Don’t call us, we’ll call you

February 25, 2014

The 50-cent knife

Filed under: Family, Personal, Personal Finance — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 5:15 am

“Hey Neal, what was that 73-cent charge for?”

“It looks like you spent $1.35 yesterday. What did you buy?”

“I can’t account for about 29 cents — have you bought anything lately?”

Seven years later, it’s almost hard to believe how frequently I asked Neal to account for 73 cents here and 8 cents there in the first few months of our marriage. I had been tracking every penny I earned and spent since I was 17 years old, and I didn’t see why that had to change just because I was adding another designated user to all my accounts. He’d usually chuckle a bit, but still patiently answer my questions. I was sure we were on our way to minimizing the seemingly mindless 89-cent purchases that were showing up every 5 or 6 days.

Until the day.

He’d dropped by D. I. (a thrift store) after work, as he always did (read: he must have stopped by there after work at least 7 or 8 times in the 4 years we lived in Utah — that’s like twice a year, guys!). Minutes after he walked through the door I gathered up the receipts as I always did. D. I. receipts were particularly cryptic and maddening:

  • Merchandise — small         $0.70
  • Merchandise — large         $4.00

Small merchandise. Large merchandise. That seemed to be all the specificity D. I. was equipped to provide, which is totally useless when you’re trying to figure out which budgeting category each charge should be most accurately assigned to.

Was the latest purchase a dish rack? Household — Cleaning Supplies — Durable 

A new pair of church shoes for Neal? Personal Care — Clothing — Neal

A skirt that I would begrudgingly try on? Gifts — Clothing — Attempts to Make Lindsay More Presentable

Between D. I.’s vague labels and Neal’s spotty memory, it was almost impossible to keep useful records. It was as if D. I. was purposely trying to create confusion and ambiguity so that you would feel the need to buy more things just to reestablish some sense of control in a chaotic world. (I never did buy anything there, though; I won’t play their sick game.)

On this particular day, there wasn’t much to puzzle over on the receipt. “What small merchandise did you buy for 50 cents?” I asked.

Neal, totally nonchalant: “Just a knife”

“But we already have knives. Where is it?” I started looking around, less nonchalant.

“I put it by the dishwasher.”

I picked up the knife for examination. It looked average enough. Short. Black handle. Decently sharp for a thrift store find.

“We have knives just like this. We don’t need another knife.” I opened the knife drawer just to verify. One, two, three . . .  yep, at least three nearly identical knives.

Neal, bored with the knife interrogation conversation, had casually walked back to his bedroom and was checking email. I followed.

“Why did you buy that knife when we have others just like it?”

“I just thought we could use it,” he replied, eyes still fixed on his computer.

“Well, we don’t need it. You should return it.”

“Well, D. I. doesn’t do returns. “

“WHAT?! You’re going shopping and making impulse buys at a store that doesn’t even take returns?” I step closer just to make sure he can hear my disgust, since his back is still turned toward me.

He finally cranes his neck to look at me. “Seriously? It cost 50 cents. It’s not a big deal.”

“But 50 cents spent on something we don’t need is still a waste of 50 cents! If you spent 50 cents needlessly every time you went to the store that would add up . . . “

“To like 50 dollars a year! Gasp!”

“Do you know what 50 dollars per year FOR THE REST OF OUR MARRIAGE would add up to?”

“You seriously need to get a grip,” he concluded as he turns back to his computer.

After the incident, I knew I had to curb my obsessive financial tracking. It seemed the rest of our marriage might not be as long as I was planning if I kept asking him to account for every penny that left our account. Some men might find it emasculating; he just found it freaking annoying.

Initially the realization that I couldn’t track every cent was so depressing that I stopped monitoring our finances altogether for several months. (Crazy, I know!) It was strange that one of my favorite pastimes (financial monitoring! with spreadsheets!) had so quickly lost any pleasure for me. Neal, feeling for my frustration, even helpfully offered to take over the finances: “I’ll do it, as long as you’re okay with imperfection and losing track of a couple hundred dollars here and there.” (Um . . . thanks? as I dry-heave at the thought.) No, I had to find a middle ground. I had to accept that marriage means giving up obsessive control over many things, not the least of which is cheap knife purchases. Peace was once again restored to our home and financial planning.

Until the summer of “WE’RE BLEEDING MONEY,” of course . . .

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15 Comments »

  1. You can’t just stop there!! I want to hear about the summer of blood!!

    Comment by kei02003 — February 25, 2014 @ 6:28 am

  2. Also I am so intrigued by your spreadsheet categories. I think you definitely need to share it with us! Or at least with me

    Comment by kei02003 — February 25, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    • I totally would have shared it if it existed anymore. All of my old financial records died in an epic computer crash and couldn’t be resuscitated because they were on 3.5 inch floppy disks — apparently those are out :) My current incarnation is a greatly simplified version, for which Neal is undyingly grateful.

      Comment by llcall — February 25, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

      • I’m dying! Floppy disks!! So funny

        Comment by kei02003 — February 26, 2014 @ 3:31 am

      • Remember, I’m old! I started those files back in 1996.

        Comment by llcall — February 26, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

  3. Matt was irritated that I bought books from DI (they are way cheaper than in a book store!), but then he realized that I had no money to spend for myself. Our budget did not include any sort of account for books or things for myself to keep me sane while I was home with a baby. From that, we worked out our “Fun Funds” account, where each of us has an allowance that we can just spend without having to consult with the other, and there’s no judging on what we get. It’s been so nice! It’s a small amount but it’s been nice to feel like we each have a little splurge money, and occasionally Matt donates his to me. :)

    Comment by Sabrina — February 25, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

    • We have ended up with something like this; $5 each per month that I titled “Personal Care,” which makes it much less exciting! You’re definitely on to something with “fun” in the title!

      Comment by llcall — February 25, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

  4. Didn’t you buy a sexy brown dress one time at D.I.? But, I still get the point, either way. :)

    Comment by Elizabeth Harris — February 25, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

    • Did I buy that for myself? I thought that was another one of Neal’s purchases in the Gifts — Clothing — Attempts to Make Lindsay More Presentable category. But I know better than to mess with Elizabeth’s memory!

      Comment by llcall — February 25, 2014 @ 4:21 pm

  5. One of a collection of reasons that it’s good we aren’t married to each other…..

    Comment by Rach — February 26, 2014 @ 4:14 am

    • That, and the fact that I always have to worry about you taking my “special quarters”!

      Comment by llcall — February 26, 2014 @ 9:55 pm

  6. I can’t think of a cool reply right now, but I loved this post. Brought multiple smiles to my face as I read it. :)

    Comment by Victoria — February 27, 2014 @ 12:57 pm

  7. While Stephen and I might have walked six miles last week to save fifty cents, I think you are definitely my financial heroes—D.I. knives and all.

    Comment by Rachelish Rachel — March 1, 2014 @ 12:19 am

  8. Lindsay, I actually laughed out loud about this entry. For one, in my mind, for how silly it is and cute of you! And secondly, because Brian and I have had similar discussions, but over things more than 50 cents! Once when we were visiting my parents for Christmas, Brian noticed that on our credit card (the one we use when places don’t take AMEX) had accrued an interest payment, which is not allowed because we use our credit cards as debt cards and I had forgot to pay the amount off after a purchase because we rarely use that card. So we got into this big fight at my parents house about how we now had to pay the bill plus interest! My parents couldn’t help but get involved since we were “discussing” in front of them. At the time I didn’t know how much the interest was for, but I assumed a lot because of how perturbed Brian was, only to find out it was for a mere $1. Brian said it was a matter of principle (or principal wink wink). Anyhow, my parents gave us some advice. They said that unless the issue is in the thousands of dollars, there is no reason to argue about, its not worth the martial strife, but to just talk about it and let it go, but no fighting. We thought it was an interesting idea. Certainly as income increases and debt decreases, this thousands of dollars limit become easier. We are still practicing! Anyhow, keep the financial posts coming! I love these!

    Comment by Christina Nelson — April 25, 2014 @ 11:03 pm

    • Before you even wrote that Brian said it was a “matter of principle,” I was thinking, “BUT IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING!” We are apparently two of a kind!

      Comment by llcall — April 27, 2014 @ 10:39 pm


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