Hot Spot: Money



I’ve alluded to it before in various posts but probably need to give this topic better coverage by itself. While sex is a perennial trouble spot (or the lack thereof) money issues are a major concern, mainly the lack thereof.

It doesn’t matter how much I’m pulling in except that it is less than the national average. But even if I was pulling down 6 figures, it still wouldn’t be enough. My wife would still be able to spend more than I make. In fact, in the past year she has spent $20,000 more than I take in. And what does she have to show for it? Nothing. Nada. The kids have some extra toys, videos and clothes but that’s about it.

I remember reading somewhere that a fundamental difference between the way that men and women spend is that men tend to invest their money while women tend to want to exchange it for some sort of emotional experience. Guys typically like tools, gadgets and machinery. Women like clothes, trips to the salon and cruises. For birthdays, Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day the worst thing a guy can do is buy for his wife something that plugs in. While looking at father’s day flyers, you see all sorts of electronics, tools and gadgets advertised. It’s because women are looking for an emotional lift through the sheer experience of acquiring something extremely costly and equally worthless and nonfunctional. The joy she experiences seems to be directly proportional to the amount of effort devoted toward the exclusive feeding of her vanity…code named..”appreciation.” A man’s vanity seems to be fed by having some fun toys. All the more so if they are useful, shiny and powerful.

So here we have a fundamental difference in spending priorities and spending habits. Much of this may stem from fairly radically different backgrounds.

Arwyn’s father was a dentist, so he pulled in some pretty good money. He was also an alcoholic, so he might have been spending some serious money. However it seems the biggest thing, where his children were concerned, was guilt. So he attempted to pay off the guilt with money. Arwyn sometimes grouses about how much her father spent towards her two brothers, especially the youngest, but I’ve watched him drop hundreds of dollars on her. When he visits, she gets him to pay for virtually everything. The man is quite generous, but maybe to a fault. He must have paid the $1800 hospital bill this last spring because it disappeared and the hospital has’t been after me. In some ways I’m okay with his generosity as he has helped as in the case of the medical bill and getting Arwyn’s car fixed. But she has never really had to come to grips with how to manage money. Her mother is not exactly thrifty, either but she’s not had the luxury of having someone to fall back on. She has been retired about 2 years and what little she had saved is long gone. She gets some small pension plus social security and that’s it. She lives in some sort of subsidized housing as she never did own a house. The house she got in her divorce settlement years ago was sold and the money blown. Now she is virtually penniless.

Gift giving with her family is a HUGE deal. Christmas involves a dizzying and constant parade and array of gifts. Last time we celebrated with her family in Minnesota, gift opening took almost 2 hours of nonstop paper ripping. The poor boys didn’t get to enjoy any of their new toys until two weeks later when her Dad had mailed the boxes and boxes of stuff back to us in Georgia.

I grew up on a farm, and was milking cows at the age of 11. This was during the Carter administration. You can tell the folks who hate Bush today are either too young or too old to remember the fiasco that was the Carter years. At 20% interest, my folks were paying nearly $20,000 a year in interest alone for their various farm loans. Combine this with a trade embargo against the Soviet Union which sent farm prices plummeting and these were horrible times in the midwest. We always had food, thanks to a big garden, cattle and a mother who knew how to can vegetables. It also helped that my grandmother was queen of the garage sales and could make or sew anything. My family was made up of hardscrabble stock, who scratched a living out of the ground. It helped that the ground happened to Iowa farmland.

I took out my first loan at the age of 12 for 3 4-H beef calves, two of which were shown at the fair. I remember going into the bank with my dad, who cosigned the loan for me. I remember paying the money back when I sold the calves. I also remember worrying about the bank coming after me if the calves didn’t sell or if they got sick and died! It was with money from these and other beef animals that I bought my first car, a 1973 Mercury Montery from my Grandad.

While Arwyn always knew she was going to college because her dad had set up a fund for his kids for just such an occasion, my future was not so well known. My parents simply didn’t have it to give. If I was going to college, I needed to find my own way. I started out with loans, grants and workstudy. I later gave up the workstudy and joined the Army Reserves. The Army helped pay back most of my loans while providing a bit of money to live on plus I had a built-in summer job. My parents provided all the beef and milk I could get back and store in my apartment freezer in Ames in additon to stuff Mom canned.

I grew up with a fear of debt, despite having used it on many occasions. While I was in college in the early 1980’s, I saw neighbors selling off their farms, livestock and machinery. Those loans made in the 70’s were coming due and banks were foreclosing. I remember my parents always being concerned about money and we always learned to “make do.”

“Making do” has seemingly never entered Arwyn’s lexicon. I remember she was complaining bitterly about not having a chest of drawers for Elmo. She claimed that having a dresser for him would solve all of her organizational woes. I found one at a garage sale with a drawer rail that needed fixing. I loaded it up in my truck, bought the necessary parts at Home Depot on the way home and minutes later had a working 6 drawer chest. It was not too fancy, but it worked.

Arwyn took one look at it and proclaimed that she did not want it in our house. I wanted her to just try it. “NO! I don’t want that thing in our house!”

I was infuriated beyond words. I took it and gave it to a woman I knew of who was living in a trailer park nearby who had a disabled teenager. She was SO thankful and appreciative! She just couldn’t thank me enough for the lovely dresser. It was such a stark contrast to the reception I got from Arwyn with the same exact thing.

That was 2 years ago, and I never did buy another dresser. Most of Elmo’s clothes are in his closet or in a glass hutch Arwyn had converted to hold his clothes. I’m not buying a dresser, either.

Christmas at our house with my family is a bit different. We agreed that we were not going to do gifts beforehand simply because we didn’t want to cart all the stuff back to Georgia. It consisted of my parents going out behind the house and sledding with the grandkids. A huge deal for our two boys from Georgia who weren’t used to seeing enough white stuff to make a decent snowball. My parents actually spent a lot of time with our kids. Arwyn’s parents spent our entire visit shopping for gifts, pretty much leaving Arwyn and I with the kids by ourselves. We could have stayed in Georgia for that!

The point of this rant is that I learned to survive on a lot less money. I learned to respect debt, altho I don’t fear it as much as I ought. I learned to sacrifice and make do. Arwyn struggles with our less-than-Park-Avenue lifestyle. She wants our boys to have everything. I see that as a recipe for creating spoiled brats. She sees it as an expression of love. And so it is that she seems to view money as a way to express love and affection because her father used it to treat his own emotional guilt. He used it as a substitute for love and affection.

I saw money as a tool, and one that was always scarce. I don’t scrimp and scrape like my grandparents, but I think I could if I had to. I have no qualms about wearing clothes I buy from a garage sale. Arwyn would be absolutely horrified at the prospect. To her, scrimping and scraping means shopping at Wal-Mart!

I need to say that she is trying, in her own way. She still snubs most things that are cheaper, but has become more tolerant of some things. She’s buying Sam’s Choice potato chips, now, so that is a start!

Money will always be an issue because it best expresses priorities and resources. I get angry because she sometimes acts as if I merely create money out of the air. It’s my back and body that provides that stream of income and it’s treated with such disdain. I’m like the milk cows we had on the farm; as long as I keep bringing it in, I have some value and am worth keeping healthy and happy enough to keep producing. But my overall happiness and satisfaction are not particularly valued if they happen to be at odds with my “owner’s” stated goals and purposes.


6 Responses to Hot Spot: Money

  1. Marie says:

    Key point you’ve uncovered: there is a difference between fearing debt and respecting debt. And when one does not have respect for the potential debt can bring into one’s life, their attitude and behavior can turn destructive when dealing with finances.

    Now, I by no means would classify myself as a “feminist” and I think that your association with the feelings women link with the kinds of things they like to purchase has some credibility. But by saying that men would rather spend money on something useful or powerful like tools, do you see the connection you invariably are making there? It sounds like women are weak-minded and seek some sort of “high” or comfort from the things they spend money on and then men are logical and practical in terms of what they dole out their cash for. But even still, there is a feeling associated with man’s spending habits, if in fact, they are as you present. If a man likes to spend $$$ on power tools, does he not like the feeling of “power” and “respect” linked with such a product? And I am not even gonna go into the whole “bigger-the-better” mindset when it comes to tools and toys men like!

    My point is this: men are by no means immune to making purchasing choices based on the emotional link it provides them, especially if they perceive that is an area in their life that is lacking.

    All in all, I do like what you are saying here though. It sounds like you have some good insights into your wife’s past and how it has shaped her into who she is today. Were you aware of these things at the onset of your relationship or did they come to the surface after you were married?

  2. Rob says:

    I agree with Marie. Debt can be misused or it can used intelligently. It can be used to satisfy emotional needs (by either sex) or it can be used to create wealth (if used properly). Most rich people probably in some way directly or indirectly have used other people’s money, never usually their own, to invest and acquire weath. But, as in other aspects of our daily lives, risk is always a key factor in living within one’s “comfort Level”. The other key factor of course is one’s level of inner security, or insecurity as the case may be.

  3. Square1 says:

    I guess I never was raised to expect such impracticalities. Flowers when I receive them are especially wonderful because we never have, when I was growing up or in our marriage been able to afford them. Hubs wants to buy me jewelry and I tell him I’d rather have a new pair of glasses, because I wear my glasses every day, they take quite a beating, but I rarely go out enough to warrant wearing nice expensive jewelry. I still have a spagghetti strap dress we bought on sale for $15 when I was still pregnant with my son that I have yet to wear. I’m living for the evening I’ll be able to break that baby out. I guess when you do without you are happy just to have the things you need.

    As far as the emotional tie to items I think it depends more on your rearing… it depends more on what you were raised to value.

    And as far as men… I have to agree with marie. My husband when we first got together woud rather buy a video game rather than buy groceries for a week. He doesn’t now, but tell me there’s no emotional value on that? The status of having played the most recent game. Well anyway your post was very insightful.

  4. Digger Jones says:

    Point well taken on the emotions and purchases. It is true that men will parley their money into status and power. Women for their own version of status and power. But I’m going to go ahead and step all over feminist toes; Women seem to be especially vulnerable to spending money for emotional release. And every advertiser and marketing professional knows it which is why they are literally banking on the feminine impulse buy through advertising. If a giant dign saying “40% OFF!” didn’t rake ’em in, such things wouldn’t exist.

    This business of “Other People’s money” is a bit of a red herring. The borrower is ALWAYS a slave to the lender. I can’t just run off and join the peace corps because I have debts that need to be paid…I’m too poor to take a vow of poverty!

    Hopefully my life of semi-celibacy will compensate.

  5. Rob says:

    I can’t see where if someone borrows money from a bank (for example), then uses it to buy good quality stock, real estate, or other good investments that gain in value and allows one to quickly pay off the loan and also earn a tidy profit, how that person ALWAYS is a slave to the lender. Our capitalistic economies would be in the dumper pretty quickly if everyone just worked for a salary and never leveraged money to make more money. No one on a straight salary ever got filthy rich in my experience. And it’s a known fact that the US probably has the most numbers of millionaires in the world, none of which got that way except from creatively borrowing AND lending money. But each to his own opinion regarding debt.

  6. aphron says:

    Reading your post sounded very familar to me. You have already commented on my post on the subject. I will say that a couple that each has a different take on spending/saving is in for a long row to hoe. Money is a constant source of conflict, because we have such different views. Wife’s parents had tons of money, she never had to worry about money, she never had to save, ergo she doesn’t save.

    I will say there is a good debt (education, financing a building for your business, buying a business, etc) like your steers. There is bad debt (new cars, paying for furniture, crap from a mall, etc.). Some financial gurus will tell you all debt is bad. Wrong. However, it does not give one a license to live beyond there means.

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