A column by Katy McLaughlin in the Wall Street Journal Sunday Business section reminded us of the ways in which differences in our personalities, as well as family circumstances and attitudes toward money as we were growing up affect our adult attitudes and approaches toward money. We decided to share with you the following excerpt from our Forever and a Day Workshop for married couples.
One of the areas where couples often have differing expectations is in the area of money/finances
When I was growing up on the farm, we always had plenty of good food to eat. We raised beef, pork and chicken and my mother always had a large garden. She canned or froze summer fruits and vegetables for the winter. My dad used to joke that the farmer’s motto was “Eat the best and sell the rest.”
I learned from my father to always look for the best deal. I tend to take my time checking out any major purchase to be sure that the deal is right. Car salesmen wish they had never met me. Rita gets impatient with the amount of time I take and never knows when I will decide that the time is right to proceed with the purchase. In fact, I don’t know until I’m there. Sometimes I lose the best deal
I keep careful records of our finances. Computers have made record-keeping easier and I always have a mental approximation of the status of our accounts. I check the credit card balances online at least once a week.
Just before our wedding, as we were trying to merge what little finances we had, I looked at Rita’s checkbook, saw what looked to me like a mess, and decided that I would take care of our money. That probably wasn’t fair, but she didn’t seem to mind and that is the way it has been ever since.
On larger purchases, we had an unwritten agreement that we would make the decision together. Mostly Rita went along with what I wanted to do, but occasionally she would object. In those situations there was usually little discussion – she would just say no and I would usually let the subject drop.
We always tended to have different priorities about spending money. I like to spend it on cars, tools and electronics. While I like to be dressed well, I don’t have much enthusiasm for spending money on clothing. Rita likes to spend money on clothes for herself and me and on items for the house and kids. When our first grandchild was born I thought she would never stop buying gifts. Early on I learned to “test the waters” by mentioning an item that I would like to buy to see what reaction it would get. Rita learned to “head me off at the pass” and squelch such items. Sometimes I would get a response like, “We don’t need that!”, even though I was just commenting on an interesting piece of electronics I saw advertised.
When we finally started to discuss finances openly, I was surprised to discover that Rita saw our money as my money and that she was just allowed to spend some of it. That was never my attitude or intent. This alerted me to try to involve Rita more in the financial process. I realized that I needed to give her more information and an opportunity for input, even though I was handling the mechanics of paying the bills.
A couple of times we tried a formal budgeting process but it never seemed to work for us. We have learned to budget and set priorities in an informal way. We have frequent discussions about how we want to spend money in the short and longer terms. If we need to work with some figures, I usually do that and report back to Rita. For a guy who likes to have everything worked out it seems odd that we should do it this way, but it works for us. It helps that we are both willing to delay purchases or abandon them entirely when they don’t fit our financial plans.
My father died when I was nine and after that my family was not as financially secure as we had been. We didn’t go without but from the time I reached adolescence I was taking care of a lot of my basic financial needs. If I purchased something I wanted or needed then I did without something else. In general, I knew what my finances were and my concern was the bigger picture not the minute details. In the end it all worked out for me.
When we were first married I taught while Bob was a full time graduate student with a fellowship. We used to joke about the fact that even with the little money (a combined income of $7000) we had more money than either of us had before. From the beginning Bob pretty much took care of paying bills.
As time passed and I stopped working outside our home I developed the attitude that the money we had was Bob’s, not ours. I was privileged to spend some of it. I found it easier to spend money on the kids but difficult to spend on myself or to buy gifts for Bob. It seemed strange to buy a gift for him using his money.
As we explored this area I was able to tell Bob about a comment he frequently made when I returned from shopping. Even if he seemed excited about what I purchased he might ask “How much did you spend?” Immediately I judged myself as not quite measuring up to his expectations. It seemed to me that I was a little girl who wasn’t quite capable of making right decisions. When I told him about this I learned that he wasn’t checking up on me. He was trying to keep a running total in his head of what is in the checkbook or on the credit card statement. The discussion made him aware of how he gets the information. Now, I just tell him up front what I’ve spent while we’re talking about the purchases and I give him the receipts.
Working through our backgrounds and expectations about money has made it easier for us to discuss financial matters and helps us to make decisions that are satisfactory to both of us.
Please share with us a story about your adventures in dealing with your finances.
Learn more about the Forever and a Day Workshop.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at readabookpress.com.