DH = Dear Husband
Last night, I was in a shopping mall, and I decided to buy Halloween candy. I felt rather wise. There have been many years when we’ve scrambled to the store in search of candy and a pumpkin after work October 31, and here I was being proactive. Getting ready in advance. Taking the time to consider where I’d buy and what I’d buy. Last year, it had been mini-chocolate bars and bags of chips, but we’d had too many left-overs November 1, so yesterday I limited myself to the chocolate bars. There were 90 in the box, and if we gave two to each trick-or-treater, that would do it. Done! Halloween candy taken care of for a grand total of $16.43.
Wouldn’t you think that H would be happy with his wife’s careful consideration? In our journey out of debt, we’re trying to make more conscious decisions about where our money goes. I in particular am trying to break old habits of chaotic spending. There was no chaos here. “I bought Halloween candy last night,” I told H this morning. “Why did you do that?” he asked. Silly question. Halloween is coming up. We’ve bought candy for October 31 for decades now. But somehow it all degraded. “You treat our common money like it’s a bottomless pit. I want to set things up so that you see that money has an end . . .” I’ve included the emphasis on “you” to make a point. When the discussion turns into a blame game, I check out. I left the room, fuming. “You can’t run away from this!” I heard through the closed door. Watch me! I thought.
I went downstairs to the kitchen and started cleaning up dishes that had been left overnight. I picked up some of H’s mess and then paused. He can clean up after himself! I thought, putting it down in triumph. I reconsidered. No, I’ll be the big one here, and with self-righteous indignation, I furiously cleaned away. H eventually came downstairs. He made a weak effort at light-hearted humour, but I maintained a stony silence. “You’re mad at me,” he said. “Yes I am,” I responded. “Well talk to me,” he said. “I don’t speak to negative people who just want to complain and not find solutions,” I snapped. “I want solutions,” he said as he picked up a towel to dry the dishes. “Give me a solution.”
So we talked. “The problem with our common money,” I said, “is that we don’t sit down and budget together regularly enough. You always think you have more important things to do.” Now who was blaming? I stopped myself. “I follow a guy on Twitter who schedules two budget meetings per week with his wife – every Wednesday and every Saturday. We can’t even manage one per week.” H conceded that this was an area we should work on. Listening, drying the dishes, agreeing – he was DH again. For his part, he said he didn’t think that expenses for Halloween should be paid from our common money because they weren’t essentials. He suggested that we each split the cost from our respective discretionary accounts. (See “Discretionary Money: His and Hers”) I was fine with that.
Are DH and I the only ones who bicker about money? I don’t think so. Troubles with personal finances combine to be the number one cause for marital break-up, and I for one can see why. Managing household accounts is not always pretty – particularly when there is the stress of too much debt or not enough income or unexpected expenses or a combination of any of the above – and maybe a bad night’s sleep or a stressful week of work thrown into the bargain. The peace-makers among us can make the mistake of avoiding conflict and compromising too much. The bull-headed among us can make the mistake of shutting out any point of view but our own. Most couples will face some harsh lessons in emotional intelligence as they take on the challenge of reducing debt. We clearly have.
But all is well for now. The tension of this morning has given way to harmony. And for any children who come by our house for Halloween, there will be two chocolate bars ready and waiting.