The Vine: December 19, 2012
I'm a happily married mother of two young children; my husband and I are both in our mid-thirties. We don't really disagree about much and we have a pretty great life. But even though we live pretty responsibly without a lot of recreational spending, we have a lot of debt, which is comprised mostly of my husband's extremely expensive grad school education. We also have a smattering of credit-card debt (which we do our best to dutifully chip away at), mostly from things like pricy car repairs and that kind of stuff. It's difficult to save much with two children in full-time daycare, but we have good health benefits and meet all our financial obligations so we don't worry too much about it for the most part.
But one issue keeps coming up again and again and that's how my husband chooses to spend what he calls his "allowance." He keeps a separate bank account where he deposits money that he makes from things like blogging and selling old books, software, CDs and the like. Same if he gets money for a birthday or holiday. He is a devotee of technology and gadgets of all kinds so he often will sell one to pay for an upgrade to another. Right now he owns the newest iPad, iPhone, MacBook and Kindle, and probably a bunch of other stuff I'm not even aware of.
Today he went out and played with the new Nexus 7 tablet and has decided that he wants it. Now, I realize that in the strictest sense this is his money that he's spending, but it seems absolutely ludicrous to me that he would go out and spend $200 on a new tablet which he doesn't need, when that $200 could be going to pay down debt or into our retirement account, or any number of useful purposes. There's just something kind of wasteful to me about spending money on something we don't need, when there's so much stuff we do need. To me these kinds of items truly are luxury items that people in our circumstances just don't really get to have, at least not all of them and not always the latest and greatest versions.
But this is his hobby, more or less, and seeing as the money he spends on it is kind of "extra" (in that it's above and beyond what we earn in our salaries), I don't know that I have any kind of a say over how he spends it. When I got a $2000 Christmas bonus last year I spent every penny of it on getting a new cam shaft for the car (whatever that is).
Was that just my personal choice to do that, whereas his choice is to keep Apple's stock price floating? Please help?
You chose to spend your Christmas bonus on what you see as "the right thing," an outlay that also benefits you both. He spends his mad money on stuff he likes, that you don't care about and that doesn't drive down your debt at all, so now, on top of having splashed out two grand on an unsatisfying necessity, you resent him for not feeling the same compunction.
I get it, but if you want him to spend every penny he earns on driving down his grad-school debt, you will have to say so, and discuss it. If you do not want to be the one who always spends her extra money on household/auto upgrades while he's dorking off with his new toy, you will have to say so, and discuss it. Righteous resentment is still resentment. It eats away at you, it doesn't change anything, and in this case, it's…not even that righteous. You consider the tablets et al. luxuries, and I share that opinion, but for some people, the latest gadget isn't a luxury, or even a "gadget"; it's a necessity. I don't get it, but I don't have to, because it's not my money.
Your situation is different; you have children, you have debt, and you feel he's not attentive to that. But it's possible that he is — that he's not only attentive to it but feels very burdened by it, that the bulk of the debt is his, and he can't really explain to you that he wants the latest tablet or wristwatch walkie-talkie or whatever the eff because it's his, his space he carves out from his obligations. Don't think he doesn't know that you describe his grad school as "extremely expensive." It is; he should care about that; you feel how you feel.
But. Calling it an allowance, the tone you take calling it a "hobby"…it's a little condescending and parental, in my opinion, and operating from an attitudinal place where he's an overgrown child who doesn't understand the sacrifices you make? No good. Frustrating for you, belittling to him, puts you on opposite sides of a problem you should be tackling as a team. Again, I am totally sympathetic about the "DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING AROUND HERE" feeling, but the thing is, you don't. You can perfectly well carve out a pair of earrings or a Netflix subscription for yourself in there and have your thing, too.
So. First, forgive yourself for resenting the situation, because of course you do. Second, talk to your husband. Ask how he's feeling about the debt situation, and listen to what he has to say. Do not store up his answers as ammunition; hear what he's telling you. Then tell him how you feel. "I" statements. "I feel like I spend my discretionary money on responsibilities, not fun." "I want to talk about the 'allowance' situation, because I don't feel like I actually get one and it's lonely to think I'm the only one who's sacrificing for the debt." "I would like us to both put all our extra money towards the credit cards for [X period] — would you be okay with that for awhile?" Broach the idea of a joint savings that's only for debt clearance, and you both have to tithe into it or whatever.
If you feel that you've taken on too much caring about the debt, say so, and try to shift the balance — but it is discretionary money, so if you want to change that, suggest it; understand that, emotionally, it's probably important to him that not every "mine" is "ours"; and own that for yourself, too. Happiness is a "useful purpose." Buy yourself a pottery class or something — or don't, but don't suffer in silence anymore.
Tags: budget 'n' finance the fam