“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 . . .