Sunday, August 22, 2010

When Opposites Attract - And Clash

Let me start by saying the I love the Big Guy with all my heart and have no desire to be without him in my life, ever.  We've been together for three decades, and I'm hoping for at least another three or four. Or five ...

That said  -  there are, as in any domestic partnership, times when he makes me want to pull my hair out (or his, except he doesn't have much left and I can grow more) in frustration.  Almost all of these occasions arise from how different our respective attitudes are when it comes to money and debt.

Just to be clear, in this post I use the word "debt" to mean specifically consumer debt, be it credit cards, car loans, or any other debt acquired in the course of acquiring things.  I don't include mortgages or student loans, as I consider them to be investments in one's own and one's family's future well-being.  And in the case of our neighbours to the south, I don't include debt arising from medical emergencies or chronic illness, since these are not deliberate choices.  Clear?  Okay, onward ...

I grew up in a family where both parents worked, budgets were made and followed, savings were important, and debt was something shameful to be avoided.  Charge accounts were acceptable only as long as their use was budgeted for ahead of time and they were paid in full each month.

Result:  I am very, very conscious of exactly how much money I have, where it's going, and what I'm getting for it.  I comparison shop, I wait for sales, I look for discounts, I shop at thrift stores and dollar stores, and if I can't pay for something in cash, or know I can't zero out the credit card before the end of the month, I just don't buy whatever it is.  I'll make an exception only for emergency repairs to the house, or emergency vet bills.  He tells me I "worry too much".

He grew up in a family  -  and a culture  -  where fathers worked, mothers stayed home with lots of kids (he's one of eight, and that was not considered a "big" family), and debt was just a part of life.  Everyone had debt, everyone would always have debt until the day they died, and parents who didn't have any debt were seen as "cheap bastards" who didn't want to "do right by the kids" no matter what the cost.

Result:  If he sees something he wants, he whips out the credit card.  He wants what he wants and he wants it now, and he'll "find a way" to pay the bill later.  And if he can't get what he wants even with the credit cards, he moans and growls about how he "can never have anything he needs" until I want to gag him with a rusty tire iron.

So ... I am dead set against our having any debt whatsoever apart from our mortgage, and would like to find ways to pay that off as quickly as possible.  He expects to be in debt until his dying day, finds that acceptable as "just the way things are", and doesn't understand why it's a big deal.  It bothers him, but not enough that he's willing to do anything he doesn't like doing to get it paid off.

For example:  We both smoke, I love my coffee, and he loves his cold beer at the end of a long day.  So we're kind of the same there, yes?

Well, no.

When he wants beer, he buys beer.  He doesn't care what it costs, he works hard, he deserves it, his life would suck moose teats if he couldn't even have a beer when he wanted it.  In other words, he isn't willing to give up beer, no matter what.

When I want coffee, I buy coffee  -  sometimes.  I know which brands I like and which ones I consider a waste of money; I watch and wait for sales and coupons that I can combine to get the coffee I like for the lowest possible price, and then stock up.  If I can't get what I want at a price I consider acceptable, I'll cut way back and stretch the stocks I have as far as possible, or I'll live without it for a while.

He won't even think about trying to quit smoking.  He says he knows he ought to, but he "just can't".

I'm trying to quit on my own, because our extended medical doesn't cover any programs, cessation aids, or medication, and they're not in the current budget.  Watch my sidebar for my results ...

So how do we make such wildly divergent attitudes / money "styles" work together without one of us killing the other over it?

1)  The only joint account we have is the mortgage / HELOC (joint tenancy with right of survivorship).  We each put in half of the payment every month, without fail.  That comes first.  We each throw in as much additional money as we have available, to get the HELOC paid down faster.   And we each pay half of the property taxes and insurance.

2)  We are each 100 % responsible for our own credit cards.  We each have our own chequing account and it's none of the other one's business what's in it.  He runs a huge revolving overdraft, and his credit cards ... well, let's not even go there, or I'll start frothing at the mouth.  I always have a positive balance in my chequing account, and my (one and only) credit card is always back at zero before the billing date.  The personal debt in the sidebar is the balance of a loan from my Mom for $6000.00 worth of unavoidable dental work.

3)  Since he does all the cooking, he buys all the groceries (except for the coffee).  We do make a list, go through all the fliers, look for coupons, buy bulk on sale ... well, see my earlier post on that (Variations On A Frugal Theme).  But ... if he sees something he likes that's on sale, he will just go and buy lots of it on impulse, and if he's hungry he'll go out intending to get just milk, or eggs, or whatever, and come home with bags and bags of stuff we don't need.  Even our shopping trips together are liberally seasoned with my repetitions of "We don't need that / that's not on the list, put it back."

4)  The HELOC was used to replace all the old, decaying plumbing in the house, replace the old water heater with a tankless "on-demand" one (an incredibly good decision!), replace the old roof, and put in a legal one-bedroom basement suite.  The rent from the suite is paid to me; half pays the household bills  -  gas, Hydro, the cable/internet/landline package  -  and the rest goes to pay down the HELOC. (This is not as unfair as it might sound, because even on E.I. his income is quite a bit higher than mine.)

5)  This is the sneaky one ... I have a savings account that he doesn't know about.  Because every time I've had savings that he did know about, he found a reason why they had to be gutted to cover his butt on something.  Like the snowy, icy week when  -  granted, through no fault of his own  -  he killed two transmissions in two days.

I consider that savings account to be our emergency fund.  Right now it's dreadfully low (again, watch the sidebar), and will stay low for another month, but once the year's house insurance is taken care of I'll be able to start throwing money into it again.  He won't know it's there at all until there's absolutely no other way to deal with a real emergency, because he and I define "emergency" in such different ways.  My idea of a real emergency is the roof collapsing, or not having funds to pay the property taxes.  His idea of a real emergency is not having funds to go fishing for a week,  or wanting to do something expensive but not entirely necessary to his truck.

And in case you were wondering ... yes, his personal debt is the reason I won't marry him.  It's not that the debt itself horrifies me  -  and it does  -  it's that he's more or less okay with it and sees no reason to change his lifestyle to get rid of it.  It's the way he accepts it as part of a normal life.

It doesn't have to be "just a part of life".  I wish I could make him see that.

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