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Gimme Some Credit!

How I taught my wife the virtues of impulse buying

I don't understand why "disagreement over finances" consistently rates as one of the key problems married couples face—especially when the Visa people have thoughtfully arranged a system whereby we can keep spending even when we don't have any money. What's to disagree over? It's basically like having unlimited cash. I don't know why my wife can't grasp this self-evident fact.

Credit cards are tremendously convenient. I have a gob of them in my wallet (and even more in my dresser drawer), and the U. S. Postal Service brings me a new batch of offers almost daily. In many cases, the credit card companies offer to give me free stuff if I agree to use their cards.

"Fifty dollars?" she gasped. "What in the world are you thinking?" "Not to worry, my sweet," I replied. "I have a credit card."

"Hey look!" I called to Dale one day as I brought in the mail. "We got a credit card application from an airline. We can earn free tickets to anywhere if we just charge some stuff! I think I'll sign us up!"

"Read the fine print," Dale replied. "You'll have to spend $100,000 at a noncompetitive interest rate to get a so-called 'free' flight."

Dale has serious skepticism issues.

While Dale and I have different approaches to spending, I don't allow this to be the source of conflict in our home.

On the contrary, the conflict usually happens outside our home.

One time while on vacation, we happened upon a "specialty item" store that had a small stock of solar-paneled, fan-cooled pith helmets at an incredibly reasonable price. I tried one on. It was awesome. I mean, a regular British-style pith helmet would have been great, but this model had a small fan built right into the top. Just step into the sunlight, and the solar panel converted the energy into a cooling breeze. It was an exceptional find.

"I'm going to get one," I told Dale.

She looked at the price tag. "Fifty dollars?" she gasped. "What in the world are you thinking?"

"Not to worry, my sweet," I replied. "I have a credit card."

"Which makes it free?" she asked, arms folded.

"Basically," I said. "They don't charge interest for 30 days, so it's like getting a free loan. Besides, if things get a little tight, I can stretch out the payments."

"You're right!" she exclaimed. "You could add this charge to the tacky Sumo wrestler doll you bought across the street a few minutes ago. Just pay the minimum on all your credit cards and stretch out the payments forever!"

"That's the spirit!" I replied as I headed toward the register. "With any luck, I'll be dead before they're paid off."

"Dave, credit card companies love people like you."

I blushed at the compliment. "I suppose that's why they keep sending me all those nice offers."

She made me put back the helmet.

Snap decisions and other tales of woe

Dale likes to mull over her spending decisions, sometimes for years. I mulled once for about five minutes, but I didn't like it, so I stopped. It isn't as though I overspend horribly or don't pay my bills. I do pay them. I just don't monitor them as closely as Dale. She thinks we should track all our bills monthly and know precisely how much we owe. She also thinks it's a good idea to balance the checkbook—the most boring task imaginable. "We still have checks, so what's the worry?" is my financial motto.

When it comes to fiscal matters, I'm way more flexible than Dale. But because I want to be happily married—as opposed to hospitalized—I've had to do some changing in order to adapt to her comfort level.

For instance, I've learned that my impulse spending can ruin a vacation for her. If there's ever a time when I'm tempted to go into spending mode, it's when we're on vacation. Many activities or purchases I consider fun (wind-up chattering teeth, for instance), she considers wasteful and even stupid.

Dale can't really relax and have fun on vacation unless she incorporates at least a measure of frugality into the planning and execution of the trip. So if we're driving to our destination, she'll pack food. My tendency is to pull into a burger joint along the way. I've gotten used to the fact, though, that we're going to have cheese and crackers, salami, apple slices, carrots, and trail mix in the car on a long trip. If we do that, then Dale can enjoy eating out periodically without worrying about how much we're spending.

Frankly, Dale's approach has saved us a lot of money over the years, and I have to admit I haven't suffered many ill effects from missing those fast-food joints.

But while I've learned to moderate my purchasing habits for Dale's sake, she's likewise moved in my direction. This was nowhere more apparent than when we were trying to purchase a house in the middle of a hot real-estate market three years ago. Houses were selling within days of being listed—sometimes within hours.

Dale and I had been looking at houses for weeks, but other buyers kept beating us to the finish line. We had to completely reorient our lives so that the split second our agent phoned us, we could drop whatever we were doing and race to another newly listed home before the mooing stampede of buyers arrived.

One day our agent called, and even though the timing wasn't terribly convenient, I leaped out of the chair and told the dentist he could finish the filling later.

We walked into the house. I looked around the living room for precisely five seconds (I am not exaggerating) and told the agent, "We'll take it."

"Can we at least see all the rooms?" Dale asked.

We wasted five minutes poking around the place, and then Dale agreed that we should make an offer. But, alas, we were too late. Someone had already made an offer that was accepted.

Even though I made a backup offer, the listing agent told us not to get our hopes up. "The first offer is solid, so I'd advise you to keep looking," she said. "You need to mentally let this one go."

Deflated, Dale and I decided to reconsider the whole idea of buying a house. The market was too intense. We went home and started to plan possible modifications to our existing house.

A week later I was 500 miles away on a business trip when my cell phone chirped. It was the realtor. "Mr. Meurer, the house you wanted is available," she said. "The other escrow fell through. You're the first person on my list to call, but I have several others. If you want the house, I need to know immediately."

I asked her to give me 10 minutes so I could call Dale. I was elated as I punched in our home number, but by the time the phone rang I had a sinking feeling in my chest. Dale and I had pretty much decided against buying a house, and we'd mentally shifted gears into "let's-just-add-a-room" mode. While I was used to making quick decisions, I was pretty sure Dale wouldn't be willing to make a huge financial commitment under a five-minute deadline. She'd probably want to see the house again, talk it over, run the numbers, ask advice—all reasonable desires, but impossible under the circumstances.

She answered the phone.

"Hi, Hon," I said. "The house is for sale again. The agent just called. But she has a bunch of other interested parties, so you literally have to decide right now if you want it. I hate to spring this on you, but that's the scoop. What do you want to do?"

I braced for what I knew would be the answer. She didn't want to rush into a decision like this, and we'd already come to grips with staying in our current home, especially since we'd fixed it up to sell so it was in better shape than ever, we had so much history in it, the yard was perfect for having friends out on the deck, it was cheaper just to stay where we were…

"Let's take it," she said.

"What did you just say?" I asked, blinking.

"Tell her yes," Dale answered.

"Dale, did you just make an instant decision about a financial matter?" I asked.

"I learned it from you," she said.

We bought the house.

Making change

As with so many other areas of life, we've changed each other when it comes to making financial decisions. We've learned from each other's perspectives, benefited from each other's strengths, and adapted to each other's desires. And Dale has to admit that sometimes my "strike-while-the-iron-is-hot" viewpoint is a better approach than her "let's-think-this-over-for-a-few-decades" approach. But we've both discovered that we can learn from our differing financial viewpoints—if we keep an open mind to them.

Because of Dale, I'm less rash than I would have been otherwise. And because of me, Dale's become less guilt-ridden about spending a few bucks. It could cause tension in our marriage, but we decided it doesn't have to. This combination has worked out well.

But with all the money we've saved, you'd think she could cut me some slack on the solar-powered pith helmet.

Adapted from Good Spousekeeping: A His and Hers Guide to Couplehood ©2004 by Dave Meurer. Used by permission of Cook Communications.


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Budget; Debt; Marriage; Money
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2005
Posted September 12, 2008

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