When a Tightwad Marries a Spender

cash hand

When I married my husband, I was more than happy to hand over the management of our newly- formed family’s finances to him. We both worked full-time and earned a similar amount, but I was never too terribly concerned about balancing my checkbook. Brian, on the other hand, was well-known for his sharp attention to such matters, so it seemed like a no-brainer that he would handle the bank account.

The results of this plan were unexpected. Although he certainly never tried to restrict my access to the money, his new position as the family comptroller gave me the feeling that I was broke and had to ask for handouts. What was even worse was that on his end, looking at a suddenly-doubled bank balance evidently gave him the feeling that he was rich.

What we learned from this experiment was that although I may handle money casually, I don’t like to spend it. I am a low-maintenance woman who does not need or care anything at all for designer purses, clothes, or shoes. Jewelry is something that others might give me for my birthday. “Impulse buying” is not a concept I’m familiar with, because I keep those impulses very well under control. I know the difference between my wants and my needs, and I can tell myself  “no” to a want quicker than most people can whip out a credit card. Without giving you a rundown of all the ways that I found my new husband to be in direct opposition to this way of thinking, let’s just say that we went back to separate checking accounts very quickly, and that’s the way it stayed for probably fifteen years.

Maybe because we’re both “only” children, this approach wasn’t really too bad for a while. We split up the household bills so that they were relatively equivalent. We wrote two mortgage checks–each for half the mortgage, like roommates. You wanna laugh? We went to the grocery store together, and each threw what we wanted into the cart. When it was time to check out, he placed his chosen items on the belt and swiped his debit card, and I did the same with mine. (Bag boys were invariably confused when we assured them that all of the groceries were actually going to the same house!) We put gas in our own cars and each paid for our own insurance and medical expenses, as well as personal expenses like haircuts. The best benefit, in my opinion, was when Brian wanted to make a major purchase (for example, our first flat screen TV). It was always his option to pay for the whole thing himself. But if he wanted me to chip in, I had to first agree to the expenditure. After that I would have some say-so in how much we spent and when I felt I could afford to let go of the sum we had agreed on.

It wasn’t a bad arrangement in many ways. I had control of my own salary, so if I ran a little short, I’d put the brakes on any unnecessary spending, but if I had a surplus I could do with it whatever I chose. I could even save up for things.

There were a couple of disadvantages, though. One was that whenever we went to a restaurant as a couple or a family, I felt embarrassed and, strangely enough, disrespected at having to dig through my purse to pay my share. Even though I knew what our arrangement was, I imagined that onlookers felt sorry for me. Plus, this took the fun right out of “date night.” Nothing makes a woman feel less special than splitting the check after a romantic dinner. (That may be unfair, but it’s true!)

The other  and more serious disadvantage was that an arrangement like this was detrimental to any feeling of unity in our marriage. We did not operate as a team.  Mine was mine and his was his, and we lived like cordial business partners, cooperative and yet each looking primarily to his own interests.

Now let’s skip to 2011. For various reasons not pertinent to this story about our finances,  we left Georgia and a life where we’d once had good stable jobs, and moved to Florida to start a new chapter of our lives. We did the best we could, but our first year was an unmitigated disaster, and we were poor as church mice. Once a week our big treat was to get a $5 pizza from Little Caesar’s for us and our son (then 9) to share.  One pizza was not enough. Our son, not realizing, would eat his fill, while Brian left the table hungry. For the first time ever in our marriage, we were poor and we were humbled. We decided the time was right to join forces again, to live like a family, and to have one (pitifully meager) bank account.

The Lord has blessed us amazingly since that time. (Not necessarily because we put our money back in one pot, I’m just saying that we’ve been blessed.) I’ve had a steady job for over two years, while Brian hit the jackpot with a job that he loves and that is far, I say FAR, more lucrative than mine. We’re extremely thankful that in only three years we’ve returned to approximately the same income level we had back home, but things are interesting now that 2/3 of it is earned by the spender in the family, now once again reinstated as the finance manager.

I feel a bit unsure of things. All the bills get paid and we seem to be able to do or have whatever we want…but how are we doing, really? What about that set of tires we had to finance when times were bad–have we paid off that Firestone card yet? Well, no. There’s just a difference in philosophies going on here. If I were the one running this show, I would have continued living in relative deprivation until every last debt was paid for, and then I would have felt able to enjoy the surplus. Brian prefers to enjoy the fruits of his labors today, and work on outstanding balances as he gets around to it.

It’s not the way I’d do things, but the rewards, I think, are to be found in our relationship. Not everyone will agree with me, but I subscribe to the belief that men and women have certain preordained roles they are hard-wired to fulfill in a marriage. I think my husband is proud to earn the lion’s share (even though our net income is about the same) and I think being in charge of how it gets spent taps into a sense of responsibility that makes him stand a little taller. I can’t help but think that a man who can make purchases at his own discretion is happier than one whose wife is in control of the purse strings. I have chosen to submit to him in this area, because while I care about the actual money, control of the money means so much to him on a deeper level. Being in charge says something to him about who he is.

So now…I’m just like a lily of the field. I worry for nothing, not what I’ll eat or what I’ll wear. In the past, I could not bear to have to get my husband’s approval to buy something, but now when he tells me it’s fine to buy a pair of sandals or when he takes me out to a nice dinner, I just say “Thank you, sweetie.”  He says, “What are you thanking me for? You work, too.” I say, “I know. But you take care of everything.”

It seems to be working.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 17:02:43

    This is very interesting. Money has never been a problem in our marriage because we started out as poor college students and just never had very much to worry about. But I know several career couples that split everything. One couple I know were married over 50 years and still split everything. She was discussing with me that her car was breaking down because she was driving back and forth to the hospital to visit him while he was dying from cancer, but she dared not drive “his” car, which was virtually brand new! Another lady I know isn’t allowed to use her husband’s lawn mower and had to mow her acre lot with her push mower while he was out of town. Such ridiculousness! They are putting things above their marriage. Makes me wonder if their marriage vows mean anything to them. If you can’t share something as inconsequential as money, how can you share a life?


    • Sweet-Water-and-Bitter
      Aug 18, 2014 @ 21:15:12

      Oh, dear, we were not quite that bad! :-) We never had so much of a “mine” and “yours” view of any items after they came into the house. It was just the way things were done when the purchase was being made. Interestingly, though, I don’t drive my husband’s car, either–not because it’s “his,” but because he treasures it so much, I’d never hear the end of it if I damaged it somehow. I wonder if it was the same in that lady’s marriage?


  2. At Rivercrest Cottage
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 19:52:52

    I recommend Dave Ramsey to bring you and your husband together financially. He will change your life and bring you even closer together. My husband and I live Dave’s biblical based lifestyle and have paid off even our house and live debt-free. Dave’s book is Total Money Makeover and his website for free podcasts http://www.daveramsey.com


    • Sweet-Water-and-Bitter
      Aug 18, 2014 @ 21:22:19

      Thank you! I appreciate that recommendation. I really wish our church would have some sort of practical class like this, instead of a line-by-line dissection of the book of Ruth or something like that, which they’re more prone to do…but I digress. I think we’d probably get more out of it in a group setting, but if that’s not available to us at the moment, I’ll have to see what I can do with Dave at home!


  3. sarahelisabeth65
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 13:54:47

    This is rang so true. We married when I was straight out of medical school and my husband had a steady job. In my first year, as a resident, I earned less than my husband’s secretary. We had a joint account and my husband gave me the money I needed and checked how much I had left. I was very angry about this particularly as I had wanted to give generous gifts to my parents once I was earning and the money didn’t seem to be mine to give. We never went to separate accounts but it was only when money became short for various reasons that we pulled together. We certainly could have done with some basic advice about money before we married.


  4. rachaeljdebruin
    Aug 21, 2014 @ 23:41:26

    I am in the same boat!! I’m the spender and he’s a bit er, um…tight-er with the finances ;) We’ve come a long way too!!!
    Thanks for linking up at Share Your Stuff Tuesdays! Hope you come again soon (Rachael @ http://www.parentingandhomeschoolinginfaith.com)


  5. Sweet-Water-and-Bitter
    Aug 22, 2014 @ 00:03:32

    Thank you for dropping by, Sarah and Rachael. :-)


  6. sarahgirl3
    Aug 24, 2014 @ 17:05:17

    I can see that. We have always had a joint account, mainly because he is in finance and I really really don’t want to pay the bills. But I think we are both spenders and savers at times. :)


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