They say that money is one of the big things that couples fight about, and I can see why. For one, what people believe it's appropriate to spend on is such a personal thing. Some people will walk 30 blocks before "wasting" money on a taxi, while others will hail a taxi in a second, but spend 4 hours in a laundromat doing their own wash rather than drop it off and "waste" money paying someone to do it. Those are both, I realize now, very New York City examples of money spending, but whatever. You get the idea.
So when two people combine their finances, it is bound to lead to issues. I guess there are people who are totally in sync, or who have so much money that where to spend and where to save isn't even an issue, but Ted and I are in neither of those groups. Ted's philosophy when it comes to spending is summed up here:
Except instead of "panflute" substitute, well, pretty much anything at all. Unless you are talking about dinner at a fancy restaurant or a ski trip. In which case, spend away. Whereas my philosophy can be explained thusly:
And by "stuff" I mean something to show for my money, not the memory of a meal, or jet lag. You can see where we might have some conflict. So what to do? Well, every time Ted gets the credit card bills in the mail, he comes home and screams at me to "Stop spending money!" I make the point that food, gas, and children's clothes are not things for which one can barter, and he responds that no one needs 24 throw pillows for the living room couches, and it devolves to his accusing me of stealing from the boys' college fund (although from what I can tell, they both seem quite average, if not a bit dim; no need to worry about paying for Penn) with every lamp I buy, and me shutting down into surly silence. Eventually we make up, and then repeat the whole thing the next month when the credit card bills come in the mail.
Until now. Ted and I, with the help of anti-anxiety medication on my part and sheer patience and willingness to listen on his part, are trying to figure out what we fight about when we fight about money. Because it isn't just about the money. It's never just about the money. In our case, it's about security.
For Ted, security means money in the bank - the ability to provide for his family, a safety net in case of a disaster, future education for the brats. His dad was laid off a few times while Ted and his sister and brothers were growing up, and while they made it through the hard times just fine, he is still haunted by the prospect of joblessness.
For me, security means a fully and beautifully furnished house. Growing up, I moved five times before leaving for college, and no matter how long we lived somewhere, there were still unpacked boxes lining the walls. Two years ago, Ted and I moved into a house with which I fell in love at first sight. It's the first place I have ever lived that feels like home and I want to make it perfect.
Now that we know what we are really fighting about, it's gotten easier. The other night we actually had a calm and really almost pleasant discussion about the possibility that we might need new couches (we do), and how much they might cost (a fair amount, if I get my way), and when might be the appropriate time to make said purchase (after Ted gets his bonus, if he has his way). And we came to a compromise. I can live with our current hand-me-down couches with their cheap slipcovers for a while longer, and he can accept the fact that in the spring, we are going to lay out a chunk of money for some nice new ones. Until then, I'll cut back on buying pillows* and he'll try some meditative deep-breathing exercises before he opens the credit card bills, and at night, we'll sit together on the couches we have:
And watch Miami Vice on DVD and realize we are lucky to have as much as we do. Especially when it comes to each other.
* and lamps and curtains, although you can see from this photo that we really need new ones