2 Money Habits That Hurt My Marriage

Today’s post is written by Nick Pavlidis. Nick was recently featured on The Good Men Project, asking the one question to tell if you’re a terrible husband.

Nick and I are doing a blog swap today. You can find my post at his site, Step Away from the Mall.

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On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May 2008 my wife and I had a Big Fat Greek Wedding surrounded by 250 of our closest friends and relatives and 4 wedding crashers.

The Sunday thing was my idea to save a few bucks on vendors who would still have Saturday to sell. While I thought that was pretty brilliant at the time, it resulted in several people not making it to our celebration. In hindsight, the wedding was amazing and everyone there had a great time (open bar helped…) but several people had Memorial Day commitments and were missed. (It’s also possible that I’m just unlikable…).

We have made several big and little decisions with money in the years since that day. And since I’m more of the “money guy” in the relationship, I tend to get a little excited about making these decisions. Yet even with a healthy opinion on money and tireless commitment to planning well with money for our future, I still battle two big money habits that have bitten my marriage in the backside more times t
han I’d like to admit.

The bad news is that I allowed these habits to continue. My bum is sore and my marriage has a few scars as well.

But the good news is that overcoming these habits provides incredible opportunities to strengthen our money and marriage over time.

Ok, enough about my tushie. Here are the habits:

1. Not asking for my wife’s opinion

This has come up more than I care to admit. My instinct is to take things off her plate and protect her from some of the stress that’s inherent in making tough money decisions.

That leads me to make decisions without consulting her.

And not only does that make her feel undervalued or unloved, I have no doubt that most of our money mistakes have come from solo decisions.

Her input is fresh and from the perspective of someone who isn’t as much¬†of a “numbers person” as me.

And most of the time that reveals the real-world consequences that some of my “ideas” would have.

Undesired and unintended consequences. Yes, if we put 25% of our take home pay into retirement, another 10% into a college fund for our son, and another 10% into a college fund for our daughter we will be all set in 20 years!

But we will also be pretty skinny because it would not leave much for “food,” after paying our home, car, and other expenses. ūüôā

And while I could probably stand to shed a few lbs these days, agreeing to the intensity level with which we work, spend, save, and give, is powerful for our relationship.

She feels more loved and valued. I have an extra opportunity to connect with her. And we often get better results on a plan we both agree to.

Win, win, win.

2. Not trying on my wife’s shoes

I’ve been known to accidentally wear my wife’s socks to work. That’s what happens when you blindly grab a pair of black socks from the clothes basket in the morning on the way out the door.

But when making money decisions I often make them based upon “my logic,” or I agree, but say something stupid about a potential purchase without first taking her size sevens for a spin around the block.

“$25 for a mani-pedi? Isn’t that just paint on nails? Don’t they sell whole jugs of paint with a free brush at the grocery store for $1? I don’t get it, but I’m not going to stop you.”

It turns out I don’t have to get it. But now I do. Because I asked.

My ignorant assessment of the “value” of a mani-pedi fails to take into account the “me time,” “experience,” and “hand or foot massage” that comes with the mani-pedi.

And those are totally “worth” way more than the $25 Wednesday special mani-pedi hits our wallet.

The heartache these could have saved.

I battle these habits every day. I’m a “doer,” which means I like to get just enough information to make an informed decision and move on.

If it’s the right decision, great. If it’s the wrong decision, I’ll make another one.

But marriage and money are about way more than just the “decision.”

The process counts just as much or even more than the result.

And that’s why in school giving the right answer to a math problem only gets you partial credit.

You only get full credit when you “show your work” and get to the answer the right way.

Just like marriage. Getting to decisions the right way will only enhance your relationship, and results.

What’s one money habit that you struggle with that interfere with you connecting with your spouse? And better yet, what can you do today that helps you connect better with your wife about love and money?

Nick Pavlidis is a husband, father, lawyer, and business and life coach whose upcoming book, Confessions of a Terrible Husband: Lessons Learned from a Lumpy Couch, exposes how he became a terrible husband, discovered that he was a terrible husband, took inventory, and committed to becoming better and better each day. He is a proud marriage “nonexpert” who is working tirelessly to improve his marriage in the open so he can insprire, encourage, and equip others to improve theirs. You can get the latest news and Nick’s real-time updates on becoming a better husband at the Confessions of a Terrible Husband blog.

Take control of your spending!

There appears to be a stigma about budgets. It has become a dirty word to many.

People tell me budgets are restrictive. They can’t do what they want if they have a budget. A budget is limiting. It is controlling.¬†

Who would make your budget? Your mom? The mailman? The guy next door?

YOU make your budget!

Since you make your budget, you can put whatever you want into it.

Yarn habit? Yup!

Action figure collection? Sure!

Want to go on vacation? You can budget for that too!

The only limitation on your budget is your income. Now for some people that might be a problem. For the vast majority of people I council, they make enough money to pay all their bills and there is money left over.

It’s time to take control of your spending!

Where did all my money go last month?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Those of us on a budget never need to ask that question because we made a spending plan before the money went out the door and tracked our spending during the month to ensure we stayed within budget.

A budget

Can you budget for fun things? Absolutely, just make sure your budget aligns with your goals.

If you read the blog, you know our goal is to get out of debt. But that is really just part of a bigger goal. My husband would like to transition out of his full-time job at 55 and focus on his passion. In order to do this, we need to pay off our debt so we can ramp up our retirement savings. We have chosen to make this a priority so we made the decision to cut back on other things.

Do we still budget for some fun stuff? Of course, but that budget is very small compared to our total income. We each get $50 per month for blow money (some people call it mad money). We can spend this on whatever we want. We also budget $100 per month for entertainment. This two items combined represent about 2.5% of our total budget. Typically, we don’t even spend it all, but it gives us breathing room to have a bit of fun while we are on this journey to become debt free. It also doesn’t stop us from achieving our goal. Currently about 50% of our take home pay goes toward our debt snowball.

What are your goals? Does your spending reflect those goals? If not, a budget could help you get there.

You can read more about how to construct a budget here.

Just remember that a budget is just a spending plan. You design it. You control where your money goes.

Where does it go?

A few days ago, I asked followers on the Facebook page what aspect of finances they wish they knew more about. My friend Patrick joked “how to keep the money that gets deposited into my account to remain in my account.” It was a funny response but it got me thinking about how things were before we had a budget. I remember asking myself at the end of every month: where does it all go?

Since we started doing a monthly budget, I don’t ask that question any more. I know where it all goes and it goes where I tell it to go. Before we started doing a monthly budget, the thought of putting it all down on paper seemed daunting. It would be so much work, it would be hard to manage, it would be…(fill in your own excuse here).

The first month it was a bit of work. We had to figure out what we were spending our money on. We then had to make an effort to cut back on that spending and track where our money was going. ¬†The second month, it was easier. By the third month, it almost seemed automatic. The budget doesn’t change much for us since our income is pretty steady. Since we budget for pretty much anything that can happen around here, special occasions and other unexpected things don’t come and bite us in the butt.

Starting a budget is easier than you think. Get out a sheet of paper or open up your spreadsheet program on your computer. Write down your expected monthly income. If you are salary this is much easier. If your pay¬†fluctuates, use the minimum amount you would expect to get paid that month. Don’t include overtime. I’ll show you how to figure that in later.

After you’ve got your income at the top, it’s time to spend it. Spend it all on paper. Start with the basics: food, shelter, utilities, transportation (gas, insurance, repairs). Next list out the minimum payments for all your debts (car loans, student loans, credit cards, personal loans, etc). After that, list out the other stuff: donations, life insurance, hair cuts, clothing, gifts, entertainment and anything else you can think of. It helps to go through a few months of bank statements to see what you spend money on.

Some items, like repairs and gifts are spots where you put a bit of money each month so when your alternator dies or the holidays come around, you’ve got some money put away.

Is there money left? If the answer is no, then you need to go back and find somewhere to trim back. You need to be at zero when you are done.

If the answer is yes, this is where things get interesting. Take out a second piece of paper. This is where you make your to-do list. First write down Emergency Fund and put $1,000. Next write down all your debts from smallest to largest, except for the mortgage. Every month that you have something extra, you put it toward that list. You’ll start to see items fall of that list rather quickly.

No debt? You should try to save up three to six months of expenses in a savings account. You never know when you or your spouse might lose your job. After that, add other things to your to-do list. Maybe it’s saving for a car or a vacation. The sky is the limit here.

If you want more information about this, check out The Total Money Makeover. Dave Ramsey is one of the best financial folks out there. It’s not get rich quick. It’s more the¬†tortoise¬†and the hare approach. Buying his book years ago was one of the best purchases I ever made.

Today’s photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and freedigitalphotos.net

When two become one

I went to a lovely wedding this weekend. During the ceremony, the priest discussed how in marriage two people come together to become one. This is a theme in most, if not all the weddings I have attended, including my own. It’s a beautiful thought really. The bride and groom, living separate lives, now join together and create one new life together.

In my years of counseling, I think a lot of people miss this message when it comes to finances. Most couples with financial problems (which quickly become marital problems) fall into one of two camps. Either they keep their financial lives completely separate or one person becomes the “financial guru” in the relationship. Generally, this person has the entire weight of both financial lives upon their shoulders but both partners still act as though they are living separate financial existences.

The hardest part of counseling people in either of these camps is convincing them that in order to end up at the same place at the end of their financial journey (usually retirement), they need to work together. There is no longer “her money” and “his debt” but “our money” and “our debt”. It’s impossible to have one spouse truly prosper financially when the other has debt of any kind. Whether or not you believe it, your financial lives will be forced to become one at some point. Hopefully that moment comes as prosperity at retirement, rather than bankruptcy later in life.

I’m a big believer in setting down goals. What kind of retirement do we want to have? How are we going to get there. When having children, will one of us stay home? Public school or private school? Do we see ourselves living here forever? Do either of us need more education to achieve our goals?

Jeff and I have these kinds of conversations all the time. It’s actually fun to sit down and ponder the future and try to figure out how we will get there together. We do our monthly budget together. We celebrate our financial successes together. We work out the setbacks together. We didn’t always do this. A few years ago, we were one of those couples where one person handled the finances. It was stressful. It caused disagreements. It caused strain between us. Once we got on the same plan and started working together, everything changed. The money stress is virtually gone. When there is money stress, we handle it together.

I’m not saying things are going to change overnight, but when you start to see your finances as one unit that you both must carry together, it will start to get better. Your marriage will become stronger and the stresses that come with money will be less.

For more information on this, I highly recommend The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace Revisited. Both books cover how to talk to your spouse, how to have those budget meetings and how to put together a plan for the rest of your financial life.

Time vs. Money

Life is a balancing act, just like your budget. Most of us have to make a choice between time and money at some point in our lives. I was forced to make that choice a few years ago.

In July of 2006, my husband and I were just getting back on our feet after¬† he changed career paths. He was making good money again after nine months of living mostly off of my income. I was working a lot of hours plus I had just finished my master of science in accounting and taxation two months earlier. I am a whirlwind kind of person. Ask my friends; I’m always moving in 800 different directions. I was starting to contemplate what I would start next. I had been feeling kinda crappy but pushed through most of it to finish my degree. At one point, I was working full-time plus taking classes full-time. I was never home and missed my husband tremendously. We spent a lot of money on groceries and eating out because we always needed a quick dinner solution every night. I was burnt out and I was miserable.

Then I got a kick in the pants, telling me to slow down. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I went from speed of light to complete stop in one afternoon. I started treatment immediately and stopped working. I was lucky to have a disability plan at work, even if it wasn’t much for the first 13 weeks. It was enough to pay for our health insurance with a little left over. We got into some serious debt during this whole thing. We tried to sell out house but couldn’t. I sat at home, sick and worried about money.

Then, I started to do something. I started clipping coupons again, something I hadn’t done since we bought the house.¬† I started planning meals. I started to enjoy cooking again. I looked for other ways to cut our budget. When my treatment was over, my husband and I sat down to discuss what was next. My doctor really did not want me going back to work as a full-time tax accountant. It was too stressful for my Type A personality. He was concerned about the risk of reoccurance. Jeff and I looked at our budget. I knew I could start up a small tax and consulting practice, but doing so would mean a serious cut in pay. We decided that we could make it. My husband works for the state now and we have great health insurance.

I work more than I planned when I first started this venture. I have my accounting practice, plus I teach a few classes a semester at a local college. I’m doing the blog. While I still whirlwind around, I now have time to get dinner on the table almost every night. I have time to do little errands during the day so that Jeff and I have more time together. I also have more time to help us save money. We still have approximately the same lifestyle while I make a lot less money and have a lot less stress. I really enjoy what I’m doing now and I think our marriage is better than it’s ever been.

In the last few years, the frugality debate has been about my time and my health. I chose time over money. Being frugal gives me more “me” time and more “us” time. It allows me to pursue things that I never thought possible, like teaching. Getting cancer really opened my eyes to what is important.

My husband worked with a man who worked so hard his entire life. He worked long hours and sacrificed his family life to make a living and build retirement savings so he and his wife could have the time of their lives. He was planning to retire when he was 55. That would give them plenty of time to make up for all those lost years. A week before he was scheduled to retire, his wife died unexpectedly. He spent all those years building a wonderful life for them and never got to enjoy it with her.

You never think it could happen to you. I hope it never does. I hope it doesn’t take an illness or some other catastrophe to get you to start thinking about the possibilities in your life. One of my favorite quotes is from a paper weight my sister gave me when I graduated from college. It states “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I started my own business, cut back my hours, started doing something I love, got a little more frugal and spend more time with Jeff and the cats.

What would you do? Are you balancing time and money right now? How is it going for you? Do you find yourself stressed with all the daily obligations of your life? How can you change things? Have you already made the change? Tell us about your story.

Sundays are for distractions

Since we are in the middle of a deep discussion of budgeting, I thought Sunday would be a good day for mild discussion. A few days ago, it hit me. We are nearing the end of September, which means it’s almost October, which means the holidays are right around the corner. I can see some of you rolling your eyes, but I start thinking about gift giving early.

Looking at money in new ways

There are two approaches to balancing a budget: making more money or making your money do more. I reside in the second school of thought. I value my time; I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to trying to make money. In this economy, it is becoming more difficult to make that budget balance, but together, we can share tips and tricks to save money and get back more of our time.