Money Matters

Q: Our 12-year-old son Spencer recently boasted that his father is “the cheapest man in the world.” Although my husband, Sean, is a fine spouse and father, I am afraid that Spencer’s comment is not far from the truth! 

We have been married for 20 years, and every big purchase that I have convinced Sean to make (new cars, trips, home improvements) has been like pulling teeth. He can be very generous with the children and with others, but he seems to put the two of us last. Sean drives a 10-year-old van even though he can well afford a new car, and he hates going out to eat. I am afraid that we are missing a lot of the fun in life because of his frugality. What can I do to make Sean understand all of this so that we can be of one mind before it is too late?

A: You are not alone. Spending habits of husbands and wives make good material for many cartoons and jokes. One of my favorites is from Henny Youngman: “Someone stole all my credit cards, but I won’t be reporting it. The thief spends less than my wife did!” 

Many couples that I have counseled disagree about money matters, and financial problems are frequently a major factor in divorce. 

First of all, you need to understand that it is not realistic or even desirable that the two of you be “of one mind.” Men and women tend to see money differently. Some people see money as something to manage and control, balancing current and future needs. On the other hand, others see money as a means to enjoyment. There is merit to both perspectives, and both views should be respected. For instance, has your husband ever decided to not buy something for which you were grateful later on?

Any organization, whether it is a marriage, a business or a country, brings together people with differing opinions. Although group decisions are not easy, the best chance for success occurs when 1) everyone involved is committed to the success of the organization and 2) all views are expressed and understood. 

So, how does this apply to your marriage? You say that you have been married 20 years to a fine husband and father, so something must be working right. Assuming that you are both committed, it is healthy to exchange views, and these views should be freely expressed and understood. I recommend that you talk together with an experienced financial planner. A financial advisor can be very good at helping couples talk about money matters and plan together. It may be that you will better see the need to save and be more open to keeping to a budget. At the same time, Sean may learn that you have more money to spend than he thought. Often, both spouses want the best for the marriage and can become closer in their thinking when they see the same information. 

In any case, it is better to discuss your budget and plan your spending in advance than to wait until Saturday night and argue about whether to go out to dinner and how much to spend. Again, you will not always agree, but many of the best marriages bring together people who think very differently.