When Couples and Money Clash

Machu Picchu hike
Machu Picchu – beautiful view

Most people have ingrained spending habits and biases about money. Especially in a couple these differing views on finances can easily lead to money woes. What to do?

The $8 ice cream.

Who does that?! Turns out, I do.

The beautiful two hour hike up to the Machu Picchu archeological site was getting a bit onerous due to one particular child’s personal torment. What an ordeal! In an effort to bribe lift Ben’s spirits, we promised him ice cream when we returned to Aguas Calientes, the small puebla at the base of Machu Picchu. Not just one scoop – but three scoops of ice cream! I’m not sure how he negotiated that – likely he extorted us on the hike back down.

Machu Picchu hike
Machu Picchu – another beautiful view

Two hours up. Pouring rain. Four to five hours exploring the site. Two hours down. There is bus transport from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. And two hikes that you can add on to your entrance ticket – for a fee. We opted for the free hike up, along parts of the Inca Trail, and saved a couple hundred bucks. We promised ice cream. I thought this was pretty good value. Ben kept his end of the bargain, although with more belly-aching then was agreed. Back in town, I was loathe to search for bargain ice cream. How bad could the price be in a country where $2 could get you a whole meal?

Ah well… money is a tool. Not finite but a tool just the same.

Rob and I have different ideas about money. I suspect most couples do. Aside from the feared look I have never given him, he doesn’t think much about $8 for a convenient parking spot. I, on the other hand, will walk several blocks to save $4 on street parking and then revel in the glorious pleasure of  … I don’t know. It’s almost a matter of principle. 

Despite our different views on it, we have never fought about money. And I don’t give him these looks he talks about.

I do sometimes sigh though.

The $10 Tomato

True story.

From time to time, Rob picks up a few groceries on his way from here to there. I do try to limit these events because even a carefully curated grocery list cannot prevent outcomes such as this. On this particular errand, tomatoes were 99 cents per pound. Rob came home with a huge and gorgeous tomato. Just one tomato that came in at about a pound. The receipt was for a whopping ten dollars and it was the only thing he bought. 

Never mind that Rob didn’t notice the exorbitant price. Turns out the cashier entered the code for red peppers at $4.49 per kilogram. I wanted my nine bucks back so I set aside the receipt for the next time I went to the store.

Two days later, Rob happened to be on his way from here to there so I gave him the receipt with clear details: the cashier rang in the $.99/pound tomato as a $4.49/kilo red pepper so I want the price difference for the error. Easy-peasy.

Being the good sport he is, Rob comes back from the store with a few groceries and a whopping $0.17 refund for his trouble. Seventeen cents?!

Now, my husband is a smart guy. I even fell for his intellect (very bad math skills notwithstanding). Two things really stand out to me in the ten dollar tomato saga:

  • Rob clearly thinks I’d send him to get a 17 cent refund!? and,
  • Rob clearly does not listen to me.

Oh, and Rob is clearly very bad at math.

Cheap, Frugal or a Spendypants?

All humour aside, it’s easy to see that we approach money differently. I’m not cheap. And Rob is not really a spendypants*. We are mindful spenders. I particularly like to exchange my resources for something that I value. And that is good value. Rob values convenience more than I do. But it’s still something that he values. Sometimes we are spendypants together, but we’re pretty conscientious about it and generally it’s out of necessity, like when we got food poisoning in Peru.

*Spendypants is a cool made-up word. I borrowed it from my favourite personal finance blogger at MrMoneyMustache.com. He’s way too extreme for me, but I still love his vocabulary.

All About Balance

Having a surplus of income helps with not fighting about money. But unless you’re a point one percent-er, a surplus doesn’t come out of thin air. There was a time, not so long ago, that we lived pay check to pay check. As a new couple, rent, student loans, winter holidays and not-mindful spending ate up most of our disposable income. The rest was beer money of course. At times we even lived beyond our means – not by much.  But that little bit can have an exponential effect on finances, especially over time.

I wasn’t always good with money. In fact, Rob came into our relationship in much better financial shape than I did.

When I fell in love with the idea financial independence and retiring early, I tried not to be too extreme about it. I tend to do that – be extreme about things. So I mostly made changes that weren’t immediately noticeable.

We avoided lifestyle inflation. Pay raises and bonuses, even small windfalls were non-events. Our regular expenses remained pretty much the same over the years and our incomes grew. I accelerated our mortgage payments each year which allowed us to pay it off in ten years. Once that baby was gone, it was easy to accumulate surplus income to invest.

The benefits of living well below our means was apparent. Rob was happy to have played along without noticing I was tightening our finances. 

We still went on annual vacations. They just never became luxurious. Our kids went to camps and took music lessons. Rob and the three of them took up karate at a cost easily exceeding a monthly car payment. We even travelled round the world for a year. These things are important to us. But they were easy to fit in because we never had a lot of things that are not unimportant to us like the newest cell phones, TV packages, fine dining and lunches out. We even juggle one car.

People often ask how to get their spouse on board with living more below their means. My advice – Do it stealth-like. Sneak up on them so they don’t notice what’s going on. Don’t be too extreme. And make concessions for things that are important to your partner, not just to yourself. It really is all about balance.

Hannah (17) and Emma (16) both astonish me still. I’ve heard it from both of them but just last week Hannah brought up again – what a privileged life she has had. This from kids for whom we did not buy the latest and greatest. They didn’t grow up in brand name clothing. They were the last of their peers to get cell phones. Hannah even went so far as to say she thinks she is a bit spoiled. She does have some recency bias with the world trip. 

We’ve had combined finances since the beginning of time. Personally, I think this had a huge impact on our financial success. I’m curious to know how many couples share their finances. I’ve also read many times that people decide not to have kids because they seek financial independence. Kids cost more than none. But they don’t have to cost that much.

Care to share in the comments? 

As always, thanks for reading,

Rob wrote a post about Machu Picchu here.

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2 Replies to “When Couples and Money Clash”

  1. Well, it goes without saying that your kids did benefit from this trip with so much wisdom. I have a huge respect for that.
    Now, Money, My hat is off to you Colleen. I have always had a problem with money. I like convenience, so I am with Rob that way (Save 4 dollars and walk a mile….I don’t think so) but I am not like Rob with the $10 Tomato. Really? The only excuse would be enormous amounts of beer before entering the store. Good talk on money. I am enjoying your blogs!

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