A Few Thoughts on Couples and Spending

This past weekend, Sarah and I enjoyed a “getaway weekend” in the Amana Colonies with another couple that we’ve been friends with for many years.

Whenever Sarah and I have a “getaway weekend,” we plan ahead for a budget for that trip, setting a soft limit on how much we’re going to spend on food and other items, and this weekend was no different.

Most of the weekend was very enjoyable. However, on Sunday morning, our “soft limit” popped up and became a potentially problematic part of the weekend.

We stopped at Prairie Lights Bookstore because both Sarah and I appreciate and support independent bookstores. When we stopped, we did a quick review of the items we had purchase.

I was under the impression that we were nowhere near our “soft” spending cap. The only items I had picked out were a new wallet and one food item. We had mutually picked out a few items for our children, but I genuinely thought those items did not add up to a significant total.

It turned out that I was wrong. We were actually pretty close to our “soft limit,” mostly due to higher prices on the children’s items as well as a few things Sarah had picked out.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t bothered by the items purchased at all. However, I had chosen to spend less earlier in the weekend because I planned on buying a particular cookbook at the bookstore. I could no longer afford to do that and stay within the “soft limit.”

I was frustrated, not because I didn’t buy the cookbook, but because of a lack of communication and clarity. I usually enjoy visiting Prairie Lights, but instead I just found myself milling around absently, with my mind stuck on the miscommunication.

I was grumbling because I was caught unaware regarding how much money we could yet spend. I was a bit sore because I felt like Sarah had spent more than I thought she had. I wasn’t really very happy about things.

As I wandered around, though, I realized three key things about couples, money, and communication.

First, keeping a simple tally would have made a lot of sense and would have been simple to do. Let’s say I was intending to spend $30 at the bookstore. I could have simply added that to the tally early in the trip and then we could have made other choices based on that tally. A simple pocket notebook and pen could have handled this, instead of simply trusting in our mutual judgment and understanding of what was being spent.

Second, it was completely idiotic to be frustrated with Sarah. She had no way of knowing that I was planning on buying a book at that store. She hadn’t purchased anything extravagant for herself earlier in the weekend and the small items for our children (a book and some saltwater taffy) were mutually agreed upon.

If this book was really so important to me, I could have spared myself the wallet purchase and the food item I picked up the day before and simply told Sarah that I was going to buy a book there. There was no reason whatsoever for me to be annoyed with her. If the shared money didn’t get spent the way I wanted it to and I didn’t communicate the desire, I really only have myself to blame.

Finally, this was really a minor thing to be upset about. Sure, I didn’t get to walk out of the door with a cookbook. So what? I still had the chance to wander around one of my favorite bookstores. I still discovered several interesting books that I didn’t know about before.

The fact that I didn’t get to buy the book I wanted honestly didn’t change the day’s experience that much. More important than that, my frustration was a far bigger negative than not buying the book.

It wasn’t the missing book that was dragging the day down. It was me – my internal choice to be frustrated about this money miscommunication.

When I decided to just shrug the whole thing off and enjoy the morning experience anyway, the whole day brightened. The cookbook didn’t really matter much at all in the end.

In the end, there are a few things we can all take home. Always keep a real record of spending, not just the one you have in your head. Make sure that the “money issue” that’s making you frustrated with your partner isn’t really the result of your own missteps. More than that, make sure that your desire for “stuff” isn’t overshadowing the experience of the day. Do those things and your money – and your relationship – will be much healthier as a result.

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