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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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The Vine: December 19, 2012

Submitted by on December 19, 2012 – 11:20 AM34 Comments


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?


Dear JD,

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.

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  • Leigh says:

    Wow…could have written this letter in most senses, many times over! And of course Sars's answer is a great one.

    Having struggled my way a bit farther past the issue, though, I can tell you that what's been working for us is both putting everything (aside from birthday money) into the family pot, but then each getting an equal allowance of mad money out of that pot every week. If you want to blow it on frappuccinos and gum, fine, and if you want to sit on it for a few weeks and save up for something like clothes or an iPad or whatever, that's also great. Nobody's business but your own. I find myself buying clothes or toys for my daughter (that she doesn't need–I just want to get for her) out of mine sometimes, but I made peace with the fact that that was, in fact, a personal luxury that made me happy and therefore was in no way a sacrifice.

    Why I think it works better than your current system is that it's so equal, and it's a controlled amount that we know we can afford so there's no guilt factor. You guys don't have a ton of control over things like getting bonuses or having extra stuff to sell, and when you do it makes sense to use it toward the expensive necessities that life throws at you. BUT if you also budget in a little "personal outlet" money, that keeps everyone sane, everything even, and nobody has to feel like they're sacrificing anything.

    Hope that helps! Good luck…money is such a pain.

  • Retta says:

    So I need to start out by saying that I am pretty sure I am alot older than most tomato posters. And when I read "The Vine", my reactions don't always seem to align with other posters, but I am going to give this a try.

    Lose the "allowance" language. That gives someone permission to spend like a child. (This came right from my therapist during my divorce.) Instead, how about a joint checking where all the discretionary funds go to plan a fun family thing. Like a trip Disney or some other vacation. And when you have the money discussion, how about coming up with a technology plan for the family? Like, yeah get the newest IPAD, but not the tablet.
    Whatever, just talk about the money soon or you too will be posting advice you got from your therapist during your divorce.

  • Jen says:

    I can't come even close to the great answer that @Leigh just gave, but I thought I'd throw in a suggestion for you & your guy to meet with a financial advisor and put together a *plan* for paying down your debt.

    I think it's your ad hoc, catch-as-catch-can way of addressing this scary debt issue that's stressing you out as much as anything else. A plan give you an end date (light at the end of the tunnel!), allows you to brainstorm income sources and cost cutting, and creates agreed upon rules so that one person doesn't feel more burdened or like the other is "cheating."

    Good luck!

  • B says:

    Oh man, I totally feel you. I finally, finally, after months of vociferous complaining, have convinced my husband that we need a joint account to pay our joint bills. Because the ad hoc method (decide who'll pay whenever a bill crops up) always worked out in his favor. Because he's willing to put off a necessary house repair rather than pay for it, I have to do it. Because he never seems to have enough money in his checking account, I have to cover whatever the cost is. It sucks, he finally understands why I am so angry, we're fixing it.

    The plan is to put a certain (yet to be determined) percentage of our salaries in the joint account to pay the bills. This should still leave us with plenty of money of our own to do what we want with. (We have no kids and no debt besides the mortgage and car, so we are definitely in an easier situation than the letter writer.)

    You guys probably already have a joint account, because you are not as dumb as we are, but maybe you need to reevaluate what goes into the joint account. If it's all your salary and not all of his, that's not fair. If he makes a significant amount from blogging and doesn't contribute any of it, I wouldn't consider that fair either. If you both put everything into one account, but only he gets to use it for fun stuff (because you feel too guilty to do the same), then that method isn't working and you should have your own account.

  • courtney says:

    I realize this may not work for everyone, but our general household rule (even if it's not codified as such) is that all non-trivial purchases need to be discussed between us. I've learned that if I can't justify a particular expense to my husband (which is usually the way it goes, since I'm far more spendy than he is & have gotten into trouble in the past as a result), then it's probably not worth the bite it takes out of our budget.

    this may not work quite as well here, but if the LW's husband explained *why* he wanted to get these things he's buying, maybe it would help her understand & not feel so resentful about it. & similarly, if there are fun things she wants to spend money on, maybe she'll feel more comfortable speaking up in that regard if it's part of a larger conversation. (&, if there aren't things that she's forgoing in order to be "responsible" with "her" money–then what's the issue?)

  • Christina says:

    My husband and I came into our relationship each with our own debt (including child support on his part, thankfully now over), and with our own incomes. We maintain a joint bank account that we use for all shared expenses like mortgage, household expenses, vehicle maintenance, etc. We also have a joint savings account that we each contribute to for retirement, big projects or purchases, etc. We have a fixed amount that each of us contributes to the joint accounts each pay period that we both agreed to. Occasionally we'll kick in extra if we spend more going out to dinner one month, or if we're saving for something big.

    The rest of our income we keep and use for our separate debts and personal spending. If he wants to buy yet ANOTHER $20 fishing lure (wtf?) or I get yet another giant shipment from Zappos, it's out of our own money. Do I get a little edgy sometimes about his purchases? Eh, maybe. But then I step back and ask why – do I think that money should be going elsewhere, and if so do we need to BOTH adjust our joint account contributions accordingly? If not, then I need to just shake it off. And maybe shop for something nice myself.

  • ferretrick says:

    I don't know if this will work for you, but it works for my partner and I. We both put an agreed amount into our joint account each week, and out of the joint account is paid all mutual expenses-mortgage, utilities, food, pets expenses, eating out, etc. (We don't have kids).

    Beyond the amount marked for our joint account, our paychecks are our own, deposited in our own bank accounts, and more importantly our personal bills are our own. We do not have a joint credit card, and never will, so there's no conflict over who accumulated what debt. I don't pay for his credit card debt, that's his problem. He doesn't pay for my never ending student loan; that's my problem. (Seriously, we all agree student loans are rigged, right? Because I've been paying mine over 10 years, and have paid probably 3 times in interest what I've gotten down in principal). We both pay our own cars and gas. There's almost never a question about who's responsible for what this way, and we almost never fight about money.

    I would recommend this system to any household with two incomes. I think the impulse to combine everything into one pool is still rooted in old style "the man brings home the paycheck; the woman spends it" thinking. When both people are contributing to the income of the household, it makes sense to keep personal things personal.

  • Lisa says:

    I used to have this problem with my husband. It was so frustrating! We fought a lot about the unequal distribution of wealth, and then I found the We're Debt Free forum on Babycenter. It changed my life. I learned about Dave Ramsey and read his book Total Money Makeover, and eventually convinced my husband to read the book, too. It took several long conversations about our financial goals and needs, but we eventually figured out a plan. All our money goes in the same pot regardless of how it's earned, we have a detailed budget that gives every penny a job, and that budget includes "blow" money — we each get a small amount to be spent freely on whatever we want. And because we made the plan together, we don't argue about money anymore!

    Even if you don't follow Dave Ramsey's plan, it's important to make financial goals together and then work together to reach them. Good luck!

  • garli says:

    Can I be another vote to see a financial planner? I'm super lucky in that my company provides limited free sessions with a financial planner as part of our benefits package. In theory my husband and I have a lot of similar economic values and goals but the way we feel about spending for certain things caused some hurt feelings for both of us. That's with out having kids or any large debts.

    It's just good to have an outside assessment of where it's important to spend/save and talk to some one who's used to talking about money all the time. If all financial planners are like the one we've worked with they might as well be therapists.

  • Stephanie says:

    I picked up 'Total Money Makeover' after reading about it here when a letter writer described pretty much exactly what was going on in my household. When I finished reading it, I handed it directly to my partner and made him read it too. Then we sat down and started making some changes. We still fall off the wagon sometimes, but we're a lot quicker now to discuss things before they get hairy.

    Getting him to read the book helped us… we had a long history of arguments, blame and resentment built up from previous conversations about money. Him hearing about what I wanted to do from a book made it easier for him to hear – and then he suggested the changes he thought he could make in his own patterns. Maybe your partner will do the same? That way instead of having a conversation about the gadgets, you're having a conversation about the big picture, and perhaps, he'll come to his own conclusions about the spending.

  • JC says:


    I think your point about the word "allowance" is a good one. It's kind of weird/infantalizing. That said, I think the spirit of the fund (if that makes sense) can be a good one. I think Sars makes a good point about that little bit of "mine" being important, and removing that to make a slush fund for "a fun family thing" could be really demoralizing and ultimately detrimental. Because, let's face it, "family fun" is rarely going to be fun for the whole family. Maybe I'm selfish, but if I got $50 in a birthday card from Aunt Sally and knew that it was ultimately going to be spent on an extra stuffed animal for the kiddos at Disneyworld, I wouldn't find that super fun. Parents have to suck it up and sacrifice sometimes (or a lot of times), but I don't know as going too far in the other direction would work in all cases.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I agree that the "allowance" language must be dropped, for all the reasons cited, plus one:

    You don't say how old your kids are, but as any parent will tell you, those little buggers are watching every minute. You don't want them to get the impression that men–grown, adult husbands and fathers–get a "fun sum" that they can spend on whatever while women take care of the boring stuff. Allowances shouldn't be totally discretionary, even for kids. The entire reason a kid needs an allowance is to learn about money–about blowing it, saving it, and yes, eventually pooling it, even–so that when they grow up they don't still think of money as coming in flavors–his and hers, with his being Fun and Games and hers being Boring Crap.

    Now, I'm not saying you should force your wee ones to chip in on the credit card debt, of course, or that all money Must Be Put Towards Debt And Repairs Adult Life Is A Boring Nightmare, but part of the discussion should be the attitudes both of you are modeling about money; what does it mean, where does it go, who is responsible.

    Money is an illusion, in the most literal sense; it's how our society talks about status, responsibility, worth, and love. Maybe not the most palatable of ideas, but there it is. How we control or are controlled by that illusion is one of the most powerful things a child will absorb growing up.

  • GeorgiaS says:

    My boyfriend and I don't have a joint account, but we do have joint expenses. At the end of each month, we tally up any bills (grocery, electric, Internet) and split them. All the rest of our money is our own to spend as we choose, because frankly, neither of us can bear the thought of having to ask each other about every little purchase.

    If we had kids, though, I think I'd set up something like what an aunt and uncle of mine have (and B seems to have): There is a joint account into which each partner puts x% of their salary, which goes toward shared expenses. Each partner keeps the rest of their salary and does with it what they like.

  • Lib says:

    I agree that the 'allowance' talk is not great, and that you want to approach it in the right way, attitude-wise. But I also agree with those who say you need to have an agreement about how much you're paying down the debt, and also an agreement about how much discretionary spending you each have beyond that. I can see a case for a laptop/phone/maybe a tablet being some kind of necessity, but unless he's got a tech job or absolutely needs it for work, I really don't buy the argument that having the latest Ipad, Kindle & tablet are a necessity any more than if someone on a normal salary told me they 'had' to have a new Chanel clutch every season.

    Also… it's his grad school education. I realise that that education is probably contributing to his job/career/salary now (or, I hope so, as someone currently in grad school!), and therefore your joint/family income, but you would think that would make him a little more conscious of the way in which that debt weighs upon the family, and eager to pay it off, and occasionally put off buying the third non-laptop device.

  • Lulu says:

    @Retta your solution has the advantage of being equal, where the current situation is obviously unsustainable because it is not. But I think your system loses the essential advantage of the current system, which is a vent to release the pressure of BILLSBILLSDEBTRESPONSIBIILITY. Maybe I am more like the husband in this scenario, but I find it is also not sustainable to be responsible with my money 100% of the time. I can do it for a few months, but then I go nuts with a crazybig purchase. Controlled release of pressure is much more manageable in the long term.

    There is actually some social psychology research to support the idea that we can maintain self-control better over the long term by allowing small indulgences or bad decisions. The idea is that exerting willpower depletes your reserve of self-control, which is a limited resource. If you deny yourself everything, you're more likely to run out. Here's a good article on it:

    I like @Leigh's solution which allows both of them to go a little nuts in equal proportion.

  • Laura says:

    My husband and I have a joint account that our paychecks go into and all the bills are paid from there. I keep my hobby supplies & book buying to a set amount each month. There are fewer small things he wants, so that might mean he doesn't buy much all year and then gets a new keyboard he's been wanting for ages. It evens out. Anything above a certain dollar amount we discuss with each other. This is easier now that we make more money (low middle class vs. pretty broke at first.) We have disagreed at times over the years, but always worked it out. Once you're married, you're a unit, a partnership. Hopefully you are also good friends. You need to negotiate a way of dealing with money that is fair to both of you. And I second the motion to talk with a financial planner about how to pay down your debt. Good luck!
    ~ Laura

  • Megan says:

    My perspective is very close to the letter writer's, so I don't know whether I'll be able to give unbiased advise. But I'll still suggest two things.

    1. Spending can be an addiction and a way to numb underlying pain. If it is, the only cure is addressing the underlying pain. The spending is just a super annoying symptom. (Sars, I don't agree that people neeeed the next gadget. They may neeeed the distraction of anticipating it, concentrating on it and playing with it, but they are buying a temporary release from underlying painful emotions rather than buying a useful tool. If it were necessary to their accomplishments, the last version, the one that does 90% of the stuff, would have sufficed. The cycling through the gadgets is what makes me think this is addiction.) Fix the real problem, which likely means a shrink and hard work on his part.

    2. Right now, he is not making trade-offs. He gets his gadgets, and isn't losing anything he wants. His money feels infinite to him, since spending it on electronics doesn't cost him anything he values. So you two should figure out what you both want and set a vision. ($10K in the bank, debt reduced, working cars, some gadgets) Once you have the vision, then there is a cost to his spending. Would he rather have the next version of the tablet, or would he rather the vision arrived as planned? It may be that he'd rather have the tablet, but at least the trade-offs will be made explicit.

    OK, one third thought.

    3. He is spending the comfort of your future, partially by deferred maintenance, partially by letting debt ride, partially by not piling up money. You can borrow from the future for a long time, but it does arrive (unless maybe he is expecting an inheritance?).

  • Megan says:

    AND! Fourth thing!

    He's not acting like he's in a partnership with mutual goals. Maybe because those goals aren't explicitly spelled out, or because he thinks he's done as much as he needs to to meet family obligations. But either way, he isn't thinking first of how to maximize the comfort and ease of all four of you.

  • Nikki says:

    I think all the resentment comes from the fact that you put your discretionary income (above your salary) into necessaries, and that's not equal because he doesn't do the same.

    I think the PROBLEM is that you find it "difficult to save much" and then end up putting "pricey car repairs" on credit cards.

    What I would do is talk to your husband about saving an emergency fund… because it's clear you need it. The best case scenario is to plan for 6 months of living expenses, but for you, 3 months might make more sense since you have 2 adults working. If you can even get ONE month, though, or bank a single paycheck, it'll still be a huge help to you. The goal of this type of savings is to have it when the unexpected happens, and then replenish it afterwards.

    You might also want to *personally* evaluate whether you think you're paying down your debt aggressively enough. Are you satisfied with the rate you'll clear the debt? If not, that's another really good conversation to have with your husband. Men tend to be receptive to numbers and logic, and this way, you can come to him with the math behind when you'll be debt-free if you continue at your current pace alongside whatever new schedule you propose.

  • Fred says:

    My wife and I have, at various times, been on both sides of this issue. We're chipping away at our debt (one consolidation loan down, and we just transferred the next-to-last floating balance to a low-interest card that will be paid off next year). As we've adjusted our spending habits and our attitudes toward money (counseling helped a lot), we've given both of ourselves "allowances" that go to completely separate accounts. At different times, both of us had felt constrained by our debt-reduction plans, and each has felt like the other was getting to spend extra money on "your stuff" – so setting aside a personal account for that kind of spending has really worked well for us. I can choose to buy a bunch of little desk toys or video games or lunches out with the guys, or I can save up for a new computer – and my wife can likewise blow it all on romance novels now that she's saved up and bought a Kindle…

    Meanwhile, our debt is diminishing, and we consult together about household expenses and auto repairs. Good luck!

  • Cimorene says:

    The thing about the "allowance" language is that her husband is kind of being a child.

    My biggest problem with the Ferris Bueler Solution–don't get mad that other people have fun and break the rules because you play by the rules; you could just stop playing by the rules, then you'd get to have fun too–is that when there are kids, you can't actually have two adults acting like children. If she's spending her discretionary income on shoes and netflix while he's spending his on gadgets, how is the new cam shaft gonna get paid for?

    Obviously the solution is to talk about it, but I'm wary of plans in which his discretionary spending gets to be considered a "necessity" while hers is like a choice–you can choose to spend your bonus on the car or on earring for yourself–when the stuff she's paying for is an actual necessity. It just seems like the compromise is going to end up with her learning how to deal with his financial irresponsibility.

  • Amanda says:

    One thing that hasn't been mention and that may or may not be in play in this relationship, is that the LW may be shouldering too much of the responsibility for managing the family finances. I think quite often one half of a couple ends up becoming the CFO of the family and handles all the bill paying, savings management, etc. This makes sense in that it can be easier to make sure all bills are paid on time, but it can also be really easy for the CFO to inadvertently shield the other partner from the realities of the family budget. I think that no matter what your style is for approaching joint finances, you have to make sure that you have regular sit downs so that both of you know what you have coming in and what needs to go out and what you can each spend without having to answer to the other.

  • Cora says:

    Would his spending pattern be the same if he was alone?

    The first thing that came to mind was that if he had to take care of all of his own bills, then more of the fun money would go toward debt — but I can't assume that. It might be that even if he had no partner, he'd still spend all the fun money on electronics, then chip away at debt and car repairs with his salary. In other words, that's just how he's wired; and oh crap I didn't even see that pun until I typed it, my apologies…..

    It seems like a valuable question to explore, though. At least as an illustration of the way your use of money benefits both of you. There has to be a non-confrontational way to say, "Look, if you were single and had to get a new cam shaft {ed: the hell??}, you wouldn't have had my Christmas bonus to cover it."

  • Abigail says:

    A lot of responses seem to be missing that he calls it "his allowance," not his wife. He's not acting like a married adult man withe children. Something else is going on here.

  • M says:

    My first advice would be for JD to do an accounting of all the debt and organize it so you know the exact amounts owed by each person. I'm not in favor of bean-counting generally, but knowing what goes on each person's individual credit report is important.

    However couples decide to manage their money, there needs to be teamwork. Both parents cover childcare costs, both people contributing to housing/grocery/utilities/transportation etc.

    If JD is not on the hook for her husband's student loan, I would put that last on her priorities and get an emergency fund together and then pay off the credit cards. There is nothing wrong with a couple paying off one member's debt, but this is a time to prioritize. And to protect your own credit and financial health.

    Michelle Singletary has some good advice for paying down debt. has free spreadsheets and advice for budgeting.

  • Stephanie says:

    I fall towards the more financially responsible end of the scale, so I find myself more on the LW's side here. I *hate* being in debt. So when I read "…we have a lot of debt … but we have good health benefits and meet all our financial obligations so we don't worry too much about it" my teeth hurt. Merely meeting your financial obligations seems too limited to me. Sometimes paying the minimum is legitimately all you can do (or even more than you can do). But paying the minimum means you end up paying more in the long run and have debt hanging over your heads casting a pall for longer than necessary. So be thoughtful about it; do it for a reason, not because it is the default.

    What are your goals as a family? Some BHAGs to consider: Be debt free. Max out your respective retirement accounts. Max out your IRAs. Have 6 months worth of expenses saved up in an emergency fund. Start funding your children's college funds. Pay off your mortgage early. Probably those are not all achievable, at least not all at once. That's ok. But talk about them. Agree on priorities. Agree on goals and how much you will pay towards what. Have a plan. Make sure the plan includes some "personal money" for both of you. Make sure the plan can cover emergencies. Then let the plan work. Revisit it, together, annually.

    You also might want to clarify on the his/hers/ours system you have. It sounds like all debt is being treated as "ours" while income from side-jobs is "his." This seems unequal. The two main breakdowns that make sense to me are:
    1. All money goes into a common pot, equal (smallish) amounts go into his and her personal accounts. I'd include bonuses and blogging income in the joint pot. Birthday money would stay his/hers. All financial goals come from the joint pot. Personal money is for personal wants.
    2. All money goes primarily into his and hers accounts. Agreed upon amounts go into joint (equal amounts, equal percentages, some other breakdown you agree upon). Joint account covers joint expenses (mortgage, food, daycare). Personal accounts cover personal expenses – which includes personally acquired debt.

    Having a plan would a) mean you would not have to cover car repairs on your own – it would come out of the family emergency fund, but also b) you would probably feel less angsty about iproducts because you would know that the important stuff is covered. It isn't the new tablet that is the problem – it is the new tablet *instead of* things you consider more important. Just be careful because there is always something more important. Leave a little room for fun.

    Oh, side issue: I know it is hard to save up an emergency fund. It will be much easier if you treat it as a bill that *must* be paid rather than something you hope happens with leftover money at the end of the month. Consider setting up a separate account and auto-withdrawls to fund it. It is easier to save if you can't "see" the money there in your balance. Start small so you hardly notice. $10 per paycheck maybe. Gradually increase it.

  • David says:

    My wife and I use the same method suggested by some other commenters: we're both working, and we contribute in pro rata shares to a joint account which covers household expenses, leaving us our "own" money to spend or not as we see fit. It's worked for nearly 20 years, and has the flexibility to get us through periods when one of us is earning more than the other.

    Now, I don't want to be too much of a, y'know, boy about this, but it would be interesting to hear Mr JD's perspective on this. In my household – and in just about every household I know – Mr and Ms have different spending priorities. So perhaps Mr JD is indeed reckless when it comes to the family finances and indifferent to JD's concerns. On the other hand, perhaps he regards the cost of a $200 tablet as just about covering JD's shoe/bag/clothing/"personal grooming" spending for a couple of months. I have no idea how much my wife spends on shoes and clothes, but I know that she doesn't rely on the same hoodie and pair of trainers to get her through the year. Perhaps Mr JD does.

  • Leigh says:

    @Retta: Point taken about the word "allowance" having some troublesome connotations. We don't actually call it that, we call it "Personal Money" which is exactly what it is–a little cash in our wallets to spend on stuff we don't want to have to justify. In other words, sanity.

    @David: Good point, but that's why no matter what exact financial system ends up working best for them, there also just simply needs to be MUCH clearer communication about this stuff. I use my personal money for shoes and clothes that I just want on a whim, but if I'm like "OMG honey, I seriously have one pair of work-appropriate pants that doesn't have a hole" then we agree on a certain amount out of our "Household Miscellaneous" part of the budget that can be spent on a legitimate wardrobe re-up. DH doesn't usually spend personal money on clothes because he generally doesn't care, but comes to me when he NEEDS to buy clothes so we can agree that it's a worthy expense for that month (or needs to/can be put off for "x" amount of time so we can pay for "y"). Things like clothes and haircuts can be in that gray area between want and need, and nobody needs to feel resentful as long as it's all on the table, you know?

  • Maria says:

    Lots of good advice, and I would want to hear his side of things in the spirit of him becoming accountable if he is currently not doing so.

    I will also say that we spend $9K per year for fulltime daycare at a center, for 6 years. That is a considerable amount of money. It made things extremely tight for us, but I guess it depends on your cost vs your salaries. We had no family and needed to keep both jobs, and did not want to use cheaper in-home care due to reliability issues and the fact that the center had on-site daycare and bused kids to half-day K.

    You definitely need to have an airing of the grievance and see what he says about it when you confront him. His money is NOT an allowance, as it is not money you earned that you gave to him for whatever reason. So far you have just allowed him not to be accountable for calling it joint income. I think this is the crux of your grievance, that he should have put it in the pot and maybe you should have had the use of some of it, too. Presumably when he is busy blogging, you are caring for the children or doing household tasks and he is NOT. Quid pro quo, Clarice.

    While it is extremely difficult to reduce debt while your salaries are effectively lowered by the cost of daycare in order to keep the jobs, it is possible to save so that you don't have to finance inevitable things like a car repair. If you are just paying the minimums or slightly more on those credit bills rather than paying them off every month, of course you are losing money.

    I'm not sure how much longer until your kids are out of daycare, when a big financial burden will be relieved. You could go several ways. One is to ratchet down spending until that time, so you can use CREATE savings to deal with car repairs etc. Another is to keep on maintaining debt and then blast at it when the daycare bill is done. I think you would both be well served talking to a financial planner in order to end the power struggle. Consider it a second opinion since what you are doing now isn't working, hence his need to be cagey and your need to take control. It would really be better to figure it out sooner rather than later, before you drift to someplace worse than where you are right now. People have this idea that things can only get better–get raises, property values rise, ships will come in, and so on. Bah. Things can go south in a fast hurry, and you will be sooooo much better off if you have contingencies. I wonder if you two even have life insurance while this disagreement smolders? Thinking out loud here. A financial planner will tackle that and other issues (like wills) that may have slipped through the crazy baby-having and kid-raising times.

    Would LOVE an update, or to be a fly on the wall.

  • GrammaK says:

    If the couple is in a stable situation (meaning: not starving, not homeless, not heading toward bankruptcy, not throwing money at addictions, not in dire health straits, not fritzing cash that should go toward essentials), then both should have some discretionary money to spend without explanation or justification. It sounds like the husband's *frivolous* purchases are funded by his own extracurricular activities, and not coming from the household budget. Can the writer reserve some of her next bonus for herself? Or perhaps the writer could examine her own spending- it's possible that she spends nearly the same amount on personal pleasures,in much smaller increments, without realizing it. In any case, nothing the husband is doing sounds unreasonable to me (especially since it appears that the purchases pay for themselves eventually), but expecting him to stop because the writer doesn't share the same interest does sound unreasonable.

  • Jane says:

    Many people above have said things I heartily agree with, especially the suggestion for financial advice from a planner (if you happen to bank with a credit union, many of them have modest planning advice for no charge) or a Dave Ramsey book.

    And I think the fact that there's extant credit card debt does mean that this level of discretionary spending isn't okay. That's a heck of a surcharge on everything that gets bought with that credit card, and that's a lot of security the family could have later but is forgoing to get toys now (and, frankly, a lot of stuff to saddle one spouse with if, heaven forfend, something happens to the other). I totally get the "you have to have some splurges" psychology, but this sounds to me like expenditures are perceived as not mattering: because the money couldn't pay off the debt on its own, because his account is its own little world, and because he works hard and deserves nice things. All of which may be true but they aren't sufficient in the face of the other fact: this family is currently living beyond its means.

    Of course it's more emotionally complicated than that and there are sides and there's psychology, and fixing it is considerably more complicated still. But I'm firmly supporting your desire to get a handle on this now, and I think it's an important thing for your family to do.

  • Shannon says:

    I have found like many others that money is a huge potential conflict point in my relationship with my now-husband. I came into the relationship with the most debt (I showed him the total of my student loan debt about 9 months in and said "if this is a dealbreaker for you, I totally get it"), but the most income, while my husband had zero debt and a smaller paycheck. We have definitely gone through many different strategies. A few that have been the most successful:
    1) I do the day-to-day finances in our household, so earlier this year, I passed all the information along to my husband, and he took over for a month or two. It really helped him to have a good sense of what we were doing in terms of paying down debt and saving, and also to see what our monthly expenses really are. He came out of it with some suggestions about ways we could spend differently, which I appreciated, and also an understanding for how much work it is to run a household's finances, which was helpful for us in the long run.
    2) We were doing ok at paying down debt, and not ok at saving, so we actually set up a separate account that all of our "extra" money (summer teaching, consulting, temporary jobs) goes into. That's the stuff I used to see as "not real" money so it didn't have to go toward budgeted items. That money paid for our wedding earlier this year, which I'm proud to say we came out of debt free, and is now our "future baby" fund (apparently "not real" money adds up!). It's harder to access than the rest of our money, so we can spend it, but we have to make a concerted effort to do so.
    3) How you communicate about money is more important than any of the (very useful) logistical methods discussed above. Even if the conversations are stressful now, keep having them in the calmest, most open way possible. We have had some absolute doozies (sp?) about money, but we kept at it, and while money is absolutely still an occasional source of tension, keeping the lines of communication open has really made a difference.

  • Liz says:

    I do think your husband deserves some credit for keeping his frivolous spending within the parameters of his "extra" income–it does show some discipline to sell an older gadget in order to get a new one and to keep from dipping into the household funds. So his frivolous spending could be a lot more irresponsible than it is. And, as someone with $XX,000 in student loan debt, I've definitely had my share of thoughts like "This $200 will let me pay my debt off 2 weeks sooner, or I could have an awesome pair of shoes that will make me happy every time I wear them for the next 2 years."

    That said, it sounds like you guys have different perspectives on household budgeting, "fun" money, and your tolerance for debt. It's definitely not OK that you're feeling so resentful or that you're the one paying off the car repairs while he gets to have an iPad.

    I think that rather than approaching this as him needing to contribute more to the shared pot out of his extracurricular income, you should take the opportunity to really overhaul your household budget, setting goals and timelines for debt payoff and savings, as well as realistic "personal" money budgeted for both of you. You guys may have slightly different approaches and you will probably both need to compromise here. One first step might be for both of you to keep close track of ALL of your spending.

  • Emmers says:

    Gotta say, I don't mind the word "allowance" at all, although it might be a bit of a lightning rod for this particular relationship.

    Not paying down debt definitely sets my teeth on edge too — other people have linked to Dave Ramsey, but I think MMM says it a lot more bluntly. – I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I think it's good to read stuff like that and consider maybe using it to adjust your "window," as it were, of how you look at debt. You don't need to go full-on extreme in tackling your debt…but maybe you should have a defined plan for how and when it will be paid off, know how long it will take, etc.

    Also — and I'll admit I'm in a bit of a minority here — I find the idea that Christmas money/inheritance/whatever else would go into a "separate Me pot" to be completely incomprehensible. That's not your money — that's your family's money. But that might just be my weird-ass quasi-communist immigrant background talking…

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