How do I stop judging my significant other's spending habits?
September 1, 2006 7:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop judging my significant other's spending habits? (more inside)

Yesterday, my boyfriend bought this god awful shirt. It's this drab olive, shiny button down shirt that looks like what those South American guys wear when they go clubbing. We got into an argument over it. It was my fault because I feel like he wastes money and it offends me to see him spend money on something so hideous. He defended the purchase saying that he was tired of the clothes he had and that it was only $30. He has more clothes than I do and I can't explain this entirely, but I felt offended that he said he was tired of his clothes. I love those clothes. I think he's gorgeous and that all the clothes he has make him look wonderful. I have specific memories of things he wore and I am fairly attached to the things he wears. Then he went and bought this horrible shirt.

He and I live together. I was scared about moving in together, but I love him and we've been together for a long time.

I know. It's just a shirt, but I cried about it. I hate that shirt! It looks horrible. It makes him look skeazy. I don't share the idea that $30 is a small sum of money. I think $30 could go for charitable purposes or into his savings account. I think $30 is a lot. That morning, he said he was going to take this class that cost $400. The same class is offered at the nearby state university for $300. He wasn't overly concerned about the difference in cost, until it turned out that the private university's tuition didn't cover the cost of materials and the state university covered materials.

I can't spend $10 on a shirt without really, really thinking it over and to me, there's no such thing as just $5.00. There is, however, just $2.00, but even then, it sort of depends on what I'm buying. Here's something else that irks me: He has a broken down car that we never use that he bought a parking space for, at $150 a month. He's a paralegal temp and averages about $40K-$50K a year. He ended up on a sixth month project that might be extended. His job steadily brings in money and there hasn't been one time in a year and a half that he hasn't been working. He works a lot. All the time. I regularly don't see him until 8-9 pm in the evening.

I know when couples move into the partnership phase where they share spaces and their lives, they do argue about money. All of the money I earn is my own. I have a savings account and an IRA. He's older than me, has no IRA and just got a savings account started. He's not saving aggressively enough, in my opinion. I try to keep my opinions to myself. It's his money, his life, his choices. I don't want to later be blamed for trying to influence him in ways that he resents later.

I hate myself for this, for judging him, because I adore him. He's a wonderful man, he holds up his share of the rent and it really isn't any of my business how he spends his money so long as he holds up his share of the rent. But I'm really worried about him and how he spends unnecessarily. He doesn't use or need the car at all (We haven't used it for more than eight months now), it's in need of repair and to me, $150 is a lot of money.

Here's my question: How do I let him just do whatever he does and not get annoyed or offended by how he spends money. We're not engaged or married, so I just don't feel like it's my business or my burden to bear. And I want to stay in this relationship, whether or not we ever get married or not. I just don't know how to not take his spending personally.
posted by onepapertiger to Human Relations (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you insecure about your own financial situation? It just seems to me that a lot of this is you projecting your own financial insecurity on him. Are you worried that, because he's spending all of his money, that he won't have any to spend on you? I mean, I can understand if he's frittering all of his money away, but crying over a $30 shirt sounds like you are going way overboard.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:57 AM on September 1, 2006

I just don't know how to not take his spending personally.

I'm finding this question quite bizarre. Why should you take someone else's spending personally? I mean I understand about the horror of the sleazy shirt, but why should it upset you about how your bf spends his money?

Let him do what he wants. As long as he's not in debt, has a job, he makes his rent and doesn't buy super-crazy expensive things (like boat/car expensive), I don't see that he has a problem. You should ask yourself why it's such a problem to you.
posted by dydecker at 8:02 AM on September 1, 2006

For a man who makes 40-50k a year, $30 is not a lot of money. You need to keep that in mind. It sounds like your expectations of him are really high:

I don't share the idea that $30 is a small sum of money. I think $30 could go for charitable purposes or into his savings account.

So he can't spend $30 on himself, just because, EVER? That's a little harsh. Everyone deserves to treat themselves once in awhile, and a $30 shirt doesn't sound out of line (an ugly shirt is another thing, but, well, what can ya do?)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:02 AM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

it's not your business or burden to bear unless you're married to him ... if you were married, the lack of saving and the 150 bucks a month to park the junker should be an area of mutual concern ... but on what he makes, a 30 buck shirt ought to be passed over in silence, no matter how ugly it is

he's obviously not money minded and you are ... this can be trouble, but in your present situation with him i don't think you have the standing to be concerned about it

if you do decide to get married someday, the two of you will have to have a long series of talks about money management ... until then, i'd drop it
posted by pyramid termite at 8:02 AM on September 1, 2006

Calm down, have some dip. It's just a shirt.

It sounds like you've got issues with him that go way beyond money—you say he works (a lot, even), steadily brings in money, doesn't seem to have any trouble paying the rent. His money is his, right up until the point where he starts borrowing from you because he can't cover his bills. He's not doing that, right?

I don't want to wax all TherapyFilter (I'm sure someone will suggest that soon anyway, and it's not a bad idea), but it's just something to think about.

Perhaps you could help him make a budget that includes both saving and spending money? My husband and I are on a tight budget right now, but we allot ourselves a certain (very small) amount of "silly money" each paycheck so that we don't feel overly deprived. I might think he's goofy for buying another DVD he'll never watch or a hat he's never going to wear, but it's not my business as long as he meets his (and our) obligations.

On preview, MegoSteve's got a good point. Your financial situation sounds pretty good in writing, but are you worried about something?
posted by timetoevolve at 8:03 AM on September 1, 2006

I have to agree on the therapy point. Obviously, the money stuff really really triggers something in you -- perhaps how you were raised re money, perhaps your own fears re money, perhaps issues re your class idenfitication, etc. [For example, do you feel as though you need to make more money, that you are not being paid what you are worth, that others are paid more than you unfairly? But perhaps you don't want to make more money because you self-identify as being a certain class. or as not caring about money.] It's a really common therapy issue to talk about money and emotions around money and class.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:15 AM on September 1, 2006

Is it possible that you are viewing his spending habits as a lack of commitment to your future as a couple? What I mean is, money that he "wastes" (in your opinion) is money that is not being put towards your future together.

My own feeling is that a couple living together is not the same as two roommates, that living together is different from dating. It's not marriage, yes, but it's another level in a relationship. If it were my relationship, the fact that there is no "our money" would mean that the man is not taking our relationship seriously, and that he doesn't see us as together in the long run. And if I cared about that, then I would start resenting his spending. IANATherapist, and I can't tell if that's how you feel or not from your post, but I certainly don't think it's "just a shirt" -- it's about something else that the shirt symbolizes.
posted by JanetLand at 8:15 AM on September 1, 2006

I agree that it sounds like you have some of your own issues surrounding money, but the fact that you are aware of it and want to find a way to separate those from your feelings toward your boyfriend is a good start. I'm sure lots of responses will offer tips on how to handle that in the day-to-day short term.

So, I'm going to be the long-term Negative Nelly:

If your money issues are as deep-seated as they sound from your post, you are not going to be able to completely stop judging your BF. And eventually that judgment will color your perception of him, and it will damage your relationship over time.

Further, you seem to rely heavily for comfort on the fact that you aren't married, that your money is yours and his money is his, that his spending habits aren't yours to correct. It's as though you are saying, "Thank God these aren't my problems to jointly consider, or I'd go crazy! If that $30 had been half mine...."

Down the road, if you plan to get serious with him, you should probably consider couples' financial counseling.

But, in the present: you two clearly have divergent financial perspectives, and you can't address his right now but you can address yours.

So, if a future with him is your goal, it might be worth taking a hard look at your personal money issues now, either via a family member or confidante, or a self-help book on changing your financial outlook, or a professional.

Perhaps you could help him make a budget that includes both saving and spending money?

I disagree with this suggestion. Why does the BF need a budget when he's not the one upset about his spending habits?
posted by pineapple at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2006

My fiancee and I have this issue to a point. If he sees something he wants, he buys it. It stresses me out because I in the past have had to watch every penny. Its not like that now, we are comfortable, he can usually buy what he wants without question.

IF you are getting married then it is something to discuss. We just made comprimises. He has to put extra money toward the mortgage and home equity loans if he is going to buy something crazy. Don't sweat the money issue if no one is getting far into dept or whatever. If has made my life much less hectic to just go with the flow on this issue.

(Mind you, I still get weird about spending my money, but I let him do what he wants with his)
posted by stormygrey at 8:17 AM on September 1, 2006

What, he can't spend his $30 on a shirt? Does he own you money that he hasn't paid back? If not, his $30, his shirt.
posted by jon_kill at 8:19 AM on September 1, 2006

I can't offer advice, as such, maybe just share some thoughts.

Crying over a $30 shirt your boyfriend bought = worrisome.
Judging $150 a month to be a needless expense if it's for a car you both don't use = reasonable.
Muddling the two into the same issue and feeling wretched about both = ill-advised und unhelpful.

I just don't know how to not take his spending personally.

I think that's exactly the problem and if you haven't yet, you will have to talk this over with him. Not in a "you bought a really ugly shirt, I hate it so much, what's wrong with the clothes you already have and why do you always have to spend so much money anyway" way, but rather along the lines of "I think we both have vastly differing approaches to spending money and it's been getting to me, maybe we can find some sort of compromise we both can live with." [On preview: unless it really is about the shirt / other issues / deeper relationship trouble / IANATherapist]

Other than that, and I hate to be that girl [on preview again: I guess I'll be that someone, then], you could maybe talk to someone about your feelings towards money. You do come across as somewhat obsessive / overly worried.
posted by mumble at 8:21 AM on September 1, 2006

It does sound like your reaction is a bit over the top, which would seem to indicate that it's not the shirt so much but what the shirt somehow stands for that's really bothering you. My $0.02 reading would be either, as others have mentioned, that you're upset he's not saving up for a "we," that he's spending money on himself that you somehow wish he were making into a relationship fund. The other quick possibility that jumps out is that you mention he works a lot, you don't see him that much, *and* he's thinking of taking a class -- could it be that you're upset he's spending all this time away from you, and then doesn't even think of you when he spends the money he earns away from you? (Sorry, that's a bit convoluted, I hope it makes sense.)

It could be something else entirely, but it might be worthwhile to sit for a bit and figure out what the underlying issue here is. It's not just "$30 on a shirt"; it's "$30 he didn't spend on me" or "a shirt that doesn't fit the new clothes I bought him" or "the equivalent of two hours away from me at work" or something else.
posted by occhiblu at 8:25 AM on September 1, 2006

He has different values. You wouldn't want him forcing you do buy things you don't want. So, you shouldn't be forcing him to not buy things he wants, within reason, and 30 dollars is well within reason. You think your values are superior to his and trying to win him over to make yourself feel better. He won't change, but you can easily solve the problem by allowing him his personal space to be him.

Perhaps he wants to spend his money because he works so hard! I think he wants to enjoy his hard work through buying stuff. It might be hard on you to not see him until 8, but he is the one working until 8! Just give him some space.

I agree that he should have at least a healthy savings account, but focusing on a shirt will not convince him to save more. BTW, the shirt does sound awful.

Also, you could lighten up a bit on your own spending habits. Allow yourself to splurge. I used to be like you, fretting over every goddamn purchase, until my wife showed me how to enjoy buying things, within reason and budget. I suggest you let him show you how to enjoy this like by buying something big you don't think you deserve. You'll learn the value of enjoying money and he'll be more open to listening about saving.
posted by milarepa at 8:26 AM on September 1, 2006

As a not particularly frugal person who make enough money not to care, I've got to side with your boyfriend. $30 is lunch money, if it made him feel better, it's cheap therapy.

If he's spending more than he makes and has maxed out credit card, he's got a problem. If you're going to nitpick him on every cent he spends, you both have a problem, but the problem is you. Dealing with your own insecurity is hard, but dealing with someone else's insecurity is not only hard it's annoying. Part of his job in this relationship is to be supportive and to help you overcome your problems, part of your job is to avoid being a whiney pain in the ass. You're crying because he bought a shirt? Get some perspective.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:27 AM on September 1, 2006

IMHO, the only way to maintain a healthy marriage-like financial arrangement (which sounds like what you're really looking for here) is to start a budget together and negotiate what each of you is going to spend on non-discretionary and discretionary things each month. See if he's willing to go for it, as a test of whether you're ready to take your relationship to the next level.

If you do go for it, you'll be negotiating on the amounts for these discretionary things, not on the specific purchases, and you'll avoid building up resentment every time he makes a spending decision you don't like. Instead of thinking that $30 for a butt-ugly shirt could have gone to charity, you'll realize that it's $30 he now no longer has to spend on other butt-ugly wardrobe items.

Otherwise, I think you'll just have to get over his bad spending decisions, 'cause you've got no business complaining as long as he's paying his share of the rent.
posted by RibaldOne at 8:27 AM on September 1, 2006

So there's a couple of things you need to sort out here. First of all, your money is currently kept separate, yes? In that case, as long as he is keeping up his end of your financial agreements, you don't get a say in how he spends the rest of his money.

But this doesn't sound like it will ultimately work. So the two of you need to re-negotiate your financial agreements. Decide together what you will do for savings, IRAs, loan payments, whatever. And then how much you each get for discretionary money.

But sorry, he's still gonna get the ugly shirts with his own money.
posted by gaspode at 8:27 AM on September 1, 2006

or what RibaldOne said.
posted by gaspode at 8:28 AM on September 1, 2006

You're all right, of course, all of you. And I know it's just my own problem with spending money. It was just such a godawful ugly shirt. If it had been the $120 blazer, I think the money would have been well-spent on a quality piece of clothing that looked good on him.

He has educational loans to pay back still and credit card. Not that I don't think he can handle it. He just complains about not having enough money sometimes and it's just like, well, duh, obviously.

I think I cried because it was just such a horrible waste of money. Adn whether or not we get married, I would like to know that he has savings he can fall back on to hold up his share of the rent should he not have any steady assignments in the future.

I don't expect him and discourage him from spending his money on me. Not all women want men to spend money on gifts for them.

I do a have weird relationship with money because I'm on my own entirely now and have no family to depend on for money. It's frightening.

I know it's his money and he can spend it anyway that he wants. I guess I just am worried what kind of partner he would be in marriage, if he can so casually spend money when he owes money, ought to be starting an IRA and could be socking $180 towards the class he wants to take or a metro pass or health insurance or whatever.

I agree, I'm the one with the problem. But what I asked was how do I not immediately have an internal emotional reaction to things I think are not worthy of respect. That being said, I'm asking for help on how to be less judgmental, not on having someone else tell me what a weird relationship I have with money.

How do I change my attitude? How does anybody change their attitude about anything really?
posted by onepapertiger at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2006

First: there are thrifty people and there are spendy people. They will never really understand one another, but that doesn't mean that good compromises can't be made.

This tension has nothing really to do with the shirt, of course. It sounds to me like you really see yourself having a long-term future with this man, and you are concerned for his future. That's respectable, it doesn't mean you need therapy. But it indicates that he may have different ideas about the nature of your relationship, which is something you need to find out.

Apologize about the shirt fiasco and sit down and really talk to him. Find out what his savings plans are, and maybe work with him to develop a solid savings arangement he can stick with.

Although he is not beholden to you in any formal way, he should at least care about your concerns. You are not just roommates, and you are within reason to talk to him about this.

You may find that your frustration over his little excesses isn't as acute if you know that he is being otherwise responsible.

My fiancé is spendy and it does irk me sometimes. But we've talked about it and I know that he will never put himself or us in financial danger. Every time he brings home some stupid gadget I take a deep breath and remind myself that I really, truly trust this man to use his own head.

On preview, what many others have said. Urf.
posted by miagaille at 8:39 AM on September 1, 2006

I know. It's just a shirt, but I cried about it.

I don't think this is normal behaviour. You might be upset about something else perhaps?
posted by chunking express at 8:40 AM on September 1, 2006

The poster sounds like a cheapskate, at least compared to the bf. That's always going to cause friction between them. Also, what chunking express said: crying over the shirt is weird (unless it's part of a much bigger thing).
posted by pracowity at 8:43 AM on September 1, 2006

How do I change my attitude?

You need to talk to him about it, as miagaille said. This is not something you can just switch off or get over on your own -- the two of you have different feelings about money, and these views need to get clarified. And it's not just "your problem" -- it's affecting your relationship, and therefore it's his problem too.
posted by JanetLand at 8:44 AM on September 1, 2006

Honestly, you probably can't really change your fundamental attitude. You're a thrifty type. I am too. Waste just annoys me.

But you can probably modulate how it affects you and your relationship. Sometimes I am able to do this by setting up a little logic loop in my head:

Do I respect this purchase?
Do I respect the purchaser?
Would I love and respect someone I thought was stupid?
He is not being stupid by making this purchase. He is just being himself. I love, respect, and trust him, so I must be out of line.
posted by miagaille at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, do I know where you're coming from. My fiance and I are the same way - I think $30 is a lot of money, he has no problem blowing $30 on a set of DVDs just because. Our families have very different financial practices. He's a spender, I'm a saver. And like your man, he's good at paying the bills, etc. but his spending habits more often than not enrage me.

I wish I could give you some great advice, but I'm still working through this myself. We've done a lot of talking, I've had to do a lot of introspection to figure out why I feel this way about his spending habits, and what would make me feel better. Would I feel better if he had $XX in his savings account? Would I feel better if he only spent $XX every month, or if he saved $XX and spent what was left? Would I feel better if he stopped spending money on Y, or if he spent more money on Y?

Asking myself these questions has helped us set up a budget (we are getting married), which will include a set amount of "fun" spending money for both of us. This will both allow him to spend money on things he wants, and force me to spend money on myself as well. And hopefully it will prevent us from fighting about finances.

Best of luck working this out!
posted by geeky at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2006

I'm really concerned that you would have such a meltdown over this shirt. I agree that there are bigger money issues that are bothering you, and the shirt was just symbolic. You seem to have (or think that you have) fundamentally different values regarding spending/saving. If so, that's a problem, but it is certainly not insurmountable.

You are apparently living together for the foreseeable future (indefinite future even, perhaps). You should have a discussion with him when you are calm (not crying about a $30 shirt), and discuss how you feel about saving, spending, etc. This is in no way an accusatory conversation, because if you are not engaged then you don't have much place to nitpick him about his personal finances. However, I think an open discussion is a good idea to try to understand where each of you is coming from.

The answer to your question comes through this discussion. You can stop being so judgmental by talking with your boyfriend and trying to understand where he is coming from. If you cannot respect him and continue to feel this way after you have a mature conversation about it, then perhaps this relationship is not the best for you. Money is one of the top reasons that people split/divorce, and it is clear from your question and your feelings why that is. It's a very personal thing.
posted by gatorae at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2006

My husband and I have pretty different attitudes about and approaches to money. He makes more than me, he's always made more than enough, and he doesn’t stress about spending extravagantly from time to time.

I was raised by parents who were terrible with money. Even though they should have made more than enough to get by quite comfortably, there were periods where they struggled because of their own spending stupidity.

I’ve also gone through periods of time where I was barely making enough money to get by on my own. Now that I’m doing a little bit better, saving is very important to me. Even though I can afford extravagance now and then, I can never really indulge blithely. I always have to do a lot of research and comparison shopping. If I can’t get a good deal, I often can’t force myself to make a purchase. I hate feeling like I’ve thrown money away.

There are a couple of things that have helped us maintain a good relationship despite our different attitudes about money:
1 – keeping our money separate.
2 - talking about and being completely open about everything

keeping our money separate
We both know that legally what’s mine is his and what’s his is mine. But I feel more in control over my own life and my own finances when I can set my own personal savings and retirement goals, and when I know his occasional indulgences won’t affect those goals.

We pay all our mutual bills on an income proportionate basis. (I pay about 45 percent of each bill, he pays 55 percent.)

Because he makes more money than me, I do let him pick up the tab most of the time when we go out. I pay sometimes, but he can better afford it.

talking about everything
When I get neurotic about money, I talk about it. I know that this is my issue, but it affects our relationship. It’s important that my husband know what I’m feeling and why.

We are both completely open with one another about our spending, our credit card bills, our bank statements. No secrets.

I have to admit that I do nudge him to do stuff that he probably wouldn’t be doing otherwise. Each time he’s gotten a pay raise since I’ve known him, I’ve convinced him to increase his 401-k contribution (it’s now up to 15 percent). Right now I’m trying to get him to put his cash savings into an interest bearing account. It drives me nuts that it’s losing value due to inflation, when I know he could be earning 5 percent on it.

But in the end, for all my nudging, I have to remember that first principal – our money is separate. What he does with it is his decision.

The exception
I should add, there's an exception to the "our money is separate" rule. We have an agreement that we are both saving for emergencies, investing for retirement and that neither of us will go into debt. In time of crisis, we'd definitely bail each other out. I think the "bailing each other out" agreement isn't one you should make in your current relationship just yet, though. That's something that comes with time, trust and communication.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:51 AM on September 1, 2006 [4 favorites]

Why stop? It's perfectly fine to judge your boyfriend's spending habits. Indeed, how someone makes money, saves money and spends money reflects pretty profoundly a whole range of things about themselves.

The question you need to ask yourself is whether your judgement is correct. Lots of people are very responsible about money in the big picture, but simply aren't in the habit of pinching pennies. And everyone affords themselves small luxuries; it's human nature: some people's luxuries aren't denominated in money.

Regarding his savings, this is actually a place where you can shift from judgment to education. You'd be amazed how many very smart people do very little retirement savings, when they have the resources to do so. A single man making $50,000 a year and no pension should be putting at least $2,000 or $3,000 a year into an IRA; it's tax deductible, for heck's sake. But you're not going to get him to start contributing by saying his a bad person, you're going to get him saving by showing him the power of compounding tax-deferred interest, and the demographic facts which make is nigh-inevitable that social security benefits for people who are young now are going to be a (possibly quite small) fraction of the benefit levels that current retirees enjoy.
posted by MattD at 8:52 AM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I love those clothes. I think he's gorgeous and that all the clothes he has make him look wonderful. I have specific memories of things he wore and I am fairly attached to the things he wears.

This makes it sound like it's not about the money at all. Is there a bigger issue here, about him changing from the person you love?
posted by smackfu at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend is an adult, not a walking Ken doll, and his buying an ugly-ass shirt (i.e., a shirt that's ugly to you) is not a reflection on your ability to dress him up.

The $30 shirt is much less of an issue than his wanting to spend $400 for the class at a private university, plus materials, when he could spend $300 for the same class at the state university, including materials.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:16 AM on September 1, 2006

It was just such a godawful ugly shirt. If it had been the $120 blazer, I think the money would have been well-spent on a quality piece of clothing that looked good on him.

then it's about your not liking his personal taste, or lack of it ... he's a person, not a doll you can dress as you please ... this is where boundaries come in ... if he's spending too much money and it's affecting you, this can be a reason to have a talk with him, as it can affect you ... if he's got a shirt you consider tacky, this is just something you have to accept ... it doesn't have to bug you unless you let it

the best way to deal with the shirt problem is to buy a cheap tacky article of clothing yourself and wear it next time he wears his ... loosen up and have fun with it ... yes, you'll probably cringe when you see yourself in it, but when you realize that you're still the same person, you'll realize that it's ok to be trashy once in awhile and lose your hangups about how he looks in his shirt

call it bad taste day and find some humor in it
posted by pyramid termite at 9:28 AM on September 1, 2006

I do a have weird relationship with money because I'm on my own entirely now and have no family to depend on for money. It's frightening.

This is the attitude you need to get over. Why do you need to depend on somebody (family, boyfriend) for money? Taking care of yourself financially should be empowering, not frightening.

All the advice above about talking to him is well and good, but you also need to look hard at yourself. Put your personal financial goals on paper, and celebrate/make a big fuss when you meet them. Prove to yourself over and over again that you can take care of yourself. By demonstrating that you can take care of yourself, you can change your attitude from dependent to empowered.

Suggestions: Revel in your growing IRA and your 6-months-pay emergency fund, and learn to feel confident that you personally can handle financial emergencies that you (personally) encounter. Calculate how much money you'll need for the retirement you want, and figure out what contributions you need to make now to reach that goal. Celebrate when you make the contributions. Price out that new car you will want in 5 years and save for it. Again, congratulate yourself for doing it. Make commitments to further your career and improve your income. You can take classes and invest in your future as well. If you haven't asked for and got a raise lately, ask now. If you feel your job is not sufficiently economically rewarding, look around. I'm sure there are other ways to demonstrate to yourself that you can look after your own future and depend on yourself, but those are some ideas off the top of my head.

You clearly feel like he has some kind of impending financial doom, and that you would be personally responsible for this somehow should it occur. Definitely talk to him about this. However, he's not your financial responsibility and you are not a lending bank. Tell him that at this point in your relationship, he's not allowed to be dependent on you financially. Set the boundary. Keep your eyes on your own paper and try to get rid of those feelings of dependence before moving on towards interdependence with your boyfriend. If you can't adjust the attitudes on your own, therapy may help.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:29 AM on September 1, 2006

He could be equally (and equally irrationally) upset at you for not making as much money as he does. That's pretty wasteful of you!
posted by callmejay at 9:36 AM on September 1, 2006

First: understanding your emotional relationship with money is the only way you are going to develop control of these reactions, so expecting the topic to be left aside is not reasonable.

I think: your relationship with money is not really weird. It seems to me you use cautious financial management to promote feelings of stability and security. Very normal, very understandable, but you probably take it too far.

Your boyfriend's behavior attacks those feelings, specifically in your sense of the future of the relationship. A $30 ugly shirt is not a normal thing to cry about. Feeling insecure about your relationship's future is.

Changing emotional reactions is very hard. I think you need to work on being very conscious that his actions are not intent on hewing at the roots of stability in your relationship. I think you need to be open to examining the rationality of your own attitudes to money, and consider toning them down (a person being unwilling to spend money even when they can afford it can have a negative impact on a relationship too).

I also notice you keep saying "whether we get married or not." Is it possible you have issues/questions/fears about the future and stability of the relationship that go beyond money? You say you've been together a long time, but are not engaged, is this bothering you? The money could be just another thing making you feel "he's not invested in our future." I know I'm reading a lot into your comments, I'm just suggesting a possibility.

But to an extent your question (how to "let him just do whatever he does and not get annoyed or offended by how he spends money") isn't totally reasonable. Ugly shirt aside, if you want a future with this fellow the difference between your financial approaches will have to be reconciled and both of you will have to make compromises. For this you need to talk to him about how money issues feel and acknowledge that some of your reactions are irrational (shirt breakdown) and some are not (worried about a $40-50K salary professional who is not investing in his retirement).

You have to come to see that if you freak over little inconsequential things, it blows the credibility of your input on serious and things where you are solidly in the right (he should be creating retirement savings and paying down revolving debt) and will make him stubborn and unwilling to think about marginal things... I know you haven't given the whole story on that car. If he's paying $150 monthly to park a car he can't drive it is because he has some emotional attachment to it, he has a dream about fixing it up - what is it, a classic, some sporty number? Some decisions may be objectively bad but you will simply have to accept them, but it should be okay to talk about them and even for you to push them a little. Because if you get married and your finances become more intertwined you are going to have these kinds of discussions all the time and you best get working on finding a way to do them that doesn't devolve into accusations, judgement, argument and crying. Honestly, just keeping your mouth shut is not an option (though it is a useful tool you can apply judiciously).

He needs to understand that even if it isn't always rational his spending has an emotional impact on you and if he is willing to talk about things without judging you for having those reactions, to explain what the personal value is to him in certain decisions (what is the more costly educational alternative giving him that he values? What is owning that car giving him that he values, since it obviously isn't what most of us value in a car, i.e. driving it around?). Right now it sounds like his baseline reaction to your questioning his spending is "it isn't really much money" which neither explains his motivations nor acknowledges your emotional reactions.

Even if you can't totally tame your reactions, if you hear his personal reasons for the spending he does, it might help you not feel so personally threatened by his spending. And if he can hear how the fear of financial instability impacts you emotionally, he might feel less like you are attacking his sensibility or decisions or even his future ability to earn, which he well might right now. Communication is the only real long term solution to this situation.
posted by nanojath at 9:43 AM on September 1, 2006

I'm skipping the other answers so apologies if this is redundant.

I have been in the same boat a few times--my boyfriend wastes his money on stupid things--buying orange juice at the coffee shop every day when he could save a ton buying some at the grocery store and keeping it at home. And the smoking--he is wasting hundreds of dollars a year on smokes. The reason why it bugs me is that I"m looking towards the future--will that OJ and cigarette money piling up prevent us from getting a nicer condo than we could have, etc? We make the same amount of money.

Anyway, this is about you, not me. But I think first what you should do is sit down with him and tell him how you feel--but in a matter that says "Please help me get over this. I don't like feeling this way. I'm not asking you to change per all my requests but maybe you can help me figure this out instead me steaming."

For me, well, bf made one big change--he quit buying his lunch out every day (which solved two things I was nagging him about--his health and his money.) While he still wastes the money every day on coffee and OJ, I was mollified by the fact that he took one of those suggestions to heart (and told me he noticed a difference in his wallet.) So no, he's not perfect but I feel better knowing that he at least gave one of my suggestions a shot--maybe your BF can agree to one small change too (as long as you are open-minded if he has any 'small requests' for you in the future as well!)
posted by clairezulkey at 9:54 AM on September 1, 2006

Just to clarify something: When I said that maybe you're upset because he's spending the money on himself rather than on you or on the relationship, I (and I'm sure many others) didn't mean to imply that we thought you wanted him to buy you gifts. I meant more that you might be nervous he's not spending enough on things that would benefit you both -- saving for retirement or emergencies so you don't have to bail him out, saving for a down-payment on a house or an engagement ring or wedding, things like that.

Basically, you may be stressed because you think his financial insecurity might take you down with him, and his spending on throw-away items that only benefit him may be triggering that larger fear.
posted by occhiblu at 9:55 AM on September 1, 2006

How do I change my attitude? How does anybody change their attitude about anything really?

One thing you might try is cultivating non-judgment about your judgmentalness.

You can't stop having judgments; but you can stop identifying with them so completely, and then beating yourself up for having them.

When you find yourself having a big reaction about something your boyfriend does, just notice it. Say to yourself "I'm making judgments." Cultivate an attitude of mild curiosity: "I wonder what's going on here? What is this really about?"

Don't get distracted by focusing on your boyfriend. It's not about how he needs to change so you don't have to feel this way.

Instead, try seeing your painful thoughts as helpful pointers to places in yourself that need acceptance and love.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:58 AM on September 1, 2006

You won't like him anymore the minute you turn him into the person you want him to be.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:11 AM on September 1, 2006

I think I cried because it was just such a horrible waste of money.

At risk of beating a horse near death: no, it really wasn't. $30 on a bag of designer ice cubes made of Andaluvian spring water? A horrible waste. Setting fire to a pile of five-dollar bills, in front of a homeless person? A horrible waste. $30 in quarters spent trying to prove his theory on beating the Claw Machine Game? A horrible waste.

A man's dress shirt for $30, no matter how vile (and yes, it sounds quite ugly), is not a horrible waste.

nanojath made an excellent point with this: "I think you need to work on being very conscious that his actions are not intent on hewing at the roots of stability in your relationship."

How do I change my attitude? How does anybody change their attitude about anything really?

Behavioral modification. When he does something spendy that you perceive to be irresponsible, catch yourself before you react. Ask yourself some questions, sort of like miagaille suggested:

"Did he buy this ugly shirt because he hates me and is plotting my unhappiness?" (no.)

"Did he use my money to buy this ugly shirt?" (no.)

"Am I ready to insist that we commence some sort of couples-plan-for-financial-future class or program?"

And as long as the answers are "no," then just tell yourself, "Not my money, not my shirt, not my problem."

Not my money, not my problem. Repeat ad infinitum.
posted by pineapple at 10:14 AM on September 1, 2006

Aside from the money stuff (which I can understand), this part troubled me:

He has more clothes than I do and I can't explain this entirely, but I felt offended that he said he was tired of his clothes. I love those clothes. I think he's gorgeous and that all the clothes he has make him look wonderful. I have specific memories of things he wore and I am fairly attached to the things he wears.

It would make me fairly uncomfortable to date someone who took it personally when I got tired of my clothes. Probably every other month I feel tired of my clothes and if anyone I was dating started to take it personally, that would stress me out. This part can't really be about money, can it? Maybe some kind of fear of things changing, in some way? I'm not certain, but I just wanted to point out that this part really struck me and perhaps he's feeling weird about it too.
posted by jdl at 10:16 AM on September 1, 2006

At risk of beating a horse near death: no, it really wasn't. $30 on a bag of designer ice cubes made of Andaluvian spring water? A horrible waste. Setting fire to a pile of five-dollar bills, in front of a homeless person? A horrible waste. $30 in quarters spent trying to prove his theory on beating the Claw Machine Game? A horrible waste.

I don't think ANYTHING is a waste of money, if the person can afford it, and it's not hurting others. If it makes you happy to spend $30 at the arcade, go to town.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:25 AM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

That being said, I'm asking for help on how to be less judgmental, not on having someone else tell me what a weird relationship I have with money.

How do I change my attitude? How does anybody change their attitude about anything really?

I think realizing the core of where the judgments come from is integral to changing your attitude. People are telling you you have a weird thing with money, because that's one of the root causes of the problem. Your boyfriend is casual with money, but not destructively casual with it, so your reactions are out of line with the perceived problem. Your money issues are at the root of that.

Recognize what your money issues are. Think about where they come from. Think about what you'd rather they were (which is likely someplace less clamped down than they are, but nowhere near as relaxed as your boyfriend's attitude).

Once you have a clear picture in your mind of why you think the way you do, and what way you'd prefer to think, practice that. Next time you have a bad reaction to his spending, stop and think 'I'm thinking X. I'm thinking X because of Y. I'd really rather be thinking Z.'

It won't initially cause you to stop having your emotional reactions, but over time actively thinking about things the way you want to think about them will help train you to passively think that way about them, as well.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:38 AM on September 1, 2006

Something I don't think has been mentioned yet: by trying to push him one way you are actively driving him in the other direction.

Men who feel in control take care of their significant others and act responsibly. A man who feels controlled by his wife can't be trusted to do anything properly. Have a look at this page about the (horribly titled) book "The Surrendered Wife".
posted by teleskiving at 11:22 AM on September 1, 2006

How do I change my attitude? How does anybody change their attitude about anything really?

Have you tried walking in his shoes? Imagine that you bought something that he hated or thought was frivolous, and he threw a fit over it. How would that make you feel -- would you be upset that he felt he had any right to tell you how to spend what you've earned?

Some posters have suggested that it's you who have the money issues. I don't necessarily buy that. I just think you have different views about money and what its purpose is. Some people see obtaining money as a goal unto itself, others see money as just a tool for obtaining other goals. Some have a longer-term view and think that you should save as much as you can so you can be comfortable in your old age; others take a more carpe-diem approach, we could die tomorrow and all that savings will have brought me no joy. In the end, it's all about priorities and outlook.

In this case, it appears that his financial priorities are not the same as yours. Maybe this is why you cried about a $30 purchase - perhaps you're starting to recognize that some of his views are fundamentally different from yours, and maybe you see this as indicative of a crisis in your relationship. Spending habits are a manifestation of one's larger outlook on life. When you and your S.O. talk, and you should talk, you should talk about your big picture views on life, not about the petty differences in how you want to spend.

Keep in mind, too, that he works hard; harder than a lot of people. He deserves to spend at least a portion (and since you're not married, that portion is entirely up to him) of what he earns on whatever he wants - even you think it's frivolous, ugly, or otherwise improper.
posted by jknecht at 11:43 AM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh I completely understand crying over an ugly $30 shirt.
It's not the shirt; it's everything the damn shirt represents.

It sounds like you have a lot of anxiety about your relationship with this guy in general. You are thinking ahead to marriage, and it seems you have some of the normal anxiety that accompanies that. It also sounds like you are afraid that, in the future, your boyfriend will not be ready for marriage when you are. You're projecting your expenses forward to if/when you two combine them, and you're afraid you're going to resent then what he spends now.

I think you need to do some soul-searching about this relationship and have a talk with this guy about your future. The olive shirt is a red herring.

In the meantime, try TRULY separating all finances. Keep a log book in a central location where all household expenses get listed each time they are paid. Include who paid them, what the expense was (groceries, rent, etc.), and what the total was. Once a month or so, add up the totals so one of you pays the other the difference, to balance things up.
By keeping things completely separate and balanced, you will probably find that (eventually) you are able to separate your emotions from his spending as well. What's not in the book doesn't affect you.
Also, the very exercise of KEEPING the book will remind you both that you are financially separate, and this can make a big difference over time, too.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 1:49 PM on September 1, 2006

teleskiving: Men who feel in control take care of their significant others and act responsibly. A man who feels controlled by his wife can't be trusted to do anything properly. Have a look at this page about the (horribly titled) book "The Surrendered Wife".

From telskiving's link: "And while she takes her philosophy to an extreme of passivity that I find unpalatable - i.e. "don't express your opinion, just say to your husband 'whatever you think'" - there is a lot of wisdom in her insights." And: "Positive expressions of pleasure after tasks well done accomplish much more than harsh words. And don't qualify those compliments. Drop the "but" as in: "That was nice of you to make dinner but why didn't you clean up the kitchen?" "I appreciate that you went grocery shopping but why did you buy ten bags of potato chips?" Practice saying two simple words: "Thank you." "A woman's belief in her husband's abilities and potential will inspire him to greater heights. Nagging will drag him down."

onepapertiger: Please do not take the above advice. Sitting back and complimenting your SO and accepting what he says and does as The Best of All Possible Things, unless he's abusing you or committing a crime, so as to avoid bruising his ego, is no way to live unless you want to have no say so in your own life. I am dumbfounded to find that there are still people out there telling women (or men, or anyone in between) to sit down, shut up and smile pretty so that hubby doesn't feel less than omniscient/omnipotent.

My opinion: You definitely need to talk with your SO. Perhaps you can explain your feelings without sounding judgmental, and the two of you can compromise? He can put x% into his savings, and you won't so much as blink at whatever else he wants to do with his money..? (Although I have to say.. $150 a month to store something you never use seems a bit much. Can't he find someplace out of the city to store it where it will still be available, but not so damned expensive??)

But if he has no idea that you're freaking out at your new situation of having no familial safety net, and doesn't realize that it's affecting your view on money, he may not know that you're bothered at all. And if he's with you, he cares whether you're bothered or not. :) Talking solves a lot of things, and clears the air. Letting things build up and having tension there is ~not~ a good thing.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 7:58 PM on September 1, 2006

Meep! Eek! , I just read the article again and I still find it to represent a well-balanced perspective on some interesting and helpful ideas. There are some extreme positions taken by the book which the reviewer could have made a point of opposing more directly in some cases (as in your first emphasis) but I don't think it's necessary to throw out the whole thing.

I'm a little unclear as to whether you're opposing the idea of surrendering control over your partner in general, or only when it is applied to women. Would you have taken exception to "A man's belief in his wife's abilities and potential will inspire her to greater heights. Nagging will drag her down." ? Would you tell a man that by supporting his wife even when he thinks she is wrong, he is giving up all control over his own life?

But if he has no idea that you're freaking out at your new situation of having no familial safety net, and doesn't realize that it's affecting your view on money, he may not know that you're bothered at all. And if he's with you, he cares whether you're bothered or not.

See, this is what works. I could not agree more with what you've written here. It's the difference between "this is what I need" and "this is what you should do". Everyone in a relationship should have the right to express the former freely, but being too quick to express the latter often gets you the exact opposite of what you really want in the long term, which is a trustworthy, responsible partner.
posted by teleskiving at 11:53 PM on September 1, 2006

This isn't a money problem or even really a fashion problem. It's a boundary problem. It sounds to me like this is your first serious, live-in relationship. Is it? If it is, you're probably still trying to figure out what's yours, what's his, and what's both of yours, in terms of money, energy, time, and pretty much everything else. You're negotiating unfamiliar terrain. That's bound to be scary in any context, and when your heart, your financial security, and you future are at issue, it's likely to be even worse.

So don't be so hard on yourself. Just work daily, in gentle increments, on giving him room to be himself. You'll go nuts if you take his every word, purchase, and clothing choice personally. At the same time, make sure that you're letting him know, in a constructive maner, about the things you really need. If you've set up housekeeping with a professional temp, it's not at all unreasonable to ask that he maintain a 90-day emergency fund for in case the work dries up.

I would suggest that you sit down with him, come up with a reasonable plan for his creating a 90-day emergency cushion, and then let the rest go. After that, going forward, what he does with his money will not be your problem anymore. Should he walk through the door sporting a brand-new, vile fuscia scarf, just don't engage with it. Think about something that makes you happy, give him a big hug (with your eyes shut so you don't have to view said scarf), make yourself some cocoa, and let it go.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:08 PM on September 2, 2006

teleskiving: I'm a little unclear as to whether you're opposing the idea of surrendering control over your partner in general, or only when it is applied to women.

I would have a problem with anyone in a serious romantic relationship who couldn't deal with suggestions and/or constructive (and only constructive) criticism, be they male or female, straight, bi or gay (human or alien, for that matter). *wry grin* In my experience, people who are looking for a partner aren't looking for a yes-wo/man for a partner, but for someone who will point out when they're about to make a really stupid mistake, let them know if there's something that I've done that they could have done better, etc. No pressure, but definitely the ability to talk about it. Love, support and empathy, of course, but also the respect to say "I think you're wrong here, and this is why.."

I may have misunderstood the article/excerpts from the book, but it didn't seem to me that you were to surrender control of your SO, but of your own opinions, thoughts, needs, etc. I would be opposed to anyone doing this unless it came naturally to them. It sounded very 50s sitcom-ish to me. FWIW, I had had a migraine all day and probably shouldn't have posted about something that I'd gotten that emotional about, since I was medicated and wasn't thinking as clearly as I should have been. Sorry about that. I still don't agree with it, but in a more reasoned manner rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

Glad that we do stand in agreement on her needing to talk to him so that he understands why she's behaving this way. I think talk will help them, possibly even help them get even closer.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 1:38 PM on September 2, 2006

You need to go to relationship class. You value the security of frugality. He values the easy come/easy go self indulgence. Neither is bad, just as long as he's financially healthy, which he sounds like he's on the way to being.

Sounds like his retirement is another story... but that's that.

This could be a deal breaker for you, or this could be someone who'd complement you well. You should invest some serious cash in a class/shrink who'll help you two communicate about your differing values and make decisions about how/if you can live with the differences.
posted by gte910h at 6:52 PM on September 29, 2006

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