A few weeks ago Drew and I made a significant payment on a credit card that will take us a step closer to being completely debt free before we venture into buying a house. We high-fived each other after we wrote the check and congratulated ourselves for being so mature and organized about handling our finances. Our Tuesday night bill-paying and financial planning powwows were finally paying off – literally.
It was not always so.
I admit: I am the spender of the family. I love to shop. Drew, on the other hand, does not admit that he is a shopper or a spender, even though he is. He might not be spending on clothes or shoes, but his are bigger ticket items: A digital camera here, a set of bagpipes there, or lunch for his entire staff. And when he does shop for clothes or shoes, he is not the kind who will wait for a sale or scour the aisles at TJ Maxx for a bargain.
This is not a problem now that we are both making pretty good salaries, but at the start of our marriage, we had issues. Not only did we not have a lot of money, we were somehow ashamed to talk about the fact that we had to budget. I think he was feeling pressure to “provide” for me and I didn’t want to adjust to being accountable with my money to someone else. This lead to many fights and some nasty surprises on our bank statements at the end of the month.
Talking to my friends, I was relieved to find out that our past arguments about money and our continuing struggles to come to terms with how to handle finances are the norm.
What still shocks me is that fights about money always get so personal. There is always so much guilt and emotion during these fights, even though they are about “just money.” Money, which technically should not be making us happy or unhappy, yet the way we handle money can come to exemplify childhood hurts and reflect our upbringing and our values. These arguments bring to surface our expectations of what we want our lives to be, and brings us face to face with what our lives are not.
And that’s even before the checkbook is balanced.
Drew and I still struggle to define how we communicate about money. How do I ask for his ATM receipts without sounding like I am nagging or checking up on his spending? How does he tell me that I should put off a purchase in favor of paying a bill without sounding like he is trying to control me? How do I fit something simple like a pedicure into our budget, without feeling like I have to ask for an allowance?
There is no one answer that will work for every couple. Even though we have our financial routines down to a science now, Drew still gets frustrated from time to time and I still get emotional and defensive. But we are sitting together every Tuesday night, checkbook and bills in hand, and we are talking about what we hope to achieve together, as a couple – a house, a baby, maybe, finally, a honeymoon.
And that’s hard to get defensive about.