DH = Dear Husband
Fruclassity: Frugality with a touch of class … for the not-so-badass. If you’ve been reading recent posts on this site or over at The Frugal Farmer with Laurie, you’re getting familiar with the concept of fruclassity. Humbled by an honest recognition that Mr. Money Moustache’s badassity is awesome – but out of our league – Laurie and I are inspired to define, flesh out, and explore the different facets and expressions of our frugality brand.
Today, I’m going to delve into yet another of the 10 Commandments of Fruclassity:
#6. If you are married, approach your finances as a team of two equal partners. One person might have more money savvy, but to have success in your financial practices and goals, both of you have to be committed to them. The number one reason for divorce these days is conflict over finances, so take this one seriously! Find that balance between flexibility and structure – between tenacity and accommodation. Maintain high levels of detailed communication. Get on the same page financially, and write your story together.
DH & Prudence
1. Our dismal starting point: Chaos & control
Before DH and I married, we hardly talked at all about our respective financial plans or ideals. After all, we were in love. Mundane, not to mention taboo topics of income, budgets, savings, and investments had no place in our romance. And love conquers all, right? So we married with our financial heads in the sand. Mine was dug in quite a bit more deeply than his. For my part, I had a warm, heart-felt certainty that some day, I would be a stay-at-home mom of a large family, and DH would climb the ladder of high-tech success. A rather 1950s vision for a self-professed feminist, but I saw the value in having a parent at home, and it was what I truly longed for. It didn’t translate, for me, into the powerlessness of the stereotype ’50s woman. I would be an equal partner as a stay-at-home mom. We’d have a beautiful home, happy community life, and ample funding for travel, frequent dining out, and generous giving to church and charity.
Ha! That’s almost funny.
I didn’t bother to consult DH with regards to these fantasies of domestic bliss. If I had, I would have discovered that his vision was quite different from mine. He looked forward to a two-income lifestyle with one or two children, and plenty of time, money, and energy for the “good life” – as modeled for us by ads featuring yuppy ideals of the times.
In one of my first posts, I wrote about the respective money blueprints that DH and I brought into our marriage. In a nutshell, DH had, without being aware of it, come to an acceptance that money was something to worry about – and to control. So whenever there was a threat of healthy finances, he would spend lavishly to get himself back to the requisite baseline of worry. As for my blueprint, I had learned that money came from “the man” (some feminist!), and that by making a fuss, I could dip into as much of it as I wanted. I spent according to mood and I brought a chaotic force to our finances. So control married chaos; worry married moody. “Carelessly in debt,” I wrote in that early post, “I married a man who was always worried about money and anxiously wanting to control it. Mind you, he was in debt too. Eeeek!” One thing we had in common was a taste for the good life. Great.
2. Our unhealthy patterns: Building a weak foundation
I believe that both of us accepted DH’s position as financial manager in part because he, a full-time high-tech professional, was earning significantly more than I was as a part-time teacher. Furthermore, I was not at all inclined to deal with our accounts, and was glad to leave them with DH – except for when he didn’t want me to spend as I chose. There was a constant irritation between us even in the early days, characterized by his knee jerk “No!” and my carelessness. My rare attempts at rational money talk were not trusted. Occasional relief would come when DH would suggest a splurge – which I always eagerly encouraged. A trip out west with the kids. Renovations. A week-end get-away for us.
3. Financial distress: Bitterness & frustration
After DH had gone through the roller coaster of the high tech bust, everything had to change. Now, we were both worried. Our household income plunged, and we agreed on a strategy of frugality. Still unaware of our money blueprints, however, we continued to function according to them. When I think back, we made some crazy big expenditures over those years that we blatantly could not afford: an expensive, time-consuming interest course for DH, a new car for me, and a pure-bred dog for our daughters come to mind. We kept ourselves in awful financial stress through a combination of denial and reaction in our accustomed unhealthy patterns of financial management – even as we “tried” to be frugal. Our marriage became strained to the breaking point. I was bitter about my dashed hopes for staying home with our three children, and I was resentful of the control DH continued to exert – even though I was the one keeping us afloat. DH experienced the extreme frustration of not having the answers.
4. Recognition of a need for change: Stepping up
When DH’s home-based business started to succeed, we could hardly believe it. Were things going to go back to normal? No. “Normal” wasn’t good. We knew that much. I stepped up in terms of my willingness to engage in the management of our finances. DH stepped up in terms of releasing control. We shared ideas and discussed possibilities. We were becoming a team – but in a sloppy, unfocused game.
5. The road to debt-freedom: Platform for an equal partnership
Our game plan became crystal clear after we had listened to the CD version of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. We would get out of debt! And we had a strategy to do so. It is remarkable, now that I think about it, that I was the one who first got excited about Ramsey’s advice – I, who had been so dismissive of finances for so long. And it is equally remarkable that DH was completely receptive when I said, “You have got to listen to this!” – he, who had been so much in control, was humbly listening, willing to learn.
The Ramsey mandate gives us a context for our ongoing plans, discussions, and – yes – disagreements. Right now, we disagree about whether expenses for my mother’s 90th birthday bash should be funded from our discretionary or shared accounts. I say the celebrations fall into the “needs” category. He categorizes them as “wants”. Sure we disagree – but we can discuss it rationally. Our awareness of our own and each other’s pitfalls allows for more effective decision making. When DH wanted to splurge (that old pattern again) on an anniversary get-away, I did not eagerly accept it. I challenged his idea, and we opted for a different plan. And when I’ve wanted to “help” one of our daughters out of her own poor money management, I have not only accepted DH’s “No,” I have learned to be grateful for it.
How about you?
I wonder how much grief we would have spared ourselves if we had done the “mundane, unromantic” work of financial discussion and planning before we married. Have you ever struggled with finances in a significant relationship? Do you know of anyone who actually had this all figured out before marriage? And what do you think? Do my mom’s 90th birthday celebrations fall into the “needs” category or the “wants” category? (I’ll let you know who wins out on this one.)
Comments are welcome!