Help me be better about money and honesty
April 16, 2018 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Last year, I posted this. In the time since, I've been going to a therapist most weeks, and I've benefited from that, especially in the anxiety and depression arenas. However, I am still struggling with my spending habits and associated honesty. I am working on not making impulse purchases (food has been a big trigger for me), and on better planning my expenditures. I still feel like I am scrambling to perform responsible adult thinking and budgeting. Metafilter, how do I get over my little panic attacks and reactive behavior and learn to save and spend like an adult?

I have not missed any payments, but I have come perilously close during travel, and took out another payday loan to cover that. I often feel like I am spending responsibly, but I will pay bills / make grown-up purchases, check my balance, and get dinner, only to see on Monday all the posting chickens come home to roost. I have got. to. stop. this. I am still struggling to be constantly open to my wife about this, and I am very tired of the anxiety of a week of low balance.

Ideas that I've had so far include:

- Invite my wife to one or more counseling sessions, so I can talk about the underlying concerns, as opposed to trying to just prove that I have a [sweaty, tenuous] grasp on the situation.

- Open my bank and credit accounts to my wife. She has expressed doubt about joint management in the past, as she doesn't think it will help me learn good habits. But I know culpability is a big motivator for me; even if I make a mistake or relapse, I think it's better for me to have to own up to it right away rather than squirm for weeks until it's fixed.

- We have a joint savings account, which I stole from last year, prompting my last post on this topic. Since then, even though I've eyed it hard a few times, the memory of that shame and marital debacle has prevented me from touching it. I've considered depositing most of my paycheck in this account, with the appropriate amount for bills in an open checking account and a small amount set aside for expenditures/allowance.

TL;DR: this is an area of responsibility that I cannot seem to get a consistent grip on, and it's wearing me down. I know I can be better, but I need something that changes guilt into accountability and shame into consideration.

One last note: YNAB was a disaster for me, and Mint is okay, but underutilized. I really don't want to try to spend my way out of this scenario; that seems very counterproductive to me. Thank you for your advice!
posted by skookumsaurus rex to Work & Money (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Cash is the way to go. Cut up your credit cards (either metaphorically or for real), and pull out $x amount of money each month. That's all you get. The rest stays in your bank account after you've transferred money to joint items as needed.

If you want/need the guilt (which isn't a healthy way to stop a habit), then tell your wife what you're doing, and ask her to help. She may or may not want to help. Maybe you give her your $400 cash that you are allowing yourself each month. She can give you $100 each week as an allowance.

Keep it as cash though. Do not try to do this with credit or debit. Cash is real and tangible. It does not allow you to borrow against its existence. It does not allow you to spend more than you have.

Seriously, cash only.
posted by hydra77 at 2:45 PM on April 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

Do you actually need to learn good habits, or do you just need to change your system so that you can't do significant financial harm to yourself and by extension your marriage? I can understand that she might not want the ownership of financial responsibility in your household, since it can foster an unhealthy caretaker dynamic. But I don't think that necessarily needs to be the case. Plenty of couples naturally find a mutually beneficial division of labor that isn't 50/50 of each item.

There's no real reason you can't just get an allowance for gas+food every week, and create an environment where you have to talk through larger purchases with your wife. As you have these conversations on an ongoing basis, you'll start to anticipate and then internalize her good habits. Slowly you'll probably find it more convenient to take on more of the financial decision making in the household.

I've found that the way through guilt and shame is to recognize that the problem is bigger than me and it will take a support system bigger than me. Acknowledge that other people share in that responsibility, such as parents, traumatic experiences with income instability or poverty, our consumerist society and predatory lending institutions. That's not absolving you from your own responsibility. But you're dealing with 100% of the consequences. And you're actively working towards getting better. You aren't perfect, no-one is. But you aren't shirking responsibility.

I'm sure bootstrap gumption works for some people. Usually when their problem is entitlement preventing self-care. But when guilt is preventing self-care, chances are you need to reach outwards.
posted by politikitty at 3:32 PM on April 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

I will pay bills / make grown-up purchases, check my balance, and get dinner, only to see on Monday all the posting chickens come home to roost.

I'm a little puzzled by this. If you are budgeting in any way, this should not be happening to you. The chickens should be pre-roosted. Are you choosing not to budget? Because there is no way, simply no way, that you can keep your spending within limits without a budget.

It sounds to me like you need to go to a straight-up, old-school envelopes system, cash only. I'm not trying to shame you here, but you have to face the facts: you are, for whatever reasons, good or bad, consistently avoiding engagement with any system of accountability. (Hopefully therapy will help you with this in the long run, but you have to live in the short-run, too.) This means that budgets, of whatever style, aren't going to work. So you need to take choices out of your hands, so that you no longer have discretion that you are unable to exercise well. If your wife is willing to do this, I would arrange to have all but the cash you need to spend that month direct-deposited to an account she controls, and she can use that to pay the regular household bills. Cut up your credit cards (maaaaaaybe keep one for emergency purposes). Give up access to joint accounts. Then you get your envelopes. $40 in cash for lunches, $30 for nights out, $80 for travel, whatever. The point is that you will simply no longer have the ability to exceed your allotted expenditures. Once the envelope is empty, it's empty.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, we can't make wise choices. That means we need to move upstream and cut off the very ability to make the bad decision. It's, frankly, humiliating to admit that we don't have the control we need. Can't sugar-coat that. (Here I am, a grown-ass woman, and I can't have certain snacks in the house because I will eat the whole box...) But if, realistically, you are going to make the wrong decision over and over again, then the adult, the wise, the prudent thing to do is take the decision away from yourself. if it helps to think about it this way, it's not a referendum on your character (short of stealing again), it's a statement about the hopelessly knotted weirdness of the monkey brain.

The alternative looks like bankruptcy and/or divorce.
posted by praemunire at 3:37 PM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

"She has expressed doubt about joint management in the past, as she doesn't think it will help me learn good habits...We have a joint savings account, which I stole from last year, prompting my last post on this topic."

I'm usually firmly on the side of the financially conservative spouse, but something about this, along with your mention last year that your wife makes more money, just sounds off to me. Like maybe the problem isn't (entirely) your terrible impulsive spending, but partially that you are contributing an unequal share of the expenses relative to your income, or you are saving too aggressively, or there's a lifestyle mismatch, or SOMETHING. Maybe you and your wife should visit a financial planner together to talk about your overall spending and budgeting as a married couple.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:41 PM on April 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

I think this is the solution: "We have a joint savings account, which I stole from last year, prompting my last post on this topic. Since then, even though I've eyed it hard a few times, the memory of that shame and marital debacle has prevented me from touching it. I've considered depositing most of my paycheck in this account, with the appropriate amount for bills in an open checking account and a small amount set aside for expenditures/allowance."

Deposit most of your check into 2 accounts: joint savings and bill-paying. The bill paying account should not have a card that you have easy access to. Either destroy the card or freeze it in water or give it to your wife. Set up your bills so that they autopay from this account. The only account you should be spending from is a third account - a debit account. Stop using credit cards and use cash for almost everything and a debit card if you absolutely must. Use a financial management app like Mint or You Need A Budget, don't set up random spreadsheets or try to keep it in your head. Get used to checking the app every day.

Also, I think a larger discussion with your wife about overall imbalance of your salaries is in order. In many couples where there's a disparity, joint spending (housing, bills, vacations, retirement investing, entertainment) is divided according to % of salary, not a straight 50/50. When you say that it's dining out and fun spending that's getting you in trouble, is that because of the gendered expectation that you pay the bill? How much of this un-budgeted weekend spending is covering activities that you're both participating in?
posted by quince at 3:55 PM on April 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

Came in to say what Snarl Furillo said. Is it possible that you're just not making very much money? And that this is exacerbated by the disparity in your incomes and your wife's rather puritanical views re: 'you'll never learn good habits if I keep bailing you out'? I definitely don't believe that married people need to have joint everything when it comes to money, but that there might be ways to practically address the situation and account for your income disparities, like what quince suggests above (e.g., if I make 1/3 of my partner's salary, then I pay 1/3 of the rent, etc.). You're doing a good job, even if it doesn't feel like it. Unlearning/relearning money stuff can take a really long time and it's often a non-linear journey.
posted by stellaluna at 4:08 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I often feel like I am spending responsibly, but I will pay bills / make grown-up purchases, check my balance, and get dinner, only to see on Monday all the posting chickens come home to roost.

It sounds like you make your decisions sequentially, in isolation. The problem is that a lot of things that look reasonable in isolation can add up to problems. So, you need to start by understanding the big picture - how much money is coming, how much do you need to cover the essentials, how does what is left over match what you are used to spending. It may turn out that you can't really afford any dinners out so when you feel good about choosing a moderate priced restaurant over an expensive one, in truth you are only limiting the damage not preventing it. Some of the answers above are asking about exactly that - maybe your basic income doesn't work for your expenses, especially if you are paying 50% with someone who can afford things that you can't.
posted by metahawk at 4:30 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think you should combo a couple of your bullet points and get a couple's counselor to coach the two of you in talking about money and making a decision together about how to make this easier to do/harder to screw up without appointing her as the only responsible party. This should ideally be different from your existing therapist, who is specifically for you.

This really does kind of feel like there's more going on here than your surface belief that it's all because you're bad at money, but you might have no way of knowing that because there's no open dialogue...and the reason for that might not be entirely on you, it might be your partner letting the situation be wildly unequal because it's to her advantage, and that's a thing you should know about if it's happening.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:45 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Snarl Furiilo, thank you for your support but I don't think that's the whole story. It's true that she makes more money than I do; as of tax filing, about 3.2 more. But she pays for bigger things; for example, our mortgage, while I pay HOA, cable, and groceries. It may be time to sit down and rebalance, but she is not blind to the disparity. I certainly hope I did not imply that my wife is the bad guy here.

The more difficult aspect for me is the lifestyle element. There is always money being spent, mostly hers, on all kinds of stuff: trips, home decor and renovations, bars and restaurants... My guilt comes in part from watching all of this and feeling I have to contribute in some monetary way. But just as it would be unreasonable of her to demand that I pay all the restaurant tabs, I can't expect her to live in the cheap studio and ramen manner I had grown accustomed to.

Praemunrie, you are correct that I haven't budgeted. It is a real problem to do so when there is nothing wrong, so things go wrong when I haven't thought ahead.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 4:48 PM on April 16, 2018

There is always money being spent, mostly hers, on all kinds of stuff: trips, home decor and renovations, bars and restaurants... My guilt comes in part from watching all of this and feeling I have to

Yeah, but you can't. Spending money that does not exist is not a solution to this. You need to do something about the feelings, and it's much much harder to duck your head and hide when it's an open dialogue between you and your partner. When it's an open dialogue, you can't invent unreasonable expectations on her part (if she doesn't have any) or be so intimidated by them (if she does). You are allowed to have boundaries even if you aren't the higher earner, but there is a balance that can be found here between never doing all the expensive things she wants and sometimes accepting her paying that is team-oriented and isn't going to bankrupt you personally.

But just as it would be unreasonable of her to demand that I pay all the restaurant tabs, I can't expect her to live in the cheap studio and ramen manner I had grown accustomed to.

No, you make these decisions TOGETHER instead. You don't have a sushi income, so if she wants to have sushi with you she's going to have to pay for it and you have to agree to enjoy it with her, or you decline, but you don't pay half with money you don't have. You don't have a travel income, so if she wants to travel with you she's going to have to pay for more than half so you don't have to get a payday loan, and the way you do that is to plan the travel in advance along with budgeting for it like you should be budgeting for everything else.

A budget isn't a punishment of some sort, it's just a visibility thing, a transparency, and it really does sound like she's not doing it either and it's rolling downhill onto you because you don't have the safety net she does - and that's not fair to put on you, or to stand by and let you sweat and suffer without stepping up herself and saying "it was maybe unfair to decide we were going to Paris without actually telling you I was willing to pay for the entire thing myself" or whatever this deal is, so that you can say "yes, I accept your offer" or "no, I'm not comfortable with that, I'm not going."

It doesn't sound like she's necessarily doing this as any sort of score-keeping exercise, but this is still a team thing and she should be mindfully aware of your side of the equation. She probably just likes your company and also likes to do/eat/visit certain things and wants you with her when that happens, and her options are to do it so it's affordable to you or cover what you can't and if she's happy doing that, she should communicate it clearly to you or not do it. You should be allowed to explicitly agree to the plans in advance rather than tag along uncomfortably. It's honestly so much less stressful to just be open and honest about it, it really will be a relief compared to the contortions you're going through now.

It's also entirely possible that not all of this money needs to be spent in the first place. If y'all were talking openly about money, that might be a thing that gets covered too.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:33 PM on April 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

The practical stuff is well covered but I’m going to just reiterate that you need a budget and I highly recommend the cash envelope system for the money in your budget you identity as spending allowances for various things.

On the psychological side, I would think about how you can feel that you are contributing to fun! Times! Without having to spend tons of money. It’s both a life skill but also a control mechanism while you get the actual money out of control. Set fun challenges and do those instead of spending mega bucks. Then you are The Cheap But Good Expert. Here are some I have from when I had to go through this for really different reasons:

$$ restaurant alternatives:
- learn to cook things that are expensive out but good at examples are fresh bread, homemade pizza, risotto (this is crazy cheaper at home), chocolate cheesecake, gnocchi — you give your TIME which is actually $$ in another form
- picnics out in beautiful spots
- become the local street food/cheap eats expert
- do tasting flights at home of small amounts of fancy cheeses, olives, charcuterie, local pastries, gather small tasty things together to enjoy at home
- treat yourself to crazy food at home like chilli in a bag of Doritos or whatever

$$ entertainment alternatives
- look for free concerts from local groups, at local universities, free events and festivals
- do a library date where you both curl up with a book, or take out obscure DVDs not available via streaming
- find the scenic cheap routes locally - for me in Toronto there’s a streetcar that crosses the city, a reasonably inexpensive ferry that taken at the right time of day is magical, etc.
- find free workshops, speakers, tastings, etc
- make a calendar of free/pay what you can hours at local museums and galleries
- home spa night, etc.

You could also convene friends for board game nights, scout cheap cafes with great views, etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:01 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is a 12 step program called Debtors Anonymous for compulsive spenders. If that is not your thing you can buy a book by Gerald Mundas. It’s DA without the meetings and steps.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:03 PM on April 16, 2018

FWIW, you guys have massively different incomes.

When my partner and I had massively different incomes we:
1) Deposited both our incomes into a joint chequing account.
2) We each withdrew, into our own individual chequing accounts, an agreed-upon sum that was for our individual costs / pleasures monthly. We thought it fair that we both had equal amounts to spend on wants.
3) We had a budget of household costs. It changes some months (like December: holidays, or September: all the insurance is due). We calculated what would be coming up that month. We would leave the monthly budget AND $1000 as a buffer in the joint account, and transfer everything else to our savings account.
4) We paid household needs (we agreed about the nature of these in advance) and costs from the joint account based on our budget throughout the month.

We took turns treating each other to meals and dates from our own chequing accounts! We planned expensive trips together, and either saved-up from our individual joy money (in the tight years) or saved-up from our joint account (in the flush years).

During these years, both of us had periods of zero income, and this system ensured we were partners financially and socially.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 7:11 PM on April 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I wonder if part of this is because you simply have less spending money than your wife has? (Part of it is also, I’m sure, that you’re in the habit of spending even without a budget.)

Can you ask your wife to do a proper level set - what is your combined joint income? What are your combined joint expenses? And what are your individual spending needs? (if she has a high powered job, she may need to spend more on clothes, work lunches, transit, etc; if you have a high-cost hobby that is your passion, you may need to spend more on hobbies than she does.) Do this honestly with your spending habits *as they are now* and assess if you can meet all needs. Then decide what, if anything, needs to change.

Also, even if YNAB didn’t work for you, check out the YNAB forums for a community of other people working on their finances, or even r/personalfinance. It will help you feel less alone.
posted by samthemander at 7:20 PM on April 16, 2018

Also - I make about 2/3 of what my partner makes. Neither of us are big spenders, but my partner abhors to look at a budget and simply won’t do it - so I do it. When we’re talking about a big expense, I make sure we’re setting enough aside to cover it, and he trusts me to manage it so he doesn’t have to (and I am happy to manage it, so I don’t have to bug him to do something I know he hates!). For day to day expenses, we each manage our own personal expenses out of our own personal accounts. For shared expenses like mortgage and cable, we each contribute to joint household account in proportion to our income. For example, if our household expenses are $1000, my partner puts in about $650, and I put in about $350. That way, we each have proportionally contributed to the household, and retain a proportion of our earnings.
posted by samthemander at 7:28 PM on April 16, 2018

Sorry, final thought: is there any need for you to have access to the joint account? It might help your wife regain trust in you, and you to gain trust in her, if you agree to give her full control of the joint expenses.
posted by samthemander at 7:29 PM on April 16, 2018

This can't be done without a budget of some kind. Really. It cannot.

But I am quite struck by your description of your wife's spending. I mean, she knows how much you make, right? She can't be oblivious to the fact that you can't afford all the things she would like. She married someone with a studio-and-ramen income, so either she lives the studio-and-ramen lifestyle, too, or she agrees to fund a more luxurious one herself, because you can't do it. And she knows it!

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more this bothers me. There have been times in my life when I've made more money than friends, and I've been aware of it, and always tried to propose social events that my friends could afford, or (delicately, I hope!) picked up the tab if it was something I really wanted to do, and to do with them. I would try to buy gifts that were nice but not obviously expensive, etc. Because I have at least a teaspoon or so of tact in me somewhere, and also I remember the times when I was surrounded by people far better off than me and couldn't afford anything, and how that felt. So how is your wife trilling on her merry way as you take out payday loans to try to keep up? That sounds both thoughtless and selfish to me.

Emendation: you need a joint budget, and it needs to be realistic about what you can contribute.
posted by praemunire at 7:47 PM on April 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm wondering if you guys need to do more joint agreements about how you, as a couple are spending money. Maybe this just my own bias, but it doesn't make sense to me that you are feeling like the choice is either you overspend to support her lifestyle or she has to live in a studio. There seems to be no sense of "us" in this. I don't know your marriage, but for me, it might really make more sense to create a larger pool of "our money" that would fund "our lifestyle".

Given your larger issues, you and your wife want to work together to figure out a joint budget to support your joint lifestyle and to each contribute to a joint account that would fund most of that. Each puts in money (direct deposit ideally) and it is there to be spent as agreed upon on your joint expenses. In this case, you and your wife might want to put her in charge of spending (maybe you could take responsibility for another aspect your joint life to balance the load)
posted by metahawk at 9:18 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I looked up the Debt book cairnoflore recommended, and the author is Jerrold Mundis.
posted by MichelleinMD at 6:28 AM on April 17, 2018

I think having separate accounts and money in a marriage only works when both partners earn roughly the same amounts or when both agree to live well below the high-earning partner's means. I earn 6x what my husband does before tax (though he works as hard as I do or harder) and it would never occur to me to think I was going to live a life of luxury while he ate ramen or went into debt to try to keep up.

In our case our money is our money and the idea of him "stealing" from me is meaningless. We decide together what we're going to spend our money on and he has an equal say to me. We're both responsible with money and that's probably the only reason it works so well for us. And I know it's up to every couple to decide within their own relationships what's fair when it comes to money and how to handle it. However I think in a more traditional marriage than ours where a husband out-earned a wife by a significant amount most people would I think expect household money to be shared?
posted by hazyjane at 7:42 AM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

The more difficult aspect for me is the lifestyle element. There is always money being spent, mostly hers, on all kinds of stuff: trips, home decor and renovations, bars and restaurants... My guilt comes in part from watching all of this and feeling I have to contribute in some monetary way. But just as it would be unreasonable of her to demand that I pay all the restaurant tabs, I can't expect her to live in the cheap studio and ramen manner I had grown accustomed to

I really don’t get the sense that the wife is expecting the OP to spend more than he has. The OP is saying it is the atmosphere of spending that encourages him to spend. But it’s unreasonable to expect the wife not to travel or update her kitchen or whatever with her own money just because those things make the husband want to spend money he doesn’t have. (Apologies if I’m misgendering anyone here).

This really sounds like an emotional problem to me, and while it sounds like therapy is helping, it isn’t helping enough. I agree a cash-only sysstem is the way to go amd also I would look for books and therapists who specialize in emotional attitudes toward money. It sounds like the OP may be spending in part as a way to soothe himself, reassure himself that he has value equal to his wife’s, contributes equally to his wife even if ahe makes more and pays for more.

Basically money, like food, can have all kinds of emotional meaning (love, self care, self worth) and can often be misused to address underlying issues with those systems. It sounds to me like that’s what is going on.
posted by mrmurbles at 9:39 AM on April 17, 2018

It's true that she makes more money than I do; as of tax filing, about 3.2 more. But she pays for bigger things; for example, our mortgage, while I pay HOA, cable, and groceries.

With respect, this is not the way to budget household expenses, and it could be part of what is getting you into trouble. You may be contributing more than you can actually afford in the first place.

The way to equalize budget household expenses is to pay by percentage of income. If she's earning 3 times as much as you are (am I reading your comment right?), then she pays 3x the total cost of the total household expenses (this is the method recommended by Suze Orman).

For example, at our house we made an excel spreadsheet listing each monthly household expense by line item (mortgage, electricity, water, etc. You can take an average of the last 12mos cost if your costs vary or you're not exactly sure of what they are month-to-month). Some things like food are more subjective but we picked a realistic amount based on the average of our debit card use of the last several months for groceries (let's say $100/week).

At the bottom we totaled up the expenses, then we totaled up our incomes, arrived at a percentage that each person is bringing in, and applied that percentage to the total cost of our regular monthly expenses.

We did not figure in restaurant costs, nor other entertainment costs (we do have a line item where we contribute an amount to save towards next year's vacation, but that's sort of advanced for your current purposes).

As for having spending money: after we contributed accordingly to our fixed costs, we looked at what we had left, divided that in half, and gave half to "the house" (our long-term joint savings, which will pay for things like a new roof or new appliances, as needed), and we each kept the other half. The half that I keep each month is mine to do with as I wish. I either save it or I spend as I care to, without any questions as to where my money went.

If hubby suggests we attend a concert, he pays for it. If I suggest a particular restaurant, I pay for it. I have had to learn to take a mental step back for a minute, think about how much cash I have in my wallet, and then decide if I should nominate that restaurant. That's been a matter of practice, and has been resolved through a few fights and few times where I've embarrassed myself by suggesting something more expensive than I can afford. So be it, it was a learning experience and has made me more accountable to my partner and his feelings.

If you are contributing to the household fairly by percentage of wages, there's no possibility that you are stealing money from "the house" (or, the family, as it were). If the only money that you have to deal with is the money left in your pocket, you can use that as a means to practice learning good spending habits, and learning about your triggers.

It sounds like you are still trying to tough some of this out, and it sounds like maybe you have more issues that you need to address with your counselor. If your counselor is not helping you get to the root of the problem (or if you are unwilling to face/address those issues with that particular person) it may be time to either up your visits, or try another counselor.
posted by vignettist at 10:12 AM on April 17, 2018

it’s unreasonable to expect the wife not to travel

I don't know, I understand that every marriage is different and what works for some will be unacceptable to others, but it seems really strange to me for a spouse to be off traveling for pleasure with their own money, knowing that the other spouse would otherwise want to, but can't afford to come, or else is spending more than they have to do so. (As distinct from trips the other spouse has no interest in, or can't make for other reasons.) That's such a separation of both finances and enjoyment of life that it hardly feels like a marriage to me. More importantly, it doesn't seem to be working for OP. OP, I think maybe some joint marriage counseling is in order...while spending is clearly an issue you need to work on, it seems like there are some power imbalances that may be making it harder for you.
posted by praemunire at 10:14 AM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

but it seems really strange to me for a spouse to be off traveling for pleasure with their own money, knowing that the other spouse would otherwise want to, but can't afford to come, or else is spending more than they have to do so.

My read was that when they travel she is paying major costs for both (travel, lodging) but he’s spending more than he has on, like, bar tabs when they’re on vacation.

I mean, who knows, it isnt clear and maybe she is insensitive and expecting him to live beyond his means. Regardless I agree some kind of couples therapy where they talk through all this is in order.
posted by mrmurbles at 12:48 PM on April 17, 2018

Thank you everyone for your thoughts and feedback. I think there are some strong suggestions in here, and some things to think about.

For what it's worth, I don't believe my wife is blasé, insensitive, or inconsiderate of my income. We've made several accommodations along the way; for example, when we eat out together, I have a cash allowance that I set, and I pay her cash for my portion when she picks up the tab. That way, I can have a beer and a sandwich while she has an entree and two cocktails without me feeling like I'm paying 200% of what I owe. Also, having her pick up the whole tab helps prevent awkwardness with servers or bartenders, which has been uncomfortable when I have to insist that they keep separate tabs, or if I get uncomfortable and end up splitting 50/50 to avoid their judgement.

The travel scenarios were in my hands as well. I had calculated that I could save up enough for my portion of the expenditures (like bar tabs and such), and I didn't. There were two trips that we had both planned and hoped for, and it was my lack of discipline in sticking to the budgets that I had calculated that bit me. She didn't know that I hadn't held up my end of the bargain, and when one of the trips included unexpected expenses, she immediately offered to cover it.

We are newlyweds, and we are both coming from long periods of independence. In her case, it was a drive to earn her way out of her crappy childhood that got her lucrative jobs and a nice lifestyle. In my case, a dual desire to help other people and avoid taking on responsibility meant that I did a lot of nonprofit work and couch surfing. We live in a very expensive city, and money stuff made me uncomfortable long before we met. We're different people, but we bring out good things in each other; she has helped me immensely to improve my self-esteem, consider my career, and grow into progressive responsibility at home and at work. And I am making progress, despite my anxiety. I have helped her open herself up to having other people in her life, and to the idea of finding meaningful work. I certainly don't think she's taking advantage of me; if anything, I would be unlikely to have a home or a car without her. I would be unlikely to have a real job without her. We are flawed people, but we love each other and we are becoming better.

I know I'm rambling, but I truly believe that the issue that I'm facing is my own comfort with my means, and my openness about that challenge with her. In this way, it was kind of easier to have no money (not hard to remember to budget when you're literally counting the rent by the dollar) than it is to have some money (we will not go hungry or miss a payment, but I can still screw up savings or plans or my credit score [which has only existed since I met her]). I think if I'm better about being open, she'll be open to re-balancing our finances and expectations.

She's looking to make a career change, and has asked me to think of ways to lower our household expenditures. That's where I'm a Viking, so I think it's a good place to start this conversation. I'm going to have her come along to a counseling session with me to discuss this stuff, and I'll put together another budget on Mint, which she'll be able to see. That way, it'll be black and white for accountability: for example, I only have 300 discretionary dollars this month, so if we want to go out to the island, and I pay for the ferry, I will only have $283. If we stop for lunch, $268. And so forth. Hopefully this will help me understand the magnitude of an expenditure, while making sure that my guilt is only tied to the wisdom of a discretionary spend, rather than how discretionary spending may compete with bills or groceries.

Once again, thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments. I don't think I'm a bad person, but I know I can keep getting better.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you guys need a joint account for joint expendatures. So every time you go out to eat or travel, it's just paid for with funds from that joint account. Figure out how much each of you contributes to the joint account per month. So if your couple's going out budget is $250 per month, then she contributes about 190 and you contribute about 60 per month. Then if you want to travel of something you have to wait and save up until this account has a balance to pay for that travel. Then you will both be saving and scrimping for a common goal, both having spaghetti dinner at home a few fridays instead of going out. And then both enjoying the reward of vacation you saved up for.
I think you then need a separate joint account for recurring bills (housing and utilities). This and the fun budget joint accounts should be filled with either direct deposit splitting or automatic deductions.
Then for your own personal spending like buying lunches at work or whatever, you need a cash system. If you want to purchase something big, like say an iPad, you have to scrimp from this money and save up for it.

IF you have a problem with impulse purchases that you don't need, i usually take pictures of the thing or put it in my calendar for 4-8 weeks in the future and if i still want it then i can actually pursue planning for it in my budget.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:13 PM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

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