They say it takes a village to raise a child. That may be the case, but it takes a lot of solid, stable marriages to create a village.

- Diane Sollee,

Money in Marriage/Relationships

I Need a Vacation…or a Divorce

[frame align=”left”]Marriage and Money[/frame]

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Good money advice is as priceless as it is timeless. The same can be said of good relationship advice, and for most couples, good money management and a solid marriage go hand in hand. Meet the Abbotts, a couple whose competing financial philosophies are pushing their relationship to the breaking point.
Chris and Jessica Abbott have been together since their sophomore year in college, even persevering through stressful semesters during graduate school. After graduation, they found great jobs, purchased a wonderful home in Phoenix, and had a beautiful little girl, Lily. Jessica and Chris both adore Lily.
As with many families, all is not perfect with the Abbotts. Each month, when the credit card bill arrives, Jessica hides and Chris is distressed. Jessica loves to buy things for Lily and she cannot pass a store without making a purchase, including books, toys, and especially clothing. Chris believes most of these purchases are frivolous. The problem has escalated to the point where Chris checks their credit card activity regularly online and the couple fights about expenditures on an almost daily basis. Both parents want a second child, but these happy discussions usually end in arguments about the potential for Jessica to increase her excessive spending.
Jessica gets defensive when Chris wants to discuss her spending habit, sometimes concerning purchases as small as a $50 dress for Lily. “Chris tries to fight me on every little thing: a $65 outfit for Lily or a $70 blender for the house,” Jessica says. “We make enough that we don’t need to argue about these small expenditures. And more importantly, I’m not spending this money on myself; I’m spending on things for Lily and everybody in this family.”
“It’s not each purchase I want to argue about,” Chris says. “My point is: it doesn’t matter how much money we make – she’ll always find ways to spend an absurd amount of money. Lily doesn’t need any more clothes. She has a closet stuffed with outfits she has never worn, some of which she has already outgrown. While I would love to have a little boy, I am torn. If our next child is a girl, at least we can reuse some of the outfits.
“Jessica is right we aren’t going into debt to make these purchases, but we aren’t where we should be either. We want to pay for our kid’s college, take nice vacations, save for retirement, build a sizable emergency fund, and have enough so Jessica can stay home for a while with our next child. It would be a lot easier to achieve all of this if we were not spending thousands of dollars a year on stuff we don’t really need.”
Voyant asked Judith Sloan-Price, a marriage therapist in Austin, Texas, to provide some perspective.
“There are spenders and there are savers. Ideally, a partnership has a balance between the two as both bring something of value to the marital table. On some level, spenders are attracted to savers because they know they need to exercise more self-discipline and rely on their partner to be the regulator. Conversely, savers often value the spontaneity of their spending partner, usually in areas not necessarily related to money. For example, not planning every stop on a vacation and their spontaneity in the bedroom or social activities; they accept the ‘whole package,’ so to speak. But if spenders and savers are too far apart on the continuum, they will almost assuredly have very serious marital problems.
“For most couples, overspending has the potential to be a definite deal-breaker in a marriage. These people are in trouble if they don’t reconcile their widely divergent financial philosophies and moderate their spending habits. Jessica and Chris’ situation is a symptom of a much larger national problem: many of us are unable to wait and delay gratification, which is perhaps the most important characteristic of successful people. Many people fill themselves up emotionally by overeating, overdrinking, and in this case, overspending because they cannot tolerate the discomfort of not getting what they want when they want it. But in the end, like Jessica, the rush of pleasure experienced by the purchase fades, so she continues her toxic spending to secure the next ‘buy high.’
“This problem is a reality for Jessica, regardless of her justification that she’s spending on people other than herself. What she doesn’t realize is that the spontaneity that once drew Chris to her will eventually feel like a childish tantrum. To stop her destructive spending, the relationship requires Chris to be the ‘parent’ who disciplines the unruly child and she will complain that he is not her father and is too controlling. Nothing real sexy about that dynamic.
“Chris’ point is right: a $50 teapot or dress for Lily isn’t a problem. But several $50 knickknacks add up to several hundred dollars that could be invested in a future. In the end, the trinkets only become inventory for the garage sale.
“The solution: Chris should manage the couple’s money, because he has the discipline to do so. However, life also needs to have spontaneity and fun to make it worth living. Jessica needs some ‘fun money’ to blow that isn’t subject to any judgment or scrutiny from Chris whatsoever. Chris needs some ‘walking around money’ as well. I suggest they create a financial plan that achieves their future goals but also includes a monthly ‘allowance’ for each spouse to spend as they wish. This way, each person shares some control over how money is spent and both contribute to their future by exercising self-disciplined money management.”

Judith Sloan-Price, LCSW, is a marriage counselor in Austin, TX

This article is reprinted with permission from Voyant, Inc. Click here to read the article on Voyant’s website.

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Judith Sloan-Price, LCSW

Judith Sloan-Price, Austin LCSW
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