Discretionary Money: His and Hers

 DH = Dear Husband
DD1 = Dear First Daughter

Shared accounts? Separate accounts? Both?

               Dr. Phil believes that spouses should have separate accounts so that each partner has independence and discretionary money.  Dave Ramsey believes that couples should share accounts and work together towards unified financial vision, priorities, and goals.  What to do?
               DH and I have always shared our accounts, but there are certain areas where our money ideals are not the same.  He generally wins when it comes to arguments surrounding money matters, partly because he has a stronger will and partly because my track record is worse and I have more financial self-doubt.  There is a thing that happens, though, when one spouse habitually gives more sway to the other in financial decision making, no matter how sound the reason:  resentment builds. 
               Almost a year ago, long before we began our journey out of debt the Ramsey way, we agreed to set aside an amount of money for each of us to use for discretionary spending.  $600 per month seemed like a whole lot of money to me when we first started in October 2011, even though it was to cover many expenditures:  gifts; charitable donations; our clothes; restaurant meals; activities like gym memberships or courses; shampoo, shaving cream, tooth paste, etc.  We could even save for trips if we played it right.  And it was enough, I thought, for me to take on what DH had always spoken against as trivial:  braces for our daughters.  DD2 got them in November.  My benefits pay half of orthodontic costs, but half of a lot is still a lot.  For me it meant paying $400 from my discretionary money initially, and I’m continuing to pay $100 per month until November 2013.  Then Christmas happened.  And then I signed up for a gym membership in the New Year.  Early in 2012, I was terribly in debt in my discretionary fund.  Braces, Christmas presents, and gym memberships are all good and worthy.  It was just very thoughtless for me to have spent so much all at once.  I was likely acting under the intoxicating influence of the rush of freedom I felt at having this discretionary money.  There was no pacing, no measure.
               I mentioned in an earlier post that we no longer pay cleaners every two weeks and that we are saving $200 per month as a result – money which is going against debt.  I didn’t mention that it was going against my own discretionary debt.  I think I’ll finally crawl out of the hole I dug for myself with this week-end’s cleaning.  It’s been a humbling process.  A colleague with whom I’ve shared our adventures in debt repayment asked me, “How are you going to get out of your big debt if you got into debt with your own discretionary money?”  It’s a good question.  There’s no false humility when I say that my money sense has been very underdeveloped.  A sobering recognition of flawed judgement and the taking on of consequences are hopefully going to result in my discretionary fund growing on the positive side of zero.


                I have many big plans for that fund over the next year.  Probably too many and too big, so I’ll have to take on the challenge of measured forethought and restraint.  I remember once talking with a friend who said that he was good with money when he had none – because he knew how to deprive himself; and he was good with money when he had lots – because he knew how to spend.  He just wasn’t good with that in-between state of having some-but-not-enough.  I think he summed it up nicely, and I realize that his dilemma is mine as well.  It results in a cycle of abundance and scarcity that gives no opportunity for real growth.  I also realize that the “-but-not-enough” part is an illusion created by immaturity or greed or the chronic state of dissatisfaction fostered in our ad-saturated society.  The “some” part is enough.   
It will be a real test for me to have some money in my discretionary pot, and to counter the “-but-not-enough” attitude that I know will rear its destructive head.  I have been focused and diligent working my way up to zero.   I have never managed focused diligence above zero.  It might well harbinger things to come.  I believe that DH and I will more likely do well with our whole income once we’re out of debt if we manage to do well with our discretionary money now.  He, by the way, has done well.  And though somewhat incredulous at my folly initially, he’s been gracious with me as I’ve gradually clawed my way to the surface over the last half year. 
My biggest goal for the year to come, in terms of my discretionary money, is to save enough to go and visit DD1 next summer.  As it is, we see her only once a year, at Christmas time when we fly her home.  The Christmas visit lasts for a good month, but there are too many other months between one December and the next, and I miss her terribly.  In August of 2013, I plan to fly out to see her for ten days or so, but I will only allow myself to do so if I stay out of debt in my discretionary fund and if I actually manage to save.  Having a goal like this will probably help me to do just that.
For DH and me, sharing bank accounts is workable, and I believe that our decision to have separate spending money will make it work even better.  It offsets the resentment that had been accumulating in me as a result of our established pattern of financial argument followed by my self-doubt and giving in.  It allows us to recognize our individual flaws and to fine-tune our individual habits.  I believe that we will function more effectively as a team because of it. 

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