Should I give in on spending money on an expensive luxury?
September 23, 2016 1:49 AM   Subscribe

My wife wants to buy an expensive artwork for the house. While I also find it beautiful, I don't think it's a good idea, financially. We're at loggerheads. Help me think this through.

My wife and I both work, although I'm the main breadwinner. We've always pooled our money – we have a single bank account, and have no concept of "my money" and "your money". It's all "our money".

Whilst we're financially stable, our rate of saving is not high. The amount we are able to save per month is in the low 3 digits, and at the rate we're going we won't be able to live off our pension after retirement. Both children will be entering secondary school in the next couple of years. University fees are further on the horizon. My career's on a plateau.

The artwork costs in the low 4 figures. It's considerably less than a month's salary, but probably about as much as 6 months' savings or an overseas holiday. The art is beautiful (I was the one who originally showed it to her). My wife wants to buy something special for our 20 year anniversary.

I've always been frugal, possibly to a fault. My wife often buys things I consider extravagant (new teacups when the old ones are worn but servicable, too many birthday presents for the kids), but I I don't want to be a nag (I really, really don't want us to argue over money) and many times I agree with a purchase in retrospect. And I appreciate that you buy things to make you happy, not just out of necessity. Often she has to talk me into buying something for myself that I want, but don't want to spend money on. I am terrible at buying gifts.

So even though I may sometimes voice my disapproval, I pretty much never veto any purchases. But I feel the amount at play here makes it different. I feel that for us, this is financially reckless. I feel that looking out for our financial health is partially my responsibility, and that if it comes down to it, I do have a veto.

My wife knows how I feel about this, but she is for pressing ahead. I'm weighing up going against my feelings, and preserving peace in the relationship and making her happy.
posted by snarfois to Human Relations (91 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think you could buy it on the condition you both sit down and work on a comprehensive budget where some cash is funneled into an account for luxuries / holidays / gifts (automatic transfer), and some each into individual pocket money accounts. A good workable budget should reduce stress between you both, and give your wife the freedom/responsibility to say "i could have this new household thing, or I could buy this extra gift".
posted by b33j at 1:59 AM on September 23, 2016 [21 favorites]

Is there a compromise where you both agree to give up $X in luxuries (coffees, lunches out, magazine subscriptions, cable TV etc) for Y months until the purchase has been covered?
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 2:01 AM on September 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

I wouldn't buy it. It isn't something that has any sort of usefulness, it's a pretty thing to look at it but it's a lot of money that could be far better used on something else. You aren't saving enough money to be able to have a decent cushion if one or both of your incomes stops at some point, and incomes in this day and age are particularly unstable. It's no good having a pretty piece of art hanging on the wall to look at if the shit hits the fan and you're struggling for food.

The best thing you can do in this day and age is save, save, save. I always keep a cushion of at least six months of living costs saved up because life is unstable and chaotic and you need to be able to survive first and foremost. It means I forego luxuries a lot of the time, but it's worth it because having peace of mind in terms of finances is far better than living in debt in a house full of luxury goods I couldn't afford.
posted by winterhill at 2:12 AM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

If it's a painting or the like can you get a print of it as a compromise?

I think it's important to recognise significant anniversaries etc but low thousands, oof. That could buy you or your family a lot of things, and you will never get it back on the art.

It sounds like there is a disjunction between how financially secure you feel, and how your wife feels. Addressing that perception - with an accountant, for example, talking to both of you about planning your financial future and what you need - might go some ways to getting you both on the same page.

Then at least you two will have a common framework to assess these decisions within, and matching goals.

Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 2:26 AM on September 23, 2016 [14 favorites]

More info would be helpful—especially, what is it about this particular piece of art that makes your wife consider it worth the expense?
posted by she's not there at 2:30 AM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can you cut down on something else to save up for a few months to buy the artwork? That would prevent cutting into existing savings. It may also mean afterwards that you can continue saving more than you did before because it was easier than you thought.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:31 AM on September 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

Is the art likely to appreciate in value? I would be more comfortable spending four figures on an artwork if it had potential as an investment alongside the aesthetic value.
posted by dydecker at 2:52 AM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

If the artwork is likely to appreciate in value, or at least not-depreciate, you could consider it as part of your investment portfolio.

Savings returns are dismal at the moment and if you can both get daily pleasure from a beautiful object, with a realistic expectation of future value? I would do it.

On preview : dydecker beat me to it
posted by paulash at 2:52 AM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

if it's something you both love, and if you would gladly move it with you to another place if you were moving, I say buy it. to be fair I am an emotional spender, but I have purchased two art prints for my home within the last year and it's no exaggeration to say that they bring me joy every single day. not only do they make my home feel more like my home, but I'm so happy to see them every time I do. they are probably the best things I've purchased within the last year, thing-wise (not counting experiences).

if you both like it but aren't mad about it, I would pass.
posted by gursky at 2:53 AM on September 23, 2016 [15 favorites]

Do not buy any art work justifying it as an investment. Really, don't. It may appreciate but you and your wife are almost certainly not plugged into the art market to be able to tell. Buy it if you like it enough to justify the price. And I say this as one who is like your wife in that I buy extravagant, beautiful things to mark life events.
posted by tavegyl at 2:55 AM on September 23, 2016 [49 favorites]

Further, this seems a good opportunity for both of you to sit down to (a) decide on a budget, based on past expenditures, for luxury spending and (b) define very clearly what you both agree constitutes a luxury. This means thrashing out your differences regarding teacups etc. and deciding on a shared decision-making protocol which accommodates both your excessive frugality and her excessive extravagance.
posted by tavegyl at 3:00 AM on September 23, 2016

It is a print already, so it won't appreciate in value, and neither of us are thinking of this as an investment. Over time I may come to appreciate only its beauty (it is gorgeous), or it may always remind me of a reckless decision. We have bought expensive art in the past and I've pretty much made peace with those and enjoy them. They were much less expensive (like 3x less) than this though.
posted by snarfois at 3:01 AM on September 23, 2016

It is a print already
It's thousands of dollars and it's a print? Run a mile.
posted by winterhill at 3:03 AM on September 23, 2016 [115 favorites]

This is a great opportunity to not be terrible at getting gifts.
posted by kat518 at 3:08 AM on September 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

This isn't about a particular piece of artwork, it's about her frustrated rebellion against the persistent stifling restraint imposed by your anxiety. You aren't collaborating or compromising over financial decisions. Instead you're always standing on the brake pedal while she leans on the accelerator, so of course you lurch around sloppily and barely even notice the omnipresent burning smell anymore. Breaking this pattern is exponentially more important than this specific decision.
posted by jon1270 at 3:13 AM on September 23, 2016 [123 favorites]

No no no. A print? Definitely not value for money. Do not pass go.

To put this advice in perspective for you: I'm terrible with money and awful about squandering it on shiny things, and even I wouldn't be dumb enough to buy this print.

If even tel3path wouldn't make the decision to buy a shiny thing, then it's well over the event horizon of bad financial decisions. Remember this principle.
posted by tel3path at 3:15 AM on September 23, 2016 [20 favorites]

Since it's a print, would it be possible to find it from another source?
If it's a photograph you could potentially have the photographer print a different version of it for a lower price. If it's 40 x 50 on aluminum, instead get it 20 x 25 on photo paper.

You could also find another piece of art (One that's less expensive and would hold value) and use it to distract her from the other one.
posted by FallowKing at 3:17 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's thousands of dollars and it's a print? Run a mile.

Note that prints can reasonably cost over a thousand dollars, e.g. if they are monoprints which are closer to paintings than to something from, or certain etchings and even some contemporary screen prints.

We're definitely getting into value for money territory here but I just want to point out that we don't know which print the OP is referring to. Printmaking is a very large landscape and given the question as written I feel we should trust that the OP and his wife are both aware of where in that landscape they are planning to buy and what constitutes a fair price.
posted by tavegyl at 3:21 AM on September 23, 2016 [52 favorites]

Guys, not all prints are valueless. Andy Warhol's most famous works were screen prints (think tomato soup can, Mao, Liz, Elvis...) It's a term for a variety of techniques, not just reproductions.

I agree that this isn't about the money, per se.

You've been married 20 years. How old are you? 40s? 50s? How long do you think it will be til death do you part? 20 more years? Longer?

A few thousand bucks divided by 20 more years of marital happiness is, what, 50 bucks a year? Relax. Splurge. Oh, and thank your wife for being the one to insist on boosting the quality of life for your whole family, when you can't bring yourself to do it.
posted by Sublimity at 3:22 AM on September 23, 2016 [51 favorites]

I will add a few thoughts, because this is as much a question about marital dynamics as it is about the expense.

I think for the sake of the health of your marriage, it is good that you voice your concerns when they arise, instead of just stifling them and growing an internal sense of resentment ("So even though I may sometimes voice my disapproval, I pretty much never veto any purchases...." and "and many times I agree with a purchase in retrospect".) The "many times" you agree suggests that it's not every time. How do you feel when you don't agree, in retrospect? When you voice your concerns, how does your wife reply? Does she acknowledge your anxiety, or does she barge right past it? Hopefully she respects your concerns, while she holds onto her own, and is flexible in her own tendency to be assertive.

However, another point. I also think that long term relationships force us to confront aspects of ourselves that are valuable/adaptive in some lights and detrimental in other lights. Your frugality and anxiety about money are really important in the light that you ensure the security of your family. No question, that is important. Your frugality and anxiety about money also drive you to not provide nice things for yourself and your family when you actually, reasonably could. And your frugality and anxiety drive friction with your wife about money. This question has a good element of self-reflection in it, but I wonder, have you really reflected and grown about this issue? Have you actually learned to relax and spend a little, over time? Have you ever confronted the fears that drive that anxiety, and worked to quell them? Do you regard your wife as responsible and trustworthy, or have you been simmering up a sense of paternalistic superiority over her about this issue, over your long time together?
posted by Sublimity at 3:33 AM on September 23, 2016 [16 favorites]

why not get a free consultation (together) with a pension person? get some firm figures on how things are looking. that will either "help you really reflect" or give you third party evidence that you need to rethink how you deal with money as a couple so you can survive your retirement.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:50 AM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with jon1270; if you resist every purchase, even the ones that end up being good ones, then your resistance doesn't really mean anything. You may be right (I lean toward frugal; I would not make this purchase), but how can she tell the difference between you being logical and committed to this choice and you being anxious?
posted by gideonfrog at 4:19 AM on September 23, 2016 [35 favorites]

It's considerably less than a month's salary, but probably about as much as 6 months' savings or an overseas holiday. The art is beautiful (I was the one who originally showed it to her). My wife wants to buy something special for our 20 year anniversary.

Are you going to go on an overseas holiday? Its not really fair to use "costs as much as an overseas holiday" as an excuse unless you're saying you'd rather do that with the money.

What are you actually doing for your 20 year anniversary? is there something else that costs as much (or less) that you would both be happy with? She's specifically asking to get this to commemorate your anniversary. You don't think it's the right way to commemorate it. Suggest something else you think is. Maybe an overseas holiday?
posted by like_neon at 4:25 AM on September 23, 2016 [62 favorites]

Maybe think about why this worries you but not your wife. Is it because she's less risk averse than you? Because she doesn't plan for the future? Because she plans to earn more money as the kids get older? Because she expects to send the kids to state universities and live on less in retirement? Talk about it with her and see if you can get on the same page regarding financial goals, and then see if it works within that budget.
posted by metasarah at 4:28 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Surprise your wife by buying it for your anniversary and presenting it to her. Life is short. Hang it where you'll see it every day.
posted by nkknkk at 4:28 AM on September 23, 2016 [34 favorites]

What are you actually doing for your 20 year anniversary?

Yeah, what's the plan B?

(I was going to say something along the lines of "ok, but budget, hard" - and then I remembered how much it costs to e.g. rent out a restaurant for a bash, or host a fancy one at home. (Which a lot of people do for milestone anniversaries or birthdays.) You may not, of course, but definitely ask yourself, what's the alternative?) It's a few grand, I guess? Idk.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:13 AM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Go ahead. You have been married 20 years, that is long enough to celebrate. Also, this is more than reasomable for a fine art print
posted by PinkMoose at 5:24 AM on September 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

Surprise your wife by buying it for your anniversary and presenting it to her. Life is short. Hang it where you'll see it every day.

I'm seconding this, unless it turns into a Gift of the Magi situation, which would actually be a great story.

In any case, years ago my then-husband surprised me for our 15th anniversary with Roz Chast's "Dream Remote" signed original with a certificate of authenticity. Years after the divorce I sold it for a mint because I needed to feed the kids but it was a most excellent present.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:32 AM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Firstly, I would say that it is incredibly wearing to live with someone frugal. My sister in law is at the point of coming close to divorcing my brother over it- silly little things like not immediately buying a new kettle and instead boiling water in a pan for weeks on end. It's a horrible thing to watch.

Secondly, I think you are in the UK. Interest rates are horrible at the moment. No, the artwork might not go up in value, but it's doing something interesting with the money instead of watching it grow 0.09% or whatever.

Frankly the way things are going, it's not worth worrying about what state university fees are likely to be in.
posted by threetwentytwo at 5:32 AM on September 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

I am like you - I fret about any major purchase where major= more than $100 because I feel like I'm never putting enough away for retirement, or other savings, or .....

I think you have to realize that that anxiety will never go away. You could be saving two or three times as much as you currently are and, if you're like me, you will still always feel like you could/should be doing more. So I don't think this is really about the painting in itself - it's because every time you think about spending money on a want, you feel anxious about having enough money for your needs, but you can't exactly predict your needs in another 10-20 years so you panic.

It's a lot of money but 20 years is a big deal. If you agreed that the art and only the art was your gift (no fancy dinner, etc) would that be OK?

Regardless of the art question, I think you would both feel better to meet with a financial planner and/or spend some time really hashing out your future budgets. You are entirely reasonable to worry about retirement and school costs. This is something you need to aggressively plan and save for.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:40 AM on September 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

Less ambivalent now - it's a couple thousand ("low four figures" is a bit precious, I think...), that can absolutely be budgeted around, by the sounds of things; you have your 20-year anniversary once; you can look at this for ages, and would have only memories of a chocolate fountain [or whatever it is now] party; it won't really make a dent into your kids' education fund (maybe talk to someone about a more aggressive plan for that, if it's worrying) - you'd make your wife happy. (And as others have said, it's an opportunity to directly confront fear around the basic insecurity and unpredictability of life, while affirming joy, beauty, connection, love. Now I think you must get it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:58 AM on September 23, 2016 [19 favorites]

I agree with the people saying that this is not about the artwork, but about how the two of you communicate. I'm all for both buying art and for saving; that isn't a decision that can be made in the abstract, it's one that needs the two of you to be on the same page.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

20 years; it's a big deal. Think about whether the artwork will give you both a lot of pleasure, seeing it every day, for the next 50 years or so. It may or may not be worth it when you think about it that way. Some works have that power, some don't. But I agree that your wife wants to do something big to commemorate this milestone, and art purchase is a good, big thing. Not for a cash investment, but for an investment in your happiness and well-being. Art does matter.
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

Have you two consulted an independent financial planner? If you shouldn't, you should.

You may also consider some couples therapy to discuss this dynamic. Taken to an extreme, as others noted, it can be stifling. You and your wife need to come closer on financial management or it will always be a sore point.

I'm questioning why you showed your wife something for sale you think she would enjoy but you're not willing to entertain the thought of buying?

As someone who recently acquired some gorgeous art, my observations are similar to ones already made.

Purchase it for your twentieth, together. Make concrete plans to address this dynamic, because that's really the issue.
posted by canine epigram at 6:29 AM on September 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't think it matters if it's a print or a vacation or a ravishing outfit or a spa trip, it's a luxury, all luxury spending is inherently unnecessary.

I think you should just buy the print and then immediately make a budget and a system for purchases over X dollars. This can be as simple as "enthusiastic consent required for any non-essential over 500EU/USD" or you can come up with divided fun money or a veto system. Whatever you want as long as you both agree.

But I don't think it's good emotional chess to try introduce such rules before this purchase.
posted by French Fry at 6:31 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Let her buy it. She is an adult.

This is how expensive purchases go in our household, as it sounds like we are in pretty much the same situation as you are with how much you save per month, etc.

There is a guitar I want that is $2,000. I could save for it, or I can show my wife how she spends $100s on wasted food each month and her hobbies that $5 here and $5 there adds up to $2000 in just a month or two. *OR* We could spend $3000 on a vacation that lasts a week and we are completely miserable (with two young kids along), or a guitar that lasts 50 years and she continues her hobbies.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:39 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Why don't you have a budget item for her to be able to buy things she wants like teacups or presents for your kids without your approval? In fact you could both have such an amount. In the case of this artwork it would require saving of the amount to do it of course. This way your wife gets the freedom to not have to justify everything with you, and you get the security of knowing that your budget is fine because the spending had been budgeted for..

Them go see a counselor for a few sessions to work out the communication hiccups you're having regarding money, nip them in the bud before they become a problem. Neither of you are right or wrong you both just have different ideas on lifestyle.
posted by wwax at 6:46 AM on September 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

I saw a way of calculating value once that really works well for me. Say you buy a sweater that costs $20. That's not bad right? But say you only wear it twice. That's $10 per wear. Now if you were to buy a pair of jeans that cost $200 that would be way too much for jeans right? But suppose you wear them 100 times. That's $2 per wear. I would argue that's a better value (especially if the jeans actually fit and make the wearer feel good...)

Same with a haircut or eyeglasses. You can spend a lot on these but if you calculate based on using them every day of your life (with the haircut it's more every second of the day), I think it's worth it to spend "extra" to get what works best for you.

Artwork is definitely a luxury item, but if you have the money, try calculating based on the next 20 years of your life together. It's probably not that much per day and will make your partner happy every time they look at it.

But first you two should sit down with your budget and find out how much those extras are really costing you. I used to think "if only my partner would cut out their daily coffee we'd have so much more money" but once I actually downloaded the numbers, I saw that I spend more than he does monthly by going to a coffee shop a couple times a month just because I usually get a fancier drink and some food. So now I focus on limiting my spending.

It's probably not a huge deal, like I don't think they'll need therapy over it, but your kids may be getting conflicting ideas about money and savings so it'd be good for you two to sit down and really figure out how to spend and save in a way that works for you both.
posted by betsybetsy at 6:58 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am more on the side of "No, don't buy it!" (I am the more frugal partner in my relationship) but honestly this one work of art is not going to make that big of a difference either way. It sounds like you're not saving enough to be able to afford to support your lifestyle in perpetuity, but that likely has more to do with large fixed expenses like housing and school fees than occasional purchases like art or teacups.

Figure out where your money is actually going. Go see some kind of financial planner, or at least read some books about planning for retirement, etc. (I have no specific recs because everything I know is very US-centric). How rational are your fears about the future? How long will you have to keep working/how much savings do you need to have on hand at retirement age to be able to support yourselves at the level you're accustomed to in retirement, and/or what sacrifices and downshifts will you need to make? Figure out the answers to these questions - I know it can be terrifying but it's much better to *know* and honestly it's usually not that bad and it's almost ALWAYS fixable.

Also, don't buy the art if every time you look at it you're going to think "Jesus, I can't believe we spent so much on that!" Buy it if you can love it, and if you can find a happy middle ground in your and your wife's spending styles. Buy it if you and your wife can really agree on it. I hope you can!
posted by mskyle at 7:07 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Art is incredibly important. Quality of life is incredibly important. Financial responsibility is, of course, important, but needs to be tempered by those things which actually improve your lives by making it comfortable and more enjoyable.

But spending something equal to half a year's savings? Atsa spicy meatball. Find something else. A mini vacation. Some other art. There's enough out there.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:10 AM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

This isn't about a particular piece of artwork, it's about her frustrated rebellion against the persistent stifling restraint imposed by your anxiety. You aren't collaborating or compromising over financial decisions. Instead you're always standing on the brake pedal while she leans on the accelerator, so of course you lurch around sloppily and barely even notice the omnipresent burning smell anymore. Breaking this pattern is exponentially more important than this specific decision.

Seriously! Basically I am the frugal person in this scenario and I know that dealing with me can be difficult because my baseline for "How much money to spend?" is always "as little as possible" which means that any luxury makes me stressed out. I am bad at enjoying vacations or basically anything that isn't a deal. A lot of it is just misplaced anxiety about future money and my future and whatever. I've been getting a lot better at it.

I recently inherited a place that I co-own with my sister. We have to make a lot of purchases together. I think my sister spends money like water. She thinks I am a miser. The truth is probably in the middle. But I try to work at ascertaining what is "normal" by looking to my peer group (and AskMe) and try to aim for more-like-normal. And also look at the money-as-math viewpoint.

So in this scenario, if we're really talking about six month's savings and it's a one-time (i.e. there's not going to be new artwork for every anniversary) I really might go ahead and get it as a milestone sort of thing if you both truly love it. See if there's any wiggle room on price. See what else there is wiggle room at. For people living a middle class or up existence sometimes there are other things you can work on (saving money on cable, cell phones, car insurance, vacations, home weatherizing) that might make you happy that you weren't tipping the scales so much and make her happy because you were willing to work on it. And get an idea of the value of the print, obviously some are more and less "worth it" and make sure you at least have an idea about this one.

But honestly, one piece of artwork isn't going to make or break your financial future and if it's not part of a pattern with your wife but a "one time let's do this thing" request, I'd really consider trying to unwind a little bit about this.
posted by jessamyn at 7:31 AM on September 23, 2016 [16 favorites]

It's the 20 year anniversary, splurge a little, while going without a few things for several months to kinda defray the cost.

You both love it, don't let your frugalness get in the way of something you both enjoy, this particular time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it's important to remember that a lot of people answering this question are likely coming from financial situations and financial backgrounds different than yours. I, for example, hear "eh, the interest rates are low right now" and can't help thinking "okay, but even at 0% interest that's [$2000] you otherwise don't have and how can you blithely ignore that!" because to me that's a significant amount of money that could make a significant difference in my life.

Overall it sounds like you need to do what's been mentioned above and really figure out, together, what your financial situation actually is and how to approach optional expenses. Personally I like the system where you pay off your bills, regular savings, retirement savings, and monthly costs first, and then do what you like with the rest of it. But any way you go about it, you do want both of you working to make sure that you'll be able to afford special 30th, 40th, 50th, and 60th anniversary gifts too.
posted by trig at 7:59 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Short term: do it. You both agree that it is beautiful, and you know it will add joy to your wife's life.

My wife often buys things I consider extravagant (new teacups when the old ones are worn but servicable, too many birthday presents for the kids), but I I don't want to be a nag (I really, really don't want us to argue over money)

Longer term: work out a budgeting arrangement that hopefully you can be comfortable with, and allows her some freedom to buy nice things without you even needing to be in the loop on it.

You probably won't be able to save as much as you want and have some mad money left over every month for luxuries. But maybe there's a middle ground. The 50/20/30 plan is popular (50% of income is fixed costs, 20% is financial goals, 30% is flexible spending), and you could modify it to work for your needs: 45% fixed costs, 25% savings, 20% flexible but necessary spending, 10% luxury fund).

Basically, because of the dynamics of your relationship, it might be healthier for you to turn a blind eye to your wife's "unnecessary" spending. But the way for you to be able to do that in a healthy manner is for there to be limits, and for you both to be working towards supporting it.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2016

Go and buy it for her now.
Like now now.

You won't regret it when you see her happy.
posted by fullerine at 8:03 AM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

This a baseline price for reasonably good art that has been handmade by an actual artist. I think that if you were ever going to buy art, you should go for it. You compare this to the price of a trip abroad. Is that something you'd splurge on, or absolutely out of the question for your family? I think if the former, and if both of you like art and want more of it in your lives, you should go ahead and splurge a little for your anniversary.

The question of retirement savings and university costs is moot since "low four figures" is not an amount of money you can retire on, and it is most likely not going to be the difference between your kids getting an education or not.

If this was some kind of scam, with your wife wanting to spend five figures plus on an artwork of dubious merit, based on the idea that it will appreciate with time, I would say no. But this sounds like about the most reasonable circumstance to buy art that there is.
posted by Sara C. at 8:05 AM on September 23, 2016

Wait a second. I just saw that this is a print?

No. That's too much money to spend on a print. Buy a more affordable print or look into art that is actually worth what you're spending on it.

($1000 USD would be OK for a print. $3000 would be too much. Low four figures in pounds for a print? Hell no.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:09 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

The thing I don't hear mentioned in your assessment of your finances is debt. Because sometimes reallocating debt and the way you manage it can free up some cash in a psychic way. And if you don't have debt other than a mortgage, I'd also consider that part of your stability assessment. If, like many frugal people, you aren't carrying a lot of debt, I would also add this to the "We are actually quite stable not just treading water" column. But if you have credit card debt, for example, see if you could get a card with a different interest rate, or buy the artwork with a card that has "points" or some other perk for using it so you're making a savvy purchase.

So what I am saying is that if you know the frugal thing is a little bit in your head but otherwise you are okay with this conceptually, maybe find a way to make the purchase a genuine option for you in your own bean counting way. I've been able to do this with things and, like you, looking back when I've enjoyed the thing (trip, better hotel room, nice meal out, better shoes) I can usually see that overcoming my initial resistance has been worth it but I like placating myself with making up some of the money elsewhere.
posted by jessamyn at 8:09 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing: that money she wants to spend, don't think about it going towards the art. You know (and maybe she knows) that art isn't a good investment or a "need" or whatever. Think about it going towards your wife's happiness and your marriage's success. Seriously: do what the folks above are suggesting, and buy it yourself to surprise her with. She will be so happy.

I agree it's not a rational outlay, for the piece itself. But it will go such a long way towards alleviating the grinding joylessness of frugality, and it really will be an investment in your marriage. And don't be all "AND NOW WE CAN'T HAVE SUGAR IN OUR TEA" to suck the joy out of it, either, as some folks are suggesting - don't make it part & parcel of a "now we need to budget!!!" talk. You can have that talk later, but don't make it part of this. This is a 20 year anniversary celebration and it's what your wife wants. Just do it. Buy yourself 20 more.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:10 AM on September 23, 2016 [18 favorites]

We've always pooled our money – we have a single bank account, and have no concept of "my money" and "your money". It's all "our money".

If you have final approval on purchases like gifts for your children and replacing worn out teacups, it seems to be more "your money" than you think.

That said, anything over $100 is a huge spend in my mind, so I get you. And I do think about everything in terms of "I can't ever afford to retire, how can I afford to go on this $600 flight for a once in a lifetime trip with friends?" But the truth is, if I have to keep working forever anyway, that flight is not going to change my situation; and likewise, if you can't live off your pension anyway, this artwork is not going to change that for you. Provided this is a rare event, which it sounds to be.

I don't know that our blind appraisals of the piece are germane here-- unless of course you can find this piece elsewhere cheaper, in which case, buy the cheaper one, duh. The point is not what the art is worth on the market, but what it's worth to her.

To her, it sounds like it commemorates a very very special anniversary, is a thing of beauty both of you can enjoy every day, and would show her you can every so often provide her special beautiful things on very meaningful occasions, without putting up a fight and without it changing your overall financial situation.
posted by kapers at 8:17 AM on September 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

I am also super frugal, so I will admit that the money you're spending sounds like a lot and would make me queasy. However, I tend to make my splurges on other people and that's when I feel most happy about my expenditures. It sounds like you're in the UK, so I think you have to also consider the post-Brexit economy: do you have the same job stability? What about loss of wages and savings with the falling GBP? (Is the price in GBP, EU, USD, or something else?) That said, if the cost of the artwork is in the low four figures, and you're saving the low three figures every month, it seems like you can save more aggressively for a few months so the expenditure is negligible. And as others above have said, it is your 20 year anniversary, which is certainly worth celebrating and commemorating.
posted by stillmoving at 8:18 AM on September 23, 2016

One more thought: if you decide you just can never feel ok about this expenditure, then don't do it, but do something else significant for the anniversary. A trip abroad or whatever, that you plan.

If you do decide to buy it, don't, for the love of God, couch it as "giving in." If you're going to spend that money, make it as joyful for the two of you as you can. Give it to her as a gift; invite people over to see it; set up a display spot for it... Get the max marriage-happiness value of it that you can!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:19 AM on September 23, 2016 [17 favorites]

So we're talking a couple of thousand in pounds? That sounds like a reasonable expenditure for your 20th, if you're not doing anything else. Heck, if you're in London, having your anniversary dinner at home, instead of a destination dining place, would save a good chunk of that.

You mention in your update that you've bought art before. I'm very much in favor of that. If you enjoy art, it is one of the single things you can do to improve your quality of life in your home. And unlike home improvements, you can pack it up and take it anywhere you move. Maybe this one piece is overpriced, but if you love it, go for it.
posted by BibiRose at 8:52 AM on September 23, 2016

The first thing I wondered about here is this: how much money do you have in savings right now? Not retirement or your kids' college fees, just plain old savings.

The fact is a low-four figure sum is not going to move the needle on big stuff like retirement or college expenses. So if you've got like 20k or 30k squirreled away somewhere, go ahead and do it without guilt. If you've only got, say, 4k in savings and this is going to blow through half of it (or more), then I'd strongly advise against it.

What are you actually doing for your 20 year anniversary? is there something else that costs as much (or less) that you would both be happy with? She's specifically asking to get this to commemorate your anniversary. You don't think it's the right way to commemorate it. Suggest something else you think is. Maybe an overseas holiday?

This is also a good point. It's your anniversary, too - what do you want to do to make the occasion? If money were no object, would you want to buy the artwork? Could you get over your monetary objections to it? Is there some other thing that you both could do, and appreciate, together?
posted by breakin' the law at 8:59 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's a data point for you: when I was 21, a friend of mine was having an art show at a coffee shop he worked at. I walked in and immediately saw this painting. It's on a kind of very flexible fiberboard, and the paint is exterior house paint.

I was overwhelmed with emotion and realized I did not want to live my life without seeing it every day. He and I talked about it and he agreed to sell it to me at an objectively low price, which was still way out of my budget. He then said he would take it in installments. I bought the painting but he gifted it to me by allowing me to buy it on terms I could handle. It cost $160 in total (US 1992 dollars).

I've had it for 24 years now. It is a pain in the ass to move and to place - you actually find far less six foot contiguous wall expanses. It whips around in the wind in the back of pickup trucks no matter how steady anyone believes it is bolstered. My point is, it continues to be a pain in the ass. But.

I haven't regretted it once. I spend time looking at everyday, everyday I am reminded of how I've fought to get and keep this piece (reasonably intact). 21 year old me was right, to buy it. It brings 45 year old me the same joy it did when I very first saw it. Yeah, I'd have $160 extra dollars spent on toilet paper by now, easy. But this painting has defined my home - it is the first thing people see when they visit and everyone loves it. My friend has become a pretty successful artist, and I'm sure the painting has appreciated. But I don't care one way or the other, I still feel like I can't live without it.

Don't live without art you love, if you possibly can manage it. My (2016 US) $265 layout out of a (2016 US) $15,450 was about half my monthly income.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 9:02 AM on September 23, 2016 [31 favorites]

I would separate this out into a two different issues:
(1) is X amount of money a reasonable amount to spend on a milestone anniversary? For example, would you have a problem spending that amount of money IF you were going on an overseas holiday for your anniversary instead of getting the artwork? If you don't think that would be unreasonable, then the issue here is that you may be more of an experiences person, and she may be more of a tangible things person, and both of those are reasonable if different sets of values.

(2) is the more general income vs. outgo problem, which is a long-term problem and which is NOT GOING TO BE SOLVED by putting your foot down about buying this piece of artwork, or by vetoing this or that individual purchase. The "recklessness" is not in spending low four figures on anything. It's in saving low 3 figures each month despite being mid-career and in your 40s presumably. The area to exercise your desire to be financially responsible starts with shuttling, say, 20% from your paycheck before it even hits your primary current account and putting it toward retirement someplace that penalizes you for dipping back into it for ordinary expenses.

So my suggestion would be to come at it from this angle: say "yes, let's get the artwork, AND let's figure out a basic budget plan so in the future these sorts of spending decisions aren't so fraught, and feel both secure about college expenses and retirement".
posted by drlith at 9:12 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Talk to your wife and set up a budget. The budget should include discretionary spending as well as planned savings for retirement. Talk about what your financial goals are. Maybe talk about what budget items will get cut to be able to afford the artwork. Also, there's the option of saving for it. If you can cut spending on utilities and groceries and pocket $ for a year, then you'd buy it. That helps motivate frugal behavior on heat, AC, Starbucks, takeout, etc. Budgeting really means choosing what you spend on, and art is not a bad choice, as it brings actual beauty into your life, but it means there won't be money for something else.
posted by theora55 at 9:21 AM on September 23, 2016

I'm going to be more directive and less diplomatic than the commenters so far. Listen to yourself say this: "at the rate we're going we won't be able to live off our pension after retirement." You are in a financial emergency because you are headed for a crisis. Sure the crisis won't happen for several years but that doesn't change the fact that it is a crisis. There is absolutely no way on God's green Earth you have 6 month's worth of savings spare for luxuries. Sometimes we all need someone to give us a reality check - that is what your wife needs from you right now. She will appreciate it in the long run and it is the right thing for you and your family to look after your financial health. You know what needs to be done otherwise you wouldn't have taken the time to write this post, now you have to stand up for something that is important to you in this relationship.
posted by askmeaboutboardgames at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2016 [13 favorites]

One time when I was 20ish and broke, I had a fare dispute with a taxi driver who took a convoluted route. I wanted to pay him $2 less than the amount on the meter. He got annoyed at my nickel-and-diming and said, in a strong Caribbean accent,

Jus' tek de two dolla. Not gonna mek me nah richa. Not gonna mek me nah poorah. Tek it.

(Just take your two dollars. It's not going to make me any richer. It's not going to make me any poorer. Take it.)

This has become one of my life philosophies. I spent $2k on a laptop. It's been three years and it runs like a rusty old car.

$4K for your 20th anniversary gift, which you'll have for the rest of your lives and which you can pass down to your kids, too? Worth it.

Get it for her and surprise her with a note that says, "I thought about what I value in life, and it's you. Happy anniversary."
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:42 AM on September 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

Whilst we're financially stable, our rate of saving is not high. The amount we are able to save per month is in the low 3 digits, and at the rate we're going we won't be able to live off our pension after retirement. Both children will be entering secondary school in the next couple of years. University fees are further on the horizon. My career's on a plateau.

The artwork costs in the low 4 figures. It's considerably less than a month's salary, but probably about as much as 6 months' savings or an overseas holiday. The art is beautiful (I was the one who originally showed it to her). My wife wants to buy something special for our 20 year anniversary.

(emphasis mine)

I agree with others who've advised you to evaluate your budget and do what you can to make sure you are on a healthy financial path. To me the thing that doesn't jive is that this item, in the low 4 figures, is considerably less than a month's salary but much higher than your monthly savings. You are very close to living paycheck to paycheck here and may want to see if there's any place to cut your spending and increase your savings rate.

That said, this purchase will not make or break your future and I would lean towards doing it myself. Sounds you both love it, it will bring you joy for years, and it's a lovely marker of a milestone anniversary.
posted by JenMarie at 9:49 AM on September 23, 2016 [11 favorites]

Is there another way you could spend that amount of money that would make you both happier? If not, buy the art.

Then invest time and (if needed) money in working out a more harmonious relationship with your spouse related to spending. I grew up with a mother who spent money like water and a father who was constantly telling me we had no money (when the truth was we were beyond secure, but my mom should have been a little more tightwad), and it crafted me into a person very anxious about money. There were times as a child that my father's anxiety had me thinking we were about to be tossed out of our house (which was total fiction). Your children are absorbing the way you two deal with money and with each other related to money.
posted by sallybrown at 9:54 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Depending on the type of print - etching? lithograph? - the artist and the studio where it was printed it may indeed be selling at a fair price. And if it is, it will not only hold its value but appreciate.
posted by glasseyes at 10:26 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of commenters here saying you should do this to make her happy, but what do YOU want? Will this art make YOU happy? Or will it be that every time you see it you'll be reminded of just how much it cost and that your wife pushed for it? It's your 20th anniversary too, so you guys should come up with something you both will be happy with. I really dislike the argument of "well, it'll make her so happy, just do it!!" because at what point does that become crazy? What if a mansion would be the thing to make her happy? Or a diamond necklace? Or a car? Etc. Etc. There IS a line that needs to be decided as to how much $$ is worth it to make someone happy and it is totally worth discussing what that line is.

Personally, that amount of money is crazy high for a print and I'd never go for this and neither would my husband. But, me and him are on the same exact page with financial outlook/values and it sounds like you and your wife aren't and you should probably address that at some point.

We can't really tell you what to do - it's your life, your marriage, your guys' money. But I will say, whatever you do, make sure you both will enjoy it. It isn't just her 20th anniversary.
posted by FireFountain at 10:33 AM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

Just in response to your concern that you might look at this artwork in the future and regret your spending: I was once in a similar situation, in love with a painting that I could technically have afforded but which was way at the upper limit of manageable--honestly, I think about that painting all the time. It's my "the one that got away."
posted by Edna Million at 11:18 AM on September 23, 2016 [11 favorites]

If it's been for sale for a long time and chances are low that it would be sold in the next month, take 30 days to think about it. Her excitement might wear off or you might become more accepting of it.
If she's still excited and you're still ambivalent... go for it.
posted by starman at 11:21 AM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that perhaps buying the art isn't realistic, even if the price is fair(a lot of fine art prints are indeed that pricey and they aren't trying to scam you). Does this artist or studio sell smaller prints? If no, would you be willing to give her a cheque to buy a piece of art she loves but more within the family budget?

That being said, it kinda sounds like "our money" means your money if you're so resentful of rather basic small pleasures or upgrades. I hardly make any money, but things like replacing teacups would be a yes for me, as if I spent months drinking out of a chipped-up scratched-up teacup every morning would make me feel awful and like I don't deserve nice things. Being intensely frugal all the time can be dehumanizing. I grew up with a frugal father, who despite having more income than most, would whine and get angry if anyone came home with a magazine or a cup of coffee. I now set aside money for buying little things I enjoy, and I've actually saved money because I don't need to take days away from working due to stress, and I don't pay for a sleep medication.

A big purchase like the print might be just too much money for your family right now, but at the very least, some lump sum of money should be given for her to spend as she pleases for the occasion. Shutting down the art buying with no alternative that she'd get a say in is a bad idea in my opinion.
posted by InkDrinker at 11:26 AM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

We have bought expensive print artwork before, but not in the 4 digit range. The other thing to consider is if it comes with a frame, because a nice frame can be far more expensive than the print itself. Then you need a good place to actually hang it. Etc.

There was once a $7000 statue that I saw in a gallery in San Francisco that I do still pine over from time to time. But I'm also very happy to have just seen it, without having to own it. If this statue is still for sale... I don't know, I might buy it, since it's been 4 years and I'm still thinking about it.

To me, it honestly sounds like you need to have a talk about finances in general. Saving in the "low 3 figures" and not being able to have enough to retire on are both big issues. Your budget is already very tight. If an emergency expense comes up (medical, car issues, lay off, etc), you haven't just spent $X on artwork, you've spent $X + credit card interest on the artwork.

The general rule of thumb is to spend 50% on necessities, 30% on nice things and wants, and save 20%. Obviously, not everyone is able to do this. But if you're saving less than 20%, consider that most financial advice would have you prioritize saving. If you're already saving 20% (and not planning something unusual like retiring super early), then you're probably doing just fine and can loosen your belt a bit.

So the two of you need to sit down and figure out what the budget is. Possibly, do this with a fee only financial advisor who can be an impartial third party. Then, you can have your wife spend the budget categories for "household", "gifts", "souvenirs", etc and she can decide if she wants new teacups or to save up for prints. My husband and I each have our own "allowance" money. He spends it on games/tools/whatever. I spend mine on clothes/shoes/tickets. It's the "no judgement" pot of money we get to spend because my husband and I value different things.
posted by ethidda at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

As a general guideline, my wife and I agree that neither should feel pressured to spend money on significant purchases if it makes us uncomfortable or anxious. (For example, in our most recent house purchase, one person had veto power if they didn't like a place.) I'm on the more frugal end of the spectrum, and my wife makes a great effort not to shop as a type of therapy (which is how she would put it). We have worked a very long time to understand each other and be understanding, while also being financial safe. We allow in our budgeting for bigger items for one person that the other person would not normally buy for themselves.

That being said, one of my very favorite things in the world is surprising my wife with something that I know she would love. I would so totally buy that painting for her. Knowing that it felt like a financial sacrifice for you is probably something that she will never forget. Think of it as a literal investment in being able to express love to her in a way that is tangible (because love makes sacrifices at times.) She will love you for getting past your anxiety in order to give her something good, not just practical. And she'll look at that painting almost every day.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is the art being sold by a gallery? If so, there's probably room to negotiate. We've bought a number of pieces of art in the 4-5 figure range over the past few years, and we've literally NEVER paid the price that was listed on the tag. Recently, we bought an original piece for 40% of the price that was listed, in a fairly high-end gallery, from a pretty established artist. This might help the math a little bit for you. It never hurts to ask...
posted by primethyme at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have seen this greatly affect my parents' marriage. My mom decides she is bored with a purse and buys another for $300. My dad grits his teeth. He is forever resentful and is now pushing back on non-luxuries like repairing their house so they can sell it.

I think you should only agree if you can honestly say you won't be resentful later. Given your mention of her previous habits I'm not sure this is true. In that case, find a way that she can purchase it while still having a financial plan. I agree with JenMarie - something is deeply amiss about your savings habits if your income is greater than the painting but you can only save in the hundreds. There must be some monthly luxury you can give up if this is the case. "We can buy the painting, if you limit your clothing budget to X, and I'll take my lunch to work" may be a reasonable compromise.
posted by AFABulous at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I find it useful to set aside a certain amount of time to sit and think about a big luxury purchase. 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months - the time is up to your two. But you set it aside and agree not to make a decision until that time is up. Sometimes that time lets the desire for the item fade, sometimes it makes you want it more. It often clarifies the decision for me.
posted by Cranialtorque at 12:43 PM on September 23, 2016

I see this has been covered before. Just adding to the pile because this is a familiar story to me:

My SO and I used to have these arguments. I want to save basically every penny. She constantly wants to buy shiny new things, only some of which she ever even uses. The rule used to be, 'we talk everything over.'

That was awful. I felt like a total miser, but I was also terrified of overspending. I grew up dirt poor, and the most important thing to me financially is to feel calm about my ability to handle emergency/unexpected bills. She felt constrained - she could see we had money, and I just wasn't letting her have it even though she contributed income.

We fought until we compromised: we settled on an allowance, give or take. We negotiated a reasonable amount of money for her to just take without asking, each check. I made a ledger so she could track it easily. I let her roll it over in case she wanted anything big that I would definitely veto under normal circumstances.

I get to relax: I no longer have to be hypervigilant about stuff like, "Well, we bought [luxury] just last week, so we shouldn't buy [other thing] this week." We basically just added another monthly bill, which is predictable and easy to track. She no longer has to ask permission to spend her own money, which responsible adults shouldn't have to do.

It's win-win.

When times are good, we just throw more in her budget instead of discussing Big Scary Expenses. When they're bad, we revert to 'talk everything over' with the understanding that it's only until we're out of whatever hole we got into. We're both worlds happier.

I highly recommend doing this if you two don't see eye to eye about savings vs. splurging. Both viewpoints are legitimate: saving is important, but it's also important to live a little. I think the place where this causes problems is more in letting it be a free form argument waiting to happen. It stresses everybody out, even if they 'win' a given round, because it's inherently adversarial.

In this case, definitely amortize the painting over a long period or something. Let her have it, but count it against something so you don't feel the money is just Gone. (Because it is.)
posted by mordax at 12:47 PM on September 23, 2016 [19 favorites]

Don't get it.
1. It's both of your anniversary and you both should have a say in what you get yourselves as a gift to commemorate 20 years.
2. At this point will you ever really enjoy it? It will be hanging in your house and every time you look at it, you will think of this disagreement and it won't be a true representation of happy memories of your 20 years together.

Think about it for 6 months and then buy it for another reason if you both still want it. It will be there in 6 months.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Buy it. Stop resenting her for wanting to get new teacups and extra presents for your children. Your ultra (and frankly somewhat dehumanizing) frugality is costing you a happy life. I bet for her, this print (which you showed her first!) is exactly what she wants to have to commemorate your 20th anniversary. You showed it to her because you loved it. You were provably delighted when she said she loved it too. Do you really want to piss on such a wonderful milestone by backpedaling on something that would clearly make her really, really happy and exist as a symbol of mutual love for each other and your marrige? Do you really want to make this, your 20th anniversary, the time you tell her, "This is something about you and our relationship I no longer want to invest in?"

Like, I get that you want to be careful and responsible. That's a good and important thing. But so is living a little, too.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

Life.Is.Short. Buy the artwork and enjoy it for the rest of your lives.
posted by raisingsand at 1:13 PM on September 23, 2016

I'm an accountant. I hate personal finance questions where there is not enough detail to give an informed answer. Many of the above answers seem to think your anxiety about affordability is just your inner miser speaking. But you say that your career has plateaued (in other words, not expecting any more income growth) and you have major expenses on the horizon that you want to pay for but may not be able to. You don't say how much money you have savings and retirement investments, but it sure sounds to me like you are living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe you actually have plenty of money and you are pessimistic miser, but, either way, you and and your wife need to come to an agreement about shared financial goals. It is fine for "expand art collection" to be a goal. It'll feel much better to both of you if you have a plan to achieve what you want. You should probably meet with a (fee-based) financial planner before you make a final decision.
posted by stowaway at 1:17 PM on September 23, 2016 [11 favorites]

Buy the art if both of you really love it and will enjoy (really enjoy) looking at it for the rest of your lives. The right art can give a lot of pleasure. In 1986, my (new) husband fell in love with a limited-edition print; it was a very good buy at $450 then... I'm guessing that's at least $1000 in today's dollars. I said no to the purchase, then went back later in the day and bought it and saved it for his birthday. We painted and decorated a room around it and did the same each time we moved. We still love it 30 years later, and it reminds us of when we were newlyweds.

If you think that print your wife wants can give both of you pleasure for years to come, buy it. If not, you two should put your heads together, look around, and come up with some other meaningful way to mark your 20th anniversary.
posted by wryly at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you in charge of finances in your family, or do you and your wife have equal knowledge of your savings, expenses, retirement funds, etc? Do you ever discuss your individual values and priorities about spending and saving? Have you ever asked your wife about emotional investment in purchases, and vice versa?

If not, why? How have your priorities become so different over the last 20 years, or is it that you both think you're on the same page when really you aren't?

As an outsider reading your question, I feel like a lot is missing re: the way you and your wife communicate, and that's why I weighed in the way I did in my first (knee jerk) response to you. I'd be your wife this scenario. Art means a lot to me, as do small to medium purchases that help me show love and feel love for myself and the spaces around me. Buying extra teacups = extra smiles on my face when I go to use one. Extra presents for my kids? My kids are wonderful, and I hope they look back on this birthday and say, wow, my parents were (and are!) so generous.

You actually have similar priories re: money when I reallly think about it. You both want to be able to provide for your family and each other. She feels that the things she spends $$ on NOW provide happiness and stability for everyone including her. It sounds like you really disagree. Does this ever reverse, and if so, when and why?
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:34 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently bought something that was not a need, but a want, and it was also cost a pretty penny.

How I decided to spend the $$$ for such luxury items is to amortize it over x amount of years.

My previous purchase of this good lasted me a good 7 years before it wore out from use, and the cost per month was about 20 bucks. I decided I could deal.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:29 PM on September 23, 2016

My husband and I are both frugal in spending on ourselves and extravagant when spending on each other or the kids. It works out.

If you're in the UK are you not both in pension schemes at work? We are not saving towards our pension, it is paid directly from his wage before he gets it. I guess you are both self employed? I couldn't figure that bit out.

I would buy the art. Even if it's £4k (i suspect it's about £2k in fact) that's cheaper than a divorce. Your wife is telling you she wants to buy this beautiful thing which YOU SHOWED HER (so she knows you adore it too) to celebrate your 20 years together. Unless you have some equally amazing thing you both adore you'd like to mark the occasion with, then I suggest you do so. Either that or you are wanting to send the message "i don't want to spend important money to mark a mere milestone", which is possible. It's not enough money to retire on or provide a university education with. Yeah you could travel overseas - do you? It's not a £40k purchase, it's a few thousand. It's 2-4 coffees a week for a year.

If you had written that you were tens of thousands in debt, living hand to mouth, about to lose your home, I could see your worry. But you're in a better financial state than us (we basically don't save at all, although he is in the pension and stock schemes at work, right now things are too difficult) and we would buy it.

Imagine it's 6 months from now and your wife is dead. Would you look at the artwork and think fondly of how you had those 20 great years together and how she loved you and always wanted your family to have beauty and comfort around you? Or how she was a financial leaky bucket? That's your answer.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:39 PM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have appreciated everyone's advice. I've started writing many responses but deleted them as this isn't really where I should be having a conversation. I'm not sure I'm able to mark "best" answers as I am still conflicted, but I'd like to thank all of you for helping me make progress.
posted by snarfois at 2:56 PM on September 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

I am a much more frivolous spender than my boyfriend. Fairly early into our relationship we were on vacation and I made a reservation at an expensive restaurant. Our finances are not combined, and I made it clear that I had picked the restaurant and I would be picking up the tab. Somehow — I don’t remember how — I expressed my nervousness that he might think it was stupid to spend so much money on a meal. At the end of the evening he insisted on picking up the check. That act had huge emotional significance for me. It didn’t make me think that he wanted to run around spending tons of money in restaurants all the time, but it did make me believe that he didn’t judge me for wanting to do so occasionally.

I would be surprised if your wife didn’t have a sense of your constant, low-level disapproval of the way she wants to spend money. And in many relationships, the expenditure of money can serve as a proxy for the expression of love. Particularly when it represents something that is a sacrifice on the part of one party to make the other party happy. This particular purchase — tied as it is to an anniversary-- may feel very emotionally significant to your wife in a way that is difficult for you to understand. Not just in your willingness to sacrifice an element of your emotional comfort for her happiness, but to do it as a marker of the importance of your relationship to you.

None of which is to discount the broader issue. It sounds like you two DO need to figure out a way to save more and be better financially prepared for the future. I just think this particular purchase is a bad moment to put your foot down for the first time, and doing so may have (completely understandable) emotional resonance for your wife that you do not intend.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 4:30 PM on September 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

Why don't you have a budget item for her to be able to buy things she wants like teacups or presents for your kids without your approval? In fact you could both have such an amount. In the case of this artwork it would require saving of the amount to do it of course. This way your wife gets the freedom to not have to justify everything with you, and you get the security of knowing that your budget is fine because the spending had been budgeted for..

I agree with this. Budgeting a specific monthly sum for spending money for each of you is the way to manage discretionary spending between couples, because no couple will ever agree on every purchase, and trying to do so will inevitably cause conflict and resentment. (Hell, it's a good idea for individuals, because if I didn't know what I could spend I'd drive myself crazy feeling guilty about whatever I spent, and/or go without things I needed until I needed a lot of things at once.) I'd lean towards agreeing to buy the art work on the condition that the two of you will sit down and work out a budget that will limit discretionary spending to a certain monthly amount going forward, which will hopefully allow you to save more.
posted by orange swan at 6:02 PM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Don't get it. It's a big splurge on a tight budget with questionable value. If your family really feels the need to invest in artworks, do some research on local emerging artists and student artists, you can probably get something unique and distinctive for less money and better potential value.
posted by ovvl at 6:02 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

So many of the things in my home that I really cherish have (1) terrible resale value (2) caused financial pain to acquire.

Visiting a well-to-do friend once my eyes were quickly drawn to a stunning chair; I complimented it effusively. It wasn't from some known designer, it was a very unique piece, and I think had cost $3k in 1970s $. "I didn't eat for a week... I found it while travelling and it was either get it and find a way to get it home, and go hungry and possibly sleep in parks for part of my trip. I knew I would forget that before long -- obviously I did not starve to death -- but that I would always have the chair."

And while I am frugal and do things like dig my heels in on replacing things until they are worn out beyond the point where somebody would take them as a curbside rescue, I still have a number of these "had to live off ramen that month; totally worth it" items that do not function as investments, are not things like an expensive mattress or blanket that contribute to practical well-being, but which just sit there and make me and my home a happier place.

I also had a piece of art (and a number of other belongings) stolen from me once. I have forgotten every single thing except for the art. It was comparably priced, and "just" a numbered piece. I am still quite hurt when I think about it. "It isn't something that has any sort of usefulness" is fine for philistines. Clearly neither you nor Mrs Snarfois are in that category. Get it. You have a perfect and lovely excuse to spoil yourselves -- congratulations on the milestone anniversary! -- and when I read the question the only 'problem' I could figure out about it was: you have more than one child. Who gets it? Quite serious. It will be an important part of their childhood home, a celebration of their parents' relationship -- even if it isn't their out-and-out most favourite piece of art going, there may be squabbling. You may need as many pieces of lovely art as anniversary gifts as you have children.
posted by kmennie at 8:55 PM on September 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

Oh wow, buy it. Art is what separates us from the animals. The bliss we glean, the identity we build, the nexus we experience between ourselves and ecstatic beauty — how much is that “worth” to you? That’s what art is, what art is for. If your wife loves this piece, think of what hanging it in your home will mean: Every day when you see it, you’ll think of how you treasure her and her taste, and the beauty you make together in the world. Every day she sees it she’ll think of the specialness of having a spouse, and the pleasure that is sweetened by experiencing it as part of a team. What is the price on that?

Allow me to be grotesque: One day, sadly, one of you will die. If you die first, she will be able to see this painting and think “snarfois knew how much I loved this piece; when I see it, I think of the time he prioritized my delight, and I get to experience a sliver of that joy again.” If she dies first, you will be able to see it and think “this is what beauty in the world looked like through her eyes.” Finding a cheque for $4,000 will not accomplish that.
posted by Charity Garfein at 11:24 PM on September 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

As someone who works with money and relationships, this sounds like a prime time for a heart-to-heart about the deeper needs that the painting is bringing up for each of you. For her, it might produce feelings of joy, celebration, beauty, and it might and fit with her sense of personal identity to have it in her home. To you, though, it represents a threat to your needs for security and peace of mind.

Can you have a talk about the needs underlying each set of emotions (For her, maybe: celebration, beauty, a sense of personal refinement, love, joy, she's the best person to fill in the blank there. For you: Security, peace of mind, order, safety, responsibility, only you can answer that). The painting is a STRATEGY to meet some underlying needs that she has. The needs are real and good and should absolutely be met, but this particular painting is just one strategy...Can you find a solution that meets her needs without sabotaging yours?

-And, alternately, can you sell some stuff to offset the cost, if you want to avoid the deeper discussion?
posted by Dr_Janeway at 12:13 AM on September 24, 2016

Budgeting a specific monthly sum for spending money for each of you is the way to manage discretionary spending between couples, because no couple will ever agree on every purchase, and trying to do so will inevitably cause conflict and resentment.

This is definitely an approach that works for a lot of people, but there are other approaches too. We just discuss and reach consensus on any larger purchase (or a set of smaller purchases that add up) and so far it has not led to conflict or resentment. But because it works for us does not mean it will work for the next person.

Financial decisions and communication are not one-size-fits-all, and it might take experimenting to find the approach that best fits your personalities. At least in how the original question was framed, it very much sounds like the current method for reaching decisions and communicating in your relationship is failing and is creating tension and conflict, instead of creating support and cohesion. That is enough to know that a new approach is needed, but isn't enough to know which new approach is going to be the best.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:31 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Am late to this but will add some things to consider. We've bought a number of pieces of art over the years - I'm an artist and it's a big part of our lives. Both of us look at the things we love and get pleasure from them daily. If you will do that it's absolutely worth it since it does not sound like one purchase will land you in dire financial circumstances. I would not decide against the piece because it's a print unless it's a massively large edition cranked out in bulk. Limited edition (well less than 100, preferably less than 40 pieces) or a monotype - sure. And certainly worth asking if the dealer can do any better on the price. Do not think about it as an investment. The only people who can sensibly expect to flip something as an investment are doing so often and that doesn't sound like either of you. And yeah - 20 years is a big deal and worth celebrating in a way that is meaningful to you both. If you will look at the piece forever feeling resentment and worry I wouldn't do it but if it will bring you joy and you can set aside your angst about it the purchase is worth doing.
posted by leslies at 7:13 AM on September 24, 2016

I think this is more about a long-term financial plan than it is a "budget". What the word budget means to me is more short term, each paycheck planning. You don't seem to have a guiding plan for retirement. That is terrifying. Ask me how I know.

I'm the spending-averse one, and I recognize it has been because of our lack of agreed-on long-term goals. When I don't think I know what is going on, I get very ultra-conservative because I don't know I'm not making a huge mistake. Just having a plan means I can intentionally deviate from it now and then and still not feel out of control.

I think a lot of this dynamic (++ to jon1270) goes away once you both agree on some financial goals and a path to get there. It's much easier to say 5,000 now wasn't in the plan, but isn't that significant in the big scheme. It's hard to NOT freak out about 5,000 when you feel like you're just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
posted by ctmf at 8:18 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Surprise your wife by buying it for your anniversary and presenting it to her. Life is short. Hang it where you'll see it every day.

Not to vote "buy it" or "don't", but a word of caution on this approach. A friend of mine (ahem) with a similar marital dynamic vetoed a less expensive extravagance (concert tickets) that his wife wanted. Cue resentment. In an attempt to alleviate said resentment he bought the tickets and presented them as a gift. Cue... MORE resentment. The gesture of peace/goodwill was perceived as paternalistic and controlling and became a symbol of divide rather than unity.

I say whatever decision is made, make it together.
posted by raider at 7:36 AM on September 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

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