Sunday Conversation #2

Over the next few Sundays, I’m going to post a conversation I’ve had with a person I know who has made interesting financial choices in their lives. Hopefully, these discussions will be enlightening and entertaining.

This conversation is one that’s been long awaited by my readers. This time, my conversation is with my wife, who basically answered most of the questions that readers have tossed in her direction over the past few months. I hope you’ll find that she’s as eloquent and thoughtful as I do. I think she also reveals the true reason why I made a career change recently and tosses out a bit of personal finance advice, too. If you have more follow-up questions, ask in the comments – I’ll encourage her to read them and perhaps add her own thoughts.

You currently live in a situation where you work outside the home, while your husband works inside the home. What are the advantages of that, as you see them?

Trent working at home really hasn’t changed our day-to-day routine that much. We still send the kids to daycare, I still go to work, and Trent still works. The only change is the location of his office.

The real benefits have been in the amount of time Trent has freed up in the evenings and on weekends. When Trent was working and doing The Simple Dollar, he would come home and write every evening until supper was ready, and then write again after our son was asleep and I was nursing our daughter. Trent also spent a lot of time writing during the weekends. Now he makes supper some nights, he helps more with cleaning (he’s been doing the greater share of that lately), and he has time to talk to me in the evening, as well as play with the kids. And weekends are much more enjoyable now. We spend time as a family, instead of me trying to find ways to keep the kids entertained and out of Trent’s hair so that he can write.

What are the disadvantages of that, again, as you see them?

There’s the obvious worry of whether or not we’ll have enough money, since we’re losing Trent’s other source of income. And my paychecks are smaller now, since I have to carry his insurance as well as mine and the kids’. And I wonder what will happen if The Simple Dollar loses popularity and stops bringing in income.

Also, there’s a perception by some people that Trent isn’t really “working”, and they treat him that way (including myself and Trent). Some people have asked why we’re keeping the kids in daycare if Trent’s at home. My family is coming in a couple of weeks, and Trent volunteered to go pick up my sister at the airport during the day, if necessary. Some family and friends have come to visit recently, and Trent ended up spending time during the day, which should be work time, cleaning house instead. Trent’s family came last week, and they arrived on Thursday night, instead of Friday. Trent spent Friday morning writing, but then spent the afternoon with them.

Another change that’s more of an annoyance than anything is that I now drop the kids off and pick them up from daycare. That means I have to leave about 15 minutes earlier in the morning. It also means that I’m the only one to remember important things about daycare. Like which kid needs new diapers, when picture day is, or when book orders are due.

Do you feel jealous of your husband’s opportunity to work from home, or are you happy with the way things are?

I’m pretty happy the way things are. I like my job, and I like interacting with my coworkers and students. I am jealous of Trent’s lack of a commute, though. I drive about 35-40 minutes one-way. My total one-way commute, including dropping the kids off, is about an hour.

It’s crazy to live with two young children at home. What are the best ways you know of to save money with kids? What sorts of shortcuts do you use to maximize the quality time with your kids? Do you feel like the splitting of household and parenting chores with your husband is fair? Why/why not?

A big money-saver is to just not give in to the temptation to buy your children whatever you think they need or want. That may seem obvious, especially to people without children, but we parents really love our children. We want them to have things that make them happy. Even if that’s the Spiderman umbrella that they don’t really need, but you can argue to yourself that it really would be useful, and he would really like it. So my first piece of advice would be to consider what your child or children really need, as opposed to what you just think would make them happy. There are a lot of ways to help your kids be happy, and most of them don’t include spending money.

Another money-saver for Trent and I has been to choose breastfeeding over bottle feeding for both of our children. That has saved us a lot of money on formula, and I truly believe that it has kept our kids healthier, which saves us money on doctor bills.

Do you feel there are any major differences between how you and your spouse spend money? Do you feel he is “cheap”? Do you feel he spends too much on personal expenses?

I think Trent budgets everything much more tightly than I do. I don’t think I really spend much more or less than he does, but he has a better idea of where his money has gone.

In the past I would have said that Trent eats out more than I do, but that has changed this year. Since Trent works at home now, he eats leftovers, which I used to take to work. On the other hand, I don’t have time to eat at work much lately with breastpumping, so I’m finding myself stopping at a fast food place on the way home from work more often. I pick up something relatively cheap (usually a kids’ meal) once or twice a week now, and I used to never get fast food. So that’s something I really need to correct.

Do you feel that one person in a marriage should be the “money leader” – in that one person should be managing the finances, paying bills, allotting spending money for both partners – or that it should be more balanced?

I think that really depends on the couple. Each person has their own areas of strength, and each person has a level of control that they want to have over their finances. I truly don’t believe that there’s one right answer to that question.

Do you feel that traditional budgeting in the traditional sense – listing expenses and putting tight caps on specific areas of spending – is worthwhile?

I think that it’s worthwhile to know where your money is going (which I’ve already said I don’t do nearly as well with as Trent does), and to not waste money on extraneous things. I’m not sure how “tight” the caps have to be. I think it’s okay to go over your set caps sometimes, as long as there are other times that you’re staying under them.

I also think that listing expenses and setting caps doesn’t work for everyone, and shouldn’t be considered the only “right” way to budget. Particularly if a person lives alone (no family) and isn’t overspending their budget, and is able to save some money besides, there’s no need for them to budget tightly. If you’re married, though, it can be important to keep more of a traditional budget, so that everyone knows where the money’s going, and how much you have.

Do you feel that your financial situation has improved over the last three years, even with the birth of children? What are the causes of that?

Yes, because I think that both Trent and I are more money-conscious. We definitely spend more now that we have children, but we also spend our money more wisely. We also both make more money than we did three or four years ago, and we have more tax write-offs (a new house, two kids).

Do you try to talk your husband out of spending unnecessarily? If you do, what sorts of tactics do you use? Does he do the same to you (that you notice)?

I think that both Trent and I can talk to each other about unnecessary spending in a pretty straightforward manner. If I were concerned with some particular area of his spending, I would tell him about it. And I think he would do the same for me.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had arguments over money, but not many, and not too serious. I think we’ve also had fewer arguments in recent years, probably because we’ve been slowly shifting towards Trent managing more of our money. As I’ve already said, I don’t do a good job of watching where my money goes. But neither one of us spends extravagently, and we nearly always agree on the things that we do spend money on.

If you could offer one tip on saving money that’s been the most useful to you during your married and parental life, what would you offer up?

Talk to your spouse about money. And I’m not just talking about budgeting and spending caps and how much you’re putting in savings. I’m talking about deciding together how much you both think it’s appropriate to spend on children’s toys, or how much you want to spend on Christmas presents for extended family. And how often you want to eat out or pick up supper on the way home, as opposed to making it? If you want to give to a charity, don’t just do it (as generous as that is), check with your spouse first. It’s their money too, and you can’t just give it away.

Finally, keep in mind that nobody’s perfect. You won’t always spend wisely, and neither will your spouse, children, parents, or even grandparents. If you make mistakes, learn from them (and try not to repeat them).

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