Dear Amy: My wife and I are in our mid-60s, married for 14 years. We have two teenage children, and I have three adult children by previous partners. Our marriage is totally committed, wonderful and fun.
I worry about money all the time. We both have secure jobs that pay well; we’re comfortably middle class in a university town. We face car payments, mortgage, repairs to an older house, upcoming college expenses and elderly parental support.
My wife has costly cosmetic procedures done, frequent massages and alternative therapies, and is liberal with donations to good causes. I hold in my anxiety over the expenditures.
I went through a bankruptcy before we were married. My wife grew up in a family that was often stressed about money, and now doesn’t want to live that way. I would describe her as a “free-spender.”
We are not in financial trouble. We pay off credit cards, we’re healthy and things look good for retirement. I do my best to track income and expenses from piles of receipts.
I am grateful for what we have, but need suggestions for how to be at peace with our cash flow, and fend off marital conflict.
Why Should I Worry?
Dear Worry: You should worry because it is every responsible, sentient parent’s job to worry. You’ve been to the edge of solvency, and you don’t want to go back. This is both logical and mature.
The path to not worrying quite so much is paved with realistic information, communication, proactive behavior and transparency between partners.
The way you describe your situation, your wife does the spending, and you total up the receipts and shoulder the worry. This is not balanced or responsible, and she is neglecting her responsibility to be a full partner to you.
You are on the cusp of retirement and college expenses; both are game-changers. You two should create a realistic budget that includes charitable giving, vacations and some other “free-spending” experiences.
I suggest that as you are totaling the receipts this year, you start by inviting her into the process, and ask for her help in mapping a sound financial future.
A certified financial planner can give you a realistic view of what your financial future holds. Planners who specialize in working with couples can also help to navigate some of the personal and relational issues related to spending and saving.
Dear Amy: Our daughter and son-in-law are millennials. They have asked, for the last two years, that we limit gift-giving at Christmas to $100 per person. My husband and I have complied.
Our son-in-law’s parents do not comply. This year the in-law family decided to take a trip together later in the year (in lieu of gifts). However, on Christmas Day, our son-in-law’s mother showed up with more gifts than we had bought for the kids, including an expensive grill for her son.
It is so wrong (in my opinion) that we follow the $100 limit, and the MIL does not!
It’s not the money/cost, because both sides can easily afford to spend more.
I know we can’t control her, but who can make her stop? It upsets us!
Dear Mother: Boundary-crossers often use gift-giving as a way to leap over fences, control people and sew some passive-aggressive disrespect along the way. I assume that this embarrasses your daughter and her husband; we know that it embarrasses you.
The people who might be able to make her stop are her son and your daughter. You can control your own rage-response by reminding yourself that you are respecting the stated wishes of the young couple, and that you will continue to do so. This is a good thing.
Picture the mountain of material possessions this couple will receive over the years – which they do not seem to want – and congratulate yourself for keeping the holiday modest and appropriate.
Dear Amy: The letter from “Animal Loving Aunt” was so crazy. I couldn’t believe you sided with this person, who obviously values her cats over human beings. What were you thinking?
Dear Disappointed: I didn’t side with this aunt. I thought that describing her as a “bananas cat lady” in the first line of my response would have covered that.
This particular letter has received an extremely heavy volume of responses. All seem to agree that it is the height of disrespect to disregard the needs of people in favor of these cats, who are easily transportable, and very forgiving.
Email Amy at email@example.com.