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The Vine: January 29, 2014

Submitted by on January 29, 2014 – 1:44 PM35 Comments


I have a family-finances dilemma. My husband is…kind of a cheapskate (he gets it from his dad, who is a definite cheapskate, long story).

In his case, maybe "overly frugal" would be a better term. I know this can be a good quality, and I do appreciate that his saving habits have put us in the good financial shape we're currently enjoying. We own a house. We have one small car payment. We have no credit-card debt, and a sizeable savings account. We have investments and an advisor. We both work full-time, and although he makes more than me, I bring in a sizeable chunk of our income. We work hard for our money.

My daughters (his step-daughters) live with us part-time; the older is an almost-college-grad, the younger is just starting college in September. Tuition is mostly being paid through student loans and small scholarships, although I've paid for their books and small expenses throughout (their dad is not the best with money and has no savings, which I know my husband resents — another long story). Our son is 9, and we've got a 529 plan started for his college, as well as a small savings account for him. We're in good shape, which is saying something in this country's current economy.

A little background: Hubs is Mr. Work Ethic. He's proud to a fault of his work habits, and work is very important to him. He's not obsessive about it, luckily, and he does enjoy weekends and downtime, but lately he's been working a lot more and is much more stressed about his job (not to mention the long commute). He was laid off from a long-time position at the end of 2008, which really shook him. He did nothing but look for a job, 6+ hours a day, 5 days a week, for almost a year. He finally got a good job, thank goodness, but unemployment really took its toll on him emotionally. I totally get that. As an aside, he did get a sizeable severance package (a year's salary), and collected unemployment throughout his jobless period, so we weren't even near penniless during that time.

On to the issue. We've lived in our house for 11 years, and have been slowly updating, renovating, replacing appliances, windows, painting, sprucing up, and the usual home maintenance, as you do. Our last big expense was a 10th anniversary trip to London last year; before that it was a kitchen renovation and expansion 6 years ago. It's the home-improvement and other non-essential house-expenditures issues that are now coming to a head between us.

The first argument was due to a broken storm door that had become un-fixable. He tried to jimmy it, but the fix didn't work, and the broken door caused problems and aggravation for several months. I explained to him that we could definitely afford to replace a $300 storm door, and by his ignoring my wishes and the obvious fact the door was totally broken, he's pretty much telling me I'm not worth $300. After nagging (which I normally don't do at all, truthfully), and a final outburst from me, we replaced the door.

Then our microwave broke. It's probably not worth fixing, since repair would cost at least half what a new microwave would. His sister had left a cheap little microwave with us when she moved, so he lugged it up from the basement, where its paltry little waves are now taking up valuable counter space. I've diplomatically brought up replacing it more than a few times, but he just grouched about other expenses.

Our home computer is 10 years old. It's on its last legs, and I'm usually unable to add any music to my music library without deleting other things. My music is a sizeable investment, and important to me, and although I back it up, I'm frustrated that we don't have a good computer and my hands are tied, music-wise and otherwise (it shouldn't take 20 minutes to open an internet browser, should it?).

I won't even bring up replacing the carpet in our family room, which was old but serviceable when we moved in the house, and is now just scruffy and gross; or getting a dumpster to clean out our overloaded basement; or hiring someone to rip out the ugly bushes in front of the house, or any of the other maintenance things I'd like to do. You get the picture.

I guess what I'm getting at is, I realize that owning a home can be expensive, but I work hard for my money, dammit, and we can afford to spruce up the place, and replace things when they're getting old or actually broken. We don't take expensive vacations every year. I don't own expensive jewelry. I have a nice wardrobe, but I'm a smart shopper and don't shop at expensive places. To be fair, Hubs doesn't begrudge me my wardrobe purchases, although he has not willingly bought himself anything to wear in the 11 years we've been married. If we have an event to attend, I put my foot down and take him shopping. Basically, he doesn't ever spend money on himself at all. He even has a nice sports car he bought just before we met, and he drives it maybe 3 times a year (he doesn't want to put on miles and devalue it in case he sells it down the road).

His reasoning is, we have a lot of expenses coming up; we could have college expenses; we may need to replace a vehicle soon; I'll eventually paint the hallway, so no you can't hire someone to do it; what if you lose your job, blah blah breadline-cakes. In short, he'd rather do a bad temporary fix, or jury-rig something, rather than fix it right the first time.

My reasoning is, although I appreciate his cautious spending habits, I don't think we're above "splurging" on some things, and definitely not needed and wanted home repairs. The end.

I'm baffled as to how to approach him at this point. I get myself all worked up just imagining the conversation we'd have, and have even proceeded to acting out how the argument will go in my head! He tends to be grumpy about the slightest confrontation, although I know by now when to approach him and how to "handle" his moods, and we're getting better at discussing things. I've said to him, more than once, "Why do you always get the final say in this family?"!

Anyway, I'm just tired of the same old argument.

Or maybe he lived through the Great Depression in a past life?


Dear K,

"By his ignoring my wishes and the obvious fact the door was totally broken, he's pretty much telling me I'm not worth $300." Okay, well, you know that's not what he's telling you, "pretty much" or otherwise. That's what you're hearing, it's not the same thing, and the central issue for you guys is that, when you talk about whatever it is — an upgrade, a "treat," shopping, investments — you're 1) not talking about the same things, and 2) not talking about those things.

You know that, probably.

But for example: the sports car. To him, it's proof that he can afford to buy nice, expensive things, and it's also proof that he can take care of his stuff and is able to take a long view — that he's a grown man, organized and conscientious. To you, it's a six-cylinder example of his miserliness, how he misses the point, doesn't see the forest for the trees, amortizes the life out of life. It's all those things; it's none of those things; it's not the car and it's just a car.

You keep having the same old argument because each of you is having a different argument, one that goes back to your families of origin. Everyone always says that couples fight the most about money; this is why, because it's never exactly the money itself but all the other feelings, "what if I'm not good enough," "what if I'm all by myself," "what if I have to and then I can't."

You know all that. Good news (which you also know): this is 98 percent of couples; also, you guys have made it work in a remarriage, with children, despite what seems like a canyon between you on what money is "for."

Now you actually have to do something with what you know so you can change the discussion and get better results. You may need to go to couples counseling for a month or two so you can clear off some resentments that clutter things up and talk about the other feelings; it can feel like making the money issue into something Serious And Bad, but it's just to help you both talk to each other, and hear what the other one is saying, on the issue.

In the meantime, start with an upgrade or purchase, just one, that you'd like to make. Try your best, and I know how hard it is, not to go in anticipating what he's going to say; worrying that he's going to get "grumpy"; or resenting the fact that this is one purchase of a whole list you feel he's denied you. You want this one thing — let's go with the computer. You want him to sign off, and you want to buy it, so focus on that one thing and don't try to solve your entire world.

"Honey, the computer is fucked. I'm concerned that it's going to crash irreplaceably and I want to buy a new one before that happens. I researched it and I found three replacement possibilities that I think would work for our family. We have the money in X account." Make your basic case. He's going to resist. Let him resist fully. Take notes to make sure you hear him correctly, and also to give yourself something to think about besides what you're going to say. "I hear what you're saying, honey. But we do have the cash, and while we can't anticipate [whatever thing he thinks you need to hedge against], we can anticipate that this computer is going to break down. I feel anxious about this possibility and getting a new machine is important to me." And he's going to resist more, and get pissy, and you have to be okay with him getting pissy; you have to trust your relationship. It's not really about you, and even if it is, you can handle it. This is important to you. You need to go on the record with that, and you need to make it clear that it makes you feel hurt and invisible when he brushes you off about these purchases.

Then hit him with the old "what is this really about," and this is where the counseling might come in, because my husband and I don't split along the same fault you and yours do with this stuff, but I can absolutely tell him, "I don't like it when you [behavior involving capital purchases], because I feel [Oedipus, sort of]. Can you tell me why [behavior] is happening right now?" And he can say, "Well, I think maybe [MY CHILDHOOD!!1!]," and we can settle it, but if your husband isn't like that, he might need some help explaining that what if the eight hundred bucks we spend on a new laptop is the eight hundred bucks we would need for life-saving surgery or a kidney or something and I can't provide for you and our family and we have to live in my sports car that we can't sell because I drove it for fun once please don't hate me. I mean, men and money — there is some deep murk going on sometimes, and they can't all just feel how they feel about PROVIDING NO MATTER WHAT IS MY WORTH SO SAITH US ALL and then move through it. A professional has to lead them to "I can feel this pressure to Take Care Of It and still realize that it's not the reality."

At least go to a handful of sessions yourself, to untangle all the resentment you feel and the way the grody carpet gets collapsed with his feelings for you, because again, it's not that he doesn't think you're worth a microwave. It's that he's desperately afraid that he's only worth a microwave, and what if he can't furnish one someday.

But try not to lump everything together in one big list of aggro, and try not to see it as him refusing to spend money because he doesn't love you. Pick one thing, know it's not about the thing OR about you, and try to get at what's really on his mind every time you have that argument.

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  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Sars is so spot on, as usual. Money is our language, and it's how we talk about things like love, loyalty and panic. The problem is, when we let money stand for "I'm providing X so I'm worthy" or "The protracted battle over a new laptop makes me feel unworthy" there's no way to end the argument because speaking the money code means that we are more invested in protecting ourselves then in facing the terrors of coming out and saying "What if you leave me? What if I can't provide X because we bought Y, or what If I talk you into buying Y and then it turns out we do need X? Will you not love me anymore?"

    There's all kinds of needs in life. There's things we need to not die, like food and shelter; there's things we need to facilitate the day to day life we're lucky enough to have, like an up to date wardrobe or computer that doesn't take three episodes of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law to load, there's things we need to provide for our kids, like college savings; and there's things we need to prove to ourselves that we're worth what we have, like music and sports cars.

    It's these different kinds of need that are leading to the circular battles over money and spending it. Both of you have to say "Okay, these are the needs that are in conflict here, let's see if we can figure out a way to get both of them met in some fashion" in order to break out of them.

    It will SUCK and be super hard and scary; both of you will feel alternatively like heartless ogres and whiny babies. That's okay, we all do. Just keep slogging through until you manage to find that small, hidden Compromise Island in this swamp.

  • attica says:

    I agree with all that Sars suggests. I also wonder if it might be time to set up separate accounts. A house account, a just-for-me account, a just-for-him account. You'd need to agree what gets put into each, and agree how much say-so the other partner gets in spending from the JFM or JFH accounts.

    And then I'd start putting microwaves on my Amazon wish list, because somebody will totally dig getting you one next gifting occasion. (I had a wireless printer on mine, just parked there to remind me which model I wanted when I came up with the scratch, but whatyda know? It was under the tree!)

  • Kristin says:


    I think Sars has given you some good advice and some things to think about, and it's never easy to ferret out what's really bothering anyone when everyday life stuff has to and does take precedence.

    I'm wondering if you might consider having this discussion with the financial adviser you mentioned; during one of your meetings, bring up the list of things you'd like to do for the house and see if the adviser things those are feasible. You might even get some backup on the appreciating value of spending money to make money in terms of resale value. With two either out of the next or on their way, there is a chance you might decide to downsize at some point, and some of the improvements you mentioned may increase the value of your current home.

    I wish you luck – money is not an easy topic in any family, but Sars is right – money and love are not the same thing, so don't get too emotional about these issues, when that emotional response may worry your overly practical spouse…

  • B says:

    Oh man, my husband and I have been in a non-stop battle about house repair/improvement since we bought our place, although for very different reasons than KL. My husband is not frugal (at all!), he just thinks that (a) he can do everything himself and thus save money, but (b) he's too lazy to ever get around to it, and (c) probably knows much less than he thinks he does.

    I have a huge running list of major and minor things I want/think the house needs, and my husband has promised to do and then not followed up on a huge number. I have to pretty much badger him to get him to agree to have a professional come over to give us an estimate/perform a service, and that mostly only happens if my mom gives us a generous financial gift to cover a certain thing. I think he might FINALLY be coming around to the notion that we need professional help, but it has taken a long damn time. So, I feel you.

    A couple ideas:
    (1) Put a time limit on things. If he doesn't get the storm door fixed, properly, by himself by X date, you are hiring someone and you don't care what he says. I'm trying to implement this one myself.

    (2) Use your own money. Is every one of your accounts joint? I think it would drive me insane not to have some money that I controlled with no input from my husband. Our current method is to each put 70% of our salaries in joint accounts. (We might adjust the number down the line.) The remaining 30% we can each do whatever the hell we want with. That's how I bought my most recent laptop, did not need any input from my husband. It also allows me not to stress out about all the dumb things he purchases. As long as it's from his account, I don't feel like he's sacrificing "us" things for "his" things. Sometimes I get tired of all his push back and foot dragging and "threaten" to use my own money for whatever home improvement thing. I haven't had to follow through on this yet, but frankly I'd rather do it than continue to fight.

    Good luck!

  • Maria says:

    Make a list of what you want, and start budgeting for it. If the money is in its own little account, it's hard to argue that you don't have it. Meanwhile, I would probably back up stuff that's on your computer either someplace online or on another device. Computers do crash, and you don't want to lose anything.

    I'm glad you got the storm door, because you can get water damage without one.

    Another tactic you might try is to say, okay you think $300 is too much for this item? Please try to find one for the price you think it should be. Sometimes a little shopping is enlightening.

    Bottom line is that your collective money is not just about his financial future, it's yours too. Some people do get into a sort of hoarding mentality about it, and it needs to be pointed out that rather than being a sign of love about how well he is providing, it's doing relationship harm. While you are not trying to be some spendthrift, you have needs and you want him to meet them.

    I hope you update! I am pulling for you here.

  • Sarah says:

    I'm a big fan of his/hers/our accounts. My mom and stepdad do that, so I'm used to it, and plan to do it if/when I get married. Like others have said, it really helps eliminate an area of stress. My mom can spend her money on a trip to Australia to see my sister while my stepdad doesn't have to worry the mortgage isn't getting paid (a laptop also falls into this category). You can do equal percentages or equal amounts or whatever works for you, but as long as there's enough to pay bills, savings, etc. (Also, as a child of divorced parents, this allows you to pay for something for your girls w/o him making a federal case of it. Husband married you knowing you had kids, if he is going to resent paying for the occasional thing, then it is def time for separate accounts.)

    In your case, could you also maybe start an account for home things that you each chip a % into every month and perhaps a car repair/replacement fund? Even though the money is already in your general savings, perhaps having it earmarked as "for the house" will help. Then, when the carpet needs to be replaced, you can say "the money is already designated for the house/car/etc so we are using it for that purpose." (For a new microwave, craigslist for someone remodeling.)

    And therapy never hurt anyone, so def do some of that as well/

  • M says:

    What happens if you just buy what you need? If you just order a microwave online, or call a handyman? Will he grumble and then adjust, or be punitive somehow?

    I like the suggestion that you start a separate bank account for things like home maintenance. It is your home and you do get a say in fixing it. It would be great if it is a joint account, maybe a dedicated fund for the house will help your husband mentally. Having other savings for emergencies with a clear number that he can see might help him to know that things are covered.

  • clobbered says:

    Yeah, so it's apples and oranges here – microwave versus potential unemployment. If you can manage it, I'd say start putting your money in designated pots – the car pot, the house pot, the college textbook pot, 1-year unemployment pot, etc. Then the house pot gets spent on the house, no argument, and so house things are only competing with other house things (the door versus the microwave).

    Take a look at what used to be ING (now Capital 360) – you can have a near-infinite number of free savings account that you can use each as money pots as described above. You can even set a savings target for each. I'm sure there are alternatives.

  • Ducky says:

    I feel like his issue might be the actual spending of money – you said husband has not bought himself anything willingly in their entire marriage, but doesn't begrudge your wardrobe. It might be that he doesn't want to be the one doing the spending.

    Why does he get the final say? It's your house too – even though you don't make as much, it's not like you are freeloading.

    Plus, worth goes both ways. Is he not worth a microwave? If buying new things are stressful for him, and he'll deal with crappy old microwave forever because he has anxiety about spending money, just buy the microwave.

  • MizShrew says:

    All of Sars' advice is spot on, as per usual. Beyond that: Separate accounts. Seriously. Of course you keep the joint accounts, and agree on how much of each paycheck goes into them. But you need to have some autonomy over how you spend what YOU have earned. I think this would take the edge of some of the resentment about having to argue about basic things you want when you work hard for your income, too.

    As others have stated, money issues get all tangled up with other issues. It took a lot of talking to get my husband to understand that for me, keeping broken crap forever and jury-rigging every repair made me crazy and anxious because it's what my parents did. (As a teenager the bathroom sink had only cold water because the hot water pipe had issues and so my mom just turned it off at the source rather than pay a plumber.) There's a weird crazy-making logic to the "we can get by with/we must always save" arguments that tend to make one feel profligate. But you're not being extravagant, so there's no reason not to stand up for things you want. And in the long run, it will be better for your relationship to sort out the feelings behind the money.

  • cayenne says:

    It's interesting to me that my mind went right past all the solutions and straight to "wow, that's dad!", because the husband sounds a lot like my father.

    My dad had Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (now he has Pick's Disease, but that's a whole 'nuther ball of string), and throughout my life showed some characteristics that seem very similar to those of LK's husband:

    - Strong work ethic
    - Order-driven; liked systems, processes & lists, and wanted others to follow them
    - Inflexibly high standards for himself and others, and could be quite judgemental
    - Highly parsimonious, and preoccupied with worry about money needs in the future
    - Hoarding behaviours (the crap my mum & I found when we cleaned out the basement before selling the house was unbelievable; I will never forget the broken purple toilet seat)
    - Stubborn as all hell and could be tactless with it

    He was fairly self-aware and was able to mask a lot of his behaviours, so he wasn't diagnosed for a long time. He rejected therapy, but accepted anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds when it was made clear to him his actions were negatively affecting his family and social relationships.

    In addition to some of the very constructive negotiation tactics Sars and other TNers have advised, I'd also suggest KL have a chat with Hubs' doctor and see if s/he has any recommendations for an assessment for OCPD and possible treatment.

    Along with Wikipedia, some info on OCPD is here (including how it differs from OCD):

    Good luck!!

  • Megan says:

    I've said to him, more than once, "Why do you always get the final say in this family?"!

    This would infuriate me. I would froth at the mouth and use bad language. People have all sorts of root-level assumptions in their decision-making, and it sounds like "frugality is good" is deep in his. That is fine, but if it isn't explicitly agreed on between the two of you, that doesn't get to be the deciding principle in joint decisions. That's as unfair as acting unilaterally on the assumption that "credit card debt is irrelevant". If there's disagreement, you have to expose those and both agree on how to go forward.

    I'd hire a professional (mediator, counselor, financial planner, whatever) early as I could, because I truly believe that difficult discussions take more than layperson skills.

    In the meantime, I'll just sympathize with the grumbly conversations in your head. I'd be having them too.

  • Megan says:

    I don't mean to imply that you have a root level belief that credit card debt is irrelevant. I was trying to give an equal and opposite example.

  • ferretrick says:

    Another person chiming in with separate accounts. It would eliminate SO MUCH of your arguments and resentment. It's what my husband and I do-we each have X amount we contribute each week to cover utilities, food, pet expenses, and entertainment, and in addition we each put 1/2 the mortgage payment in as well. Then the rest of our money goes in our own personal accounts to pay our personal bills-we have no joint credit cards, we each have a personal one. I have a student loan; he has a car loan. We each pay our own gas and car expenses. Major purchases outside normal expenses we put extra in the joint account, and it's a mutual decision. It's rare for us to fight about money.

    You both work, so there's no reason you shouldn't each keep a portion of your own income to yourself. Then, when it's something that would be a joint purchase, you can decided for yourself what's the dollar amount line where it's worth the arguments to use joint money, or just buy it yourself. Surely a microwave falls on the just pay for it yourself side of that equation. Why don't you just buy your own computer that's yours, not the family's, out of your own money? Then, he doesn't have a say so. Go through your list, and see how many items you could check off using this strategy, and think about how many fewer arguments you might have. (And-if you are not having so many arguments over the little items, when the big ones come up, the arguments probably won't be as bad).

  • Jane says:

    I'm totally agreeing on the yours mine and ours plan, but want to suggest exploring the finances with a longer view, too.

    You have a financial advisor, which I have mixed feelings about (it's one thing to pay a fee-only advisor, but most advisors take money from your assets to do stuff you could do yourself), and I'm especially hoping that that's not because all those investments are in taxable accounts.

    I'm saying this not because "OMG DO MONEY DIFFERENT" but because this suggests that you guys may not actually have a clear sense of how much money you're going to need to do what you want to do in your future life. If somebody like your husband doesn't know what "enough" is going to look like (and especially since he clearly was seriously frightened by the unemployment interval), he's going to assume he never has enough. Bust out (or create) the household budgets, bust out the spreadsheets, and do your retirement/tuition/IRA/401K/Social Security math so you have numbers to say that you can afford to put what you need toward the 529 and retirement and still spend $1k on the house in a year.

    Or, alternatively, you might discover that you don't–that having investments doesn't mean that you'll have what you need in twenty to forty years, and that you might want to live with a banging screen door for a few years. But either way I think it would help you two find a clearer way of deciding how much can be spent on the household and still feel safe about your future.

  • Amy says:

    When I got married we never merged our finances. I gave Husband my share of the mortgage and we each paid for certain bills. When he said, "You know it costs X cents every time you call information, right?" I replied, "I know, but I pay the phone bill and I don't mind." If I wanted a cute pair of shoes, I bought them. If he wanted a new video game, he bought it. But when it came to "joint" expenses, we split things evenly. If we agreed on needing something (a microwave, perhaps?), we split the cost. If only one of us thought we needed it, the person in need bought it. Sadly, we did get divorced, but the easy part of dividing our things up during that time was: if you paid for it, you kept it; if "we" paid for it, we came to an agreement on who kept it. Point being, if you want a microwave and he doesn't, go buy yourself a microwave!

  • lsn says:

    I might be reading more into this than was there, but it sounded as if he'd gotten worse about being willing to spend money at all since being unemployed for a year. In which case I think he should probably talk to someone about how he felt/feels about that year – I think it's likely that it rocked him badly, and that some of the penny pinching is coming from a new insecurity about his work being stable. Being unemployed sucks at the best of times, and the fear of not being actually able to find paid employment again if he finds himself back in that situation may still be there in the background. Perhaps even more so given that he's now 5 years older and potentially 5 years less attractive to employers.

  • Jennifer M. says:

    I kind of combine the attitude of a saver and a spender in one person. I am very hesitant to spend money because of "what if" (I was laid off in 2006 but was lucky to find a new job with my old job's main competitor very quickly but it can be rough on the morale), but I also really really want some things. It leads to lots of internal angst and weird penny pinching in some instances (I can buy a new laptop as soon as I think I need one no problem, but I once spent 3 weeks debating if I needed some $25 shoes from Target. Which I still have 10 years later and have spent probably $50 on shoe repairs over the years). One time my sister was so annoyed at my waffling over a new laptop bag I had been looking at for 2 months that she literally snatched my wallet from me at the store and marched up to the counter to buy it knowing I would fall in line at that point. And I do love that bag. What's worked for me is my online savings accounts.

    Capital One 360 (and I'm sure other online banks) lets you have up to 25 different accounts so I set up accounts for different activities. You can even set savings goals with a total amount and an end date so you know how much to save per paycheck. My 14 year old car isn't going to be worth repairing in the next year but I've been putting money in my car account for 3 years so by next spring, I can go in and by the cute little Mazda I want for cash. I have an emergency fund with 6 months of mortgage, COBRA, utility, and grocery payments in it. I have a vacation account so that anytime a trip comes up, I can make an educated choice on whether I can afford that weekend getaway with the girls based on how much money I have specifically labeled vacation. I've got an account for my annual IRA contribution so every December I'm able to make the full allowable contribution. After my monthly expenses I put a little bit in each account so I know that when I do go for the big splurge, it isn't actually a splurge, it is spending funds on their intended budget line item.

  • Kemmi says:

    My dad isn't a spendthrift and mum isn't a miser, but my dad does his money-to-time or money-to-work ratios with different constants to my mum. It doesn't show up daily, but it does on things like travel— what it boils down to is dad will put as a safe bid of cost against savings of time and inconvenience, and my mum will wager more time and effort against a possible win of savings.

    Part of the problem seems to be that it's not just that you've got different strategies there, but that a) it's happening even with certain losses (like the door or the computer—putting down more and more time and inconvenience, when it's a certainty that the damn thing needs replacing and the cost isn't going to change and b) that the default is his strategy—that a draw is doing nothing, which is also what him winning would be, instead of a draw being a compromise (the thing that makes everyone equally unhappy).

    I don't know if this helps, but my parents have a joint account and mum has her own account. There are a couple of reasons for this, some historical but it boils down to mum having things that are more clearly *hers*. Not having her own account, even if they mostly use the joint account, would bother her. Not having his own (separate) account doesn’t bother dad. My dad's family have been comfortably middle class for generations and mum's family were mostly comfortable working class. My dad had a support network that could offer money and time if he'd needed it (his parents were financially comfortable and able to be generous, as were their families). My mum's parents had died before she was twenty. For my mum, for multiple reasons—her background, being a woman, their relative earning levels, mum basically being more instinctively territorial- and I couldn't say which was most important, having something purely hers to control without negotiation is necessary. It's security and control, and it's a safety blanket.

    I mention this because having separate accounts can seem like you're being told "here, have your own account, with your own allowance to spend as you want!" but in this case, what it is, is, "here's your account, and I'm not involved with it at all and it, and the money in it, are yours and nothing to do with me at all). That is, it's not you getting a spending account; it's your husband getting a savings account. It's not necessarily a case of you getting pin money to spend on things that, in all honesty, aren't personal –are things that benefit the household, like a decent microwave or a door that works. It's him getting something he can feel safe about, secure about. It's his safety blanket—which what the joint savings account is for him at the moment, so spending from that might feel like his safety blankets being eroded.

  • JC says:

    I can't add much to addressing the larger problem, but maybe I can add a practical tip that will help with your sanity and possibly move things along: Pick a couple of the smaller house projects. For example, you mention hiring someone to paint the hallway. Unless the hallway is 1000 yards long or you're planning on going full Michelangelo on the ceiling, you really don't need to hire someone. You can totally do this. Go down to Home Depot or Lowes, buy a couple of brushes and gallons of paint, and say, "Hubby, guess what, we're painting this weekend!" Or get one or more of the available kids to help. It will take a day, maybe.

    That's not to say you should just completely let him off the hook, but maybe if you can get him motivated on some of the small stuff, that will help. Maybe he'll get the home improvement bug once he sees what the hallway looks like without scratches, blood stains, and shoe prints all over the walls.

    Same with the bushes. If they have trunks that are a foot across, then yeah, you might need help. But you may not, especially if the trunk isn't very thick and/or the roots aren't very deep. (Heck, you don't even really need to get the roots out.) Just hack away as much of the bush as you can with hand tools or a saw, cut the main part of the bush down, and do a little digging. You just need to cut enough away so you can cover what's left of the stump with dirt. The beauty part is that stumps are biodegradable, so you don't have to remove all traces. Home Depot rents tools if you don't have them, which saves some more cash.

  • Georgia says:

    @cayenne: I think you just totally changed my life with your discussion of OCPD. I didn't know this was a thing, but it explains so much about my life. . . . Off to make a doctor's appointment!

  • Megan says:

    b) that the default is his strategy—that a draw is doing nothing, which is also what him winning would be, instead of a draw being a compromise (the thing that makes everyone equally unhappy).

    This is astute and nicely explained.

  • Jane says:

    Budget, budget, budget.

    You need to have the gnarly emotional conversation to clear the decks, but you can't have a gnarly emotional conversation every time you spend $300 on home repair because stress. I've gone the direction of just spending the money out of my own damn account because it needs to be done, but that's also not really sustainable long term. It's pretty easy to end up resentful of each other — he feels like you're squandering you future, and you feel like he gets whatever he wants but *your* money ends up going for things you both need.

    I really like the You Need a Budget software. It really takes a different approach to budgeting, in that it's not just a monthly, static target you succeed or fail at, but a long-term view to see where money is going and make sure your spending decisions are aligned with your priorities.

    Once you can get to a place emotionally where you can both articulate your goals, make that wish list of everything. Car replacement? Goes in the budget. A regular house maintenance kitty? In the budget. Computer? Vacation? Emergency fund? Budget. You both get to see all where all the money is going, and it can take a while to negotiate those priorities, but it's oh-so-worth-it when you do. Then the budget becomes the neutral arbitrator. "Honey, the computer replacement fund is at $700 and I found this deal at Costco so it's time. I suggest we reduce the amount we're saving to $20/month for the next replacement in about 3 years. Where do you think the extra budget should go?"

  • cayenne says:

    @Georgia- I'm really glad you found it helpful! I was worried I was complicating the discussion by suggesting mental illness due to my family's background instead of accepting this as being more an issue of marital dynamics. So even if it isn't OCPD for the LW, I'm glad it resonated with you enough to seek assistance. All the best to you!!

  • Cora says:

    Regarding the issue of separate accounts, that might not be as easy as it sounds. You know your husband better than we do, so you'll be able to predict his reaction; but when my husband and I were planning the wedding, I mentioned, totally off the cuff, that I'd be keeping my own bank accounts, it stopped him in his tracks and he started crying. I couldn't believe how forcefully it hit him. When I finally got him to calm down and tell me what on earth was happening, he explained that his parents had always had joint accounts, until they were about to file for divorce, when his mom opened her own accounts. The divorce hit him really, really hard; so while it is admittedly a huge overreaction, he saw the idea of wanting separate accounts as Proof That You Don't Really Love Me. This is another example of what Sars is saying about emotions and money and what the problem really is. The year of unemployment makes a great deal of sense in possibly explaining his insecurity about spending, but there might also be a whole other set of reasons that are embarrassing or opaque to him.

    Could be a pride thing, too. My husband is Mr. Handyman, right; I remember having a really stupid fight with him years ago about letting the professional dishwasher people install it instead of him, which ended up with me finally yelling at him, "PAYING A PROFESSIONAL DOES NOT MAKE YOU A FAILURE!!" That seemed to make some kind of light turn on, I don't know; he shut up and pouted for a while, but the professionals installed it and he was fine when they did.

  • Just Me says:

    I think that all of the talk about separate pots of money doesn't really take into account the obvious fear that hubby has about spending anything right now. He lost his job once–to someone with a strong "provider" work ethic, that's tantamount to becoming worthless–and he knows it could happen again. So he's trying to hoard money against that fear. You seem to attach your worth to replacing a storm door or a microwave, while it looks like he's attaching his worth to squirreling away cash, which makes both of you feel that the other is undermining all that makes you feel worthy.

    Separating out "your" money for your purposes won't help unless the two of you come to terms with the fundamental issues of fear and worthlessness, which may take some professional help if you can't work it out on your own. In fact, choosing to separate out some money as yours to spend may make hubby feel even more insecure. Until you both can agree that your real worth has nothing to do with either your net worth or possessions, you'll be pulling against each other all the way.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    I guess what stood out for me was, "I work hard for my money, dammit."

    You both work, right?

    You're both bringing money into the house?

    So why is he the only one who gets a say on how to spend it?

    I know it's easy for me to say – it's not my life/husband/etc. I just don't understand why he gets away with having "moods" when he doesn't want something done. You must be WAY more patient than I am – I've got the fuse of a firecracker. I'd have lost it a long time ago.

    But Sars is so right… the underlying reason for his behavior is not being addressed. I hope you are able to really get through to him and find out what's causing this, and you can come to a healthy resolution and all goes well for you!

  • attica says:

    @Cora: I smiled at your post. When my mom got to the age where she needed help around her place, she felt really guilty about hiring it. She felt like a failure for not keeping up the place on her own. This was at the beginning of the Great Recession, so I told her she should view it as Economic Stimulus! She lit all up, problem solved. She grew quite fond of the woman she hired, which was another bonus.

  • We recently had to replace a good chunk of our roof prematurely because it was leaking (sigh). We proactively replaced an extra $2500 worth of roof even though we had no thought or evidence it was actively leaking, on the theory that even though roofs are majorly expensive and it sucked to have fork that out right then, leaks are much more annoying and expensive.

    Turns out it was a good call; there was a leak from a different part of that roof that we only discovered by chance in a storage room a few months later. Not spending that extra $2500 would have led to thousands of $$ in water damage (and inconvenience), plus we would have had to replace the roof anyway.

    You should talk to a real estate agent about the concept of "deferred maintenance" :) Basically it comes back to bite you later. You weren't really asking "should I spend $300 on a storm door?" but "should I risk spending $300 on a storm door + x amount for possible water damage and a new door damaged by exposure over time by delaying the decision?" Lots of people opt to pay the extra amounts because they forget that by not getting their repointing of their brickwork done on time they are going to have to replace bricks / windowsills etc etc etc down the road. And maybe they are hoping that the next owner will have that headache but chances are you'll have to do it before you sell, which will be the worst possible time.

  • Brad says:

    I have to say, you're probably just going to have to make some of these decisions on your own. Talk to him about it, let him it know what needs to be done, and then do it. Storm-door, new carpet, a microwave, a computer — these are not "major purchases", and having a debate about it is silly and it's giving him and his hang-ups way too much attention. I think LW has more than proven that she understands and appreciates the husband's frugality, but life goes on…money comes, money goes. It's not worth it to have these long, drawn-out discussions about keeping your home intact.

    I'm accused of being a cheapskate, but that's because I remember the very recent past in which I was a broke ass college student, and since I'm a single guy, I have to think twice and spend once. But you both work every day; he isn't in it alone. I think it's important to remember here that you're right and he's wrong. That sounds stubborn, but you'll seriously drive yourself crazy trying to "make sense" of his paranoia about spending money. It doesn't have some profound reason (trust me on this), even if he has a valid explanation it isn't worth mulling over even the most minor of upkeep expenses to this degree, and your husband needs to get in the habit of not indulging in his own sensibilities. You guys are married. He oughta show he trusts your bond and commitment to one another to see you through.

  • cinderkeys says:

    A few months of marriage counseling sounds helpful, but will KL's husband go without (yet another) fight?. Counseling costs money, and husband's vehement unwillingness to spend money is a big part of the problem.

  • Felis D says:

    You just described my parents' life while I was growing up. My dad was your husband, and mom was you. Dad spent his early years in a refugee camp in Hong Kong, and his family had basically escaped the Communist take-over with just the clothes on their backs, so you kind of understand where his mind-set came from.

    Most things, they did solve by having separate accounts: Mom's paid for the big things like the car payments and house payments, and Dad's paid for all minor household expenses (food, groceries, non-essentials, vacations). A joint account paid the utilities and my education fund. It works pretty well. Eventually, I want to incorporate that into my own household.

    Unfortunately, household renovations and repairs fell under my dad's jurisdiction, and well, basically, the house had to be falling down around your ears before he would, of his own initiative pay to have it fixed. Most of the time, he would say he would do it himself, so there was no need to pay someone. Then, it would take him 5 years to get around to it.

    So, yeah… My solution for that would be that whoever cares about the renovations more should put that fund under their jurisdiction. Or put aside a completely separate joint account specifically for major expenses (household improvements/repairs, holidays) and contribute a small amount to it every chance you can spare. One method I had recommended recently to me is $1 on the first week of the year, $2 on week two, $3 on week 3, etc. That's almost $1400 by Dec 31! $2800 if you both do it. And it barely feels like anything while you're saving.

  • Fay says:

    Another chime-in on the "separate accounts allowance" recommendation. Just give yourselves separate accounts into which a certain amount is automatically transferred every month.

    And yes. You have a job. You bring in a sizeable chunk. Microwaves are cheap. For god's sake, go buy yourself a microwave.

  • S says:

    I see someone mentioned OCPD. I was about to. Go to an ocpd support forum and read the stories. You will see others like your Dh there.

  • Nikki says:

    Honestly, that you don't have control over what is *your own money* is a problem we're glossing over.

    Sars is spot on about your feelings being off topic. You're not literally upset about the money, you're upset about your own lack of control and generally feeling like he's the dad and you're the kid. Because he's in charge, he gets final say, and regardless of your contribution to the bank accounts or good arguments about what needs to be replaced, OR YOUR FEELINGS, he makes the decisions.

    I wouldn't be nice about this, and I wouldn't try to convince him. I would buy the computer and let him whine and cry and see that the world doesn't end. Repeat as needed.

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