Pace and I have opposing money issues. She hoards, I spend. Mayhem often ensues.
I’m not a wild crazy stereotypical debt-accruing wife.
I’m the House Maintainer, the Logistical Manager, the Caretaker, and the Errand-Runner. I get groceries, make sure we all have clothes that fit and shoes that are comfy, keep track of eye exams and dental appointments, doctor and vet visits. I make sure Dru’s education needs are met, that he gets to take classes when he wants (when feasible), that he gets workbooks and videos. I make sure our entertainment needs are met, that we get to see a movie now and then and get to eat out on occasion, and that we’re spending quality time with our friends.
Also, my primary love language involves gift giving and receiving, so it’s important for me to be able to spend money on that from time to time as well.
But we were having major money issues. All the time.
Our biggest problem, the one thing we fought, argued, bickered, and discussed more than anything else in our lives was money. We made budgets, we made agreements, we made promises. We fell apart and reworked things and tried again and tried harder. We yelled, we cried, we struggled.
And then I solved it.
I solved it by admitting I couldn’t solve it.
One night, we had another major money battle. We were facing off; Pace was on one couch, arms crossed, eyebrows down, anger in her eyes. I was on the other, arms crossed, trembling, frustrated tears running down my face. We’d been at it for an hour at least, and I was getting weary and heartsick.
Then I took a deep breath and burst into tears. “I can’t do this alone. I’m addicted to money, I’m addicted to spending, and I’ve got all this responsibility but no power and am constantly feeling like I’m stealing from you!”
Immediately, Pace was on my couch, arms around me. We were on the same team, me and her against the problem. I cried for a good twenty minutes, and she simply held me. After I wept it all out, we started talking.
We talked until we came up with a plan.
We talked and talked and talked. We thought and thought. We discussed, we planned, we compromised, we discussed.
See what was missing? We didn’t argue. We didn’t bicker, we didn’t fight, no voices were raised. Not even for a moment, not even once.
As soon as we realized we were on the same team, we started acting like it. And it made all the difference. But we couldn’t have gotten there had I not admitted that I have a serious problem. I asked for Pace’s help, she promised to help me, and we went forward together.
I grew up in an environment where money was invisible.
We always had it. We ate out all the time, my brother and I never wanted for anything, and I never heard my parents discuss it or argue about it. The only thing missing was education; I had no idea how to manage money. I didn’t learn it when I moved out on my own, either. I would spend rent money on a trip to the movies and eating out, and then panic when I didn’t have rent money.
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten considerably better. But our budget had holes in it, and I wasn’t careful at times, and it all added up to constant strife between me (the spender) and Pace (the hoarder). It was difficult to see the problems because I’m responsible for the family spending, but we figured it out.
Our solution is cool. And annoying to the bank.
We switched to cash.
Now, every week, I go to the bank and withdraw the week’s spending money (groceries, gas, education, well-being, etc). I divvy it up and put each section in a compartment in my awesome accordion wallet.
This way, it’s impossible for me to overspend. When we’re out, we’re out. End of story. We wait til the next week for anything else. For myself, I opened my own checking account for my personal spending money, and I keep close track of that with the help of an app on my handy-dandy iPhone.
And I learned a cool thing.
Money isn’t real to me if it’s not cash.
When I’m paying for things in cash, I get it. I grok that I’m giving away our money, the money Pace works hard for in the mornings and we work hard for together in the afternoons. It’s real, and I really get it.
When I’m paying with a credit card, it’s all just numbers. Math. Invisible. Endless! We’ll never run out of numbers!
But we will run out of cash. All-too-soon, if I’m not careful. I can see it dwindle from my wallet. I can see the compartments get emptier every time I buy something.
And you know what? I haven’t run out of a single section yet.
Two weeks in, nearly three, and I’ve still got carry-overs from the previous weeks.
At first, I was accountable by giving Pace receipts for everything. But we quickly realized that wasn’t even necessary, because I can’t go over. I’ve made promises not to withdraw money without talking to Pace, and I won’t break those. I’ve given up all my credit cards. And I deal only in cash.
In the end, it was realizing that I had a problem that solved the problem. I can’t solve what I don’t acknowledge, no matter how hard I try – and I tried hard. Over and over and over. But as soon as I admitted it, when I owned up to it, I solved it.
And things are already huge lots better, and improving all the time.