Diary of a Marriage: Money Matters

I shop. My husband saves. How is this going to work?

Like most couples, J. and I argue about money. Namely, that I spend too much of it. And with my new gig as lifestyle editor (for which I’m basically paid to scout great shops and new trends and fantastic home interiors), my every-once-in-a-while shopping trips have become more like everyday sprees. I didn’t think J. noticed – or rather, I pretended not to notice that he was clearly alarmed – gaily trotting into the house after work, arms laden with shopping bags which I’d quickly stuff into my closet before he had a chance to inquire about their contents. All that changed last week. But let’s start from the beginning.

When J. and I started tossing about the prospect of getting married, he mentioned that I’d need to curb my spending habits at some point. I agreed. Until we are engaged, we decided, it was my money to spend how I wanted, as frivolously as I wanted. Like most women hear their biological clock ticking, I heard my shopping clock ticking. And I was determined to squeeze every last cent out of my pre-coupledom life.

So I did. I proceeded to shop my way around the city. One afternoon, I waltzed into Joan Shepp during a quick lunch break and ended up spending $700 in 45 minutes. (Not a great feat for some women, I know. But for me, a then-24-year-old fledgling writer, it was a splurge of epic proportions, one which J. remembers with a shudder). I whirled about vintage shops and flea market and boutiques and home stores, scooping up accessories for the home we didn’t own, and splurging on baubles and shoes and lots of vintage furs. I was like a bear, stocking up for a winter of hibernation. Only a bear’s hibernation only lasts a few months. Mine was slated to last a lifetime.

Once we were engaged, my shopping flood slowed to a trickle. We were saving for a house, for a life. We needed to be practical. While I miraculously didn’t have any debt (credit cards have never been my thing), I also didn’t have much in the way of savings. J., on the other hand, had a savings account padded with money from the nearly 15 years of teaching tennis lessons and shoveling driveways and collecting birthday checks from his grandparents. He’d known since he was little, he told me, that he wanted to buy a house and a car. When I was little, I wanted a feather Snow Queen costume. I guess we were fated from the beginning to be what we are: a saver and a spender.

Still, the final nail in my shopping coffin didn’t officially come until the day we merged our bank accounts. I knew it was the best thing to do, though it took all the strength I had to hand over my old checkbook. I didn’t want our relationship to be one-sided, and I knew that if we continued with our different accounts, he’d end up resenting me for spending our mortgage payments on shoes. This way we’d both be in it together. No hidden money or secret bank accounts.

Let me tell you something: Having no secrets when it comes to money sucks. Every single cup of overpriced coffee I buy, J. sees, because, of course, he is very conscious of combing through our monthly statements online. He’d never overdraft, like I did at least once every other week in college. And he’d never wait until the day before a bill was due to pay it. He’s responsible like that. Meanwhile, my shopping grinded to a halt, and whenever I did buy something, I was racked with guilt. What would he say? How mad would he get? Please, please, God, I’d pray, please let his basketball team win today so he’s in a good mood and doesn’t freak out when he sees that I’ve spent $150 on stupid stuff at CVS, or $75 on six greeting cards at Paper Source.

Over the years, I’ve become more ballsy with my shopping, and my new position has admittedly tipped me over the edge of frugality into a full-blown shopping frenzy. And then, last week, we both reached a tipping point. J. called me out on my shopping for the thousandth time, refusing to even look at me as I walked through the door with my new magenta 1970s kitten-heeled rain booties. He didn’t even listen as I explained that they were only $28, that they were vintage, and that they were very necessary. He snapped, at the very same time that I snapped.  He proclaimed that he was done with my shopping; I yelled back that I was done caring what he thought about my shopping.

“It’s my money, too, dammit, and I’m going to spend it!” I shouted. I think I even threw out something morbid about dying with gobs of unspent money, and then who would be happy? This of course, doesn’t make sense, as we don’t have gobs of money, nor are we dying soon.

I get it. I know we have to save for our future, for the kids we know we want in the next decade or so, for the bigger house we want someday. But sometimes, a little impracticality is necessary, right?

Of course, there are the pinpricks of light, where I think that we might end up being okay about this save-versus-spend thing. A few months ago, I spotted a fantastic vintage hat for $25. I pleaded with J. to let me buy it. He gave me a choice: I could get the hat if I didn’t buy Starbucks for the entire month of June. I opted for the hat, we shook on it, and I drank crappy office coffee for a month. And then, two weeks ago, as we were driving somewhere, J. leaned over and pressed something into my hand. It was a gift card, to Starbucks, for $25.

I don’t think that we’ll ever see eye-to-eye on money matters. But I don’t think that many couples do, so at least we’re in good company. I’ll always spend too much, and he’ll always worry about the state of our savings account. We balance each other out, even if I don’t understand how to balance a checkbook, and even if he never, ever understands the necessity of owning a pair of magenta 1970s kitten-heeled rain booties.

Do you and your fiance or husband fight about money? If one of you is a saver and one is a spender, how do you compromise?



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