Q: After losing my job in 2001, we’ve gone from penniless to both working and having over $60,000 in our money market account, and about the same amount in our checking account.
We own our home free and clear, and paid off our car loans. We pay off our credit card balance each month and buy only things that are necessities.
The problem is, we are near divorce. We didn’t build any room for “mad money” or personal spending into our budget for the year because I didn’t realize that our finances would turn around so quickly.
Now my wife is addicted to saving and won’t let me spend any cash whatsoever. I’d like to spend about $1,500 to $2,000 on a personal item, and it would be my first purchase like this in 4 years.
Please give us some guidelines on reasonable spending and how to build a flexible plan before we kill each other!
A: First, congratulations on going from penniless to having a significant amount of cash in the bank. That has to make you feel good. Now, you and your wife have to deal with the psychological after-effects of almost going bankrupt. It appears to have given her the same kinds of feelings that people had who lived in the Great Depression of the 1930s — Worrying that it will all disappear again.
I’m not a therapist, but I believe that you and your wife need to confront these fears in order to make your financial life work better. Coming up with a spending plan won’t do it. You both need to sit down and talk about what will make you feel safe financially in the future. For your wife, perhaps it’s having $50,000 in a CD that simply won’t be touched.
If that’s what it takes, you need to respect her feelings. After all, you came quite close to losing it all and once you’re over the age of 20, being penniless isn’t quite so appealing.
On the other hand, you don’t say what your “personal item” is, and while it’s not a huge sum of money given your financial resources, perhaps your wife feels that you’re being over-indulgent, and is worried this kind of behavior will lead you right back where you were before.
I’d start out with a quiet dinner for 2 and a cheap bottle of wine (“two-buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s costs only $2.98 and it gets good wine reviews) and try to talk to your wife about money, your current financial situation and what you and she can do together to alleviate her fears so that the two of you can enjoy what you have going forward.
Jan. 19, 2009.