Saturday, August 23, 2008

Can't Write

I have three draft posts from the last three days that won't take shape. I can't seem to write and there isn't anything "going on" to just report. I hope that makes sense.

Well, I guess I do have something...our finances issue. There might be something in here that can be applied to foster care. I will see if I can make it relate. No promises though.

We saw the financial advisor yesterday. That went well. I've been going through our last four months of spending, figuring out patterns, making decisions. Roland is trying, but the whole thing is emotionally complicated. He feels rotten for getting us into this mess, and relieved that I am willing to charge of our finances and fix it. But stuff like this happens: I'm trying to get all of our spending from the last four months into Quicken so that I can see where the money went. We need to spend less money, and I need to know if that means making radical changes to things like what I buy at the grocery store. So I'm going through the records and I have to ask him something like, "I can't read your writing on this check. Can you tell me who it is to and what it was for?"

His emotional response, which is controls fairly well, is to feel miserable. He already confessed that he was spending too much money. He knows. He understands now that big mistakes in budgets can happen one small expenditure at a time. Do I really have to make him reflect on each of them? Can't he just forget about it and move on?

Sadly the answer is no, he can't. I need to know what expenditures are necessary so that I know which ones I can just cut out. If it turns out that a lot of the spending that got us into trouble was just irresponsible, that is actually a good thing. That is easy to fix. Like when I discovered that he had subscribed to a music service he doesn't use. Sure, it was bad that we paid $15/month for half a year for something we didn't need, but as soon as we cancel that we have $15/month freed up! Easy choice. The more easy choices we have the fewer hard choices we have to giving up bath wash or Twinings tea.

So I ask about everything. He feels miserable when he tells me that it was something stupid, and I am relieved. Sometimes he interprets my relief as gloating at having caught him AGAIN.

So then I feel like I have to make him feel better, which is a feeling I tend to squash pretty quickly because, well, he did get us into this mess and I've been pretty darn good about it. I am doing all this work to fix it and the least he can do is give me the information I need when I need it without requiring his fragile ego to be soothed every time.

So we are having different experiences. I found $60/month in recurring, automatic charges that we found it easy to give up. Combine that with Brian switching from the rented trombone to the trumpet, that we own, and we've saved $100 month with no pain! I want to clap my hands! He however does not feel the joy. When I tell him about it, I'm telling him that he was wasting money without even noticing.

I'm not writing this to rag on him, really. I don't think about it that way, well, not very much. I'm writing this to remind myself how this feels to him. I'm actually more frustrated with him sucking the joy out of being frugal than I am with him running up the debt.

Putting aside guilt for the past, the whole being frugal thing is different in itself too. I feel like it is a game, not a competition, but a game. If I find a way to save money I feel like I scored a point. The more money I save, the more points I am scoring. Brian is going to ride the bus and we are dropping out of car pool. Let's see ... that means $18/month for the bus pass instead of 15+ car pool trips. Each car pool trip had to take at least a gallon of gas, probably more. Gas is a little under $4. That means Brian taking the bus will save us at least $40/month. Woo hoo!

I am realizing though that for Roland all of this is what being on a diet is for me. It is a constant feeling of denying himself and wondering how long all of this is going to go on. That diets and budgets go forever does not make him happy. I've realized he really needs discretionary cash. He needs to have a certain amount of money that he can spend without guilt and without reporting it to me. He needs it to be cash because he experiences writing down everything he spends the same way I experience keeping a Weight Watcher's journal. I asked him to figure out what sort of things he needs to spend it on so that I can figure out how much to give him. It took a while for me to figure out that was not the point.

I need money for things. When I don't need things, I don't need money. He needs to be able to spend money without feeling guilty.

And of course it all goes back to our parents and our childhoods, and I am sure there are connections to be made to foster care -- how different childhood experiences color contemporary experiences so that that they are completely different for different people. Something like that, but you will have to do that part for yourself. I just don't have it in me right now.

Maybe it will make him feel better when things get harder, and they will be getting harder. This month was a "challenge" month. We made minimum payments on the debt and challenged ourselves to spend as little as possible. I wanted to find out what the "base line" was. How much money does it take to support our current lifestyle without major sacrifices. I am pleased that the base line is lower than I feared, but in order to get out of debt we are going to have to make much more than minimum payments. We are going to have to be very careful for quite some time.

But telling him that will make him feel just as bad as telling him that we are currently doing well.


  1. If you're looking for a little bit of support/sense of community with this, you may want to check out the website The website generally is about frugality and prioritizing your spending. They have a great forum--there are a lot of people there who will have little monthly challenges, etc, and many who deal with reluctant spouses.

  2. You know, so many people are in this boat. Frankly, I am, too. I made a BIG financial mistake in July -- forgot to write down a nearly $600 check and then thought I had "extra" money and proceeded to overspend on fun things like going out to dinner and taking Slugger to the arcade and stuff. (Both are errors that are highly unusual for me.)

    Things are so expensive now that it's easy to over-extend. I've never been a shopper or a spender, but I'm kind of like Roland and don't like to think about the specifics. Usually, I make sure I have enough to cover all bills, move a certain amount into savings, and then put the money I can SPEND in my wallet. I know how long it has to last me and, other than that, I don't worry about what I spend it on. Except for last month where an error in record-keeping made me think I had a lot more discretionary income than I actually did -- it usually works well.

  3. Well written. I think you really have a lot of insight into both your own relationship to money and your husband's. It's great that you both are working on it!

  4. Money is emotion. All money is really is numbers on paper. be it bills or cash. Just numbers. Yet everyone gets all worked up about it.

    Do you have a CVS or Walgreens near you? If so you can get started on the "game" and get all your toiletries for almost free. That has helped us a lot.

    I love being frugal. It's hard for me to believe that people just walk into stores and buy things, and yet I have some friends who feel just the opposite. See, all emotional, but still just numbers. :)

  5. I have his brain applied to other things. It's hard to say, "You can do this better!" or "Hey, you've improved!" without me hearing, "Boy, you sure did suck last week. You should have changed six days ago... but you didn't, because you suck."

    My budget has a line for Random Fun. It's seventy-five dollars a month that I don't usually spend, but I could. Everything from yarn to stress-shopping magnets to new sheets goes in there.

  6. Anonymous10:06 AM

    This all sounds SO familiar to me. I think my husband and I have the same kind of different feelings about money/frugality. I know it isn't related to foster care, but I'm really glad you're blogging about it -it's reassuring to hear about others grappling with the same issues and feelings.

  7. I"m totally into the idea of allowances for adults (or spending money--my DH couldn't stand the word allowance for the first years we did this. Now he doesn't care.). The one thing I rec'd is that you BOTH get the EXACT same amount. So what if you don't actually NEED it. You deserve the same stuff he does. And I'll almost guarantee you that if you don't have the spending money you'll end up mad at him at some point for spending frivolously while you can't. (For us, it was just little things like getting candy bars that set me off. That was during the first year of it. And when we moved to us both having spending money.) It might be best to simply pick a number and start with it. Then after a few months (or weeks), visit it. Is it enough? Too much? Too little? What comes out of spending money. There can be big battles over the latter, try to keep it civilized and come up with things that both people can agree on and things you have to compromise.

  8. Money is such a hot topic in any marriage. I am hoping you guys can weather this without too much pain for either of you. If you decide you can no longer afford bath wash, please warn me if we ever get a chance to meet in real life.


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