. You can buy some clothes you don't need. OR he can put that $54,000 into more investments for the future. Whatever he wants.

But dude, you guys have got to have a come-to-Jesus on household expenses. However you split it up after that is up to you, but that household budget has to come first, and I would suggest your joint futures come second. And you DEFINITELY need to have conversations about how the budgeting will happen if you have children. If one of you is injured. Etc. An outside person, such as a financial planner, can help, and would have plenty of templates from their experience to help you think about a "fair" budget.

(Personally I'm in an "all in one pot" family and I'd feel pretty irate if my much-higher-earning husband got a higher fun-money allowance than I did, but different things work for different people.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:43 PM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'm not married, but this is how my partner and I have come to think is the most equitable:

We add together all of our monthly joint expenses, which includes rent, utilities, cable, internet, phone and cells (we have identical plans and costs), renter's insurance, auto insurance, etc, etc.

Then we each pay a percentage of our income, so that we're each paying the same percent, but different whole dollar amounts. This ends up being significantly different a lot of the time.

All of the extra stuff we each take care of individually. Oh, and our cats are one of the shared corporate expenses.
posted by arnicae at 4:47 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds a little like me and my husband. He makes a little more than double what I do, but we're both professionals working full-time. We have separate bank accounts, and have had for years. We divide the bills (I pay utilities and car insurance, you pay the mortgage) more or less proportionally based on our income. This has worked well for us over the years.

We've had some big changes recently that resulted in his account having large surpluses and mine not. He also is the type that will SPEND on things that he is really interested in, but neglect necessities that he is not interested in (I don't think he has bought a pair of socks for himself in over 15 years).

BUT - when we talk about money, we can have a conversation about it without dragging in other issues from the relationship (usually - HA! no one's perfect). I know exactly where that big surplus in his account is going, and we decided on those priorities together. I know that I can also safely ask for a re-look at how things are distributed without any recriminations. If I have a particularly expensive month, I can get more money without any static. We don't have an all-in-one-pot system, but it is still fair and sensitive to our needs.

I'm concerned that you feel you don't have any savings, and really - $1500 a month to pay bills and buy groceries and presents and who knows what else really isn't that much money. If your combined income indicates that you should be living comfortably, then your division of money should leave you both feeling comfortable.
posted by jeoc at 4:48 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, Slate did just do an excellent piece on budgeting for the newly married. It's very interesting--you guys sound like weak Sometime Sharers (really more like Independent Operators) but most people on Metafilter are Common Potters so that's what you're seeing in the advice you're being given. Interestingly, the people that the Slate author interviewed for her piece tended to gravitate toward the Common Potters model over time or have an increasing number of arguments about finances.

The Slate articles seem like something you AND your husband should read. Then, sit down together and compose the budget sensibly mentioned above. It doesn't seem like you can go as you are, whether that change is budgetary, emotional, or job related.
posted by librarylis at 4:52 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Marriages can survive money confusion and difficulties if the parties are on the same page emotionally and are committed to doing the best thing for each other. You don't have to have a joint bank account to pull it off. But the way things are right now suggests you need some fairly substantial couple's counseling. My parents are (with their spouses) in "we have joint expenses and individual expenses, we contribute proportionately to the joint expenses, everyone's fully aware of everyone else's situation" style arrangements - one set has a joint account for expenses, the other set has split up expenses such that the person who makes less is responsible for the small stuff. We're closing in on 22 years with the first arrangement and 28 years with the second arrangement.

It's entirely possible, by the way, that the stuff your husband said about being involved in his life was a deflection from the money question. That is, it's (probably) how he feels, but it's not really connected to the money thing in his mind. Like parents who are upset with each other over disciplining a child but who are currently yelling about the much less-difficult-and-confusing topic of leaving the toilet seat up. It sounds to me like he may have felt ambushed on the money topic - especially since this was your "first married fight."

Basically: your problem may be less bad than what posters above have stated.
posted by SMPA at 4:58 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find myself wondering whether you and your husband are coming in with different expectations of your marital roles. I may be way off base here, but given his examples of things he wants you to do to be more involved in the marriage and the fact that you're for some reason buying presents for him to give, is he expecting a traditional arrangement where he earns the money and you do everything else? I'm not criticising that as a lifestyle, but it sounds like you see the situation more as two full-time working professionals who contribute equally (but you struggle to contribute as much financially as you woud like). You and you husband may need to sit down and talk about your expecations of each other's contributions to the marriage, financial and otherwise.

I agree with other people who have said that you need to establish a jointly agreed budget for household bills, rent/mortgage and food. I also think that if he wants these to be a higher standard than you can afford he has to contribute mote than 50%.
posted by *becca* at 5:06 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're Not Roommates.

Stop acting like it's OK for your HUSBAND to treat you like a naughty roommate. It's not OK.

If I were you, I'd run from this marriage so quick your head would spin. I'm scared for you, the way you keep piping into the thread to defend this guy.

You are in your 30's. How much time are you going to give this? It won't get better.

FYI - This person is selfish on every level and that's why this marriage can't work unless you are incredibly miserable 80% to 95% of the time.

Any advice about how it is OK to separate finances in marriage expressly does not apply to you because there is a lot more going wrong and the $10 for cat food is just a symptom.

PS - someone with your husband's attitude probably shouldn't be married.

I'm so sorry. I hope you start seeing how valuable and worthwhile and deserving of generosity you are. Basically, you're too nice for this guy. Leave him.
posted by jbenben at 5:07 PM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think enough of the answers here are accounting for the adjunct situation.

Adjuncting is not a living wage. Unless you are very lucky with your workload and your schools, you are probably not earning enough that you could pay your bills if you were single. That means there is probably no equitable way you and your husband can continue to divide up bills as "his" and "hers", unless he is also happy to live some sort of below-minimum wage lifestyle with room-mates, no heating, and nothing but beans and rice for dinner.

I'm guessing a guy with a private aeroplane is not up for that.

So probably your cost of living is higher than it would be if you were on your own. It doesn't make sense that you should be eating those extra costs.

I'm hesitant to suggest an exact model for your finances because that isn't the question you are asking, and because I can't really imagine how a non-joint-finances marriage works, but there will be models out there for you to follow. I just think that with your adjuncting situation, you maybe shouldn't be thinking of this as a situation where one partner earns more than the other, but rather a situation where one partner is not earning (so look to stay-at-home parents, or couples where one partner is studying full time or similar for models).

Short answer: I don't think your husband is being reasonable, but you need to figure out a different system from what you currently have, otherwise there IS no reasonable.
posted by lollusc at 5:59 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've heard plenty from other folks about how not ok your husband's behavior was. But I wonder if your "not sharing your feelings" is playing into more than you think. While you were somehow protecting yourself by assuming you had no say in his airplane and thus not saying much, maybe his idea of being more involved in his life would've included asking more questions about the airplane decision process?

It's great that you guys are going to therapy together, I hope it helps.
posted by ldthomps at 5:59 PM on February 26, 2011

You are married. There's no "my" anymore. How you split the tab and tally the bank at the end of the day is entirely personal and up to you, but until you can talk about money, debt, possessions, responsibilities as "our," you're not going to solve anything. You're in this together, whether you like to think of it that way or not.
posted by ninjakins at 6:19 PM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

I won't say too much on the money issue, as that's what everyone else has addressed. I'll just say that I make about twice what my wife makes, including freelance work I do some nights and weekends. My job pays more than hers because it's in New York, which means a commute approaching four hours total each weekday. What works for us: joint accounts, and an agreement that if either of us is going to spend more than $50, we'll tell the other about it. I don't for a second feel like the money we have is in any way more mine than hers. While I'm 'commuting' for that money, or working freelance, she's looking after our kid and dog a disproportionate amount of time. This seems to differ from your situation, but I'm guessing you do the lion's share of housework and shopping, so it doesn't differ materially. It helps that we both have similar attitudes about money, and savings enough to not feel constrained. I 'treat myself' more often than she does -- an iPod here, a cheap new guitar for a recording session there -- partly because I feel like I worked extra for those things. She lets me treat myself, objecting very occasionally, and that's about the only way the pay disparity comes into play. I wish she would feel more inclined to treat herself too. As it is, I tend to treat her instead, or treat us both.

So that's me not saying too much on the money issue.

What I want to address is the 'uninvolved' issue. It's unfair of him to level a charge like that without being able to explain it coherently. Along with the money thing, it makes him come off as really immature. Seems like you could just wait to explore this in couples therapy, but you certainly wouldn't be out of line telling him that you love him, and care a lot about every aspect of his life, and that when he accuses you of doing otherwise, it hurts you deeply, and that you'd like him to explain more convincingly what he means, and that if he can't, you'd like him to tell you what the problem really is.
posted by troywestfield at 6:26 PM on February 26, 2011

I hope the therapy helps. deserve so much better than this. A loving marriage is a true partnership, where you work together for the benefit of the MARRIAGE, and you love and respect each other, including each others' individual hobbies and whatnot, whether you pool finances or not, a marriage is NOT something where one partner abuses the other by witholding a piddling amount of money needed for the wellbeing of a living creature living in your home. I hope you can understand how completely fucked up that is - not just because your husband seems to be happy to humiliate you like that, but also because the goddam cat's gotta eat! Therapy is all well and good, but I have to agree with jbenben: how long are you going to give this? Is this really what you want out of your life?
posted by biscotti at 6:28 PM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Just to hop on the bandwagon, it's not really your cat anymore; it's his cat, too. How does he propose we feed his cat? It's great that he can afford an airplane and all the associated expenses, but that doesn't need to even enter into the equation. His assets: your assets. Your debts: his debts. Whether or not you want to have joint bank accounts is up to you (Mrs. and I have three; one for each and one joint). But you should take some of that vacation money and go to a counselor - a financial counselor.
posted by Gilbert at 7:33 PM on February 26, 2011

Re: Kmemme's oft-favorited remark, to wit that the OP should "[not] think MySockyWocky's position represents something acceptable to most people. It sounds like an unpleasant sort of subjugation, nothing at all like marriage as most modern people recognize it. There isn't any "quiet dignity" in carrying on with permitting poor treatment of oneself. "

a) I did not marry my husband for his money and he has much else to recommend him; b) there is plenty of dignity in being self-supporting and in living within one's means, no matter what the underlying circumstances and; c) modern marriages actually accommodate many more variations in how couples negotiate finances than ever before. Explaining my situation lets me own it without whining; it is what it is and if other people think my husband's a douche or that I'm an idiot, then so be it. I really don't care.
posted by MySockyWocky at 8:53 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does he like the cat? We have a cat that is very much my wife's cat - I can understand balking at having to give extra money for a cat that I didn't want to have around - it's like when the dentist makes you pay to have your roots drilled.
posted by piato at 8:56 PM on February 26, 2011

(I mean, not that I wouldn't pay $10 in that situation - ultimately having a cat makes her happy and I love her, so whatever! But I can entirely understand grumbling in this situation, plane or no plane.)
posted by piato at 9:00 PM on February 26, 2011

piato - On the other hand, I'd give my roommate money for cat food if she needed it. She's a friend, and I like her cats OK, but it's not like we took vows or anything.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 PM on February 26, 2011

Besides the obvious (and answered above) about the way you and your husband are approaching your marriage and finances, I feel like there is something in the equation we're missing.

Is your husband feeling a lot of resentment toward you, and/or toward your cat? The fact that he wanted you to explain just how much Mittens costs you in kitty food every month before he would deign to loan(!) you $10 for her food is pretty damning, IMO.

Stop making excuses for him. Seek counseling ASAP because this is bigger than you blowing your allowance for the month.
posted by asciident at 10:12 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't have anything to say that wasn't said above. But I'm going to post this because you need to get into counseling with this man. The two of you need to understand how you both view money and budgets and what "involvement" in the marriage means.

I share the concerns that there may be some serious control issues, but it may just be that you have inadequately sussed out what these incredibly basic and incredibly important issues mean to both of you. If you cannot come to an agreement about what role money plays in a marriage and what your roles in supporting your marriage are, you will both be miserable. And it sounds like you're well on the way, and have not been admitting it.
posted by freshwater at 11:53 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I hesitate, because this is Captain Obvious stuff, but... what the hell.
You can do what you like with your incomes, but I think you should bear in mind what the law thinks about this.

Should you divorce, the default position of the law is that half the aeroplane and everything else is yours.


Because marriage is (or was... decades ago, in another era) very much about bypassing income equality.
One party would work all day at a job that brought home money.
The other party would work all day at a job that raised children.

Both parties are working hard, but only one party was being paid for their contribution in money. (Often, the party earning the money would be the one who didn't get to spend any of the money, other than a small allowance that the other party allowed - the non-earning party often controlled finances.)

Marriage in the eyes of the law is a union in which both parties have equal share in the products of that union, regardless of whether those products are money, children, housekeeping, or other.

You can and should run your marriage and your finances any way you like, but I get the impression that an element of your question is what is the natural solution for the tricky situation you find yourself in, and the answer is, your society's natural solution precludes your situation from even occurring the first place.

The natural solution in the eyes of the law is that half of his is yours, and half of yours is his. Simple as that. Maybe you have a pre-nup to opt out of such crass social assumptions, but my point is, those legal assumptions are based on the norm and they are your society's natural solution to your issue. That's a reference point.

Sorry. Captain Obvious will shut up now.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:35 AM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Kitty Stardust said: "Am I selfish for asking for more input in our financial decisions?

No. However, when he asks you what you think about him spending a large sum of money, that's a great opportunity for you to say "we could spend that money on clearing my student loans - what do you think about that idea?". If you see that conversation descending into an argument about emotional involvement, then you have to be the adult and keep it on track. Not everyone is capable of discussing things rationally and logically with a view to accepting the other person's point of view. When you get 2 people together who can't do that, you get endless arguments.

Another question I'd ask him is what he expects $1500 to cover. It might be that he's not used to handling such sums of money and doesn't realise how far (or not) they can go. For example, as you'd had to buy a wedding present, he might not realise that such an expense can take up a large sum of money. He might be so out of touch with what $1500 gets you that he thought he'd already given you enough to last the month. He might have the attitude of "I've given her enough, and now she wants more???". I'm not at all saying that that is right, I'm just saying that he might not be used to dealing with such sums of money, especially if he can afford to buy a plane. It might be worth showing him just how much cat food the money he wants to spend on a plane could buy.

It seems to me that he is uninvolved in your life.

Regarding your other question, ask him exactly how it is that he wants you to show him that you're involved in his life. It might be that he wanted you to have an opinion about the plane, even a negative one. He might want something else entirely. Listen to his suggestions without judging them. If he can't provide you with any other than pouring him a glass of water, then ask him how he expects you to show him that you're interested.

The reason I mentioned not judging his suggestions is this: the action is pouring a glass of water, but because you're both separate distinct individuals, you have different attitudes towards specific behaviour. Someone upthread mentioned The Five Love Languages, and I think that would be a great place for you to start. One action can seem very different to two individuals, even though they're in a relationship. [I'm big on Physical Touch, whereas one of my partners was big on Acts of Service. I just wanted a hug, whereas he showed me affection by spending several hours a day working in the garden so I didn't see him at all. He showed love in a way that to me felt like rejection.]

I don't think either of you are wrong, as such, because you're both coming from your own point of view. The trick in a relationship is to come from the other person's point of view as well as your own.
posted by Solomon at 3:31 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I thank you all for the input and advice. I showed Mr. Stardust this thread and we discussed it last night. He said it makes him look like an asshole, which it does. Then I showed him a spreadsheet I’d made of all my expenses, just tallying the minimum amount I have to pay each month for student loans, cell phone and the like. He has seen my paychecks and is well aware that my expenses are about 3X what I’m earning right now. He correctly pointed out that I contribute nothing to the mortgage, utilities etc since I use all my money to keep myself out of debtor’s prison. He also covers things like doctors for me when needed. He said he would like me to make some token gesture that I’m contributing to the household, even if it’s just transferring $50 to the joint account just to spend it again. He admitted that his fear is that I’m not forming connections with him because I’m trying to keep my escape hatch open. I guess that’s what a lot of the “uninvolved” stuff boils down to.

I pointed out that my financial goals and his seemed very different and I did not want to end up scraping together money for baby food while he rode around on his jetski in five years. He showed me in Quickbooks how he’s paid down $80,000 last year in credit cards and business expenses (office building and remodeling costs, mostly). I told him that I really thought we could do more with the plane money and he kept repeating that it wouldn’t affect us financially because his business would pay for most of it. He swore to me that he wasn’t planning on leading some Howard Hughes (pre-Kleenex boxes for shoes) lifestyle while I slaved away in the academic world for spectator peanuts.

In the end, he agreed to give me a sum exceeding my expenses every month and relinquish control of the money then. He’s a bit resistant to sharing the cat, but did agree that if there were the need to, say, take her to an emergency vet, he would pay for that.

We still have some issues to work out, but I think we are communicating much more clearly on this topic. The whole issue of involvement is part of some bigger insecurity that will take longer to sort out. I still plan to go forward with seeing my therapist together.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:09 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my (now) wife and I first moved in together in 2005 we both had student loan debt, but I very quickly got a job that paid much better than hers, and my student loan debt was much less because I didn't go to grad school. Knowing that I was planning on marrying her anyway, I had no qualms about paying more than half of the rent. When I had paid off my loans, I started a savings account which we ended up using primarily for our wedding. When our wedding was over, we had roughly about 10k in the savings acct, and I suggested she use half of it to help pay down her student loans.

In July of 2010, I quit my high paying job to go do work that I was more passionate about, and took a very steep pay cut (I now make a little less than half of what I made before) and my wife now makes about 20k more than me. So now she does the same thing I did--she pays more in rent than I do and contributes more to our savings.

We keep separate bank accounts because we both find it easier to budget that way. But we still work together to make sure neither of us has to go without for any reason. In the 6 years we've been together, we've essentially given each other thousands of dollars, simply because we consider ourselves a single financial unit. I think that even if your money remains separate, you need to adjust to the realization that part of being married to someone who makes a lot more than you should mean that you should not have to go without simply because he makes more than you.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 7:16 AM on February 27, 2011

Kitty Stardust, I am so glad you and your DH sat down and had a long, candid talk about finances. This is an excellent beginning! Now that you know more about exact expenses, emotional motivations, and possible sticking points/resentments, you will have a much better basis to go on.

It's also a very good thing to have this figured out before you have kids! Kids are a HUGE expense and it's important for both parents to be on the same page as to when to say "yes" or "no" to kiddie costs. Otherwise, someone like your husband could be seen as the withholding Bad Guy who is too cheap to spend money on the kids who in turn resent him (Why does Daddy have his own plane when we "can't afford" to send me to science camp?)

As it has turned out (it seems) your taking a low-paying adjuncting job "to feed your soul" is an issue, you can then decide whether you might want to suck it up and get a higher-paying job to feel more like a partner, or your husband and you come to an agreement and you keep your present job, or what.

I still recommend a Dave Ramsey (or someone else reputable) financial planning course for you to take as a couple. A detached expert whose job it is to help people with their finances can put things into perspective without taking sides.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:27 AM on February 27, 2011

That sounds promising, Kitty Stardust, but it's still a little concerning how he throws some big financial stuff into "your" pot - your debt and your cat don't count, what counts is if you contribute to shared expenses, for example. Please extend the discussion to see if this me/us/you division is going to bite you in the ass later - is a kid you, him, or us? If you end up in a wheelchair, is your care us or you?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:29 AM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dear Kitty StarDust,

Nothing about your update tells me this is going to end well. My dad used to make "deals" with me about "my contributions" all the time just like the convo you described. Basically, it's bullshit.

You are not a fully respected member of your marriage, team, partnership, family.

If you were a fully loved and respected member, there would be nothing to negotiate.

I think the person keeping the escape hatch open is actually your husband, but perhaps that is a discussion for down the road.

This will go very badly for any future children. You are wise to realize that. I hope you act on it, too.

How long will you let this go on?

I hope the first time he reverts back to outright humiliating you because you were unable to transfer that token $50 into the joint account on time you are at the office of a good divorce attorney within a heartbeat.


posted by jbenben at 7:29 AM on February 27, 2011 [14 favorites]

See, this is why people pool their money. A token gesture? Why don't you contribute all your income to the household and he contributes all of his? There. You're both "all in."

By his logic, you actually can't afford to be married to this guy. If you were on your own, what would you be doing? Maybe you wouldn't have a mortgage, maybe you'd rent. Maybe you wouldn't have a pet and you'd have a roommate or two? You wouldn't have to buy groceries for two, that's for sure. You guys can't live both lifestyles at the same time and resent each other for it.

What is harmony worth to this guy? Does he want to have a fulfilling lifelong love affair or does he want to devote his attentions to a balance sheet? You only live once. How does he want to live? Money is so unimportant. Money doesn't make or buy love. It's a means to an end. What's the end here?
posted by amanda at 8:01 AM on February 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

He said he would like me to make some token gesture that I’m contributing to the household, even if it’s just transferring $50 to the joint account just to spend it again. He admitted that his fear is that I’m not forming connections with him because I’m trying to keep my escape hatch open.

If your pay as an adjunct lecturer covers your only your student debt, you are "contributing to the household" by paying off one of the household debts. Does he not understand that your debt is now his debt, and so payments you make to any loans taken out for any purpose are a household-level contribution?

If he doesn't like the "I barely make enough money to pay down my student debt", he has a few options. Firstly, he can use his massive surplus to make said debt go away so that you can start contributing to the domestic pot in a way that seems more meaningful. Or if for some reason paying that debt offends his principles, he can say to you, "Honey, I love that you are so passionate about your work that remuneration isn't a factor for you, but it doesn't seem like you're putting your education to its best use. It's time to leave the world of academia and find a job that contributes more meaningfully to our family." The ball is then in your court to consider your career options, but at least it's a more reasonable approach than giving him a token $50 a month, which will likely be a challenge for you and mean nothing to him.
posted by Sara C. at 8:10 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I want to be fair here, because we only have one side of this story-yay counseling! Go do it!

In his defense, I will say if I had given my spouse $1500, of which about $1100 was available for groceries (!!!!! For 2 people? I fed five for way less than that) and there still wasn't cat food? That you get at the grocery store?) I'd be a little ticked, too.

Re the plane-if you have an opinion about the plane, and he asks you, and you don't share your op
posted by purenitrous at 8:24 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, posted too soon

Anyway, if he asks for your opinion and you don't feel entitled to share it, thats not fair to wither of you.

A good, unbiased financial planner (not the one he uses for his business) sounds like it's what you really need here.
posted by purenitrous at 8:26 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It seems like he's using money in a weird way to control you, all related to this idea that getting you to contribute financially to the household will somehow mean you are emotionally invested too. But the problem is that (as others have pointed out) he has a pretty limited and self-serving view of what the household expenses are.

Honestly, I think what you really need to do here is the opposite of what a lot of people are suggesting. Don't try to work out joint expenses or a way to share. Instead, start looking out for your own financial interests, which you have not been doing. Clearly your husband cannot really be depended upon financially. Get a better paying job, focus on paying off your debts, and start a retirement account.
posted by yarly at 8:27 AM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your husband has serious control and intimacy issues, KS. Your low self-esteem in combination with those issues makes for a terrible combination.

You don't need lessons in how to manage money in a relationship. What you need is a good relationship with a person who isn't controlling, hostile and breathtakingly insecure. To have each and every contribution or lack thereof to the household pointed up to you in response to a request for ten dollars to feed a pet is not normal, okay, something anyone should have to live with, or acceptable in this or any parallel universe.

What he is doing is attempting to exact some sort of intimacy pledge or proof of commitment from you through withholding resources. Until you prove that you're not going to leave him, or that you're not in this relationship solely for his money, you have to be continuously tested. Because he's rich, he has the upper hand. Now, what he's really doing is projecting his own intimacy issues onto you, but because your self-esteem isn't the greatest, you can't see it or defend yourself against it. You can't see that he thinks his money is all that he has to offer. You can't see that his way of going about getting love and commitment is actually destructive, harmful and pretty much guaranteed to make sure he will never actually have to do the hard work of opening up and being vulnerable. You think something is wrong with you and that if you fix yourself, this problem will go away. It won't because you are not the only person in the relationship who has problems that need to be fixed. You are, however, the only one willing to look at those problems and do something about them.

Let me ask you a couple of questions - what's his relationship with his mother like? I'm going to bet it's not so great. Are his parents divorced? What's his relationship track record? Probably not so great, either. Does he check out of conflict often? By which I mean, if you get emotional, does he completely shut down and tune you out? Does he lecture you? Does he dismiss or downplay your complaints? How about you - do you feel helpless? Do you think you have to ask permission for everything? Do you feel like you can and ought to make your own decisions? Do you feel like you can't survive on your own? If this describes in part or entirely each of you individually in your relationship, I can tell you from experience that changing this sort of dynamic is very, very, very hard work. It may or may not be worth it. I don't know; that's up to you to decide.

Frankly, if my husband routinely told me, in effect, that he didn't value or respect me and that his own happiness trumped mine as a matter of course in our marriage, I'd leave. Marriage should be joyful and life-affirming; not an effing economics class every other day.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:04 AM on February 27, 2011 [13 favorites]

As someone who is happily married, he sounds like he wants a concubine, not a wife and partner.

If that's what you want to be, then you're set.

If not, then I suggest you divorce this douche. Because he doesn't sound like the type who's going to pay for (to say nothing of attend) couples therapy to change things. He sounds like he's just fine.

Either accept things as they are and live out your days in quiet desperation and disrespect, or get out.

I recommend get the fuck out. You deserve better.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:27 AM on February 27, 2011

He said he would like me to make some token gesture that I’m contributing to the household, even if it’s just transferring $50 to the joint account just to spend it again.

Wow, I really don't like this. It seems controlling and unpleasant and pointless.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 9:41 AM on February 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

He can afford a plane, but he begrudges the paltry sum of sharing a cat? I wouldn't treat a friend who needed $10 the way he treated you, with whom he is supposed to be sharing a life. I hope therapy helps you both get to the bottom of why he's being so petty and controlling. If I were you, I'd work on developing some economic independence in case you need to leave him. This is no way to live.
posted by Mavri at 11:40 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to married finances as I'm sure there are different ways to deal with these things but this is just awful

"He’s a bit resistant to sharing the cat, but did agree that if there were the need to, say, take her to an emergency vet, he would pay for that."

For someone who clearly has more than enough money for the basics in life to even think of denying their wife money to care for a living creature she loves is horrible. Even if he hates the cat the fact that its important to you should make it important to him. It just makes me mad on your behalf.

Being married should be about making the other persons life better, happier and easier. I would give you ten dollars for cat food. The money should be far less important than making you feel more secure.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:35 PM on February 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

It is written "a good man cares if his beast is hungry". Oh, sorry, it's your cat. I guess that's all right then?

For someone who clearly has more than enough money for the basics in life to even think of denying their wife money to care for a living creature she loves is horrible. Even if he hates the cat the fact that its important to you should make it important to him. It just makes me mad on your behalf." This, a thousand times.

When/if you have kids, they'll be your kids to pay for. Either that, or some opposite and much worse scenario. Also, it will be harder for you to earn a living, at least for periods of time around the children's births. I wonder how he'll handle that, but I bet it won't be good. I really hope you won't have children with him.

Reading your post just makes me feel horrible. Horrible. I am so so so glad to be a free woman.
posted by tel3path at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2011

In his defense, I will say if I had given my spouse $1500, of which about $1100 was available for groceries (!!!!! For 2 people? I fed five for way less than that) and there still wasn't cat food? That you get at the grocery store?) I'd be a little ticked, too.

I think you missed this: "Well, I’d just paid several bill plus bought a wedding gift for one of his employees with the joint account and there wasn’t much left in it at the time I asked for more money for food."

Sounds like the joint acct goes toward more than just groceries. If utilities are paid from it, for instance, that could easily top $500 in the winter months.
posted by palliser at 1:40 PM on February 27, 2011

I didn't reply to your initial post because it seemed so strange I couldn't identify with it.

Your follow-up is really disturbing, though. It is great that you plan to get both of you talking to your therapist. Please be very forthcoming in this meeting (or preferably, meetings).

If you were a SAHM and your husband were providing all the income, the answer would be easy: both of you are doing work that is essential for both of you; one is bringing in cash and the other is caring for the child and house; cash is 100% devoted to funding the household (and equally distributed for non-essentials).

Your situation is different in that both of you are working fulltime (or the equivalent, presumably), but with varying incomes. Childcare is not involved, and you have not suggested that you take on an inequitable amount of housework either.

The principle should remain the same, though. If both of you support each other's career goals, then it shouldn't matter at all that one career pays much higher than the other. If you are committed to EACH OTHER, then the money should go into the same pot. Even if that doesn't literally mean going into the same bank account, it should mean that both of you have equal say about how the money is spent. This is not the kind of thing that can be split up 20/80 or 30/70 with marital bliss resulting. Sorry, it just isn't going to happen. Debating $10 worth of catfood: you're barely in the shallow end here.

The suggestion that you throw in a symbolic $50 is an emotional argument, not a rational one. Why add bookkeeping hassle with no tangible result?

If your husband is this hung up on finances, you definitely should have had a prenup. I'm not keen on that idea, but even more repellent is a scenario in which one spouse is holding his greater earnings over the other, and the cash-strapped partner ends up begging for minor "loans" or contributions to household expenses.

Good luck, but absent some excellent marital/financial counseling, I don't see this working out, and for that matter I don't see why you'd want it to. You don't like taking financial aid, and your husband is wary about giving it. Yet you desperately need the aid, and he is eminently capable of giving it. This isn't a financial problem; it's a fundamental problem in your relationship.
posted by torticat at 2:37 PM on February 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

I agree with Purientrous. I think there's a whole different side to this story we aren't getting. And something about the way you describe your finances doesn't add up to me. Most professors I know are able to afford $10 for cat food, even without their spouse's help. Perhaps there's some indulgence you haven't shared or something. Perhaps there is a legitimate reason for your husband's irritation. I don't know. I just sense there is much more here.

I think doing the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover is a good idea. Marriage counseling is also a good idea. But playing the "victim" who can't afford cat food...not such a good idea.

Good luck though.
posted by GeniPalm at 4:10 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Legally, you have one pot of money between the two of you. One. To call some of it his and some of it yours is a fiction. You can pretend all you like that there are two pots: you can have as many bank accounts as you like, and restrict access to create the appearance that one of you has more money than the other, and invent lots of fictional rules about who's allowed to spend it. But legally, there's still only one pot.

Many couples maintain the fiction of separate finances and find it works well for them. You are not in one of these couples. It's not working for you: the distribution of shared resources in your marriage is so unequal it's genuinely shocking to your peers here in the thread, and you're clearly unhappy with it yourself. So why are you pretending that money isn't shared? Who benefits from that fiction?
posted by hot soup girl at 8:27 PM on February 27, 2011

I'm afraid we might put Kitty Stardust in a dangerous position. I'm not saying her husband is dangerous, but all these responses might end up with him lashing out at her because he thinks he looks like an asshole.

You're going to have a rough path ahead of you, Kitty Stardust. Most women I know would not want to date a tight-fisted man/woman and it's a very basic criteria.

I think we don't have a great grasp on where all this "Mine and Yours" stuff is coming from. Did he make you sign a prenup? Is he worried that you only married him for his income and you're being careful to prove it's not true.

You situation sounds lonely and a little scary. If he's not going to support you financially, and you still want to stay married to him, you need to get a better job that pays more money, even if it's less prestigious.

But I really think you guys should do counseling. He doesn't seem to trust you with money, but from what you've written, you sound very practical about spending. Not giving you $10 for cat food, though, is really strange. What if you need $10 for tampons? Is he going to make you give him the change?

It just sounds lonely and a little scary.
posted by anniecat at 8:47 PM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm afraid we might put Kitty Stardust in a dangerous position. I'm not saying her husband is dangerous, but all these responses might end up with him lashing out at her because he thinks he looks like an asshole.

Oooh yes, totally agree with anniecat here; this is the other reason I didn't jump into the thread earlier.

The fact that Mr Stardust read the thread, which is rough on him, and still had a rational discussion about it is promising, though. I really hope, KS and Mr S, that the two of you can take to heart the overwhelming majority opinion here, and make changes in how you handle your finances without having this thread cause animosity between you. Sincere best wishes.
posted by torticat at 9:28 PM on February 27, 2011

He said he would like me to make some token gesture that I’m contributing to the household

Reading this makes me sad for you, Kitty Stardust, because it seems your husband is still measuring your contribution to your marriage by the size of your take-hope pay, and by that measure, you'll never convince your husband that YOU ARE, IN FACT, AN EQUAL PARTNER IN YOUR MARRIAGE. Your worth in, or commitment to, your marriage should not be measured by the amount of money you've contributed to it. A marriage is not a corporation.

(Speaking of corporations, why are your husband's business expenses showing up in a discussion of household spending? I understand that some sole proprietorships or mom-and-pop businesses use personal funds to start up or get over rough patches, but if that's the case with you, then you should consider yourself a part owner of that business (even more so if the credit cards are tied to your credit history, god forbid). If your cat goes hungry so your husband's business can pay the widget wholesaler or buy airplanes -- then you and your cat should share in the reward. Anyway, wtf kind of start-up buys airplanes?)

My wife and I are common potters. Once my wife's $n income and my $5n income go into that pot, I forget that I make 5 times more than her (in fact, I just had to do a bit of rounding and long division to figure out that multiple before writing this comment). It makes me proud as a father that I can personally contribute 5/6ths of the cost of every one of my kids' shoes. But what an asshole I'd be if I felt superior to my wife because she had only chipped in for a 1/6th.

He thinks you're afraid of committing to this marriage. You wish he'd share more of his income with you. Call his bluff and tell him you want to commit to your marriage by pooling your incomes and sharing your expenses as intensively as the couples you admire who are celebrating their 50th anniversaries.

Or maybe he just hates cats. Then, I can't say I'd blame him.
posted by hhc5 at 11:03 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't like taking financial aid, and your husband is wary about giving it. Yet you desperately need the aid, and he is eminently capable of giving it. This isn't a financial problem; it's a fundamental problem in your relationship.

This, this, this. I couldn't have said it better myself. When my husband and I were first dating (we weren't even exclusive yet), I found myself in some financial hot water. He offered to help me out by giving me a loan. He loaned me the money, I got out of the hot water and was able to pay him back pretty quickly. It taught me a valuable financial lesson (don't let that happen again) but also something really important about him: he is an unbelievably generous person who likes to help those he loves. Even now, he's supporting our family plus giving his mother and brother financial help when they need it, and I love him for it.
posted by cooker girl at 5:01 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I told him that I really thought we could do more with the plane money and he kept repeating that it wouldn’t affect us financially because his business would pay for most of it.

This seems like it would have been a relevant fact in the original question, especially since so many people keyed off of it as "he bought a plane but won't support your cat!!!!!"
posted by smackfu at 2:00 PM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: Smackfu,
That was the first time he'd presented it to me in those terms.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:43 PM on March 1, 2011

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